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What it’s Like to Be Executive Director of Colca Lodge Spa and Hot Springs (Interview)

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In order to find out more about what it’s like to run a successful and highly-regarded business near Arequipa, I sat down for a conversation with Alonso Burgos, the executive director of Colca Lodge Spa and Hot Springs.

alonso burgos“I feel at home here; it’s the place where I have settled with my wife, where I’ve always been treated well and with much affection. Thanks to what I do for the people of Arequipa, and thanks to them, I’ve been successful in just a short time.” -Alonso Burgos

Where were you born and which countries have you lived in?

I was born in Bul­garia, but I have lived in Turkey since I was very young; I have also lived in Ger­many and Rus­sia, and spent some time in the Czech Re­pub­lic.

Were you already a chef while you were in these countries?

I’m a baker by pro­fes­sion, but at first, I was a sales­man in the Grand Bazaar, sell­ing cloth, gold, semi-pre­cious stones, leather goods and things like that.

When did you start to work at what you’re doing now?

I’m a baker by trade and while I was study­ing I worked in the kitchens of sev­eral large ho­tels. The five and a half years I lived in Ger­many (Berlin) was when I be­came one hun­dred per­cent in­volved in gas­tron­omy, I was work­ing in dif­fer­ent Ital­ian restau­rants spe­cial­iz­ing in meat dishes, as well as in a fresh pasta fac­tory. For a time I ran an Ital­ian restau­rant for home de­liv­ery only, but it wasn’t a suc­cess. Then I went to col­lege to learn about Ital­ian cook­ing.

Photo: Ultimate Journeys Peru

When did you come to Peru?

I came to Peru in­1998. I lived in Ger­many for five and a half years; after that I went back to Bul­garia and Turkey to get my pa­pers ready to travel to Peru.

And why did you choose Peru?

Love. I met my wife Mariela in Ger­many; she is Pe­ru­vian and we de­cided to come to Peru to­gether to try our luck.

How did you get on during your first years in Peru?

When we ar­rived I knew noth­ing about the coun­try, I hadn’t read any­thing about its his­tory; what in­ter­ested me was find­ing work so that I could get to know Pe­ru­vian cook­ing and then I started think­ing about my own busi­ness. First of all we lived in Lima, my wife’s home town, but it was dif­fi­cult find­ing work with pay that was com­men­su­rate with my ex­pe­ri­ence; I had too much ex­pe­ri­ence for the jobs on offer. I was fa­mil­iar with 7 styles of cui­sine and spoke 6 lan­guages…

What made you decide to move to Arequipa?

In Ger­many we had some friends from Are­quipa, we kept in con­tact and after we got mar­ried we de­cided to move there. We saw that it was a big tourist des­ti­na­tion, but even so, it didn’t have many good qual­ity places. We moved in 1999 and de­cided to start with a kebab busi­ness.

You’re very well-known in Arequipa. What happened at the beginning, until you created your famous restaurant Palandar 1900?

We started with El Turko I, in a shop of thir­teen square me­tres in San Fran­cisco Street. Then we ex­tended the premises; that’s when I be­came known and it is still open to this day. I opened my first restau­rant in 2001, called El Turko II, aimed at an­other, more de­mand­ing, sec­tor of the pub­lic. At the same time I opened an­other place called Zin­garo, and a bar; nei­ther lasted long. Fi­nally, in 2007 we started to build Pal­adar 1900. I had al­ready been in Peru for ten years and knew a lot more about its his­tory and tra­di­tions. I un­der­stood  that Pe­ru­vian cui­sine was based on a fu­sion with Arab cook­ing, ba­si­cally Mo­roc­can, which is much in­flu­enced by Turk­ish. Hence the use of condi­ments such as panca chilli and pa­prika, and the preser­va­tion of in­gre­di­ents. Then there was the African in­flu­ence, which con­tributed the use of offal. And that union pro­duced the great ma­jor­ity of the dishes we know today. Then came the Chi­nese, Japan­ese and Ital­ian, to com­plete the evo­lu­tion of mod­ern Pe­ru­vian food. Pal­adar 1900 was a re­sult of that and a de­sire to res­cue tra­di­tional home-cooked food. The name comes from Cuba, where the term ‘pal­adar’ is given to restau­rants op­er­at­ing in pri­vate houses, where the food is one hun­dred per­cent home- made and tra­di­tional. We also wanted to add the con­cept of good taste, good food. The num­ber 1900 comes from the house where the first Pal­adar opened, an old town house built in that year, which had the num­ber en­graved over the en­trance.

What does Arequipa mean for you?

I feel at home here; it’s the place where I have set­tled with my wife, where I’ve al­ways been treated well and with much af­fec­tion. Thanks to what I do for the peo­ple of Are­quipa and thanks to them I’ve been suc­cess­ful in just a short time. Also, my char­ac­ter is sim­i­lar to that of the Are­quipans. Fur­ther­more, the build­ing con­tain­ing Pal­adar 1900 makes me feel as if I were in Turkey, work­ing under a vaulted ceil­ing.

Any new plans or projects?

Not for now, we’re happy the way we are. In the fu­ture we would like to move Pal­adar 1900 to our own prop­erty, where we can do dif­fer­ent things with the menu, re­vive Are­quipa tra­di­tions such as the use of the batan, for ex­am­ple.

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Credit: Ultimate Journeys Peru

Cover photo: Ultimate Journeys Peru 

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Diego Oliver is a Peruvian writer and author whose work can be found in the travel magazine Ultimate Journeys. He loves to focus on Peruvian culture both modern and classic, traveling the country, as well as social responsibility.