We talk to the Los Angeles-based Peruvian chef about what's next for him, sourcing ingredients, and sustainability
Ricardo Zarate has garnered accolades for his first two Los Angeles-based restaurants, Mo-Chica and Picca. But instead of slowing down, the Peruvian-born chef is opening his third restaurant this spring. Paiche will still have the Peruvian roots of his two other restaurants, but with a slightly different focus. "The concept of Paiche is Peruvian Izakaya," he says. "So it’s going to be Peruvian food with a lot of Japanese influence. It’s going to have a very strong accent on seafood but with a Japanese flair. Many people know — or I don’t know if many people know! — that in Peru we have a lot of Japanese influence in the cuisine."
Zarate believes that the cuisine is able to authentic, despite the distance from Peru: "Right now with the globalization it’s more easy to get more access to produce, especially with the boom of Peruvian cuisine in the world... I can’t get all the products, but at least the basic ones are available in America," he says.
For more from Zarate, including the meaning behind the name Paiche, watch the video above!
Ricardo Zarate on Paiche's First Year
Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
Photos by Elizabeth Daniels
Ricardo Zarate opened Paiche last April with then-partner Stephane Bombet, just off the heels of his return to Downtown with Mo-Chica, and a few years after establishing himself as one of the city's top chefs at Picca in Beverly Hills. Since then, Paiche has earned a Best New Restaurant nod from Esquire, no small feat for a restaurant in relatively sleepy Marina del Rey. Here now, Zarate sits down with Eater to talk about some of the minor and more significant changes he's made to what could be called his most ambitious concept, a melding of Japanese and Peruvian flavors.
Why did you think about opening a restaurant here? When I moved to L.A. I lived here, but always complained that there was nothing to eat in the area, except around Abbot Kinney. When I was at Picca, the building owners showed me the space. I liked that there was good parking and that it was near the beach.
How did you arrive at this concept? It took about eight months to do the build out. In my career, I've always created goals that I wanted to reach. I've always wanted to do Peruvian cuisine, and I still want to express Peruvian cuisine. I want to raise the bar for the market, to make Peruvian cuisine one of the biggest cuisine in the world. I'm very happy with what I'm achieving, but we have a long way to go.
What was the first month like here? It was good. I was pleased that we had a lot of followers that came from all over for the food. We have been very consistent at dinner, but it was hard to build up lunch with the locals. We're launching a new lunch menu as a result with a $15 dollar special, just like at Mo-Chica.
What did you adjust six months in? In the restaurant business, you always need to adjust and accommodate. The biggest report was that we were too expensive. We started adjusting portions here and there, but we also didn't want to get out of the concept idea, which is a Japanese izakaya, more tapas-style, with Peruvian influence. We were just trying to get into the neighborhood crowd, and since then it's become very consistent. In about one year, we've already achieved the numbers we've projected. I'm a firm believer that we're going to continue to grow because the area is growing, with Playa Vista and Marina del Rey. We're still hidden but people keep finding us.
So what has been the biggest challenge for you at Paiche? I would say lunch. We're still working on that. I think we can make lunch and happy hour more successful. You use the first year to understand what the flow is going to be for the next year. But we made a few mistakes, like now launching with a lunch program right away. We were using the same menu as dinner, with a high check average, and that wasn't attractive to customers. Only a few business people were willing to pay that much for lunch. I think with the new $15 lunch, it's a great deal if you work or study in the area.
What are your favorite things on the menu? The yuquitas. Why? Because it's a dish I always crave in my life. Growing up, there are these dirty, corner soup shops in Peru. And outside there were these guys making fried yucas and sending them inside the restaurant. i wanted to upgrade that, so I stuffed them with manchego cheese. While I really love ceviche, the problem with Peruvian ceviche is that the sauce tends to dominate the flavor of the fish. So here, we serve it sashimi style, so you get the leche de tigre underneath, almost like soy sauce. We have all different kinds of fish here for sashimi, and served this way, you really get more of the flavor of the fish.
What percentage would you say this is Peruvian versus Japanese? I would say 50-50. A lot of Peruvian people come in and hate this. I know it's not Peruvian. This is an izakaya concept with Peruvian flavors. You're not going to get arroz con pollo or lomo saltado. But i think this would do really well in Lima because there is nothing like this there. I've even been approached about doing this concept in Asia. I've never actually been to Asia, but I've been told that it would do well there.
