They’re called negative geoglyphs, if you want to get scientific with it, but the massive artistic designs in the South of Peru - the ones that use the earth itself as a medium – are more commonly known as The Nazca Lines. Trenches dug no more than a foot deep in the ground to expose a lighter layer of stone and soil just underneath, these lines are believed to predate Columbus’ arrival at the New World by nearly 1,000 years. Flowers, trees, animals – some larger than two football fields – adorn the landscape, and while their purposes have been lost, they are not only indelible images on the Peruvian landscape, but also examples of the unique and rich culture that has existed in South America for millenia.
“The people behind the Nazca lines were of a culture where the food was a central point, a focal point; it was a gathering spot for them,” says Craig Collins, explaining the name of his new restaurant in North Dallas, Nazca Kitchen. “So our logo was an interpretation of the Nazca lines, the colors of the logo were designed to be a textile interpretation of them – we took that and the colors and the lines represent the countries and cultures of South America.”
Armed with a logo and a concept developed during extensive travel throughout South America, Collins – who also owns the barbecue chain Red, Hot and Blue – opened Nazca Kitchen in December with the intent of reflecting the spirit and ingredients of South American cuisine to a North American audience.
“It all started when I was going through a divorce four or five years ago; a friend of mine had a place in Brazil, and he said, ‘You need to come down here and get away,’ and how right he was. I had a great time. I started eating the foods and really enjoyed it,” Collins says. “He had a condominium in Florianópolis – Fleuritha is what the locals call it – and it’s sort of a rustic Maui. The two little restaurants there on Mole Beach – which is where they have surf competitions – have sandy bottom floors, and you can order a liter of beer and sautéed shrimp. That and fried oysters, and that’s really about all they had. Well, what was initially my way to cope with my divorce turned into a sudden realization that I loved the culture of South America. And as I traveled to Peru and to the other countries, I learned that the food in South America is fresh, healthy and tasty; and that you can actually eat delicious foods that are good for you.”
What Collins discovered he loved about South America is what he hopes his customers will find an equal affinity for at Nazca, where items range from Fish Ceviche to Aji Amarillo Hummus to the Andes Burger (avacados, rocoto-pepper cheese) and Baby Kale Romaine salad. The choices accommodate those wishing to stay within the confines of comfortable, while also introducing a variety of traditional South American ingredients and techniques.
“Obviously our ceviche is good, but for those that aren’t used to having ceviche – people who might not feel comfortable with raw fish – we have fish tacos. It’s fresh fish, served in a butterleaf lettuce wrap with an aioli drizzle and some cabbage. And it’s delicious,” Collins says. “And for those who want a wrap with a traditional tortilla, what we have is called a mati-a-mati; that’s half and half, it’s half corn – half flour tortilla.”
And there are breakfast options at Nazca, as well, with lighter options such as the Three Happy Cows Yogurt Bowl (with honey, granola, fruit and maraculla) and steel-cut oatmeal balancing the heartier breakfast wraps, among which chorizo and potato are options, as well as adobado beef stew. But it is the Acai Bowl that particularly appeals to Collins.
“For breakfast I would say that my favorite thing is the Acai Bowl. The Acai fruit grows only in the Amazon; it’s the most nutrient-dense and antioxidant-dense fruit on the planet – it’s a superfood,” he says. “When you go surfing in Brazil and you get out, beach peddlers will walk up and offer you a bowl of Acai, and Brazilian style means it comes with some sliced bananas a handful of granola, and a little bit of drizzled honey. It’s delicious and it’s not calorically light, but there’s no fat in it and it sticks with you. You can actually eat a bowl of it and go back in for two or three hours and surf and you’re not hungry and you don’t feel weak; it’s delicious. I think it’s a great way to start your day.”
Whether for breakfast or lunch, the interior of Nazca is flooded by natural light from its many windows, and the design by Hatsumi Kuzuu – in the ‘modern, minimalist vein,’ Collins observes – is intended to reflect modern South American architechture, with a colorful water wall in the window room near the entrance. There are photos from Collins’ many trips to South America, and a large painting on the back wall holds a prominent spot – and it’s got an interesting back story of its own.
“The painting is from Ricardo Wiesse, who is Peru’s most famous painter. He’s a friend of mine – and he’s a very interesting guy. I met him on a lam down there one night when we were out, we just hit it off. And that little story over there (he points to a framed, hand-written letter) was so we could get it through customs. It was on display at the cultural museum in Lima, and when the customs wanted to see it, I pulled out the book, which says “This painting is a gift to my friend Craig Collins after the end of the exhibition, and he is free to walk about the planets – plural – with it,” Collins says with a chuckle. “That’s basically what it said. The customs guy looked at it, he looked at me, I said ‘Does that work?’ He said ‘yeah’. You could just see he was impressed; it was pretty funny.”
There are plenty of stories Collins can tell about his travels through South America – about the volleyball in Brazil or meeting Gaston Acurio (‘The Wolfgang Puck of South America,’ Collins says), but ultimately he hopes that the best impressions he can give from his time South of the equator will be told through the food he serves and the experience his restaurant provides.