The Manifestation of Ayahuasca Peruvian Cuisine
It wasn't until well into our conversation when I discovered that Carlos Pesantes, who had introduced himself when I walked in and proceeded—between bites and corresponding mmm’s–to educate me on Peruvian food (4,000 types of potatoes!), didn't actually work at Ayahuasca Peruvian Cuisine. Rather, he’s simply a frequent customer, one of many the tiny Forest Hills restaurant has amassed since opening in January.
Adriana Morote and Peter Guillen are the friends, co-owners, chefs and the only staff members at Ayahuasca. They opened the restaurant to serve as a solution to a frustrating problem: a lack of affordable, quality food in their neighborhood.
“We don't like processed food,” Morote said. “We hate it. We wanted people to have good food for a price you can pay every single day.”
When it came down to the actual cuisine, Peruvian was a natural choice, as the two both immigrated from Lima 12 years ago––and wanted to bring the true flavors and culture to their neighborhood in Queens.
“When you go to Peru, they worry about the food, about rest, and happiness,” Morote explained. “We don’t only feel like we are feeding ourselves, but our souls as well.”
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And in addition to the food, the friendly neighborhood vibe that Morote and Guillen have managed to cultivate also defines the Ayahuasca experience, turning random patrons into Pesantes-like regulars.
“They say they feel like [it’s] a friends and family business where they can come talk to us,” said Guillen. “I remember all of the faces, I remember what they got. I still remember the first customer.”
Likewise, the customers are known to remember the owners’ faces as well. “I was in Astoria looking for a taxi,” Guillen recalled, “and one car came up and [the driver] told me, ‘Oh, you’re the owner at Ayahuasca right? You made the best ceviche I ever had! C’mon, I’ll take you home.’”
And it’s true that there is a Cheers-esque, everybody-knows-your-name element to the tiny eatery with its laid-back atmosphere and loyal customers. However, instead of muddling customers’ cocktails while shooting the breeze, Guillen prepares ceviche to order from behind the counter, exemplifying another one of Ayahuasca’s major defining factors: freshness.
To ensure the most flavorful dishes possible, Morote and Guillen begin every day with a trip to the market, where they grab the ingredients needed to prepare the regular menu items—chicharrones, arroz con pollo and concha negras, to name a few—along with the day’s special: whatever they feel like cooking that day. Some dishes are then prepared as quick grab-and-go options for the lunch rush, but the majority of the food is made to order by Morote while Guillen mans the register and ceviche station up front. While this allows for them to easily accommodate allergies, diet restrictions and preferences (like veganism), it does require some patience on the part of the customer. “Two hands, one kitchen,” shrugged Morote. “They want food, they have to wait.”
Along with being freshness fanatics, the two also insist on authenticity. True Peruvian ingredients—algae topping the ceviche, beer from Cusco—involve a pilgrimage to Paterson, New Jersey, one of the largest Peruvian communities in the US. Dishes can be paired with pisco (“our national drink”) or chicha morada, a slightly sweet, non-alcoholic beverage derived from purple corn. And while anyone with functioning taste buds can appreciate the food’s flavor, this adherence to tradition is especially appreciated by true Peruvians.
“It took me back to my Grandma’s kitchen in Peru,” Pesantes said, recounting his first time trying a soup at Ayahuasca. “They have something really special going on here.”
And while there’s no doubt that the customers—the woman who comes every Saturday for breakfast, the patrons who often commute from Jackson Heights and Corona, the man who remembered and recognized Guillen because of his ceviche skills—are thrilled about the opening of Ayahuasca, it’s clear Morote and Guillen are enjoying the experience as well.
“Every time that I go to my bed, I’m happy,” said Guillen, “because I remember the people that come and say ‘Your food is good—You guys are amazing.’ I didn’t expect so many things like that, but I [still] want to make it better. I want people to be [happier] than they were when they came in.”
Ayahuasca Express Peruvian Cuisine
68-60 Austin St, Forest Hills, NY 11375