What are you most proud of at this restaurant? I love the name. I picked the right name, and it really brought awareness to the Amazon. I went there and go to see a farm where they produce paiche. I'm very proud to bring that name here and put it on the map because it's an amazing story. To see the indigenous peoples, and how they treat it and consume it, and then be able to play with it here.
What about the critical response you've gotten over the past year? In the end, this business is just a business. The bottom line is, you're doing what you love. Critics are going to be all over. You need to be able to receive the punches to grow bigger. I always try to learn, and I never take anything personally. If you're going to ask if I read Yelp, I don't. It's great to read something flattering, but I have my own goals, and I'm focused on that.
What else are you working on right now? Right now I'm working on Suave Rico. I've been working on this for over two years. When I came to America, I asked myself, what is American cuisine? You can't say pizza or pasta because that's Italian. You could say barbecue or burger, but I think it's fast food. It will never disappear. What I'm trying to do is create the first Peruvian fast food concept in America. I think fast food concepts are the new trend.
Peruvian cuisine has gotten a lot of attention lately on the world gastronomy scene, especially in Lima. How do you feel about that? If I were to be proudly Peruvian, I would say it's the best gastronomy in the world, but that would be a lie. We have a lot of growth material, a lot of diamonds that we need to polish. Peru has the potential to be a very powerful force in the world of gastronomy. It all depends on the talent and ability of the chefs. And not just from Peruvian chefs. I think more foreigners are going to be interested in Peruvian cuisine. The techniques will come from abroad. For example, Ferran Adria is opening a Peruvian restaurant in Barcelona. I heard that Jose Andres might do a Peruvian Chifa-style restaurant, and even Nobu is thinking of doing a full Peruvian place.
Where else do you like to eat around town? I'm still crazy for Japanese food. I love Sawtelle. I eat at Morinoya. I love the natto and tuna, and because of those dishes, I created a natto tuna crostini! I go to Kiriko for omakase. That's where I go when I want to get inspired. And I love Sushi Gen, but maybe it's my favorite because they let me skip the line for lunch! They're very quiet about it because they're usually very strict.
· All One Year In Coverage [
Chef’s Notebook: A sneak peek at Ricardo Zarate’s Paiche
Ricardo Zarate, the chef behind Peruvian restaurants Picca and Mo-Chica, will soon open Paiche (named for a giant Amazon river fish) in Marina del Rey. It’s still under construction, but Zarate is now working on the menu, sketching dishes for his “Peruvian izakaya” in his notebook.
Dishes start as drawings that include everything from a description of the tableware (“round plate” or maybe “short bowl”) to placement of the micro cilantro flowers in a wild mushroom quinoa salad with rainbow quinoa, mushrooms, huacatay sponge cake and aerated mushroom sauce. A note written at the bottom of this particular dish says: “Quinoa we could try to dress with feta dressing to give moist [sic] lets try. ”
Other dishes in the works: crispy fish bun with halibut, cabbage salad, avocado and jalapeno aioli wagyu black truffle tiradito with seared wagyu beef, Parmesan sauce, aji amarillo vinaigrette and black truffles and kampachi tiradito with rocoto oil and yuzu garlic dressing served on a block of Himalyan salt -- this one sketched with a note that says, “yuzu garlic dressing I would like to come with a slightly creamy base dressing almost broken with oil like a split cream dressing good luck to me. ”
Tip: If your honey has granulated, warm it for a few seconds in the microwave or on the stovetop.
½ cup honey
¼ cup Japanese saikyo (sweet) miso, or substitute shiro (white) miso
Slice the lime into 5 or 6 rings and discard both ends.
In a small bowl, combine the lime slices, honey and miso. Lightly mash the ingredients together with the back of a spoon. Cover and refrigerate the glaze overnight, or up to 2 days for better flavor.
Discard the lime slices and refrigerate the Honey-Miso Glaze for up to 5 more days. Stir the glaze before using.
Share All sharing options for: Ricardo Zarate Ousted From His Own Restaurants: Picca, Mo Chica, and Paiche
Ricardo Zarate at Paiche, Marina del Rey Elizabeth Daniels
Ricardo Zarate's culinary star flew high for a few years, with his first restaurant Picca receiving a Best New Restaurant nod in GQ from Alan Richman. A long time Eater 38 resident, Zarate was known around the city for his inventive take on Peruvian cuisine. Partnered with Stephane Bombet, Zarate went on to open Mo-Chica in Downtown and Paiche in Marina del Rey, which received a Best New Restaurant nod from John Mariani in Esquire's annual roundup . Now comes word from an anonymous source that Zarate has been unceremoniously ousted from his restaurants.
