Last Tuesday’s rainy night in San Francisco was the perfect setting for preparing a Parihuela seafood soup at the first Peruvian Pop-up dinner of 2013 at 18 Reasons. And like every time I cooked dinner there, I was excited to be sharing Peruvian food and culture with the 18 Reasons community. But the night was also bittersweet for me because it was the last time I would be working with Olivia, the Program Coordinator at 18 Reasons. Since August of 2011, we worked together on 6 Peruvian pop-up dinners and 1 Pisco cocktail class, and the menus we prepared showcased the unique culinary history of Peruvian cuisine. Here’s how we did it.
The first dinner was an intimate tasting for a group of 12 people, which was all we could seat at the original 18 Reasons space on Guerrero Street. And on the spot, I showed our guests how to prepare a Pisco Sour, Ceviche Nikkei, and Lomo Saltado. The following month, in the same space, I taught a Pisco cocktail class that included the born in San Francisco Pisco Punch. All in a small space that was about the size of a living room that had a cooking range and fridge on one end. Then we took a break for a few months as 18 Reasons moved to a larger space with a commercial kitchen on 18th Street.
Throughout 2012, we would meet for coffee, look at our calendars, and brainstorm on a seasonal menu for our next Peruvian pop-up dinner. But this time, she asked me to prepare dinner for 50 people. Fortunately, I could use their new commercial kitchen, and with Olivia’s help and a crew of volunteers, we were able to serve a sold-out dinner at the new space. Over time, I became more ambitious with the menu planning and was able to convince Olivia to organize a couple of 3-course dinners. Here are some of the dishes I had the pleasure of preparing:
- Pisco Sour — the National Drink of Peru
- Pisco Punch — the cocktail of San Francisco
- Ceviche Nikkei — a Japanese-Peruvian ceviche
- Lomo Saltado — a Chinese-Peruvian beef stir-fry
- Seco de Cordero — a lamb stew with cilantro
- Aji de Gallina — a creamy and spicy chicken stew
- Gazpacho — a tomato soup
- Escabeche de Pescado — a spicy pickled fish
- Causa — a potato salad with tuna
- Salsa Criolla — pickled onions
- Tabbouleh de Quinua — a quinoa tabbouleh
- Ceviche de Calamar — squid ceviche
- Parihuela — spicy seafood soup
During the dinners, I enjoyed meeting the guests and talking to them about the history of Peruvian cuisine. Many of my friends would stop by and I would always smile when I saw them at a table. On a few occasion, a dinner guest would tell me that they were also from Peru, and it made me very happy when they said how much they enjoyed the food I had prepared. In Peru, music is an important part of any celebration, and I am grateful to my musician friends who played Gypsy Jazz or Flamenco at all the dinners.
My favorite part, however, was the end of the evening. After all the guests had left, together with the volunteers and musicians, we would sit down for a staff meal. It felt like a family. All night we had worked hard to share food and culture with our community, and now we had a chance to celebrate that evening with a shared meal. And though I am going to miss working with Olivia as she moves on to her next adventure, I know that I will be forever grateful for all the nights we co-created a Peruvian pop-up dinner in the heart of the Mission.
Thank you also to all the 18 Reasons volunteers and the staff and butchers at Bi-Rite Market, we could not have put on the Peruvian pop-up dinners without your help. !Gracias!