It was less than a year ago that artist, stage designer, and chef Chuck Cutler-Gutiérrez launched Ayni 51, a pop-up series with a focus on bright, experimental, multi-course vegan cuisine inspired by provinces all over Peru.
Usually, it takes time for new ventures like these to gain momentum — but in Gutiérrez’s case, tickets began selling out immediately, at the very first dinner.
The vegan chef, who moved from Lima, Peru to Asheville in 2020, has taken that as a sign and decided to run with it. This February — pending the success of a $35,000 crowdfunding campaign — they plan to launch their first brick-and-mortar, LIMAQ, with their partner Crain Cutler-Gutierrez inside a converted dry cleaner in Mars Hill.
“I started doing this because I missed my food,” Chuck explained. “I was cooking for friends and as a way to get to know new people... and then people were like, hey, do you do catering?”
One opportunity led to another, and by the end of 2022, Ayni51 netted more than 30 successful pop-up events. The name Ayni51, said Chuck, reflects their passion for community, and more specifically, the Andean concept of reciprocity and Peru’s international calling code.
At LIMAQ, the Gutiérrez duo intend to keep that same spirit of “ayni” with a family-style dining approach. The 2,300-sqft space will blend industrial, cement walls emblematic of Lima’s “panza de burro” grey sky with neon lights and the bright, bold, street art known as Chicha art in Peru.
Guests will be served bowls of potatoes and rice to accompany a selection of mostly small plates, hot and cold mains, soups, and dessert. In addition to plenty of fresh vegetables, these plant-based dishes will be punctuated with a lively array of sauces, including the ocopa, a creamy, peppery relish made with Peruvian black mint and peanuts, and a dairy-free, queso-like huancaína.
Another noteworthy dish: the causa, a layered dish of creamy sauce, mixed vegetables, aji amarillo, and lime which Crain describes as “if a potato salad and Shepherd’s Pie had a baby.”
The dessert program will be lead by Crain, who has ten years of experience as a pastry chef, and will include picarones, Pisco sour sorbet, and a mazamorra morada and arroz con leche dish that’s essentially a rice and sweet corn pudding.
Ultimately, the Gutiérrezes hope the restaurant will become a space that builds community, where new chefs can come in and experiment, queer folks and people of color can feel comfortable spending time, and programs like Spanish conversation groups and other cultural events can take place.
“I see an opportunity for building something more than a restaurant,” Chuck said.
Interested in a final taste of Ayni 51 before LIMAQ launches? The pop-up series will have its “Last Supper” at Outsider Brewing on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets include a five-course meal of ceviche, papa rellena, acuadito, bread pudding, and beyond, with the option to add on a beer pairing with Outsider Brewing.