The plucky chef, who started an inventive Peruvian eatery inside Mercado La Paloma back in 2009, is no longer cooking behind the stoves in any of his restaurants as of last week. In the meantime, Picca will apparently be the first one to switch concepts, after a successful run in Beverly Hills above the Sotto space.
No word yet on what will happen to Zarate's Suave Rico, the fast food rotisserie concept currently in development in Culver City, as well as Zarate's Blue Tavern in Santa Barbara, which opened last year.
The Fire of Peru : Recipes and Stories from My Peruvian Kitchen
Lima-born Los Angeles chef and restaurateur Ricardo Zarate delivers a standout cookbook on the new “it” cuisine—the food of Peru. He perfectly captures the spirit of modern Peruvian cooking, which reflects indigenous South American foods as well as Japanese, Chinese, and European influences, but also balances that variety with an American sensibility. His most popular dishes range from classic recipes (such as ceviche and Pisco sour) to artfully crafted Peruvian-style sushi to a Peruvian burger. With 100 recipes (from appetizers to cocktails), lush color photography, and Zarate’s moving and entertaining accounts of Peru’s food traditions and his own compelling story, The Fire of Peru beautifully encapsulates the excitement Zarate brings to the American dining scene.
“Ricardo is a great chef and a person with a point of view in his cooking. When you taste his food, you not only taste Peru, but you taste an unmistakable flavor that is totally him.”—Roy Choi, chef and author of L.A. Son
“Not your usual crop of Tex-Mex recipes at all! You will enjoy The Fire of Peru with both the food and the insights into Peruvian culture. Our world is far broader than we often imagine.”—HuffPost
Ricardo Zarate's Once Brings Peruvian Heat to the Las Vegas Strip
The new restaurant, in the space that once was home to Emeril Lagasse&rsquos Table 10, will change its menu every week.
The fire of Peru is coming to Las Vegas. Ricardo Zarate, the L.A. chef behind white-hot Rosaliné in West Hollywood, is opening Once (pronounced on-seh) in the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Palazzo.
On one level, you could say that Once, a gigantic, 10,000-plus-square-foot restaurant scheduled to debut in March, is the culmination of a storied career that also includes being named a 2011 Food & Wine Best New Chef. But Zarate sees Once, which is taking over a space previously occupied by Emeril Lagasse’s Table 10, as the beginning of something much bigger than one colossal restaurant: Once is the incubator for Nikkei, a Peruvian-Japanese concept that Zarate eventually wants to open around the world.
“I like challenges, and my goal since I started cooking Peruvian cuisine here in America has been to expand Peruvian cuisine to different places in America and the world,” he says. “Maybe I’m being very ambitious, but that’s my dream. This is a big window of opportunity to showcase Peruvian cuisine.”
Cooking in Vegas, with a 160-seat restaurant that has a lot of space to add additional tables as things progress, gives Zarate a chance to experiment with many new dishes and create bigger, bolder versions of his greatest hits.
At Rosaliné, Zarate is known for serving chaufa(Peruvian fried rice) in the style of paella. That dish is made with Japanese rice, pancetta, Chinese sausage and shrimp. At Once, Zarate wants to raise the stakes by making chaufa with snow crab.
He’s been playing around with seafood sudado, a stew served on a large tray.
“It’s going to come with a crispy whole fish and a bunch of seafood: sea urchin, mussels, clams, all the seafood you can imagine,” Zarate says.
The name Once refers to the fact that Zarate, who grew up in Peru and started cooking before he was a teenager, was the eleventh out of 13 children in his family. So he’s planning for his new restaurant to have a core of 11 dishes, along with some specials and some small bites when he’s feeling frisky. He’s working with suppliers in California and plans to change the menu every week. He’ll be serving tiraditos, ceviches and his versions of classic Peruvian meat dishes, like lomo saltado.
Zarate’s the first Peruvian chef with his own restaurant on the Vegas Strip, so he’s ready to have some fun as he introduces both tourists and locals to another cuisine.
“It’s like I’m coming and putting the Peruvian flag in there,” Zarate says.
Zarate has been on a wild ride. He originally started Once as an L.A. pop-up in 2015. He had previously established himself as the king of Peruvian food in L.A., but the pressures of the industry paired with some personal issues (both his mother and brother died) made him depart his restaurant empire in 2014. Mo-Chica, Paiche and Picca have all since closed.
