“Don’t use those plates,” says Victoriano López, the executive chef of the recently opened La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, to one of his 20 line chefs, as he calmly reminds his new international team that they have new white plates from France and Germany.
“This is one of the details that differentiates us from La Mar in Lima,” the small-framed López says of the china.
Fans of Peruvian food have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a Gastón Acurio restaurant in the city, so their hope is that not much else is different from the acclaimed original.
New York‘s La Mar opened two weeks ago in the high-ceilinged former home of Tabla at 11 Madison Ave.
Originally from the Ancash region of Peru, López says that he became aware of Acurio almost two decades ago while watching one of the first of his many TV cooking programs.
After being mesmerized by the variety of plates and ingredients and trying to learn the innovative Peruvian recipes he saw Acurio and his wife, Astrid, create on the tube, he went to the couple’s flagship restaurant in Lima, Astrid y Gastón, to meet his hero.
“He asked me how do you know me?” recalls López in his native Spanish. “He gave me a job as his assistant one week later. He has helped me so much – not only in learning about the kitchen, but like a father, because my parents didn’t have the economic means to help me. I am so grateful to him.”
Now López, 40, who never had formal culinary school training has been trusted with leading the kitchen at Acurio’s 29th restaurant worldwide – his first on the U.S. East Coast.
“The advice I can give Victoriano is to be himself,” Acurio said via e-mail of the chef he’s worked with for 17 years. “He has a big heart, talent, ability and overflows with modesty.”
López had to leave his family in Peru while their visas are processed, is living outside of his homeland for the first time and is working from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. – but he doesn’t seem to mind.
“We spend about 18 hours together every day,” laughs Luis Jaramillo, his Ecuadoran sous-chef, who was previously at One If by Land, Two If by Sea in the West Village. “I was always inspired by Gastón … but now I am inspired by Victoriano.”
López says he doesn’t have a favorite dish on the La Mar menu, where prices range from $12 to $39 for appetizers and entrées.
But eight of La Mar’s famous ceviches are on the menu, including Elegance, a lime-drenched and slightly spicy warm-water fluke with red onions, Peruvian corn and little yam balls, and Lopez’s specialty, Maine lobster grilled over corn husks and drowned in a tangy ceviche sauce.
While López waits for his wife and three school-age kids to join him in New York, he also dreams about opening his own restaurant one day.
“I teach the philosophy of Gastón, passion for the kitchen,” he says. “We have no secrets.”
Originally published in the NY Daily News.