You have been a cook for a long time. How did you begin?
My father, Luis Antonio, always encouraged us children to have a work ethic. In the early ‘70s he opened two small places, one a sandwich shop where we prepared jamón del país (a type of boiled, uncured ham), and the other a small restaurant with only six tables on Jirón Ocoña a half-block away from the Bolivar Hotel, a restaurant specializing in fried cojinova (a local fish) and these places drew me into the career that still occupies me today.
What position do you think Peruvian cooking holds today?
Right now we're all talking about Peruvian cooking as being the best, and it's true: we have great flavors, and an agricultural, mythical, and cultural history that we should promote alongside (our culinary history). What casts a pall on our culinary art, however, is the great paradox of poverty and malnutrition that exists and that we must overcome as soon as possible, in order to strengthen our cuisine without having guilty feelings.
Your cooking style is obviously very Peruvian, the classic recipes. Have you added or taken away much so that your food has a distinct flavor?
There are two clear routes to follow:
1) When the “Novoandina” cooking style comes about in the early ‘80s, it is to inspire, encourage and get people to know things Peruvian. Novoandino cuisine not only shows the public the boundless kinds of ingredients found on the coast, in the Andes and in the jungle that can be used in infinite ways, but it also tries to stimulate other arts (fashion, music, jewelry, etc.) to focus on our Peruvian-ness.
Today, almost 30 years later, the novoandino dream is to have these very protein-rich foods used in daily home cooking.
2) At my restaurant, The House of Don Cucho, we offer Limeñan creole cooking with the traditional flavors, the ones that we harbor in our taste memories.
Tell us about your country restaurant, how you conceived it, what you think the public is looking for when it goes there, and the reason for its big success.
The public likes to have the chef, the owner, to be present, to receive them and to bid them good-bye, to be attentive to their needs, and to see you cooking so that you aren't just a marketing gimmick.
This is a joyful country restaurant, with guitar and cajón (a box played as a percussion instrument) music, without protocols. Wherever you look, the decoration is Peruvian. Today many Peruvian restaurants are decorated in the minimalist style, naked white walls, but why don't they display local crafts, textiles, scenes of the countryside, etc? And I like to have the Heart of Jesus image along with the Peruvian flag, because that's how I am.
Being the chef of a restaurant as well as directing a television program demands long work hours and much personal sacrifice. How do you allocate your time in order to maintain your standards of quality and also appear on TV with the confidence that only experience brings?
With the help of my family; Carmen, my wife, is the administrator, my daughter Daniela is the cashier, and my son Bernardo helps out in the dining room.
The staff is crucial, and respect for the workers is the anchor.
And on TV and radio I have a lot of fun, I don't think of it as work, even if it takes time.
What qualities are needed in order to be the successful leader of a kitchen?
Respect for the people with whom we work, to have them see that you do the same things you tell them to do.
Which cuisine do you think is the best in the world?
That of the home cook.
What are you exploring right now in the realm of food?
As I said earlier, to try to encourage the consumption of novoandinan products in our daily diet, in dining rooms, due to an on-going, government-funded promotion campaign, and with crop production that reaches local markets. A food revolution, almost a utopia. Having a nutritional language that the most ordinary person can understand.
Which are your favorite Peruvian restaurants? Which places should not be missed in order to get to know the best local cooking?
Tato de Barraca. You need to travel all around Peru and thereby learn its strengths and weaknesses and act upon that. There are towns that depend upon purely local tourism because they don't have a highway to get to them.
What is your most surprising secret?
Muña (an Andean mint) has 200 times more calcium than milk, and by saying that I don't mean that one should replace the other, but I think it should be used to make a refreshment, like a seasonal drink.
Is revealing a chef's secrets like giving away magic tricks?
What stories can you tell us?
I personally give them all away, that is my trademark.
That I met my wife Carmen one first of December, that we had our civil wedding the following tenth of January and our religious wedding the next day. It's record that's difficult to beat.