Interview with an Innovator

Ceviche’s Martin Morales: ‘I think we’re only just scratching the surface of what Peruvian cuisine is about’

The man who introduced London to the culinary wonders of Peru talks about his favourite ingredients and the new Amazonian food festival he’s launching in October.

24 August 2018
chefschainsgrainsingredientsLatin Americanrestaurantsvegetables

Morales on Paper – CV

  • Opened his first restaurant, Ceviche Soho, in 2012, focusing on coastal Peruvian dishes
  • Followed this up in 2014 with an eatery in Shoreditch named Andina, exploring the Andean cuisine of Peru
  • Now runs concepts in five locations throughout London and has published two cookbooks based on the food served at his establishments

If you’ve seen Martin Morales’ YouTube channel, you’ll know that he is very enthusiastic when talking about Peruvian ingredients. In one video, he lists the benefits of maca root (“the Viagra of Peru,” as he dubs it), while in another he demonstrates how to assemble his famous Don Ceviche, made with sea bass, sweet potato, red onions and a marinade that includes coriander, chilli, ginger, garlic, and lots and lots of lime juice.

Morales’ exploration of the foodstuffs of his childhood has manifested itself in a series of successful restaurants. At Ceviche, he plays with the flavours of Peru’s coastal regions, including fresh seafood and tropical fruits. At Andina, he dives into the amazing diversity of corn, potatoes, grains and other produce grown in in the Andes.

This year, he’s branching out into new territory with the launch of the first Amazonia Food and Art Festival. Taking place at Ceviche Old Street in October, Morales says it will introduce the UK “to the cuisine of the Amazon like never before, with ingredients that have never been tried or eaten or brought to this country before.”

“We cover a lot of different cuisines in our restaurants – such as nikkei, such as chifa, such as Creole – but Amazonian cuisine has never really been championed,” he continues. “It’s very difficult for us to create a whole restaurant around that because it’s very, very hard to bring the ingredients. It’s impossible, actually. But for a one-off few nights, it is possible.”

Here, Morales tells Food Spark about some of the most exciting Peruvian ingredients he works with, as well as why the rest of the UK is ready for a Peruvian food explosion.

 

When we first started, people couldn’t really pronounce quinoa. They couldn’t actually pronounce it, let alone eat it or find it. We were one of the first to really create a variety and show people how to use that ingredient. We’ve been doing the same with lucuma, we’ve been doing the same with maca and certainly with Amarillo chilli. Many people are now influenced by the work we’ve done with Amarillo chillies.

I remember first finding lucuma in health food shops in powdered form. We bring it over in pulp form, which means it’s much tastier, more versatile, less treated, more natural. I really love that ingredient. I love maca as well. It’s a root, and now you can get maca powder – we sometimes bring that raw as well.

There’s a syrup from an ingredient called yacon that we like, and different kinds of chilli, like an Amazonian chilli called charapita. A lot of these ingredients we’ve been the first to bring them over, serve them at our restaurants and use them to really find authentic flavours.

Some of the ingredients are as hard to find as always. We’re always looking for the right new ingredients, but it’s always based on flavour and recipes and the story we want to tell. We pride ourselves in having a kitchen with a larder that’s not full of high-carbon-footprint ingredients.

Our cookbooks have done very well because we always find local alternatives for the natural ingredients, so you can buy those ingredients in your local shop, in your local supermarket. For example, Amarillo chilli is hard to find. It’s exquisite, it’s aromatic, but if you mix a classic red chilli with sweet yellow pepper and make a paste with that, i.e. sauté and blend it, you come up with a similar paste to what you would if you just used Amarillo chilli. It’s not precise but it’s similar, and I think that’s good enough.

Lucuma is the most popular flavour for an ice cream in Peru. But we also make a puree out of that with some lima beans, and that puree goes with one of our much-loved dishes from Andina in Shoreditch, which is our grilled octopus dish, which has also got yacon syrup. We try to use yacon syrup more than honey, more than sugar, because it’s much healthier and it’s got really, really lovely flavour.

What are our most popular dishes? At Casita Andina, we have a braised aubergine dish with a quinoa patty that is really, really exquisite. At Andina in Shoreditch, there’s the octopus dish that is really popular and hasn’t come off the menu for quite some time. At Andina in Notting Hill, we have got a corn tamale that’s served with a herb succotash; it’s like a steamed dumpling cooked in a banana leaf but made from corn and sweetcorn… Most of those dishes, except for the one with octopus, are vegan dishes.

