Brushing eyes, combing toenails, flossing knees, and buying butts at the supermarket.
Tony Custer: Flavors of Charity
Although Tony Custer has received no formal culinary training, the cook, author, and editor says, “A year stage working in Paris, between college and business school, opened my eyes to the wonders of the kitchen.” It is that love of gastronomy, paired with a deep sense of philanthropy, that led him to publish his new cookbook, The Art of Peruvian Cuisine, Volume II.
The tome comes a decade after the premier volume, which has raised more than $1.25 million for Aprendamos Juntos, a program Custer founded in 1998 to serve learning-disabled children in the poorest schools of Peru’s capital.
“One of my brothers struggled through school with severe dyslexia and dyscalculia,” he says, explaining his ties to the cause. “I was struck by how, having everything else he needed, the lack of appropriate therapeutic knowledge kept him from being properly helped. Years later I was even more stunned to see how difficult it was for children in Lima’s shantytowns to get the care that existed but could not reach them.”
Following the success of Custer’s first cookbook, Aprendamos Juntos has grown from three small centers helping 143 children to 11 centers providing 2,000-plus students, 800 parents, and almost 60 elementary school teachers with remedial assistance. The program also works with the Youth Orchestra of the Americas to encourage Peruvian youth to explore their musical talents.
Custer hopes the second installment of his cookbook not only continues to aid the foundation but also “carries the torch” in his mission to take the flavors of Peru abroad.
“Peruvian cuisine is the Americas’ oldest and probably most multifaceted fusion,” he says, describing how it blends flavors, ingredients, and cooking methods from the Incas and Moors and countries including Spain, France, Africa, China, and Japan. As such, the new book encompasses everything from pisco cocktails to ceviches, sushi, and tamales, using a wide array of techniques: macerating; stir-frying; cooking in earthenware pots, wood ovens, and the ground; serving foods raw.
Chefs and home cooks alike can expect some surprises from the book, Custer says, such as discovering the huge range of flavors in Peruvian potatoes and learning how to cook flavorful ajies, or chiles, to the point that “only the taste and bouquet are left—no tongue-burning at all.”
While the first cookbook features several dishes Custer remembers from parties and gatherings of his childhood, made by his mother’s longtime cook, he collaborated with nearly two dozen chefs to compile the recipes of the second. “It was a wonderful sleigh ride though our cuisine, as seen through more than 20 sets of knowledgeable eyes,” Custer says. “The best part was that each chef is a serious student of Peruvian cuisine in her or his own right—a fact that afforded me hours of fascinating history.”
To learn more or to donate please visit: www.fundacioncuster.org
By Laurel Leicht