Zarate, at a career crossroads, launched his Once pop-up at Santino’s in Santa Monica. The kitchen setup wasn’t ideal, so he cooked chaufa paella outside, on a makeshift grill he built behind the restaurant.
“Once was the incubator for Rosaliné,” says Zarate, who also released a cookbook, The Fire of Peru, in 2015.
Once is a lot different now. Zarate has so much kitchen space in Vegas that he’s figuring out how to 𠇌ompact” things and just cook with what he needs. He figures he might not even use half of his kitchen at first.
He knows he’ll enjoy working with the restaurant’s “really incredible” gas grill, which guests will be able to see.
“It’s almost like a show kitchen,” Zarate says. “I want to sit people in the front, almost like a counter. I’m going to call it a chef’s table.”
Zarate will blend Peruvian and Japanese flavors in dishes like a tuna tiradito with black truffles. Tiradito is typically raw seafood, sliced like sashimi and served with a spicy and citrus-heavy sauce. Zarate’s tuna tiradito might be lightly seared. He’s also thinking about serving raw scallops with some kind of wasabi sauce.
He might use hot stone plates for meat-and-rice dishes that sort of resemble bibimbap. He’s also been messing around with fried chicken and uni-topped steak. He’s planning a version of tacu tacu (rice and beans) that could have oxtail, egg and banana. He’s working on gnocchi, maybe sweet potato gnocchi, with aji amarillo and wasabi. He says he’s dealt with every dietary restriction imaginable in West Hollywood, so he’s ready to be flexible and offer guests a wide variety of options.
“I have a lot of ideas,” he says. “I have a structure of the menu, but it’s nothing concrete because it’s going to change very often. That’s what I like about this concept. I’ll always be refreshing the menu.”
The foundation for Once has been forming for a while. Zarate remembers how a Japanese friend in Peru needed some wasabi and sent him to Lima’s famous Surquillo market. Zarate was 11 at the time. This was his introduction to wasabi. He and his friend used it to make an octopus tiradito.
Share All sharing options for: LA Chef Ricardo Zarate Will Release His First Cookbook Later This Year
Courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Beleaguered Los Angeles chef Ricardo Zarate — who was abruptly ousted from his restaurants Picca, Mo-Chica, and Paiche in October 2014 — will soon release a cookbook. According to this Amazon listing, Zarate's first book, The Fire of Peru: Recipes and Stories from My Peruvian Kitchen , published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, will hit shelves in October 2015 — despite the fact that his restaurants Mo-Chica and Paiche both permanently closed at the end of last year. Zarate's Amazon bio describes the chef as the "founding chef/owner" of the trio of Peruvian restaurants, and hints that Zarate is "now opening three more" concepts. LA-based food writer Jenn Garbee is the book's co-author her official website describes the 288-page cookbook as one chronicling "modern Peruvian cuisine, with narrative storytelling and local culinary lore."
It's been an odd 14 months for Zarate, who was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2011. In late 2013, Zarate split from his longtime partner Stephane Bombet, taking his four restaurants with him and launching the newly named Zarate Restaurants portfolio. But by October of last year, the stunning news came that Zarate was no longer associated with the three restaurants he was best known for, and just two months later, both Mo-Chica and Paiche — plus another Zarate restaurant, Blue Tavern — would be permanently closed.
In December, Eater LA floated the rumor that Zarate was on a shortlist to operate a new Malibu restaurant. Could that be among the three concepts his book blurb teases?
Three years after debuting the original food court location of Mo-Chica, Ricardo Zarate has netted himself a Food & Wine Best New Chef award and opened three popular restaurants.
But he isn’t one to rest on his laurels.
His newest project in Marina Del Rey, Paiche, is described by the staff as “a Peruvian izakaya” it is also his most ambitious and creative venture yet. Compared to his past cooking, the lengthy menu of small-plates is more evolutionary than revolutionary, but it’s a definite step forward for the godfather of Peruvian cuisine.
From phyllo-wrapped shrimp swimming in jalapeño ponzu ($12) to buttery uni toast drizzled with rocoto-laced honey ($14), Paiche weaves together traditional Japanese dishes with an encyclopedic array of South American flavors.
The restaurant's namesake fish, a monstrous Amazonian river-dweller, shows up as a thinly sliced tiradito marinated with ají amarillo and tamari ($10), a massive rack of grilled fish ribs (Piranha, actually) basted with lime miso ($12), or as a dense stew enriched with spiced lima beans ($14).
