BY SHARON CORRIGAN
Owner & Cucina de Autor Q’ero Restaurant Group (Encinitas) MONICA SZEPESY has been working in restaurants since the age of 18. She was originally hired to do prep then pastry/pantry. “My first job in the industry was an event for the famous glass artist Dale Chihuly. I had never been exposed to food at that level. Even back then I knew that I was not going to take the traditional route, working for other people or going to a culinary school. I knew I wanted to work for myself- to cook my way.”
Monica’s father was in the Peace Corps, then worked for the US Department of State. She was born in La Paz, Bolivia but grew up in Chile, Jamaica, Pakistan, New York City, Washington DC and here in San Diego. The one constant in all of those years was returning home to Cuzco, her mother’s home.
“I went from small restaurant offering a cuisine that really didn’t exist in Encinitas fifteen years ago to having two places. We are now three generations in my business- my mother and my son (who will be 15 this year) are also involved. He is as natural and I am very proud of him.”
“At Q’ero we serve traditional Peruvian dishes along with items I create using the same flavor profiles. My signature dish is a braised beef short rib “chica de hora”. When I opened we weren’t allowed to serve it because we couldn’t import the fermented beer which is known as “the drink of the people. Now we make the beer specifically for this dish.”
“We offer casual everyday Peruvian food. Now that we have the second location we have room to accommodate more special celebrations, larger groups and to expand our catering. We are also able to accommodate requests for things like platters of empanadas and ceviche for private parties. We now have the space to store more product and a secondary kitchen.”
Monica’s plans for Q’ero include offering casual Sunday cooking classes: teaching the public to feel comfortable with the basics of Peruvian cuisine so they can feel confident cooking dishes for their families. She will also be launching annual culinary tours to Peru. “I have family there ready and willing to be involved, and I will enjoy making the trip and sharing my culture.”