Third-generation German-Peruvian farmer Stefan Bederski grows purple corn just for Andina restaurant. The deep purple ears are individually cleaned and brushed, then boxed for shipment from Southwest Peru to Portland, Oregon.
In fact, everything at Andina is carefully sourced.
At a recent farm-to-table dinner scheduled to coincide with Bederski’s visit to Portland, restaurateur Doris Platt-Rodriguez hosted local farmers, sustainable food experts and a few members of the media. Before dinner was served, she passionately told us about Andina’s ingredients and dishes. For a fine-dining establishment, Platt-Rodriguez was impressively concerned about nutrition.
“The purple corn has more antioxidants than blueberries!” she proclaimed. Later in the evening she brought out golden peppers and uncooked ears of the purple corn for diners to admire up-close.
Bederski presented a slide show about his 100-hectare Topara Farm. His father founded Topara, Peru’s first organic farm, in 1970. Bederski carries on the tradition of carefully solving the problems of a less-than-hospitable desert climate to grow beautiful, delicious and healthful vegetables. He only has access to river water three months of the year, he said, admitting that he envied us Portlanders our mighty Columbia River.
Among the farm’s many innovations are his father’s invention of a liquid fertilizer made from rabbit droppings. “It was used on the peppers,” Bederski said as we got ready to eat. Bon appetit!
Topara’s main crop is pecans. But the farm also grows and manufactures a jarred line of aji chili products under the label name Costa Peruana. Topara serves as a model for other forward-thinking farms. To keep up its fair trade certification, the farm offers employees access to a cafeteria, a health station staffed with doctors three days a week and ongoing training and workshops.
At the special farm to table dinner, my vegan entrée was a concoction of lima beans, rice and caramelized onions served with roasted vegetables. I’ve rigorously avoided lima beans since an unfortunate soup I made in 2012. But this dish was truly delicious. The non-vegetarians ate rabbits, but I preferred to leave my allotted rabbit alive and manufacturing fertilizer.
The appetizer was also a dinner highlight: potato/quinoa bread with three salsas – peanut, passionfruit and jalapeño. The passionfruit was my favorite.
There’s a romantic story behind how this restaurant wound up in Portland. Doris Rodriguez de Platt grew up in the northern Andean city of Cajamarca. After completing her studies in pharmacy at the University of Trujillo in the mid-1960s, she returned to her hometown. There she met John Platt, a Peace Corps volunteer from Portland, for the first time. But they didn’t begin courting until 1972, when they were both working at a UNESCO-funded science institute. They married in 1975. Mama Doris, as she is commonly known, opened Andina in 2003. After John Platt’s retirement from Hewlett-Packard, he joined the business and now oversees the restaurant’s financial and IT needs.
Andina is in Portland’s upscale and arty Pearl neighborhood. It’s open daily for lunch and dinner, or you can get tapas at the bar. A big bonus for veg folks like me: Andina has a separate vegetarian menu, with many items also available vegan. The aji peppers and hand-brushed purple corn are irresistible. And even the lima beans are good.