by Bill Batson
When the Azanedo’s opened Maura’s kitchen in March 2011, they were afraid that an over emphasis on Peruvian cuisine might turn away diners. The sign that they hung expresses that ambivalence offering Peruvian “and Latin American” cooking. “We were shocked that from day one, some of the people who came into the store knew as much about Peru as we did,” said Edwin Azanedo. Even more startling and serendipitous was how Peruvian cuisine exploded onto the culinary scene in 2011.
In February, 2013, Edwin suffered a fatal heart attack while working at the restaurant. As they mourned the loss and kept the doors open, his wife Maura and their son, Tyrone were embraced by a community. Their perseverance, and the world class cuisine that they provide will propel them to a new location in the summer of 2016 on Broadway.
When she receives compliments for her cooking, Maura Azanedo has been known to say ‘”I am not a chef: I am a cook.” Home cooking, with all the feelings of fullness and satisfaction that the term conveys, is what Maura’s Kitchen promises and delivers.
Maura arrived in the United States from Peru in 1970 to attend high school in Kentucky as a foreign exchange student. Job opportunities and the desire to master English brought her to New York, where she met her husband Edwin in the tight-knit Peruvian community in Washington Heights. They moved to Rockland County in 1995.
“When I was growing up, I couldn’t go out much at night because dinner was important and I had to be home,” says Tyrone. I imagine that it wasn’t just parental admonition that kept Tyrone at the table. The food that his mother cooked for her family was so phenomenal that both father and son urged her to open a restaurant.
Maura didn’t learn her cooking chops from a culinary school, which is why she insists she’s more cook than chef, having learned her way around the kitchen from aunts and a grandmother in Lima, Peru. Her father, Alberto Haro, a prominent figure in the Peruvian folk music genre called Musica Criolla, was always on the road. It was during his extended absences that four aunts and a grandmother gave young Maura her kitchen training.
The family’s apprehension that Peruvian fare would not fly was short lived. Thanks to super star chef Gaston Acurio, there is a growing global obsession with Peruvian food. References to Acurio as the ambassador to Peruvian food would seem like title inflation if not for the fact that he runs 28 restaurants in 12 countries. The recently opened La Mar Cebicheria in NYC was his 29th, a launch “god-fathered” by renowned chef Danny Meyer.
The Azanedos credit their success during a very difficult business cycle to their loyal customers and distinctive menu that includes; Ceviche Mixto, a raw white fish prepared by ‘cold cooking’ with lime juice that includes calamari and shrimp and is served with a salsa made from onion and Peruvian corn (a larger kernel that looks like a pale lima bean).
A sign outside a restaurant proclaiming ‘Home Cooking’ can be deceptive: you may get healthy portions, but there’s no guarantee that the food will approach the authenticity we expect from that proclamation. That’s not the case at Maura’s where the mother runs the kitchen and the son runs the business. The cuisine that the foodie world now embraces as a formal phenom, is available right here in the village, minus the pretense, in an environment that will make you feel right at home.
Maura’s Kitchen is currently located at 248 Main Street in Nyack. Call 845-535-3533 to make a reservation or visit mauraskitchen.com. Their new location will be at 83 S. Broadway and is expected to open this summer.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Maura’s Kitchen is on the Move!” © 2016 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.