Peru x Alys Beach

Peru x Alys: There and Back Again

Peru x Alys Beach
Words by Samantha Moats Images by Katie DeSantis

At Caliza Restaurant, Alys Beach’s upscale and seasonal flagship, guests are invited to venture into an atmospheric oasis. The restaurant upholds a reputation across the Gulf Coast for its modern coastal cuisine, crafted with fresh, local ingredients and a hint of global flair. With Food and Beverage Director Hugues Le Berre and esteemed chef Drew Dzejak at the helm, Caliza continues to build on this reputation with their wisely selected team continuing to drive it forward—a team that includes Renato Falconi.

Renato was born and raised in Lima, Peru. When he was just 17 years old, he embarked on his culinary career and chose to attend the Le Cordon Bleu Institute in Lima.

“I was always into cooking since I was little. I was supposed to be an architect because I got into school for that. But I also wanted to try culinary school,” says Renato. “So, I gave it a try and really liked it.” When Renato finished his studies with Le Cordon Bleu in 2009, he set out in pursuit of his culinary aspirations.

All along the way, Renato found himself in and out of the kitchen but always learning with and from others. He filled his resume working at places such as the Ritz-Carlton in both Naples, Florida, as well as in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, and traveling across the Atlantic and Mediterranean with a cruise line, with stints back in Peru scattered in between. He even spent one summer working at Caliza before heading to Bluffton, South Carolina, to be sous chef for his friend and mentor Chef Brandon Carter at Brandon’s restaurant FARM.

Renato returned to Caliza in January of last year, and since his return, he has been utilizing a decade of culinary knowledge to help create unique experiences for Caliza’s many guests, including an exclusive Peruvian Dinner in September of 2018.

For this special dinner, 34 guests gathered together on the rooftop terrace to enjoy Renato’s carefully curated prix fixe menu of Peruvian-style dishes. Each dish was crafted from locally sourced ingredients, and paired with wines selected by Hugues Le Berre.

“We used the techniques of Peruvian cuisine because it’s difficult to find real Peruvian ingredients here,” says Renato. “So, I’d use something from the same family to keep the flavors similar.”

Peru’s cuisine is known for its heavy use of both potatoes and peppers, says Renato, noting that peppers and sauces made from peppers are a primary focus in most Peruvian recipes.

“We like a little kick in every dish to bring out those flavors,” he says.

When developing the evening’s menu, Renato drew inspiration from the “old school” dishes his mother made while he was growing up in Lima. He designed four courses that would take guests on a gastronomic trip around Peru. Between each course, Renato offered small plates of Peruvian street food that linked one course to the next and representing multiple regions of the country.

The first two courses were prime examples of Peru’s coastal cuisine. Starting with Renato’s hometown of Lima, the first course was a tangy Ceviche Escabechedo; the second course represented the city of Tumbes with a flavor-rich scallop dish called Majarisco. Next, guests were presented a richer dish called Juane from the inland city of Iquitos, the Peruvian gateway to the Amazon. The final course took guests back to Lima with Suspiro, a luscious liqueur meringue.

The dinner reflects a beautiful juxtaposition of the familiar with the unfamiliar, challenging the guests and the chef to experience both. Because Renato prioritizes preparation methods unique to Peruvian cuisine rather than specifically Peruvian ingredients, guests were able to taste different flavor profiles of familiar ingredients—ingredients Renato learned to work with and appreciate over time.

“That’s why you apply those techniques,” says Renato. “Sometimes there’s more than one preparation, and you can figure out a way to let the ingredients speak for themselves.”

Just as a foreign language is translated by the literacy of an interpreter, so too is food given a voice and imparted through the skillful preparation of a chef. As Caliza and its accomplished team embark on another season, may it continue to inspire guests to embolden their senses and find nuance within the familiar.