At Ceviche Old Street, there’s this dish called the lomo saltado, which is a wok-cooked, marinated beef fillet with chips – it’s like the ultimate steak and chips!

[Andina Bakery] is entirely new at a time when it is hard out there. We are innovating and proposing something absolutely unique and new, and I think people really appreciate that and they are excited about trying something new during these hard times.

I think it’s a time for extremes. On the one hand, you have comfort food; on the other hand, you have food that makes you go ‘wow.’ And we’re lucky enough to focus on both of those. The comfort food that we do is traditional food on the one hand, but we’re also creatives, and that’s why we innovate with things like the bakery and things like the Amazonia Food and Art Festival.

For the festival, we’ve got Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, who has been on the World’s 50 Best list. He is known for pioneering the cuisine of the Amazon with his restaurant Amaz in Lima, and he’s coming over for a few days from the 11th of October. And we’ll be running an Amazonian menu between October and December. We’ve also invited a series of about 15 Peruvian contemporary artists who are focused around the theme of the Amazon… We’re combining food and art for our festival.

Over the last few years, we have been showcasing certain Amazonian dishes and our recipes for that, and people love them. The Amazon is a whole world in itself, a whole Pandora’s box of really exciting flavours and techniques and dishes and traditions and stories that we want to tell for the very first time.

I first went to the Amazon to a city called Iquitos and into the jungle when I was 10 years old. I had the most exquisite raw vegetables and fruit and the most exquisite river fish that I’ve ever had, and I’ll never forget that. In the last few years, I’ve been going back to different parts of the Amazon to do research on ingredients, on flavours, to meet different chefs. It’s just astounding the variety and flavours that exist there.

There’s a fish that is sustainably farmed called paiche… Some people in Latin America have said that this is a much more interesting and fascinating fish than, say, the black cod. It’s the new black cod, people say. It’s a bit like a cross between a rich cod meets halibut, but a little bit meatier even. It’s very versatile; it’s great for ceviche, great for poke, great for grilling, for skewers.

There are techniques such as juanes, which are similar to tamales, that are steamed parcels that are lovely and very portable, so they could be great for lunchtime eating and snacking.

A dish that I love on our menu is puca picante. It’s a traditional dish from the region of Ayacucho, and it’s really eaten at celebrations here. We make it with oyuko and oca – which are different types of potatoes from Peru that are grown now in this country – and beetroot. Originally, it’s got pork, but we’ve made a vegetarian version of it. It’s like a bright purple potato stew. It’s super nutritious.

Over the years, we’ve brought seeds for Amarillo chilli, for lucuma trees, for rocoto chilli and for Peruvian black mint… We’ve worked with different suppliers for them to grow that here. With the popularity of Peruvian food – somewhat helped by our work – suppliers of chillies and of ingredients have been very keen to follow that up…So you can now find Amarillo chilli sauce made by [condiment makers] Encona as well as find it in different shops in central London.

In terms of the future, I think tradition is super important. I think people are looking more and more to tradition. They want to go back to basics; they want to go back to eating dishes with great flavours; they want to go back to soul food, because it’s comfort food. I’ve always thought that we need to slow down and stop time and go in reverse. For chefs, I think there’s so much to learn from the past… I think we all want more soul and less science.

Growing up in Lima, we have what we call Criollo cuisine, which sort of translates loosely as ‘creole cuisine.’ And those are very home-cooked, soulful dishes. There’s a lot of slow-cooked stews; really, really tasty, slow-cooked stews – vegan, vegetarian and meat based.

I think we’re only just scratching the surface of what Peruvian cuisine is about and what Latin American cuisine is about. Each country in Latin America is completely different, let alone each province in Peru.

If we look further afield, the food of Malaysia, the food of Ethiopia and the food of Colombia are all extraordinary and are all exciting for people to discover.

I think that other parts of the UK are ready for Peruvian cuisine. We know that by the sales of our cookbooks and the views on our YouTube channel… A few weeks ago, we did an event and there were people coming from Manchester, from Bristol, from Cheltenham.

For me, it’s always about the ingredients. Ingredients is king. What are its properties, what is it, where is it grown, how is it grown – these are all crucial. If you get the best, you don’t need to cover it up with too much technique to showcase it for all its beauty.

Add to Idea Book

"Ceviche’s Martin Morales: ‘I think we’re only just scratching the surface of what Peruvian cuisine is about’"
Choose Idea Book