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Culinary program alums share taste of home with Paterson

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Marco Rivero is making a Peruvian dish called “chaufa de pollo.” His wife Juana Rivas is cutting samples of a Peruvian dessert she made for the grand opening of their new restaurant Wasiyki.

“One of my dreams was to open a restaurant,” Rivero said.

Both are graduates of the six-month culinary program at Eva’s Village. The nonprofit’s mission is to support people struggling with hunger, homelessness, poverty and addiction.

“We opened the culinary school five years ago in answer to the number of people we were seeing both in our own programs, and in the community in general, who really lacked practical job skills,” said Heather Thompson, the executive vice president of developmental and external relations at Eva’s Village.

The school says every student that’s gone through the culinary program has had a partial or full scholarship.

“We’re really here for the students who wouldn’t have the means or the opportunity to go anywhere else for this type of training,” Thompson said.

Rivero and Rivas are the first graduates of the program to open a restaurant. Their oldest daughter Estephanie Rivero was proud, to say the least.

“For them to be immigrants of this country and find a way to have their own business was just mind blowing they definitely pushed me to study hard,” she said.

This husband and wife are both from Lima, Peru, but they met here in Paterson over 20 years ago.

Paterson has one of the largest Peruvian populations in the United States.

“Peru Square [in Paterson] is a concentration of some business and restaurants from Peruvians,” said Deputy Consul General of Peru Alejandro Beoutis.

Beoutis says Peruvians started coming to Paterson in the late 1960s.

“This was the Silk City. They were accustomed to work for fashion factories,” Beoutis said.

By the 1980s, Beoutis says around 75% of the Peruvian population in New Jersey was based in Paterson. That’s why a consulate of Peru was opened in Paterson in 1987.

“The silk industry was very, very strong here, and on the 90s, you know that they started to finish,” Beoutis said.

Beoutis says that’s when many Peruvians migrated to other parts of the state. He estimates there are close to 122,000 Peruvians in New Jersey today and says about 20,000 are in Paterson.

But Beoutis says Peruvians from all across the state make their way back to the Silk City on the weekends to eat at the restaurants that offer them a taste of home.

Wasiyki — which means “welcome to my house” in Quechua, an indigenous South American language — hopes to do just that now that doors are open.