With a passion for food and a desire to bring authentic cooking from his home country of Peru to these shores, Edinburgh-based entrepreneur Carlo Carozzi set out to create something truly unique with his own food offering.
Originally from Lima, and having lived in Scotland for nearly 20 years, the aspiring cook had struggled to find anywhere that served traditional Peruvian cuisine, he said: “Although five of the world’s top restaurants are in Lima, my home town, I couldn’t find anywhere here that served the food I grew up with.”
With one of the world’s top foodie destinations as an inspiration, Carlo began experimenting and cooking the dishes he remembered his mother and grandmother creating back home, planting the seeds that would go on to become The Peruvian, the first street food stall selling the country’s cuisine in Scotland.
“I grew up in the kitchen helping my grandmother, and I wanted to recreate all those flavours she taught me in my own food. I’m not a classically trained chef but I have a real passion for what I do.”
Carlo decided to try and take the leap with his new venture at the Edinburgh Festival in 2017. Taking an online course on catering, he checked out the legal requirements, found a supplier and got a friend to design a logo.
“I always wanted something that was mine, like a Pisco Bar or a restaurant, and street food just seemed like the right fit. I was still working in a bar as a GM in July 2017 and though I was still a little nervous of getting out there with The Peruvian, I thought to myself, ‘I know people in the industry, I can get myself a pitch for the Fringe Festival no problem’.
“I was a bit too cocky,” he added, “it turns out I was very wrong.”
After several rejections, it looked like he was going to have to delay the launch, when one of his friends gave him the idea of setting up a pitch in the grounds of a graveyard just off of Lothian Road.
“I had three weeks before the festival started. I mean three weeks to buy equipment, come up with the menu, order all the ingredients, and spend all my life savings. It was overwhelming but I did it.”
Carlo said that in the lead up to the event he was “reading, watching and even dreaming” about recipes. A one man show, he found himself being the chef, the KP, the buyer and the accountant and that was before he even got round to serving people.
“It was quiet at first because it was away from the usual mainstays of the Festival like the Grassmarket, the Cowgate and the Royal Mile. Soon though people began talking about it and word quickly spread, the response was amazing.”
Soon, Carlo said that Edinburgh’s Peruvian community came from all over the capital to try out the food and show their support.
“One day in the festival we were visited by an Edinburgh native who told me he was delighted to finally find Peruvian food in Scotland.
“After I served him, we got talking and he told me he lived and worked in Peru for many years. As it turned out he’d been the Principal of the San Andres school in Lima, my Primary school.
“I’d even met his daughter 20 years ago when she was living in Peru doing charity work. Though he lives in Stirling he often comes to events I’m at to enjoy traditional Peruvian food with his family.
“That first event really helped me so much, allowing me to do research about our dishes, and we got to meet so many amazing people. For that I will be always grateful, I learned a lot from it.
“At the end of the festival I didn’t have much money but I quickly realised the impact of Peruvian food with the Scottish people. Peruvians and Scots are very alike, we love our football and we love our food.”
Since then, his menu has grown rapidly, with dishes like the Lomo Saltado - a stir fry of marinated sirloin steak strips with Peruvian chillies, Cheese and Chips with Huancaina sauce - Peruvian spicy cheese sauce served over chips garnished with chives, and Peruvian staple ceviche proving massively popular with the crowds at events such as the Pitt, Platform in Glasgow and the Food and Flea market, where he took up residency shortly after the festival in that first year.
Indeed, it was the Leche de Tigre (Tiger’s milk) Ceviche and the Anticuchos - cow heart marinated for 24 hours in a Peruvian spice blend, cooked on a BBQ - that got The Peruvian noticed at the Scottish Street Food Awards.
His ceviche dish even brought in some celebrity fans, like chef Gizzi Erskine, when it went on to win Best Snack at the British finals in 2018.
“To cook Peruvian food you really need to have the right ingredients, we use ingredients many people in the UK will never have tasted – like our native chilli aji amarillo, queso fresco, and purple corn.
"For the Street Food Awards I came up with the most traditional street food I could think of, which was ceviche and Anticuchos. I was nervous at first, as both are not something people here eat, but I actually got an amazing response and now both have become some my best sellers. The ceviche has to be super fresh though and its the best hangover cure. I was delighted to see it win in London.”
The Peruvian is also one of the only places in the country people will be able to get their hands on Peru's answer to Irn-Bru, Inca Kola, the vibrant coloured soft drink that has become a national icon in the South American country.
Following on from his success in his first year, Carlo said that he hopes to continue to grow The Peruvian’s audience, and, after putting some more money away, eventually open a permanent unit in Edinburgh.
“Scotland needs a Peruvian restaurant, too many people love the food. I want to bring traditional equipment from Peru to really make it authentic,” he said, “I still love doing street food but it’s always been a dream to open my own place.”