All aboard, one of the world’s dreamiest trains, Belmond Hiram Bingham. This train journey from Cusco to the doorway of Machu Picchu, and back, has landed on top of my “Must-do’s before you die” list. Of all the beauty and otherworldly landscapes of Peru, what stayed with me the most, the memories that spark the biggest smile on my face were of the impeccable food and beverage, and the oh-so-jolly staff onboard.
While on the train, I bumped into Hernan Castañeda, one of Belmond’s beacon of light, Area Executive Chef for Hotels & Trains in Peru, and had the chance to ask him a few questions:
What inspires you every day?
Our cuisine is inspired by the beauty of Mother Nature, the landscapes that accompany the train route, the endless number of unique products that our Peru has, gifts given by the Pachamama that make us a biodiverse country. Each of them is expressed in the dishes we cook, a mixture of flavors and colors that make them a work of art.
What made you decide to join the Hiram Bingham team?
I decided to join the Belmond Hiram Bingham team because I was inspired by creating a menu based on that magic journey along the Peruvian Andes, providing that luxury touch reflected by the design of its train cars. I wanted to share with the passengers my taste in cuisine, especially in Peruvian food, and to express it in each one of our dishes by offering unique flavors that let them connect with the travel experience.
How challenging is it to be on a train and still deliver the best food and beverage experience for guests?
Every day is a challenge because the effectiveness of the cooking and assemblies in a train is much more complicated than in a restaurant. We must exceed very high standards in order to satisfy the palate and experience of our passengers.
Where did you begin your culinary journey?
My culinary experience started when I was very young, by learning from great masters and globally recognized chefs. I traveled to South America, USA, and Europe, which allowed me to develop my knowledge in different gastronomic cultures and it now allows me to have a wider knowledge about how to mix my dishes.
If your menu were a story book, what would the story say?
It would be a very colorful story, where the different consumable products of the region are the protagonists, especially those found during the train journey. There would be beautiful and marvelous landscapes that accompany this travel and achieve to connect with the passengers through the dishes I cook, and providing that magic touch that they expect to find.
Describe Belmond Hiram Bingham in one word:
How big is your team onboard?
We are a team of professionals in different areas, concerned for the welfare of each person travelling onboard. For the Kitchen, we have 10 cookers. The staff as maitre, bartenders and waiters are 16 members. We have 1 member for safety, 4 members for mechanical, 4 cleaning members, and 3 drivers in the locomotive. On a regular journey, we have 26 staff members onboard.
Describe your most memorable moment on the train:
It’s always memorable when I see the passengers enjoy the travel and the excellent service, but especially when they are delighted by our regional cuisine.
Do you integrate local flavors and ingredients to your menu every day?
Always. Our menu is elaborated with local ingredients and consumables provided by farmers and communities who work with us. I like searching and selecting each one of them to assure their quality.
Your advice to the aspiring chefs out there:
Be dreamy, creative, passionate, and enjoy what we like to do: COOK.