Nery Eyler stirred the chicken in the pan and carefully scooped the pieces out, gently placing them on the bed of rice.
“My mother actually learned to cook from my dad, who was an excellent cook ... and I learned from her,” Eyler said. “In Peru, we love to cook.”
And one thing is for certain, Eyler never lets anyone walk away hungry. Bubbly and outgoing, the Peruvian-turned-Brunswick resident’s culinary talents come straight from her heart.
For a while, she was sharing that love at her former restaurant the Peruvian Cafe Craft and Label, which was in Redfern Village on St. Simons Island. Unfortunately, circumstances forced Eyler to shutter her popular eatery, but she hasn’t given up on that dream.
“I am thinking of doing something in Brunswick ... but we’ll see how that all works out,” Eyler said, smiling in her home’s kitchen.
For now, she is content to share the love of her home country’s cuisine with family and friends. But Eyler will also be sharing it with the broader community for one speciale event — the International Food Festival, hosted by the College of Coastal Georgia.
The community’s impressive cultural diversity will be on display from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday during the eigth incarnation of the event. Organized in partnership with the Robert S. Abbott Race Unity Institute Inc., the festival will showcase the region’s unique people and the places they come from.
In Eyler’s case that includes dishes like cerviche, fish with citrus juices; picarones, a fried donut type dessert; causa a la limeña, a cold potato with yellow chili pepper mash; and maracuya, a drink made from passion fruit.
And, of course, there’s the flaun. Eyler makes a number of different flauns, all of which are undeniably delicious. It was a popular treat at her cafe.
“I make regular flaun, coconut flaun, pecan flaun, which is very good,” she said, turning a small flaun dish upside down and sliding the dessert on the plate. “People have always asked for the recipe but I can’t share it ... my mother would have been upset.”
While her flaun may be a closely guarded family secret, Eyler relishes sharing her culture with others. That’s why she is so excited to participate in this year’s International Festival.
“I was asked last year, but I wasn’t ready. I was too busy with the cafe. But I’m excited to go this year,” she said.
And while she hasn’t finalized her offerings just yet, there’s a very good chance that flaun will be available. A point which is sure to draw a crowd.
“I hope to see some of my customers from the cafe. I’ve been missing them ... and they always loved the flaun,” she said with a laugh.
The International Festival is free to attend, however food tickets must be purchased to sample dishes. The cost is $1 each. Food items will sell for one to three tickets depending on the vendor and the item to be purchased. Food vendors cannot accept cash. Like Eyler, there will be many other local chefs and restauranteurs sharing dishes from a variety of countries. There will also be entertainment, an artisan marketplace, a culture expo, and a special area for children called “KidFest.”
Eyler’s recipe for Arroz Con Pollo (Peruvian Chicken and Rice)
1 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
4 spinach leaves
4 skinless chicken drumsticks and thighs
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup yellow pepper paste, (ají amarillo)
1 cup beer
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups long-grain rice
1/4 cup sweet peas (petit pois)
1/4 cup diced carrots
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 cup white corn
- Salsa Criolla (ingredients listed below)
Blend, in a blender cilantro with spinach and water to make homogeneous paste. Set aside.
Dry chicken with paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Place oil in a pot over medium heat and fry the chicken until chicken is golden brown on both sides, about 7 minutes. Remove from pot and place in plate.
In same pot, fry onion, garlic and yellow pepper paste, and stir for 5 minutes. Put in the blended cilantro and spinach, and fry for 3 minutes. Add beer, chicken broth and chicken to pot.
Bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat. Cook for 20 minutes. If necessary, season with more salt and pepper.
In another pot, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Add rice and stir well. Add petit pois (sweet peas), carrots, pepper, corn and 3 1/2 cups of the broth you used to cook the chicken. Bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat to the lowest possible setting and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Stir with a fork and cover again.
When rice is ready, serve in four plates; place a chicken drumstick over it and salsa criolla on the side. If desired, you may also add some of the juice in which the chicken was cooked.
To make the salsa criolla: Cut 1/2 red onion lengthwise into very thin slices, wash thoroughly and drain. Blend with 1/2 tomato (cut into very thin strips), cilantro leaves, salt, pepper, lemon juice from one lemon and one tablespoon of olive oil. If you wish, you may add pepper strips.