Interview: Pía León

Words by Belmond Editors

Interview: Pía León

Through numerous ancient ingredients and centuries of history, discover the DNA of new restaurant ‘Mauka’ with the celebrated Peruvian chef at the helm: Pía León.

Mauka, or mirabilis expansa, was an important food in pre-Columbian Peru due to its nutritional value. Rich in protein, calcium, and phosphorus, the Andean tuber is stress-resistant and hardy, able to grow at high altitudes and in harsh weather conditions. This humble ingredient is a prime example of extraordinary crops that are on the edge of oblivion. Promoting cultivation and consumption is not only key for biodiversity or nutrition, but for preserving culture.

“With Mauka, we take our name from an Andean root that is in danger of extinction,” explains celebrated chef Pía León. “Our restaurant highlights the importance of keeping products in this region alive. Cusco is a place of megadiversity, and we want raise awareness, celebrating the terrain.”

In 2023, Central — where León is co-director— was named The World’s Best Restaurant, the first time a Peruvian eatery has topped the influential list. Her first solo restaurant, Kjolle, opened in 2018, also ranked highly, landing at the 28th spot. León herself is much lauded, named the World's Best Female Chef by the same organization in 2021. With the opening of Mauka Restaurant in Cusco, she is bringing her dedication to Peruvian terroir to diners outside of the capital.

Mauka's ceviche dish of pink trout with tangerine and native capsicum and onions is vibrant against a pale marble table top.
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Mauka’s menu reveals a treasure trove of Cusquenian ingredients that León and her team are committed to nurturing. There are tubers like mashwa and yacón, grains like kañiwa and kiwicha, fruits like tumbo and cocona: all ingredients from the high jungle to the Andean plateau of the region. “The cuisine in Cusco is all about a deep connection with the land and the earth: potatoes, corn, chili peppers, coffee, cacao,” León explains. “There is a special and luxurious simplicity in these diverse products. Changing seasons in the region means the gastronomy keeps moving, always tapping into new sources of inspiration.”

Lima has long been celebrated as the gastronomic capital of South America, if not the world. But Cusco isn’t just a site of extraordinary historical significance and Inca history; it also has a rich culinary tradition waiting to be explored by well-heeled gastronomes. “Cusco offers its own unique bounty,” agrees León. “Here, gastronomy is often rooted strongly in the soil, with hundreds of varieties of native potatoes, tubers and roots, colorful corns, and cereals that have traveled the world. With it comes a real human element.” But beyond this focus on produce, Mauka strives to tap into the cultural significance of the Andes. “We celebrate art, history, and culture through our connection with and interpretation of biodiversity,” says León, “and we aim to cultivate a harmonious experience based on the senses, through sounds, touch, and colour.”

Mauka’s dishes possess an innate sense of joy and celebration, with vibrant natural colours complemented by ceramics and kitchenware crafted by the Peruvian studios Cotto Designs, Null.lab, and Jallpa Nina. The restaurant is housed within Palacio Nazarenas, A Belmond Hotel, which plays a leading role in Cusco’s contemporary food scene. Our passion for preserving the past is evident in the hotel’s original Inca frescoes, and this desire to maintain — and revive — local heritage continues with the culinary concept.

Just like the ever-changing terrains in diverse Peru, Pía León acknowledges that to be a chef is to be in a constant state of discovery. “The beauty of this path of being a chef is that you come across products that are completely new to you, constantly learning new things. Respecting the person who cultivates and handles the product is as highly important as the ingredient itself.”


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