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Todd Erickson In Peru

Erickson preparing deviled eggsThe two chefsJetBlue in the sky

A flock of food bloggers and other media folks from Miami and New York were invited to fly on JetBlue’s inaugural daily non-stop flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Lima, Peru. Todd Erickson (Haven and Huahua’s Taquería). was on the flight as well, as he was to prepare a JetBlue-sponsored collaboration dinner with celebrated Lima chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino. I was there too, and I don't mean to sound insecure but sometimes I suspect the only reason they brought me along was so I could write about it.

Things were culinarily cool from the start, as Erickson was at the JetBlue concourse in Ft. Lauderdale preparing deviled eggs – one type spicy, another with stone crab. It was breakfast time, I was hungry, and they were the best damn deviled eggs I’ve ever had. So I kept grabbing them, hoping the chef didn’t notice what a hog I was being. The flight was fun too, but it was all just the preface for some great meals to come.

Chefs Erickson and Schiaffino; photo by lee klein
The Erickson-Schiaffino collab dinner occurred over a year ago, but excepting a 3-part overview of the entire JetBlue-sponsored trip that I reported for South Florida Gourmet, I haven’t noted any other local coverage. And because this meal was an absolute knockout affair, and the food really interesting, I’m writing about it again.

The setting was Malabar, which chef Schiaffino opened in the San Isidro neighborhood of Lima in 2004. Malabar consistently ranks among the top five in Summum, Peru’s most revered dining guide.

The dining room is elegant in an understated manner. The cuisine, plated in colorful, minimalist fashion, includes roots, leaves, flowers, obscure vegetables and spiky fruits, many sourced directly from the Amazon.

Table setting at Malabar; photo by lee klein

Schiaffino is one of a number of talented jungle-to-table chefs who foster relationships with forest producers and utilize their culinary talents in tandem with a sort of botanical mastery to create a highly creative interpretation of Peruvian and Andean cuisine.

And most of you know about Todd Erickson, another minimalist innovator with a deft touch. He arrived in Miami as Executive Sous Chef at Zuma, and in 2011 partnered with Mike Boles to open HaVen South Beach. The dazzling restaurant/lounge highlights global small plates of salads, sliders, skewers, and sushi rolls – along with liquid nitrogen ice cream that gets freeze-blasted per order. Huahua’s Taqueriía next door features a cool, fast casual menu of creatively crammed tacos.

First Course: “3,000 meters over sea level”

Amazon to table cooking; photo by lee klein
Chef Schiaffino came out to the table to explain the first course. Regrettably, I’d already imbibed a pisco sour and a few quick gulps of my first course wine and wasn’t exactly hanging on his words. So he told me the components at a later date, and also described the genesis of the dish:

“It started with a sauce made of anchovies, garlic, parsley, olive oil and leche de tigre (ceviche juice) that we used to serve with a fresh fish tiradito. Then it evolved into a salad with fresh scallops, cucumber and the Andean seaweed. When we found the wild cucumber (called ‘achojcha’ in the Andes) we took out the regular cucumber and started using the wild one. Then we added the fresh maca.” (A Peruvian root sometimes called the “Andean Viagra”).

“At the end, we found that the fresh scallops made no sense on the plate and we took them out. The wild cucumber is called ‘achoicha’ in the Andes. The seaweed is collected from ponds and streams in the mountains above 3,500 meters. The maca grows above 4,000 meters. That’s why we call the dish by this name.”

The flavors were fresh, clean, light and lively: An ideal beginning to a multi-course meal.

Second Course: “Stone Crabs with wasabi-avocado puree, tomato-water gelée, and baby greens”

Stone crab from Peru; photo by lee klein
Chef Erickson was set to bring stone crabs from Miami, but Schiaffino told him he thought he could get him stone crabs in Peru. And he did, even if it wasn’t exactly what Todd was expecting.

“When I arrived at Malabar they told me, ‘Your stone crabs are in the cooler.’ So I opened the cooler expecting to see claws, but there were 15 live, gyrating stone crabs lined up on a sheet pan. I was like ‘Holy crap!’ You just don’t see that in Florida because of the fishing laws. So that was a trip for me, because I’d never worked with live stone crabs before.”

Third Course: “Hearts of Palm with shrimp, citrus, asparagus, basil, sour orange vinaigrette, hazelnuts”

Heart of palm with citrus; photo by lee klein
When I asked Todd to name some interesting ingredients he’d worked with in Lima, the first thing he mentioned was plantain vinegar.

“I was going through their shelves (at Malabar) and I opened up this jar – it wasn’t labeled – and I was like ‘What is this stuff?’ Then they told me. It didn’t have an overly banana flavor. It was floral and light and had a great acidity to it, so I paired it with Brazil nut oil, which is also indigenous to Peru, and it was really fantastic. I used the zest and juice from sour oranges which were from the Amazon, so it was really like a tropical vinaigrette.”

Fourth Course: “Potato ‘Huatia’ with crunchy quinoa, Alpaca ham, oyster mushrooms, and tamarillo”

Hot potato!; photo by lee klein
Pedro: “In the Andes, after the potato harvest the farmers take rocks and soil and heat them with an open fire made with wood and hay. When the soil is hot they bury the potatoes in this soil and cook them. That is called ‘huatia’. They eat the potatoes with some chili pepper sauce or just salt before finishing the harvest day. What we do is cook the potatoes in the oven but buried in the soil. So they have the aroma and flavor of the earth where they were grown. We add some Andean ingredients to complement the dish – tree tomato, homemade alpaca ham, crispy black quinoa, Andean herbs and pickled fresh mushrooms.”

Fifth Course: “Roast pork belly with black bean puree, spiced maduros, rum, and pickled chili salad”

Pork and beans, Miami style; photo by lee klein
Erickson: “Beans, rice, pork and maduros had a South Florida air to it. I got to bring in a bit of Peru with the fresh rocoto peppers. So I mixed those with aji amarillo and red-and-yellow bell peppers, because the rocoto peppers are pretty hot.”

Desserts: ““Key limes & guavas, Key lime panna cotta, meringues, buttered graham toffee/// Coconut, tapioca and green mango”

Todd's finale; photo by lee kleinMarco Sforza's dessert; photo by lee klein

The coconut dessert was courtesy of Malabar’s pastry chef Marco Sforza. The Key lime dessert was chef Erickson’s creation: A refreshing tropical duet to close out the evening.