4 Suyos's Owner on Chicago's Peruvian Food Scene
Since Peruvian celebrity chef Gastón Acurio opened his first Chicago restaurant, Tanta (188 W. Grand Ave.), in River North last month, Peruvian food has been attracting a lot more local attention. But what about restaurants that have been serving the classics for years? Humberto Trujillo, chef-owner of 4 Suyos (2727 W. Fullerton Ave.), talked to us about what sets the cuisine apart, how the scene has changed, and plans to put his food on wheels.
GROUPON: How long have you been in Chicago?
HUMBERTO TRUJILLO: I’ve been here for 13 years. I left my country when I was 17. I lived in Japan for five years and worked at one of the Peruvian restaurants there for a couple years. And then I moved to the United States, to Chicago. The last restaurant I worked at before this was Machu Picchu. The family that runs the business became my friends, and they helped me. Also, my dad had a restaurant in Peru, and I learned all the secrets from him.
G: How long has 4 Suyos been open?
HT: The restaurant’s been open for a year and a half. But the business plans and such took another year, so two and a half.
G: Why Logan Square?
HT: Because I live here and I see how many restaurants are coming here, so I thought it was a good idea to open here.
G: How would you describe Peruvian cuisine in Chicago?
HT: It’s a new market, and there’s not many Peruvian restaurants in Chicago. When I came here, there were only two Peruvian restaurants; that was 13 years ago. I went to try them, and I wasn’t really happy with it and thought, “Hey, I can do better than that.” And little by little, I started saving money and opened this restaurant.
Really, Peruvian cuisine is a fusion of different countries adding ingredients. After the Second [World] War, people from different countries all brought food, and we added it—the Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, and Africans, who brought carapulcra [a meat and potato stew].
G: Do you see Peruvian cuisine as an emerging trend in America?
HT: Yeah, comparing it to before, people are more interested in trying Peruvian food, especially because Tanta is here [in Chicago], it’s already made it more famous.
G: Have you been to Tanta or to chef Gastón Acurio’s other restaurants?
HT: I’ve been to his restaurants in Lima and in Argentina. They are very good; his food is gourmet. Back when I was in Peru 16 years ago, nobody wanted to be a chef. Once Gastón Acurio proved that it’s another way that people can be successful in the food industry, now everyone wants to be a chef now.
G: Was the Peruvian-restaurant community here generally excited about Tanta opening?
HT: Oh yeah. Peruvians really wanted to go and try it because he’s really good and famous.
G: What dish would you recommend for people who haven’t eaten Peruvian food before?
HT: Our ceviche. Ceviche is our “flag.” It’s cooked with lemons, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and cilantro, and then with toasted corn and seaweed.
G: What sets Peruvian ceviche apart?
HT: Well, when I was in Peru, I ate ceviche every day. So when I opened the restaurant, I found out that there were other countries that had ceviche, and I was like, “Why? Where’d the ceviche come from?” So I tried ceviches from different restaurants in different countries, and they all had the same basic thing: the lime or lemon. I was searching for where it really came from.
So I was searching the Internet and found that the Spanish people conquered us and brought the limes into our country. But they don’t have ceviche in Spain, so I was like “Where did the ceviche come from?” So searching again, I found that the Arabic people have a dish that’s kind of similar, but it’s a little bit sweet.
G: Any other dishes you recommend here?
HT: Pescado de macho, a fried tilapia with seafood on top. We also work with corvina [sea bass] and mahi-mahi. We do a Peruvian version of paella with a seafood combination: shrimp, mussels, clams, octopus.
G: What about vegetarian options?
HT: Yes, we’re actually one of the first Peruvian restaurants to serve seitan and tofu in Chicago. Most Peruvian restaurants just use mushrooms.
G: How do you source your ingredients?
HT: Now it’s easier compared to 13 years ago because there were only two restaurants. Now there’s a lot of companies that bring in Peruvian peppers.
G: What’s the hardest one to get?
HT: The red pepper because once they bring it, other restaurants and Peruvian families buy it; sometimes it will just be on the market for a month. So once they come to the store, you have to buy 13, 14 boxes.
G: What’s next for 4 Suyos?
HT: We’re going to start a food truck next summer. It will be called Suyos Express, the first Peruvian food truck in Chicago. We’ll serve tamales, papa rellenas, antichuchos [kebabs], and a French fusion dish that has chicken with parmesan cheese and walnuts.
[I wanted to start my own because] I’ve seen a lot of food trucks downtown. Last year, I saw a Mexican food truck selling tacos and he had a line down the block, and I thought, “That’s good!”
Photo: © Stephanie Bassos, Groupon