While living in Lima, Peru, with her husband, Russ, Nevada City resident and longtime chef Kim Allen-Jones wrote her first cookbook, “Fresh Flavors!” to raise money for literacy among the region’s poorest children.
Last fall, she was surprised to learn the cookbook, a charity project of the American Women’s Literary Club of Lima, was selected to compete in a prestigious international contest, the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
“It was a complete shock,” she said of the news.
In May, Allen-Jones will travel to Beijing for the award ceremony of the world competition where, already, her cookbook has advanced to the final selection level for Latin America.
Filled with Allen-Jones’ colorful photographs and a collection of recipes printed in both Spanish and English, the cookbook competes in the Charity and Fundraising category for the country of Peru.
The cookbook project helps fund Ensena Peru, a nationwide literacy project for Peruvian schools, modeled after the Teach for America program in the United States.
“(Peru) is a third world country so (the book) helps some of the poorest children. When a child can read, it can change lives,” Allen-Jones said. So far, she has sold about 50 books in the United States.
Edouard Cointreau, head of Gourmand International, organizes the prestigious awards. He is the brother of André Cointreau, founder of the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris. Allen-Jones graduated from the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in 2003.
Allen-Jones will teach a Peruvian Cuisine cooking class from 6 to 8 p.m., May 29, at BriarPatch Co-op. Students will learn to cook Lomo Saltado — a traditional, fusion Peruvian dish using an Asian technique that incorporates stir fried beef, onions, tomatoes, fried potatoes and rice.
For years Allen-Jones traveled the globe with her husband, an international educator, learning and teaching culinary wisdom along the way.
She has taught Mexican, Indian, Israeli, Polish, Japanese, Thai and French cooking classes and is a certified master taster.
“People all over the world have my recipes because we traveled,” she said.
During her four years in Peru, Allen-Jones served as an online food critic and developed a deep connection to the area’s vibrant food community.
Located at sea level on the Pacific Ocean, Lima, Peru, is home to some of the world’s most ancient food staples — quinoa, corn, 4,000 varieties of potatoes, coffee and the rarest variety of chocolate.
“Peru has every growing zone so they can grow everything,” she said.
Over time, many people have influenced the ancient plates of Peruvian cuisine — Spanish Conquistadors with slaves from Africa, the French Revolution, and later, Chinese and Japanese indentured servants.
“Those influences are all very prevalent, popular and typical,” she said.
In the past 15 years, the popularity of Peruvian Cuisine has exploded around the world. Last week, Allen-Jones gave a talk about Peruvian Cuisine for the American Culinary Federation.
Her book project took about five months to complete and includes recipes taken from a collection of American Women’s Literary Club of Lima favorites and 11 new recipes. Allen-Jones updated and improved the recipes using a wide variety of ingredients and fusion techniques that have made Peruvian cuisine a world-class favorite.
An example of Allen-Jones’ signature updates — the Peruvian drink, Chilcanos, modified by using star fruit and gooseberry. Chimichurri and scallops recipes are among Allen-Jones’ favorites.
“I tweak and change and develop my own. I do all of it,” she said.
Allen-Jones likes to use fresh ingredients, herbs and spices. She loves to “cook things well” with the correct technique.
The American Women’s Literary Club of Lima has a 90-year history of service to American expatriate families in Lima. The group is made up of “trailing spouses” — women who came from all over the world to live in Peru with their husbands.
“All these women are from so many different places. The one thing that ties us all together is we speak English,” said Allen-Jones.
The club’s cookbooks have become cherished keepsakes among members with recipes that trace back to the taste of home — from Sweden, to Mexico, to Minnesota.
For her project, Allen-Jones would get up in the morning and prepare the dishes, then photograph them with her Canon point and shoot camera.
“That was when the light was best,” she said.
Her love of cooking began when she was just a girl. She grew up in a household of seven kids, where each day of the week was signified by what mother was cooking for dinner. In third grade she became enthralled with cooking after watching television chef, Graham Kerr.
“That was all I ever wanted to do,” she said.
She enrolled in culinary school straight out of high school. Later, she and her husband moved to a 5-acre farmstead in Nevada County to raise their son and daughter.
In the 1980s she worked at Tofanellis, ran the delicatessen at SPD and did some catering.
In 1995, her husband was offered a job in Mexico as a principal at a private American school.
Her son had just finished kindergarten and their daughter was entering middle school when the family moved.
“We wanted it to be life changing and it was,” she said.
They lived in Mexico for four years, Israel for two, Poland for four years, San Francisco for four and Peru for another four. The couple returned to Nevada City last June.
Allen-Jones started Gracie House Gourmet last fall and sells sweet and a little spicy gourmet pecan snacks called Pecantés at the Nevada City Farmers Market, both SPD Markets, Lucchesi Winery, Back Porch Market, Neva Co. and Tess’ Kitchen Store.
Copies of the cookbook, “Fresh Flavors!” can be purchased by contacting Allen-Jones at www.graciehousegourmet.com or by calling 415-254-2203.
Contact Freelance Writer Laura Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 913-3067.
“(Peru) is a third world country so (the book) helps some of the poorest children. When a child can read it can change lives.”