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Schiaffino: “We still have a lot to learn about gastronomy in Peru and South America”

David Salvador


The Peruvian chef talks about the gastronomic virtues of the wild “paiche” fish native to Amazonia.

Peruvian chef and activist Pedro Miguel Schiaffino (Lima, 1976) is back in Spain to elaborate on the gastronomic potential of Amazonia’s larder, “which also involves settlement of the indigenous communities working there, and improvement of biodiversity”. During a talk presented and completed by gastronomy journalist Ignacio Medina, Schiaffino is back to showcase the wild paiche, “a fish that has gastronomic potential and is sustainable throughout the entire fishing process”, and here he urged his colleagues: “I would like more chefs to work with Amazonia to develop the value chain of local products there, to show it to the world”. 

In Amazonia “we can find up to 700 edible species – as many species as are found in Peru’s sea – but very few are used in gastronomy”. Therefore “we still have a lot of work to do, and bring out the gastronomy of Peru in particular, and of South America in general”. Medina added: “There is still much work to be done here and, for example, it would useful if a University could turn its attention to Amazonia from the academic standpoint”, which could also help fight illegal mining activity which pours mercury into the rivers, illegal tree-felling and the production of coca leaves, “the main threats damaging the region’s ecosystems”. The message was duly conveyed.

Schiaffino concentrated on explaining the virtues of the paiche, which his NGO Despensa Amazónica has helped put on the market. “I’ve been gradually getting involved in Amazonia, but it’s been no easy task because the process of getting to the product is complicated”. Over the years, in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, one of South America’s largest floodplains, he has managed to persuade the government to facilitate transportation and guarantee a cold chain so that “this year, for the first time ever, wild paiche is available in a supermarket in Lima”.

Previously the conditions were not right to allow this to happen, “and the people of Lima didn’t know this fish. More work has to be done on the chains”, he repeated. Amounts of paiche have increased from almost 500 units to 10,000 units in 15 years, thanks to the quotas established and selective fishing permitting fish weighing at least 40 kilos and measuring 1.70 m to be caught. “Also, the bigger they are, the more fat they have and the better they taste”. The fishing policy, which also allows only 10-15% of officially registered species to be fished, means that the amounts of wild paiche sold are always small, “and so we have to upgrade it”. They did this, quintupling the price by extending the range of cuts.

The paiche is the most representative species of Schiaffino’s work, but “thanks to the ecosystems of continental water created in Amazonia, there are many aquatic species which could be used in gastronomy, but have not yet been exploited. There is still work to be done, for gastronomy, sustainability and to help local populations in Amazonia.