September 9, 2015

We sat down with the ambassador of Peruvian food and culture in London, Martin Morales. The founder of restaurants Ceviche and Andina, Martin tells us about his childhood in Lima, learning to cook with his great aunts and what’s next for Ceviche in 2015 and beyond.

UO: Can you tell us a bit about your background growing up in Lima and your journey to the UK?

I was born in Lima, Peru and lived there for the first 11 years of my life. When I lived in Peru, I grew up travelling to pisco distilleries as a child. An uncle of mine had his own pisco distillery, so a few times a year we would visit and enjoy the full experience of watching the grapes grow and see pisco being distilled. I had quite a few pisco sours before I was 18….

I also used to accompany my late great aunt Carmela to the market and learnt how to smell, feel and buy ripe chillies, mangos, avocados and tomatoes. The smells and sounds were an amusement ground for all my senses. We would choose a live chicken, which was running at the feet of the stallholder in the market, and then collect it a few minutes later once the chicken was prepared and ready to eat.

I left Lima in the mid-80s after my father was threatened by the Shining Path Guerrilla movement, the guerrilla insurgent group that terrorised the city and surrounding villages. Since then, I have lived in Leicester, Leeds and London. I only live in cities beginning with the letter ‘L’.

UO: Having worked at both iTunes and Disney, what prompted the decision to dedicate yourself to becoming a restaurateur?

I have been cooking since the age of nine. I am a self-taught chef and in 2012 after ten years of dreaming about having my own restaurant, I said ‘enough is enough’. I resigned from a successful career in music and tech, sold my house and put everything into opening Ceviche Soho in London. I followed my calling to go back to cooking, craftsmanship and creativity and to follow my love for Peruvian food and my roots.

UO: Tell us about your experience of cooking in Lima with family.

Cooking Peruvian food for friends and family has been a part of my DNA since I was a small child. I would sit at my great aunt Carmela’s kitchen, peeling potatoes, taking peas from the pods, checking the rice for little stones, and doing basic cooking tasks. I would accompany her to market at weekends to cook some of our favourite recipes like Ceviche, Lomo Saltado (Beef Stir Fry), Coca Cola Chicken and many more. My great aunts were brilliant hosts. In their mini skirts and beehives, they would put on great parties in the 60s and 70s with the best food and drinks in the neighbourhood. Their neighbourhood was the epicenter in Lima for rock ‘n roll and later for punk. Although I was born much later, I learnt a lot from them.

UO: What do you love most about being a pioneer for Peruvian cuisine in the UK?

There is a Peruvian saying my great aunt Carmela taught me, aquí se cocina con cariño, which translated means ‘here we cook with loving care’. This is the motto at our restaurant Ceviche – it’s what Peruvian food is all about. The other side of what we do is sazón – the quest to achieve a perfect balance of flavours. I have spent a lifetime working on this. Like most Peruvians, I am obsessed with cooking and I love sharing our amazing food.

UO: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?

To let people you work with be themselves. If you can do that, they will be happy to work with you and will do the best work in their lives.

UO: What do you love most about Peruvian cuisine?

I love the fact that Peruvian cuisine is fresh, healthy and has so many flavours. Our indigenous cuisine that dates back thousands of years has been complimented by fusion cuisine as a result of migration of Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and African people to Peru in the last 500 years, creating the ultimate fusion cuisine.

UO: What’s one of your favourite things about Peruvian culture and how do you aim to bring that to life through your work in the UK?

Food is art, craft, tradition and love. So art and food are interrelated. That’s why we are launching Ceviche Old St Gallery which features works from over 50 of Peru’s top contemporary artists.

There is a buzz about Latin art, and Peru is leading this alongside other countries. Ceviche Old St Gallery is the first ever contemporary Peruvian art gallery outside of Peru, so if you want to see some of our country’s hottest artists, drop by our gallery.

We believe in innovating with food and breaking the boundaries between different art forms including food.

UO: Tell us about the creation process when putting together new recipes

We are focused on rescuing traditional dishes which are disappearing from our country, as well as creating brand new Peruvian dishes. All dishes have a focus on healthy eating, fresh ingredients and authentic flavours. We are influenced by fine dining and street stalls and from a variety of chefs and dish influences. But my focus is always on achieving an incredible flavour.

UO: What’s your hero ingredient?

It changes weekly, but to name a few: Quinoa, maca, amaranth, cañigua, lucuma, amarillo chillies, sacha inchi oil. They are all Peruvian superfood ingredients: high in nutrients, delicious and versatile. All can replace bad food, lardy ingredients and unhealthy options that stuff you up uncomfortably. These ingredients still give you the taste, flavour and the fill you so crave.

UO: Have you had any total recipe disasters?

Just a few. Doing something for the first time can seem like a mistake, but often it’s just a matter of timing. We’ve created dishes that are maybe too ahead of the time. But when we re-introduce them a few months later, they work!

UO: Who or what inspires you personally and professionally?

Personally, my late great aunts Carmela and Otilia as well as my late grandmother Mamita Naty, their sister. The former taught me how to cook and how to love, and the latter introduced me to the world of the Andes and is the key inspiration for our restaurant Andina (Andina means ‘a lady from the Andes’).

The kids from our partner charity Amantani also inspire me, as well as the many people in my home country, Peru, who do not have the same opportunities that I have now, or have had in the past. I work hard because I owe it to them to succeed. Any of them would also grab the opportunities like I have, to make the world a better place and create beautiful things.

Professionally, I’m inspired by London. London is full of creative people that want to change things, have new ideas, are creating new businesses and want to try new food. Londoners give us a chance to blossom like nowhere else in the world. Londoners allow us to do crazy things like creating our record label, Tiger’s Milk Records which releases cutting edge Peruvian electronic, punk, funk and chicha music, or producing ‘edible film’ events or even digital eating events.

UO: What’s next for Ceviche in 2015 and beyond?

We are soon to reveal details of our Christmas menus and NYE parties at Ceviche Old St, Andina and Ceviche Soho. We want to make the most exciting Peruvian Christmas dishes, cocktails, atmosphere and vibe.

Ceviche Old St Gallery’s ‘Birth’ show also launches on October 5th. It will be our first ever show, so we are going to make it very special.

And finally…

The best thing about my job is… the people I work with
I’m currently listening to… Peru Boom, a new compilation of underground electronic Peruvian music
My favourite snack is… cancha corn. It’s like popping corn, but better!
My favourite way to relax is… I collect 7 inch singles; punk, funk, chicha, cumbia, salsa, criolla music. All Peruvian of course.