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China Chilcano Chef Carlos Delgado at the Smithsonian

August 2017

"It's already signature to me. I was born into it." Carlos Delgado, Head Chef at China Chilcano, explained to the Washington Post's food writer Joe Yonan that he is a fourth generation cook. “I grew up around Peruvian food - my great grandmother and my grandmother were the ones who taught me.” Chef Carlos brings that long tradition to Washington DC, where he has created a menu that combines the traditional dishes of Peru with immigrant cuisines of the Japanese and Chinese communities who have moved to the country. The discussion was part of a series at the Smithsonian highlighting the regions and cuisines represented by José Andrés's restaurants - earlier discussions covered the heirloom corn being made into tortillas at Oyamel and the traditions of mezcal in Mexico.

China Chilcano features dishes that combine ingredients and flavors from Peru, China, and Japan - but don't call them fusion. "It was never really fusion, instead it grew up by force of nature," Carlos told Joe. Peruvian chefs weren't artificially combining ingredients or flavors from the different communities. Instead, the realities of immigration and creativity of chefs from various backgrounds led to new creations. Nikkei cuisine, from Japanese immigrants, brought new ways of using fish - for example, adding lime juice to fresh fish moments before serving, instead of the long-soaked ceviches that Peruvians were more accustomed to. Chifa cuisine, coming from the Chinese words "eat food," brought flavors and preparations from China, like hoisin and oyster sauces, noodle and rice dishes, and the iconic dish Lomo Saltado, a beef stirfry. Criollo cuisine, native to Peru, utilizes ingredients that have long been part of the cooking of the area - numerous varieties of potatoes, chiles, and corn; fresh fish; and the citrus that goes into many dishes, including the rich lime marinade for ceviche known as leche de tigre.

Carlos sees his position as offering a unique opportunity to promote the ingredients of his country, calling himself a "Peruvian ambassador." He imports to the US a special variety of chocolate, known as majambo, and is working to bring in a new brand of the Peruvian spirit pisco. "It's our job to promote more of our food!" Carlos told the audience, before serving them a favorite dish from the restaurant: California Causa, a Nikkei-influenced take on a traditional potato cake, served with crab, avocado, and fish roe.

If you want to learn more about Nikkei, Chifa, and Criollo cuisines, make a reservation at China Chilcano and taste for yourself!