What were your beginnings in gastronomy?
I began cooking when I was very young (I corrected our home cook's seasoning), I was the cook for grilling and on camping trips, my friends made me think that I had some talent for cooking because they really enjoyed my way of flavoring, and then I realized that my interest was vocational so I made a change in my life and I dedicated myself for more than three years entirely to the study of gastronomy. Then I did one more year of specialization and ended up being a professor of gastronomy at the Institute of the Andes , my alma mater.
How do you define your cooking style? What inspires you to create dishes?
I love to combine styles. That's what we Peruvians have done all our lives, it's part of our gastronomic traditions. I'm a fanatic about Peruvian things, and I mix them with the cuisines I enjoy most: the Mediterranean ( Italy , Spain , Morocco , etc.), the French, the Chinese, and the Japanese. I am inspired by thinking of my diners: what they might like and how to surprise them, but above all, to satisfy them.
What do you think differentiates you from other chefs?
Maybe a few more pounds (kilos)… Ha ha ha.
Now let's focus on your restaurant, BRAVO. What type of food are you creating right now?
My food is comfortable gourmet. I don't ignore creativity nor presentation, nor do I ignore the Peruvian appetite for large portions without getting too carried away.
When I create my menu I think about what I would like to give a guest who comes to eat at my house.
Tell us about the BRAVO menu, how you conceived it, and what is the reason for the restaurant's big success?
When I was looking for a place, I had the time and the perfect environment to create; I thought about how I wanted to differentiate Bravo from other restaurants, and the concept of comfortable gourmet was born. The ideas and the recipes flowed of their own. I think the success of Bravo is rooted in the combination of good service, setting, music and food, it is everything that makes up the Bravo experience, and nothing would be possible without the excellent team I have—the success is due to them.
What traits do you need to have in order to be a successful leader in a kitchen?
Patience, organization, (willingness to) compromise, understanding, and a lot of passion to make things be the best possible.
The leader distinguishes himself from the chief because he doesn't lead, he doesn't give orders; the leader shows and people follow him and are faithful to him because of the most important thing: he sets a good example for the team.
Where do you think Peruvian cuisine stands right now?
In a very privileged position, among the most varied, delicious, and recongnized cuisines of the world.
What do you consider the world's best cuisine?
The food at home. For an Eskimo, a Frenchman, a Chinese, and a Peruvian that is what will always make you happy, and it is the food you like the best. I don't believe in best cuisines, but rather in excellent cuisines; all good ones that have something to show the others.
With the use of non-traditional substances, which is now in vogue, do the flavors of the food get lost?
I don't think so. These same substances have been used in the industrial preparation of food for many years, only now they are being used in some of the cutting edge kitchens. These are tools to surprise and to create an atmosphere of ferment that diners tend to expect. However, using them indiscriminately so that the food loses its primordial flavors and its alimentary purpose seems to me to be a mistake.
Why do you think Peruvian cuisine has reached the acme it enjoys today?
It's the diversity of techniques and flavors with which we have been imbued over the years, thanks to the different races who have populated our territory.
From school onwards a lot of emphasis is placed on participating in international contests. Besides the possibility of winning an award, how does participating assist the career of a cook?
I have my doubts about it. At first I thought that competitiveness was an interesting way to get ahead, but more than that, I think it is to show that we are better than others, and it is not the humble demeanor that a cook should always have throughout this career. The best contest is the one that is won daily when customers leave happy.
Which are your favorite Peruvian restaurants? Which are the places that you should not miss in order to experience the best of local food?
Not to be missed are Hanzo, La Red, Malabar, Rafael, La Bodega de la Trattoria, Panchita, Fusión when Rafo was there, the recently opened Mayta, and Central, I could name a whole page there are so many good ones.
You shouldn't miss Costanera 700 led by the great Humberto Sato, and Yakir, the “Unknown Corner Restaurant” (El Rincon que no conoces in Spanish) run by the beloved Teresa Izquierdo , Astrid & Gastón, or La Mar, and of course a visit to the great Javier Wong, that is a must.
The most surprising secret?
Learning from your mistakes.
Is telling a chef's secrets like revealing magic tricks?
Can you imagine, how many people have taken to their graves their grandmothers' secret recipe? It shouldn't be done. Thank God not everyone is like that and we have had access to knowledge about how to make a cebiche, a potato Huancayo style, a chicken with ají, and an anticucho . For me, revealing those tricks helps sustain the continued growth of our cuisine and provides the inspiration that many young cooks need to have the courage to create their own dishes. The idea is to generate a chain of shared knowledge.
What anecdote would you like to share?
Well, for many years I was trying on my own to make a well-known dessert, a chocolate fondant tartlet, and in the midst of trying I asked a well-known, well-loved person in the world of desserts if the flour I was using was the correct one because my results weren't satisfactory. Her answer was a bullet to this admirer's heart; “THAT RECIPE, I'VE ALREADY TOLD MY DAUGHTERS, IS THE ONE WE TAKE TO OUR GRAVES BECAUSE IT IS WHAT PROVIDES US OUR LIVELIHOOD IN THE RESTAURANT” said with great coldness, and it awoke in me a stubbornness, the unwillingness to conform, and the necessary drive to succeed on my own account, spending a year experimenting like an alchemist, to achieve the very secret formula which she will never publish in her book “My 100 Best Recipes” but that I, with great pleasure, share with whomever asks me.