Robert Ortiz, Lima, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th January 2014

Robert Ortiz is the head chef at Lima, the London outpost of Virgilio Martinez’s celebrated Central restaurant in Lima, which this year made the world’s 50 Best Restaurants List.

Robert first met Virgilio while they were working at The Four Seasons in Canary Wharf. After several years in the UK, he moved back to Peru to reacquaint himself with Peruvian cooking before returning to London to open Lima in 2012. Since then the restaurant has won many accolades including Best New Restaurant at the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards and, most recently, a Michelin star.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Robert to talk ingredients, dishes and the rise and rise of Peruvian cuisine. 

lamb shoulder 'seco'
lamb shoulder 'seco'

How would you describe Peruvian cuisine?

Peruvian cuisine is very complex because we have a lot of influences. We have a mixture of 500 years of tradition. When the Spaniards arrived in Peru they brought us their ingredients, then eventually the Chinese, the Japanese and the Italians all came with their influences, but for some reason our own ingredients stood up very solidly and the outside influences didn’t change them.

If you go to an Italian restaurant in Peru, you will find traditional Italian dishes but using Peruvian ingredients very strongly.

Now we have a very famous dish which is tagliatelle with huancaina sauce which is Italian pasta with a traditional Peruvian sauce from the Huancayo region that was traditionally served with potatoes.

Does all Peruvian cuisine have foreign influences or are there still a lot of traditional native dishes?

Absolutely, Lima, the capital and the big cities in the north have lots of influences from abroad but outside those places there are still many traditional dishes like seco de lomo [dry meat] which I don’t think has changed at all; ceviche itself is a traditional Peruvian dish; then we have aji de gallina which is rice with shredded chicken mixed with chillies and cheese and botija olives [olives native to Peru]; also there are parihuelas, which are like stews from fish and shellfish, so yes there are still many old dishes.

How does the food at Lima restaurant fit in with Peruvian cuisine in general?

Lima
Lima      

The idea behind Lima is to explore the three main regions of Peru – the Andes, which is rich in cereals, corn, potatoes; the coast with all its seafood; and the Amazon, which is new for us and where every day we’re finding new fruits, roots and nuts – these three regions we bring onto the plate.

Is it true that Peru has over a thousand different varieties of potato?

Yes that’s right; I read somewhere that it’s 1,826 different kinds of potato. It’s the same with corn

as well; you have yellow, white, purple, red and mixed colours as well – purple and white mixed together, so it’s very interesting. Andean potatoes also come in many funny shapes and flavours like olluquitos for example, which we have on the menu here; they have a flavour you have never tasted before. In Peru we have around 35 different micro-climates so you can find one kind of potato somewhere but then you can go 20 metres up and find a different one; you can even find potatoes growing 4,000 metres above sea level. We also preserve potatoes just by leaving them outside in the cold weather and allowing the cold wind to dry them.

octopus olivo
octopus olivo

What about the ingredients from the Amazon region – are the Peruvian people rediscovering those much like is happening in Brazil?

I grew up in the Amazon where I lived until the age of eleven and there are products that I still remember like nuts and fruits that were there in massive numbers being wasted. I remember one that came in a huge pod like a fava bean that contained nuts similar to a chestnut but bigger. There are cocoa beans near the Marañón River where the seeds are actually white – the cacao is white, not dark as everyone knows it. We also have a lot of insects. I remember eating them as a child – they fly in October and November then they lose their wings; you pick them and roast them and they smell like truffles and taste wonderful.

Lima won its first Michelin star in September; that must be a real boost for Peruvian cuisine?

It was great because there are three Peruvian restaurants in the world that hold a Michelin star: one is in the States I believe and one is in Spain – that’s a Peruvian chef, not Peruvian cuisine – and so this is one of the first, and the first Peruvian restaurant in Europe to get a Michelin star. It’s great for Peru because it’s promoting itself very much for its cooking and its ingredients and it’s a country where, at the moment, there are around 150,000 students training to be chefs; it’s massive what’s going on there so news like this is fantastic for us.

Why do you think Peruvian cuisine has become popular internationally over the last couple of years?

I think people are always looking for something new but also we have fantastic chefs now like Virgilio Martinez and Gastón Acurio who have come to Europe, learned the skills and gone back to Peru with the idea of showing the world the great products we have. It’s also a time where Peru has enough professionals to showcase the product.

What is the future for yourself, for Lima and for Peruvian cuisine in general?

sea bream ceviche
sea bream ceviche

At Lima we have the Michelin star for the food but we have a lot of things we have to work hard on. There have been a lot of changes in management and so on but I think we are climbing slowly. Obviously we want to push for the next step and if we improve a few things here and there – why not?

For myself, I’m hoping to go to Peru soon. I’ve been invited to an Amazonian expo in July. I’m hoping to get some products from the Amazon into the bigger cities if we can, hopefully experiment with some of the ingredients I remember as a boy, and maybe bring a dish to Central in Lima, even possibly to make a jam from the ushun berry and export it to the UK.

For Peruvian cuisine in general, I think it’s definitely something that’s going to stay. More chefs from Peru are looking to come to the UK; we’ve seen Gastón Acurio expanding in South America, the States and even now in Spain, so Peruvian cuisine is definitely growing. Why can’t we be in Berlin next year or Dubai or even Moscow – why not? View Robert's recipe for Sea bream ceviche, white tiger's milk, sweet onion skin, Inca corn here View Rbert's recipe for Braised lamb shoulder with coriander and pisco jus, black quinoa and white grape

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th January 2014

Robert Ortiz, Lima, London