A Taste of Peru in LA | Interview with Picca’s Executive Chef and Owner, Ricardo Zarate

Chef Ricardo Zarate is a Lima native who learnt his trade in top London Japanese restaurant Zuma, before finding a home under the golden sun of Los Angeles – where he is currently taking the culinary scene by storm. We caught up with him to talk about his global gastronomic influences, Peruvian dishes and his favourite foodie hangouts in LA and beyond…

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The traditions and flavours of Japanese and Peruvian food seem pretty far apart – what lead you to combine the two at Picca?

Historically, Japanese influence has been prevalent in Peru for more than a hundred years. I began my career cooking Japanese food and through my years as a chef I realized how nicely it infused with Peruvian food. The success of that marriage can be tasted in dishes like our ceviches. Picca has only a Japanese flair but I am looking forward to really showing this infusion in my new restaurant, Paiche.

What inspired you to get into cooking when you lived in Peru? What lasting memories do you have of the food there and what are the dishes you miss the most?

My passion for the culinary arts stems from having a particularly big family. We used to cook all of breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. I reminisce on waking up to the aroma of my mother’s cooking. Those are fond memories to me. Now I make all those hardy traditional dishes here, such as lomo saltado or arroz con pollo.

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Back in Lima, what are the current food trends? Are there any interesting new culinary ideas coming through?

In the last ten years, our food has evolved at the hands of culinary students – young, talented chefs that set trends and bring back their new techniques into Peru. It gets upgraded continuously with new ideas of sustainability and integration of new ingredients.

You’ve spent time in London, as well as Los Angeles and Lima. What are your favourite London food haunts?

First off, let me state that all three cities have different things to offer. As native from Lima, when I visit I am looking for those hidden gems. I like to discover urban food trends. What is causing a buzz in the streets. Los Angeles, my place of residence, is very sectional as well as highly cosmopolitan. I try to stay informed as well as visit new restaurants. For example, if I am in San Gabriel I search for the best Chinese food. I consider London food to be the height of Europe, so like many other people I look out for their trends in cuisine.

7-16-2011 Picca

When you’re not cooking up new dishes, where do you like to hang out in LA?

In all honesty I don’t go out much. I enjoy visiting restaurant openings – my favorite food is Japanese. However, I love staying at home and cooking.

Finally, what is your favourite dish on the Picca menu? What should we not miss out on when dining in your restaurant…?

It is hard to choose one dish, but I have favorites on each category. From the ceviche bar it is uni scallops tiradito, from the anticucho bar, anticucho de corazon, from the hot kitchen, locro de quinoa, and if I had to choose a salad it would be ensalada de quinoa. The one thing you cannot leave without trying would be our pisco sour! Salut!

Check out our review of Chef Ricardo’s restaurant Picca in our Los Angeles city guide.

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