The best dish of the night, though, was the chaufa de langosta ($12), a bowl of sizzling fried rice flecked with smoky lobster meat and offset with curls of pickled radish.
It’s what fusion is meant to be: clever, creative and unabashedly fun.
Chef Ricardo Zarate | Foodable WebTV Network
Chef Ricardo Zarate first made a name for himself in Los Angeles when he opened Mo-Chica inside Mercado La Paloma in Downtown Los Angeles in 2009. Known for his inventive interpretation on Peruvian cuisine, his star quickly rose as he opened Picca, a second Mo-Chica and Paiche. Zarate was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s best new chefs in 2011 and Picca was also named one of GQ magazine’s best new restaurants that year.
Last year, rumors started swirling as Zarate left all of his restaurants in October 2014. Regardless of what happened, he and his food were missed. But, now he is back!
About Ricardo Zarate
Richard Zarate was born in Lima, Peru. He spent thirteen years in London where he completed his culinary studies at Westminster. While working in London, Zarate was hired to do a consulting job in Los Angeles. He was not expecting to stay but after falling in love with the California weather and the Spanish culture in the city, he relocated. Zarate has been in Los Angeles for approximately eight years now. In that time, he became known as “the godfather of Peruvian cuisine.”
Passion for Peruvian Cuisine
Zarate’s passion is Peruvian cooking. What is Peruvian cuisine? Zarate is happy to explain it as a “melting pot that took 500 years to make.” First there were the Incas and then the Spanish who brought the Moroccans and West Africans as slaves. In the 1700s, the Italians came to Peru, followed by the Chinese and Japanese. The Japanese, Chinese and European influences are reflected in Peruvian cuisine.
While the typical way to make ceviche is to marinate the fish in vinegar for 48 hours, Peruvian ceviche is not made this way. Due to Japanese influence, the fish is served raw and dressed with lemon, much like sashimi with a dressing. The Chinese influence is reflected in dishes such as the Arroz Chaufa (fried rice) and the Lomo Saltado in which the Chinese influence is the ginger, garlic and soy sauce and the Peruvian influence is the tomatoes and potatoes.
Where Has Zarate Been?
Pulpa La Parilla | Foodable WebTV Network
After taking a short hiatus from the Los Angeles restaurant scene, Zarate is back. “I needed to switch off,” Zarate explained. “I love to cook and I love what I do.” He needed to find his passion again and focused on going back to his origins. He reconnected with himself and found the importance in relationships, such as at the fish market. He continued, “The real purpose of cooking is connecting with people. I feel that energy.”
Now that the energy is back, Zarate has spent the summer warming up and re-entering the restaurant scene.
In July Zarate signed on as a consulting chef at Smoke.Oil.Salt, bringing a global Latin influence to the restaurant. He also launched his Peruvian pop-up called Once (on-seh) in Venice, taking over Argentine restaurant Santino's every Thursday through Saturday from August to October 2015.
Once (on-seh), named after the Spanish word for “eleven”, was because Zarate is the eleventh of thirteen children. The menu featured eleven a la carte dishes, divided into “green,” “seafood” and “meat.” Once was a place where Zarate could practice and play with various flavors and techniques. “I am a chef and work with different ingredients but at the same time, I am me and I work with my flavors.”
Once felt like dining in Zarate’s home. Zarate regularly emerged from the kitchen to serve dishes and talk with customers. As Zarate energetically announced, “Once brought my fire back and I have re-found my passion for cooking.” The old Zarate is back.
While Zarate is back in the kitchen, his first book, entitled The Fire of Peru: Recipes and Stories from My Peruvian Kitchen, was released on October 20th. Zarate spent two and a half years working on The Fire of Peru with co-author Jenn Garbee. The result is a book that shares Zarate’s story, along with recipes of Peruvian dishes. Peru is a country famous for its diversity of produce. But, when Zarate first arrived in California, there were only a few Peruvian ingredients in the market. Today with a larger selection available, Zarate is able to do Peruvian cuisine with a California flair. The recipes in The Fire of Peru combine the use of fresh local produce and Peruvian ingredients that are available in the United States. With The Fire of Peru, Zarate explained that “my goal is to show people how to make Peruvian flavors at home.”
With the end of the pop-up Once, Zarate is focusing on the launch and promotion of this new book. The next few months promise a few more pop-up events around the city. And then what? Will he open another restaurant? Now that this celebrated chef is feeling like his old self again, watch out!