They say the experts in anything were once beginners, and that is true for chefs de cuisine as well. But, while it is probably acceptable for the tycoon not to hire a rookie to build him a forty-story corporate building, it is a bit ludicrous how some people do a double take when suggested to dine at a restaurant where most of the staff are trainee students. What these twice-thinkers forget is that the modernization of France’s haute-cuisine led by Auguste Escoffier in the early 20th century was based on the work of apprentice cooks learning from the expert restaurateur.
Culinary school restaurants offer not only superb food but also great, helpful service. Supervised by accomplished professionals, chefs de partie, commis chefs, patissiers, and servers excel in their assigned tasks aware of the fact that this will earn them a good grade in their classes or a much desired recommendation from the chef de cuisine or maître d’ to prospective employers. One of such test restaurants in Lima is Don Ignacio, the culinary school restaurant belonging to Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola.
Partnered with Institut Paul-Bocuse Worldwide Alliance since 2015 and furnished with state-of-the-art equipment, Don Ignacio offers a 5-star service and a high-end gourmet experience that still remain unknown to a lot of avid consumers of contemporary modern cooking. “Don Ignacio’s approach relies on Peruvian cooking executed with the refined techniques of French and Italian cuisines and some recollections of my grandmother’s home cooking,” says Frank Ponce.
Mussels in a rich, velvety sauce (Photo: José Castro/Living in Peru)
Frank is the executive chef in charge of the menu, and his expertise is considerable for his young age. Having graduated from D’Gallia’s Culinary School in 2010 and IDVIP’s Sommelier School in 2011, he started his career staging several restaurants in Lima as well as, most notably, Picca, a Peruvian-cuisine restaurant in Beverly Hills. After attending graduate school at ICIF (International School of Italian Cuisine), he also staged restaurants in Brescia and Modena, including Michelin-starred L’Erba del Re. Back in Lima, he worked as chef de partie at Astrid & Gastón and as sous chef and chef de cuisine at Casagrande Davià.
His mastery of cooking techniques was palpable in every little course we tasted during our visit. The mejillones en su salsa (mussels in their juice) are served with a velvety, rich sauce made of white wine, butter, fish fumet, and garlic paste mixed with leche de tigre. The flavor has a subtle citrus note, a gentle spiciness, and a surprising homey feel.
Scallops bathed in lomo saltado sauce and a parmesan foam (Photo: José Castro/Living in Peru)
Another example of great execution are the scallops, conchitas de Camaná, bathed with a lomo saltado sauce and topped with a Parmesan cheese foam, an imaginative and creatively emulsified infusion of Parmesan cheese and whipping cream. The resulting textures and flavors speak of quality and passion. The taste of the sauce in contrast with the cheese builds up in intensity while staying balanced, and the plating is artsy and tasteful.
And since we started talking about French cooking some lines above, it is timely and relevant to try some joue de boeuf (beef cheeks) a traditional French meat cut that is dreamily tender when cooked slowly. This is when a cooking method with a French name comes into play. Sous vide (French for ‘under vacuum’) is the name given to the technique of cooking something at a very low, controlled temperature for a long, controlled time in a vacuum-sealed bag. In this case, the sous-vide beef cheek has such a tooth-tender feel that it seems to melt in your mouth. The side dish is ravioli al burro e salvia (raviolis with a butter and sage sauce), showing the Italian influence; and they come filled with loche squash, an element of Peruvian-heritage. The pasta is house-made and the loche tastes delicately sweet. This is downright brilliance.
Ravioli filled with loche squash, paired with beef cheek (Photo: José Castro/Living in Peru)
The time for dessert has come, and chef patissier Paul Olano steps under the spotlight. He regales us with a flight of his signature desserts. In come mango & passion fruit parfaits, praline sponge cakes, passion fruit ganaches, basil ice cream scoops, goat cheese mousses, quinoa crisps, chocolate-covered quinoa nougatines, tumbo sorbets, baba au rhums, puff pastries filled with pineapple & lemongrass cream and topped with fruit & sage compote, and strawberry lace cookies. Each of them plays a unique chromatic score written with glee for a sans-soloist symphony of flavors finale. Most importantly, excessive sweetness had no music sheet to play.
Take flight with this round-up of exquisite desserts (Photo: José Castro/Living in Peru)
Don Ignacio awaits you. If you need be sold further on the idea, remember those moments of pleasure you helped provide all those childhood years ago while cooking under the tutelage of Grandma. Student cooks can help provide those culinary pleasures as well. With the right guidance, everybody’s first steps can find the road to greatness. A road not paved with tar, but with béchamel, velouté, hollandaise, and ganache, instead. Just make sure not to miss the ride.
Restaurante Don Ignacio
Calle San Ignacio de Loyola 150, La Molina
Monday- Friday: 12:30 p.m. – 4 p.m., 7 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Saturday- Sunday: 12 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Starters: S/ 35 – 42
Main plates: S/ 40 – 50
Desserts: S/ 23 – 50
Takes reservations. Walk-ins welcome.