Manuel is a fourth-generation potato farmer from Peru. In the land of an estimated 5,000 different types of potato, that is not unusual in itself. What is rarer is that Manuel attended university (the first in his family to do so), where he studied agricultural engineering. Combining his studies with all he had learned from his father, Manuel began to research new and innovative types of potato. By painstakingly hand pollinating different varieties, he has created over 70 pigmented hybrids. Some of them are incredible colours, vibrant yellows and purples, and the flavours are unique as well. We caught up with Manuel to ask him more about his life with potatoes.
Q&A with Manuel
When did you decide you wanted to go to college?
When I was 5 or 6 years old and I came to my senses. My father was a very innovative and well-known farmer in the area, who had contact with agronomists, biologists, and he like. These incredibly professional and educated people in this one small the field inspired me at a very young age, and I wanted to be like them.
Was your family proud?
Yes, they were very proud because it is a dream to have a family member studying at university.
What importance do potatoes have in the culture of Peru?
For me, the importance of potatoes in Peru lies in the fact that it is the first food to be eaten and is a very important basis in our daily diet in the Andes of Peru.
What can travellers learn from your demonstrations?
Through food I try to get travellers to connect with the Andes. They will get to know ancestral crops that have a long history with the Pre-Inca and Inca cultures. Potatoes were one of the most important foods for Incas, and in fact, they were geniuses when it came to growing potatoes. In Moray, for example, there is a huge bowl-like depression with terraces descending to a depth of 150 metres. There is a huge difference in temperature between the top and the bottom and it is believed the Incas were experimenting with growing potatoes at different altitudes. You can see beautiful fields of potatoes, geese and mashuas in front of the foothills of the Andes and appreciate in situ the origin of the Andean tubers. Finally, you can taste wines and potato distillates.
Does this tourist initiative benefit the local community?
Our initiative re-evaluates Andean crops, rescues ancestral knowledge and highlights how important these foods were in their time due to their nutritional and nutraceutical properties. Beyond that, many farmers whose crops are consumed benefits.
What is your favourite way to eat potatoes?
For me, the ultimate way to enjoy potatoes is by connecting with the past and preparing a Huatia. This is a traditional earthen oven which dates back to Inca times. You have to build a pyramid of rocks, over a pit, where there is a fire. Through a small opening in the oven, you place kindling and the foods to be cooked. Cooked this way, the potatoes have aromas of earth and are smoked by direct contact. What better way to eat in the land of the potato? Another favourite way is simply baked potatoes flavoured with local herbs, where you can enjoy the different aromas and flavours of the Andes.