Machu Picchu in Peru may be high up on your life’s destination list, but TUMI Peruvian Cuisine should be right at the top of this week’s.
The restaurant brings cuisine 4,100 miles away from Arizona to the sizzling southeast corner of Ray and Alma School roads in Chandler, where two other restaurants – Az Food Crafters and Let’s Eat Noodles – are also turning foodies’ heads.
Serving authentic cuisine from the coastal regions of Peru, TUMI is celebrating three years in this location under the guidance of owner and chef Oscar Graham.
Here you’ll find traditional dishes prepared with a dash and then some of chef’s magic: aguadito de pollo, a chicken soup with rice, peas and carrots; appetizers including anticuchos (heart beef); jalea, a seafood dish, and many others on the extensive menu.
Graham explained that a tumi is a ceremonial tool, a Peruvian sacrificial axe or a knife used by the pre-Incas and Incas. In this spirit, he has combined all of the business tools –persistence, talent and passion – toward achieving his goal of a superlative culinary experience.
In 2012, he opened TUMI at Warner and Alma School roads. Then, three years ago, doubled the size by moving to his current location, once home to a Mexican restaurant. Foodies may also recall Contigo Peru at Guadalupe and Alma School roads, which Graham opened for its owner in 2009.
That restaurant is closed, in part because TUMI became so well regarded by those who know Peruvian cuisine and those wanting to learn it. TUMI draws fans from as far as Queen Creek and Maricopa, who say regular visits are worth the trek.
TUMI benefits from its owner’s 40 years of cooking his native food.
Derived from a Quechua Indian word, “Peru” means “land of abundance,” and the country’s cuisine food exemplifies that richness with aji peppers, lamb, chicken, beef, Peruvian potatoes and corn, yucca roots, sweet yam, or comete; coriander. It also includes many seafood dishes.
At TUMI, you learn that ceviche, with fish and shrimp, has been a part of the country’s heritage for 2,500 years, although many might think Peru’s is a meat-centric cuisine; that rice is a staple with most dishes; and that many areas have contributed to the diversity of the country’s food: China, Italy, Japan as well as Spain and Africa.
TUMI is as much a study in cultural and culinary history as it is an example of the country’s superlative food.
Graham was born on the coast in Huacho, a city an hour north of Lima, the cosmopolitan capital of 10 million people. He studied for four years to be a police officer in Lima but said he decided to leave the country because of political and economic instability.
He docked at New York City, where he worked at Bruno’s, a catering and banquet house. He was 30 years old, eager to work and to learn.
“I started as a dish washer, then I worked salads and worked my way up to be the first cook,” he recalled. “I learned to love cooking Peruvian food by watching my grandmother and mother at home, but I learned to cook at Bruno’s.”
After two or three years, he went coast to coast. This was in the early 1980s.
“Mi hermano, my brother, was working in Los Angeles as a cook,” he said. There he became a city culinary personality, opening its first Peruvian restaurant, El Carbon, as well as other locations.
Still, he said, “Working in restaurants for others, I always had the dream of opening my own restaurant. The inspiration was definitely my passion for the Peruvian cuisine.”
All meals at TUMI begin with complimentary canchita, a salted Peruvian corn nut served with aji verde or aji rojo, respectively, a Peruvian green (mild) and a red (hot) pepper salsa.
Another, the Papa a la Huancaina, is remarkable and remarkably simple: creamy cheese sauce (huancaina), with Peruvian yellow pepper on boiled potatoes (papa).
TUMI’s specialties include Lomo Saltado, sautéed beef loin strips, flame-cooked, with a Chinese influence; Seco de Res, meat slow cooked in cilantro sauce with salsa ciolla; Cau Cau, honeycomb beef tripe with yellow pepper and turmeric sauce; and Aji de Gallina, chicken breast with grated parmesan, yellow pepper and potatoes.
Authentic Peruvian beverages are the Chicha Morada, a purple corn drink that is brewed tea-style for more than four hours; and the sweeter maracuya, with passion fruit. And, for a little more kick, tipple a Pisco Sour, made with the native white grape spirit and maracuya.
To finish, the Helado de Lucuma incorporates the Peruvian fruit, lucuma, with house-made ice cream; the Alfajores are shortbread-like sweet biscuits filled with dulce de leche.
TUMI is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.