Fighting Hunger In Peru, One Cooking Class At A Time

“It might take 60 years to see a big change and I’ll be dead by then, but that doesn’t matter as long as the seeds we plant get harvested”

As Peru’s culinary star continues to rise and its capital, Lima, emerges as a world-class food-lover’s destination, many Peruvians still struggle with food shortages and malnutrition. Peruvian Chef Palmiro Ocampo is using his considerable talent to try to close the gap between haute cuisine and the thousands of Peruvians who don’t have enough to eat.

It’s been a big year for Lima-born Ocampo, who sharpened his skills in the kitchens of Noma and El Celler de Can Roca before striking out on his own. In April, he opened his latest restaurant, 1087 Bistro in Lima, and earlier in the year he was tapped to be the Gastronomic Director of Apega, the organization that runs the annual Mistura food festival, one of the biggest and most influential food festivals in South America, which kicks off September 2nd. However, the project that Ocampo—a self-described “compulsive recycler”—is most passionate about is his non-profit organization that teaches cooks creative techniques to utilize more of each ingredient in order to reduce food waste and eliminate hunger.

Chef Ocampo is bridging the gap between food waste and hunger. Photo by La Bomba Foto & Video

GOOD: So, are you a chef or are you an activist?

Chef Palmiro Ocampo: Being a cook for me is just a label. Before I was a cook I was a human. As a person I want to do something more than just cooking. I want to contribute to society. I want to help civilization and the planet. I do not want to turn my back on the problems of the world. I don’t want to say “I'm just a cook. I can’t help.” I want to serve the world. With CCori I can do that.

The work I do there is a dream come true. It’s a non-profit organization that started in 2014 and its mission is to raise awareness about food waste and hunger in the world using haute cuisine and gastronomy. We train cooks at soup kitchens, shelters and other areas with food shortage problems and teach them cooking techniques that exploit more ingredients. We teach them about culinary recycling and how to use the same ingredients to cook more food.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]These culinary techniques are gold for us and, we believe, also for the world.[/quote]

We also created culinary recycling courses for two Peruvian universities. We want to teach new generations to have social sensitivity through the kitchen. Our goal is to establish ourselves as one of the tools to cure world hunger and raise awareness that food can be better utilized in all spheres of society, not only in the poorest.

What inspired you to start CCori?

In 2001 I was a culinary school student and the amount of food waste generated in our classes was huge. Learning basic cooking techniques, like how to make precision cuts of vegetables, creates beautiful results, but we threw away kilos and kilos of food in the process. I grew up in an environment where all resources were scarce and I have not forgotten that.

When I watched the kitchen waste in cooking school I felt like doing something, but I was still a student with a lot to learn. In 2011 I went back to cooking schools as a teacher, and the amount of waste was even greater than in 2004. I started using my experience to teach students how they could use the waste to make beautiful and delicious things. The initiative to research and promote techniques that take advantage of more ingredients was born.

One of Ocampo's dishes, called the Pachamama Snack, made with Andean potato crystals, chicha de jora aioli, olives, and carrots with passion fruit syrup. Photo via La Bomba Foto & Video

What does the word CCori mean?

CCori is a Quechua word. It means “gold” or “treasure”, and I chose it because it shows that we have a map to find the treasure, the treasure within us, that which makes us instruments of change. These culinary techniques are gold for us and, we believe, also for the world.

How big is the food waste problem in Peru?

In Peru we throw away 40% of agricultural products and 65% of the foods that were transformed into finished products but did not sell before their expiration date. It's a shame that in a developing country like Peru we do not realize that this is happening and instead we pursue haute cuisine and luxuries. I love haute cuisine. I love luxuries. But we need a balance between haute cuisine and people who do not have enough to eat.

Ocampo teaches the next generation of chefs how to reduce their food waste. Photo via La Bomba Foto & Video

You are the gastronomic director for this year’s Mistura food festival in Lima. How will you incorporate the principles of CCori into the festival?

This year’s Young Chef candidates at Mistura will get extra points if they use the whole ingredient and make delicious food at the same time. This is the first time that this Mistura contest will stress the point of using culinary recycling. In my country, talking about food waste is very new. It’s difficult to educate the older generation, but we can teach the children. So there will be a Little Mistureros program at Mistura this year which will give children between 7 and 12 the chance to tour a market with chefs Virgilio Martínez (the chef at Central restaurant, which is number four on the 2016 list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants), Diego Muñoz (long-time executive chef at award-winning restaurants from Gaston Acurio, who is now cooking his way around the world) and Jaime Pesaque (chef at beloved Mayta in Lima). Then the kids will learn about culinary recycling and composting. It might take 60 years to see a big change and I’ll be dead by then, but that doesn’t matter as long as the seeds we plant in children today get harvested.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]I do not want to turn my back on the problems of the world. I don’t want to say 'I'm just a cook. I can’t help.'[/quote]

What are your favorite recycled food dishes on your menu right now?

The Marrow Scoundrel and Cartilage Grilled Chicken are both my favorite recycled dishes on the menu because they use parts that nobody considers food but which represent 35% of the ingredient. The marrow has a salty, toffee, smoked pork flavor and is served with crispy banana peels which are soaked in ice water, boiled and then fried.

The Cartilage Grilled Chicken is marinated and vacuum cooked for three hours, then finished on the grill. The cartilage is crispy and gelatinous and delicious.

You created something called the Culinary Recycling Project Night at your 1087 Bistro. What is that?

One Saturday night per month, after the restaurant closes and all of the staff, including waiters, bartenders, the whole tribe of 1087 Bistro, has the chance to present a new dish using whole ingredients and culinary recycling techniques. We have added techniques and ingredients to the 1087 Bistro menu including lime foam, pear sponge and edible yucca paper after they were presented by staff members at CRPN nights.

Do you think 1087 Bistro could be 100% waste free someday?

Yes. That’s my dream, and I fight hard to make my dreams come true.

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