Digging for a taste of ancient Peru :The scent of mint and smoke erupted from the pit in the earth. The cooks worked hastily but methodically placing layers of potatoes, carrots, squash, fava beans, pork butt -

Chicken quarters, lamb shoulder, herbs and humitas - sweetened, spiced corn wrapped in husks - and separating the ingredients with hot stones that let out a gratifying sizzle whenever food kissed their surfaces.

The elaborate choreography ended with the head cook, Victor Guadalupe, scooping dirt over the top, planting a cross [made of sticks and the twist tie from a bundle of cilantro] in the ground and pouring whisky on top - a gesture for the Pachamama, or Mother Earth, he said.

The guests crowded around the pit, with their own shots of whiskey, cheering as if they were at soccer's World Cup.

Mr. Calderon, 54, who grew up in Lima, Peru, also feels personal.

He remembers taking trips with relatives as a child to the nearby city of Chaciacayo, where he could smell the smoke from nearby pachmancas, which are usually prepared for special occasions like birthdays or weddings.

This pachamancas, which means ''earth pot'' in Quechua, is a Peruvian tradition of cooking food underground - one that is rare to find in any restaurant.

Pachamanca originated in the central Andes region of Peru, at least 800 years ago, and spread farther throughout the area during the Incan Empire.

The technique is like pressure cooking and searing at once, Mr. Rondeau explained. The combination of residual heat and compact space supercharges the natural flavor of each ingredient.

''It's like an act of faith,'' Mr. Calderon said. ''It's part of the memory of Peruvian people.''

The World Students Society thanks author Priya Krishna.


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