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A Chef’s Eye View: A Conversation with Karime Lopez, Chef at Lima’s Restaurant Central

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When we go to a restaurant to enjoy a great meal, we often overlook the role of the chef. To find out more about what it’s like to be a chef at one of the world’s top restaurants, I sat down for a conversation with Karime Lopez.

(Photo: Flickr)

Where were you born?

I am Mex­i­can. I was born in the Fed­eral Dis­trict, but I lived there only until I was seven and then moved to Quere­taro. I would say I’m from Quere­taro be­cause I mostly grew up there; my home, my friends and my life are there.

Did you know early on that cook­ing was your thing, or did you study some­thing else be­fore­hand?

After leav­ing school in Quere­taro I de­cided to study plas­tic arts in Paris. Be­fore going to uni­ver­sity I had to learn French, so I spent a year study­ing it and a lit­tle art his­tory. I then started study­ing fine art.

How did you get into Gastronomy?

(Photo: PXHere)

While study­ing plas­tic arts I re­alised that what I liked most was cook­ing. Every­thing re­lat­ing to cook­ing in Paris was great, so de­tailed that it cap­ti­vated me and I wanted to do it my­self; so I de­cided to study cook­ing. I wasn’t happy in Paris but I did want to stay in Eu­rope, and thanks to a friend I made con­tact with a school and moved to Seville, where I stud­ied gas­tron­omy for three years. Then I worked for six months in a re­ally great restau­rant, it had three Miche­lin stars, af­ter­wards they hired me for two years. Then I went to an­other good restau­rant, also Miche­lin starred, and so on­wards.

What were your experiences before coming to Peru?

After being in Spain for sev­eral years I was asked to take charge of a restau­rant in Mex­ico City and I de­cided to go back. I was the cre­ative man­ager of Puyol —one of the city’s best restau­rants— for a time, but I couldn’t adapt, so I moved to North Car­olina to work for a restau­rant com­pany that needed some­body to look after the qual­ity in all the restau­rants in the chain. They paid very well so I took ad­van­tage of it to save some money; then I re­turned to Mex­ico while I de­cided what I wanted to do. I worked in my fam­ily’s restau­rants, re­spon­si­ble for the bak­ing and con­fec­tionery. Dur­ing this pe­riod I was ac­cepted by a restau­rant in Tokyo, and with­out think­ing twice, off I went. I was train­ing for a few months and then they hired me and I stayed there until my work visa ex­pired a year and a half later.

How did you come to Peru?

I de­cided to go to South Amer­ica be­cause I had never been there. I was in Bo­livia work­ing on a pro­ject and some mu­tual friends —friends of mine and Vir­gilio Mar­tinez— con­tacted me to work at an event in Peru. I ac­cepted be­cause I had al­ways wanted to get to know the coun­try. I met Vir­gilio and he of­fered me a job with him when he opened Senzo, his restau­rant in Cusco. I stayed there sev­eral months and then he started other pro­jects so I came to Lima to work at Cen­tral.

What do you do at Cen­tral?

(Photo: Wikimedia)

I’m re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ment and re­search; this is very im­por­tant here be­cause all the restau­rant’s dishes have a his­tory. I am part of the Mater Ini­cia­tiva, which con­sists in in­ves­ti­gat­ing Pe­ru­vian prod­ucts. To do so we travel to the dif­fer­ent re­gions. We draw up the menu using the re­sults of this re­search work. This work is the best pre­sent I’ve ever re­ceived. Every­thing I know, every­thing I have learned over these years about Pe­ru­vian prod­ucts has been in­cred­i­ble. Some dishes on the menu stay the same, oth­ers mu­tate and yet oth­ers are re­placed ac­cord­ing to what we are re­search­ing. You can eat at Cen­tral then come back in fif­teen days to find new and dif­fer­ent dishes.

What do you like most about working there?

My work in­volves man­ual work and I love that. Also, I like Vir­gilio’s aes­thetic very much. At Cen­tral I’m free to do a lit­tle of what I want be­cause Vir­gilio has a lot of con­fi­dence in me. That makes me happy at my work.

What interests you the most about cooking in Peru?

The prod­uct is def­i­nitely the most in­ter­est­ing thing, it’s in­cred­i­ble. Not just the in­gre­di­ents, but how they are used. You have every­thing here, prod­ucts from the coast, the high­lands and the jun­gle, and they’re all easy to get. The di­ver­sity is im­pres­sive and every time we go on a trip what most strikes me is the prod­uct. Fur­ther­more, here in Cen­tral we use prod­ucts that no­body has cooked with be­fore, for ex­am­ple chaco clay. We use it in pud­dings, in sal­ads, in our veg­e­tar­ian menu, etc.

What is the most outstanding thing on Central’s menu?

(Photo: Wikimedia)

The in­gre­di­ents and that each dish is the prod­uct of deep re­search; each dish has a whole team of peo­ple work­ing on it.

Do you want to make a visit to Central Restaurante? Find out more by visiting their facebook page

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This interview previously appeared in Ultimate Journeys Peru

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Diego Oliver is a Peruvian writer and author whose work can be found in the travel magazine Ultimate Journeys. He loves to focus on Peruvian culture both modern and classic, traveling the country, as well as social responsibility.