Every act of aloha counts. Click here to DONATE to the MAUI RELIEF Fund.            

Ricardo Zarate

Ryan Tanaka photo

Chef/Owner Picca, Mo-chica and Paiche restaurants in Los Angeles

You were born and raised in Lima, Peru, and now you are hailed as the ambassador of Peruvian cuisine. There is real culinary excitement about the flavors of Peru – even Chef Nobu has said how much he has been inspired by Peruvian cuisine. I think it’s perhaps because we are a very original country. We have diverse microclimates, and therefore fruits and vegetables and grains people have never tasted before. The Japanese are responsible for a great deal of the fusion in Peru, as are the Chinese. The Japanese brought many fish recipes with them when they immigrated. When Asian people come today to Peru, they subconsciously feel connected through our food.

I have a feeling you are going to love Hawaii. We have the food culture melting pot of all time! (laughs) I know! I am so excited to come. When they asked me to be part of the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival, I was just so excited. And everybody tells me I am going to fall in love with Hawaii. I can feel it already.

“Food & Wine” named you Best New Chef of 2011, and your restaurants already are highly acclaimed. Did you always want to be a chef? I am from a very large family – with 10 brothers and sisters, it was like an army. Everyone had to do duties, so I always cooked. The first time I ever cooked and made them all so happy I was very proud. My love of cooking started there. But my father was the biggest influence. He was a great cook, and he encouraged me. I wanted to make him proud.

Name two ingredients that speak of Peruvian flavor. Peruvian lemons – they are hard to get outside of Peru; they are similar to yuzu. And aji amarillo, a hot, yellow pepper – we use it almost everywhere.

With whom would you most like to have dinner? Anyone from the past. I love history and I am fascinated by how things used to be. I would love to just go back in time and see what people were eating.

What’s your favorite late-night snack? I like pho. Any small, good place that serves it is fine with me.

What’s always in your fridge? Vegetables, garlic and wine. I have to have a glass of wine or good beer at the end of the day.

As part of the festival, you are cooking Sunday, Sept. 8, at “Savory Ever After at Ko Olina.” What are you making? Peruvian ceviche. I can’t wait to bring it. It’s another dish that was influenced by the Japanese. Ceviche is a South American dish that used to be prepared using vinegar or lemons, with fish marinated for more than 24 hours. It was a way of preserving the fish. Today we simply dress ceviche with a sauce. Most people who say they can’t eat raw fish love this ceviche – but we don’t tell them its raw (laughs). That’s the secret.