NEW YORK, U.S. February 25, 2020 (Biz Republic) — “Who does not live to serve, does not serve to live,” is a famous phrase attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta and which Pope Francis frequently repeats in his homilies around the world. This phrase has deeply impacted the life of Irina Concepción Herrera, International chef who one day is preparing sophisticated dishes for the most demanding palates in Washington, DC, and the following week is at the other end of the continent, in the Southern Hemisphere, surrounded by humble mothers in soup kitchens, supporting social initiatives by the Peruvian Government to fight poverty and child malnutrition. Or maybe, we can find her teaching culinary arts in events sponsored by the OAS to empower women of the Shipibo-Konibo Amazonian ethnic group. For her, serving and teaching is a way of life and she’s willing to go anywhere in the world to fulfill her vocation.
With nearly 30 years of experience, Irina is a specialist in criolla, novoandina, and Mediterranean food. Born in Trujillo (Peru), she studied culinary arts in her native country and Spain and has been recognized for her work in promoting Peruvian and Latin American cuisine through keynote talks, cooking workshops and conferences at culinary fairs across the United States, Spain, the Netherlands, Mexico and Italy. She’s been a speaker at some of the best universities in Latin America, an ambassador of “Quinoa Fusion”, and a promoter of quinoa, the “golden grain of the Incas”, at culinary events, on television programs and at culinary summits like Madrid Fusion.
Her mentor, Spanish Chef Martín Berasategui, who has been cooking for more than 44 years and has no fewer than twelve Michelin stars and owns 15 restaurants spread across Spain, Mexico. and the Dominican Republic, once described Irina Herrera as “one of the biggest” defending Peru, its culture and gastronomy. “With people like Irina you can achieve what you have never been able to dream of,” Berasategui said long ago while highlighting the perseverance of the Peruvian chef who, with the humility she learned at home, appears one day on Spanish television and days later on Telemundo, sharing her culinary secrets and proudly sharing the ingredients that have made her country memorable. As Irina, “we must never have fear, laziness or shame” in achieving our objectives, said Chef Berasategui.
Irina collaborated with 31 other influential chefs (some of them Michelin-star chefs) in gourmet cookbook Quinoa Five Continents, presented in New York (2015), and translated into several languages. The book was awarded the second ‘World’s Best Foreign Gourmet Cookbook’ at the Gourmand CookBook Awards, recognized as the Oscar awards for culinary arts literature. Precisely, Irina told Biz Republic that the cookbook is, “a true legacy for the new generations. It was through teamwork that involved many people and it contains in its pages perseverance, social commitment, passion and above all, love and gratitude for our Quinoa producers, the Andean gold grain, which safeguards the world from hunger”.
Irina “is an optimistic, creative, strong, active, and fighting woman, with great social sensitivity. For her, the important thing is the taste, aromas, and new fusion techniques of the Andean grain quinoa with the world’s various cuisines. She admires the cuisine of Chema Isidro and Martín Berasategui, whom she considers as references”. That’s how Spanish television channel Antena 3 described her on their website in 2014. The Irina Concepción that opened family restaurant “La Finca de Perú” in the small and hot city of Catacaos, in the Peruvian region of Piura, almost three decades ago, is the same gentle, enterprising, and dynamic woman who today spends her days between Madrid and New York; between Lima and any other place in Latin America, giving talks, offering workshops for boys and girls, and participating in gastronomic events, teaching and maybe even learning.
For her distinguished work as an international chef, culinary arts teacher, tireless advocate of the properties of quinoa and cultural and culinary ambassador of her country, Rafael Ansón Oliart, president of the Royal Academy of Spanish Gastronomy and the Ibero-American Academy of Gastronomy, awarded her in 2015. Irina Concepción considers it a privilege to have been invited by Ferrán Adrià, from Camilo José Cela University, to learn about her gastronomic work. She also remembers her first encounter with Basque cuisine master Martín Berasategui: “He loved the taste and dishes of Peruvian cuisine, which he tasted from my hands, and discovered the love I transmitted in them.”
The captivating story of Irina Herrera has been included in 51 Peruanas in Spain, Testimonies of Success, a book where the chef tells how she arrived in Spain in 2009 and had to relocate to a new way of life, very different from what she lived in Peru; in addition to facing discrimination from her own community. “Finally, with much effort and the help of Spaniards, I achieved the goal that I had set myself,” she says in the book.
Finally, it should be noted that Irina Concepción Herrera has participated throughout her career as an ambassador chef for the ‘Restaurants Against Hunger’ campaign, an initiative created and promoted by Action Against Hunger as a humanitarian organization that has fought the causes and effects of hunger in about 50 countries for more than 40 years.