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.
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?
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?
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?
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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