Clos19 talks to Robert Ortiz, Lima London's head chef and creator of the bespoke five course menu for the Veuve Clicquot Colorama Dinner. Lima London is Europe's first and only Peruvian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. We discuss his inspiration behind presenting Peruvian cuisine in a contemporary style, his bespoke Colorama dinner and what the art of hosting means to him.
The Colorama campaign celebrates the art of blending by Madame Clicquot, including her creation of the first known blended rosé, and highlights the importance of colours in the history of the champagne Maison. Can you relate to this concept, how important is colour when assembling your dishes?
Chefs can at times be intimidated by bold colours but because of my Peruvian roots, colour comes very naturally to me. In Peru, you find bright and bold colours everywhere, from the natural colour of vegetables to our diverse landscape. So of course colour is an integral part of my dishes but it is the natural colours and liveliness of Peru that inspire me and are immediately transmitted into anything I do.
Madame Clicquot recreated rosé champagne and changed the rules, do you feel you are similarly changing the rules of Peruvian cuisine?
Perhaps not, but we are definitely doing something different and bold. We undeniably take a more open and modern approach to cooking compared to years ago when Peruvian food was strictly traditional. At our core, we work with conventional Peruvian flavours but we constantly try to think outside the box and bring in different influences from Asia, Italy and Spain, to name a few.
What inspired your journey of boundary-breaking reinvention of classic Peruvian dishes?
The inspiration comes from the drive and hard work of people I have worked with along the way. That energy has inspired me to reinvent and bring something new. But also, I always think of customers and how to please and surprise them. And in today’s digital era in which people are regularly taking pictures of your creations you have to go the extra mile in terms of presentation.
How do you ensure you respect the tradition of Peruvian cuisine while continuously reinventing yourself on a plate and pushing boundaries?
The main focus for us is to respect flavours. We as a team draw an imaginary circle around the core of what Peruvian cuisine is and you can go left and right from the core but you cannot exit the circle. We respect the tradition of Peruvian cuisine and we enjoy it but we twist it to adapt it to different palates. Then again, experimentation is not unknown to Peru as throughout our history we have integrated generations of Asian, Spanish and other Latin American influences.
What is your favourite flavour combination?
My favourite flavour combination is acidity, sweetness and spiciness. Like for instance, the first course of the Colorama dinner is sweet potato ceviche and pumpkin fritters with mustard and raw cane syrup which is a little sticky and a little spicy, and incorporates my favourite flavour trio. This is a combination I like to go for in a lot of my dishes.
How does champagne pair with the bold and complex flavours of Peruvian cuisine?
Champagne pairs very well, as the fruitiness and acidity of it harmonises perfectly with the lightness of Peruvian flavours. They rarely clash. And at Lima, we try to explore champagne more and more every day.
For your bespoke Colorama five-course menu, how did you pair your creations with each Veuve Clicquot champagne?
We started with a core idea and concept of what we wanted to create and worked very closely with a sommelier from Veuve Clicquot on every single pairing and dish. As we tasted the Veuve Clicquot range the inspiration grew and more flavours started to come into play. We wanted to start with something light and gradually move on to something with more acidity and spiciness. For the main course, the complexity of Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2008 paired perfectly with our veal and Andean tubers. And for dessert, I wanted to finish off with the sweetness of pineapple which complimented the aromas of Veuve Clicquot Rich.
Which champagne is your personal favourite from the Veuve Clicquot range?
Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2008. This is the one that spoke to me immediately and one I could drink all day.
It’s only in the past few years that Peruvian cuisine has skyrocketed in the London food scene, how did you make sure guests felt welcomed in what used to be unknown territory?
Peru has millions of chefs these days but 10 years ago no one would eat ceviche in London. However, I believe that creating something that is good, made with passion and love and not for recognition and money, comes across on a plate and people can recognise and appreciate it even if these are not familiar flavours. However, more Peruvian ambassadors are still needed.
What is your definition of the perfect host?
The perfect host is someone who possesses natural charisma and is genuine. And just as importantly, it is someone who puts guests first. People come into a restaurant with an expectation to be touched by food but also to be looked after. And the two should form a perfect harmony, otherwise you are one of the many. In one of my favourite restaurants in Peru, the food is nice but the service is even better because you feel welcome and at home.
What is the difference between the customs of Peruvian and English hosts?
As private hosts, Peruvians may be more welcoming as a night with friends will always involve singing and dancing and culturally Peruvians are warmer than the English. But on a professional level, customer service standards in England are very high, an area in which Peru is overall lacking a bit.
How do you like to finish off the night?
At the restaurant, we always make sure to thank our guests for taking the time to come out to our restaurants and try our creations. With friends, I like giving them a small souvenir from my home country or from a recent trip which makes them feel valued and shows I have thought about them during my time away.