By Allison Levine, Foodable Contributor
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?
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!