Rodrigo Naranjo, executive chef in explora Sacred Valley
My own journey as a chef began in the city, in Lima, but I never imagined that it would bring me to Sacred Valley, to the place where the Incan empire once grew its food. My work has brought me closer to the landscape and the people, harvesting and preparing many of the same products the Incas planted centuries ago on these privileged lands.
It’s no exaggeration: the quinoa, kiwicha, and tarwi we sow today are the very same Andean foods from which they got their nourishment. Even the terraces we use to grow our crops have been maintained with the very same stones the Incas used centuries ago.
That’s why I feel that gastronomy is a way to close the circle that our travelers begin when they come to explore Sacred Valley. Just steps away from the hotel are the maize, quinoa, muña and aguaymanto crops, which are part of the landscape. When you travel around the valley, you’ll run into the settlers digging up potatoes from the earth along Urubamba River. You may even be lucky enough to help them harvest some of the more than 2400 varieties of potatoes found in the valley.
At the end of the day, when you sit down to eat, you look at your dish, and what do you see? More than just food, more than just a recipe: you see a story. You relive what your senses experienced during the expedition, recalling the aroma of the herbs and once again feeling the soil in your hands when you picked that potato that now sits before you on your plate.
I want you to feel proud at that moment, and think: “I brought it here myself, they parboiled it for me, and now I am enjoying it.”
I can’t think of a more profound way to explore than an experience literally rooted in these lands.
Connecting travelers with this experience is part of my own personal journey, which I want to live to the fullest. Over time, I too have discovered new ingredients, thanks to the guys in the kitchen, all natives to Cusco. They throw in their own flavors, but also their stories. Every time we put together a dish, they suggest ideas from their zone. That’s how we develop the concept for our menu, traditional Peruvian recipes merged with products native to Sacred Valley.
We developed our menu concept using ingredients native to the zone, fusing them with typical Peruvian dishes.
Thanks to this approach, people recognize our unique touch. For example, our trilogy of causas combines crunchy and silky textures in a dish marked by the intense yellow of the local potatoes and the green of the avocados, and we throw in the prawns and octopus typical of the north. This blend produces very different sensations in the heights of Sacred Valley. Even the ceviche has its own personality: instead of white fish, we use trout, typical to the zone, which brings with it its own particular flavors and colors.
For guests to dive even deeper into the experience, we are developing a garden where they will be able to see firsthand everything we plant, and get to know the plants the Inca people grew. The more products we use from our garden, the closer we get to offering a cultural experience, which is what fills us most with pride.
Back in Lima, I could never have imagined something like this. Of course, everyone would like to have a garden at home to pick vegetables, ají chili peppers, but to have a garden here in Sacred Valley is something else altogether. Working the land teaches us the value of the ingredient before we bring it to the plate. I think that participating in growing and harvesting what you are going to eat, letting the soil run through your fingers, is also part of exploring deeply.