The way Americans live is a force of culturalization around the world. I’ve recently returned to Cedar City from the Oil Pipeline protest in Standing Rock, North Dakota, and I find myself romancing of the ways in which the people of America are showing the huddled masses around the world that it’s possible to stand up and fight the those who might ruin our land and lives for their profit. I became wrapped in my American ego, and it took a Peruvian-expat restaurateur to pop my bubble and remind me the power food possesses to teach people culture and compassion.
Octavio Ricardo Mejia’s dream rose from a food truck to a brick and mortar in a year. Pisco Peruvian Rotisserie & Grill is the fullest realization of any chef, a truth in food once only accessible in South America and recreated through Octavio in Southern Utah.
Octavio’s dream started at a young age, 5 or 6, in Peru where he learned to cook at his mother’s side.
“I would just sit and make homemade recipes,” Octavio said. “My mom would laugh because sometimes I would burn stuff, but ever since I was a kid I would always try to do something in the kitchen. I saw my mom cooking a lot, even though she wasn’t a home-maker and she wasn’t home a lot, but when she cooked, I was always there.”
At 16, Octavio entered culinary school, studying in Peru and Bolivia until he was 19. Shortly after, Octavio chased a dream to Las Vegas and eventually to Cedar City. He carried his family’s recipes with him from childhood while working to open Pisco Peruvian. These recipes, like the Saltado and Pollo a la brasa, are closely held family secrets, for which Octavio had to petition his relatives before developing his menu.
However, when Octavio began looking for the ingredients to create the flavors of his family, he learned the American market was void of his uncommon needs. This lead Octavio to do something that he learned from the Spanish and Chinese who changed Peruvian food into what it is, he altered his recipes slightly while importing the most important ingredients. Octavio is certain that the true flavors of Peru is kept within these spices and peppers. I’m certain that within these flavors, and the true flavors of the world, is held a social lubricant that can lead to the dismantling of cultural prejudices.
Octavio said, “Through food we can deliver a message to understand and except others.”
He and I surely bonded over the familiar and enjoyably unfamiliar, but delicious, flavors in his food. I might be romanticizing a bit by assuming food can dismantle any prejudice. However, when Octavio’s liquor and Peruvian beers show up, the discussion should be a little easier, and if we get too hung over, well head back and grab an order of ceviche.