CHEF ROBERT ORTIZ – LIMA LONDON, THE FIRST PERUVIAN RESTAURANT WITH A MICHELIN STAR
On the other side of the ocean, in the English capital, LIMA was established. A concept from Virgilio Martínez, one of the most renowned chefs of Peru and his right hand and kitchen chef Robert Ortiz.
LIMA was opened in 2012 in the chic London district of Fitzrovia. It took just one year from its opening to be awarded a star from Michelin Great Britain and Ireland, and with that we have our first Michelin star Peruvian restaurant in Europe.
This time we sit down with kitchen chef Robert Ortiz who has held the star five years running. We would like to get to know him and his kitchen in London better and hopefully get a peek into the wonderful Peruvian cupboards. Hopefully we can hear more about the products such as Maca, Huayro potatoes, Ollucos, Mashua, Kiwicha, and Algarrobina that travel to London from the regions of Peru and also about how the Peruvian flavors are being received in the British culture.
Robert Ortiz: Portrait of a Chef
By Fabiola Gálvez
We would like to hear a bit more about you, when did you find your passion for cooking?
I lived with my grandmother until I was 11 years-old and during that time I helped her and saw how she cooked.
From which area of Peru do you come from? How long have you lived in London? How did you end up here?
I come from the Amazon region, from a city called Lonya Grande on the banks of the Marañón river. I went to london with a scholarship to study English and I stayed here. However, I fly twice a year back to Peru in order to keep abreast of new things and ideas that are coming out of the country.
We know you have a long friendship with chef Virgilio Martínez. When did you two meet?
We worked together for three years in the Four Seasons hotel. We got to know each other well during that time. We worked hard to get Peruvian ideas into the hotel: Ceviches, Causas, Tiraditos etc. It was tough because the restaurant was Italian but we presented them as specials or offered them at the bar and when we prepared food once a month for the staff. We always wanted to be active in that regard.
What is your view on Peruvian cuisine in London? Are there enough Peruvian restaurants in your opinion? Which dishes have been hits and are known to the public?
I love the essence of Peruvian cuisine: Clear, delicious, sometimes simple and very healthy including a large content of “superfoods”. I don’t like that there are Peruvian restaurants here changing a lot of what makes it great and often the original taste is lost. In general the main dishes in LIMA are octopus, ceviches and tiraditos, always together with our chilis- yellow, rocoto, ají panca, ají mirasol, which are unique in the world and define many of the flavors and the DNA of Peruvian cuisine. Some favorite dishes are duck in a pickling sauce from grandma’s recipe and Beef-Pachamanca, of course just the essence.
Are Peruvian flavors similar to the British palate? Could you give us an example of a dish that was adapted to british taste buds if that was ever the case?
The British like to try new things and all our dishes have been received very well. However, I had to bring down the spiciness in the dishes a bit. For example: I have to boil the Rocoto chilis 8 times in different water to tone down the spiciness but retain the flavor.
What is the percentage of Peruvian ingredients that go into your dishes in London? What is the newest ingredient or what has surprised the British the most?
We use from 28 to 30 percent Peruvian products in our restaurant. I often cook with Achiote and a bit of Achiote oil. Ollucos and Mashuas are new to the scene. I should mention Cherimoya, which is prepared like a Parfait, they love that.
What kind of experience do the customers get when they visit your restaurant?
They always tell me that the food is delicious. I think that is the power behind a restaurant.
“4000 meter potatoes”. How did you come up with this dish?
We designed the idea behind the “dry potato” or the carapulca with more customer interaction in mind. We prepare it together with cashews from the Amazon and edible weeds from the Peruvian coast. It is great for vegetarians. Naturally, I decorate it, using colorful types of quinoa. I believe the original idea comes from the Andean countryside.
Which dish is the favorite in the restaurant?
Ceviche is always the star. We also have suckling pig prepared with a crispy skin served with yucca-puree, eucalyptus sauce and chancaca.
In 2013 LIMA restaurant received a Michelin star and with it becoming the first Peruvian restaurant in London to hold this honor. What does this award mean for you and the restaurant?
It was sensational. To win a Michelin star and hold on to it for a while has done amazing things to bring our product and the Peruvian cuisine a step forward, to raise awareness and elevate it to the next level. In the past people thought we were just a country where we only ate potatoes and rice with chicken.
Are you still in the pursuit of another star?
I think it’s going good for the moment, but the political situation in Europe at the moment has a big effect on business. There is a huge fluctuation with personel, but we stay the course.
What advice would you give to a Peruvian restaurant that wants to win a Michelin star?
There are a lot of standards to keep. It’s really difficult, but not impossible. It’s important to have a well-trained staff and be fearless. The Peruvian cuisine is flavor-intense, healthy and very colorful. There are so many ways you can be innovative and represent Peru, especially with our products which are still relatively unknown.
When will we see you on a trip back to Peru?
I think pretty soon. I’m thinking about going in January and taking a swim in the Marañón river, as well as visiting friends and family, eating some delicious food and laying out in the sun for a bit.
Many thanks Robert!
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