Jorge Munoz, Peruvian Chef in the Pakta kitchen, Barcelona, Spain

Chef Jorge Munoz
Chef Jorge Munoz

I have gotten to know Jorge Munoz well  in the last few years since he joined the Adria organization and we meet not only in Barcelona but also in other parts of the world like his home country of Peru. Last month I visited Tickets and the two new Mexican restaurants but did not make it to Pakta. After finishing service most guys from the various kitchens came by Niño Viejo to say hello and chat. Jorge came over to see me and we both missed Sebastian Mazzola who was in Denmark that evening. Last time Jorge and  I had visited the Boqueria Market together prior to my visiting Pakta for an absolutely incredible meal later that night. This time we spoke about his experiences in the last few years and his journey to the Pakta kitchen. My interview with Jorge as published this week:

Shopping at Boqueria Market in Barcelona
Shopping at Boqueria Market in Barcelona

An Interview with Chef Jorge Munoz of Albert Adria’s Pakta, Barcelona

Since Peruvian cuisine first got notice on the international dining scene Peruvian restaurants have emerged in cities all over the world. Spain and Peru have strong cultural ties and have traded gastronomic traditions back and forth for centuries. The latest wave has brought numerous Peruvian especially the Nikkei restaurants to numerous cities in Spain including Barcelona. Albert Adria’s Pakta presents his take on the combination of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine referred to as Nikkei cuisine. Pakta, which opened to much critical acclaim, has established a reputation for serving an exemplary version of Nikkei cuisine. At the helm in the dual Japanese and Peruvian kitchens are two young chefs Peruvian Jorge Munoz and on the Japanese side Kyoki Li. Both have spent time in other kitchens of the Adria Empire such as Tickets and 41 Experience. Jorge Munoz hails from Lima, Peru and becoming known for his Peruvian kitchen at Pakta. Questions for Chef Jorge Munoz: What is the difference between cooking in Spain or Europe as opposed to Peru? The only difference is the products in each of them. For example the cooking that we do in Pakta is Nikkei, a fusion of 3 cultures between which there is one similarity, the interest of their people in food. I think the only difference is that one. The products, apart from any logistical difference can be easily solved, can be cooked both equally in Peru as in Spain (Europe). It can even be something positive because a cook maintains his way of cooking even as a defined concept but that can play around any product. What is the one Peruvian ingredient that you miss the most? I think there are several but I would say the ajis, there are some here but the Peruvian ones have a special flavor and aroma. Also the maize and its derivates like the chichade jora which in the area where I grew up appears in a lot of cooking. Do you have to compromise by using alternative ingredients at Pakta for your Peruvian plates? Happily we haven’t had any problems at all to get ingredients from Peru to develop Peruvian dishes- or Japanese in the case of Japan. This is possible due to the demand for Peruvian cooking and the sudden opening of more Peruvian restaurants. So this implies an increase in demand for products and more variety. Where did you go to culinary school and train or stage after that? I studied in Barcelona (CETT) and in Paris (Cordon Bleu). When I started to study every summer I worked in Formentera for 2 months which was the time we had for summer vacation in the school. I did that for 6 years. After that I went to live in Paris for a year to study. When I finished the course I came back to Barcelona and I worked in a vegetarian restaurant. After 6 months there I entered 41º Experience as a stagier where I worked for 8 months. After that I got the offer to join the Pakta project. At what age did you decide to work in the kitchen? In 2004 I decided to go to Australia because I didn’t know what I wanted to study, so I learnt English. When I was there I began to work in a bistro restaurant and I started to like serving customers, being behind a bar. That was how I got started in the cooking. So when I came back to Barcelona in 2005 I decided to study cooking. What is the most unique dish on the menu at Pakta right now and who created it? I don’t think there is a favorite dish. As we all participate in the creation of dishes they are like our children so we love them all and they all seem perfect. The menu in the restaurant is becoming more complete and authentic, with these dishes we want to show the 2 cultures which we come from and how we combine these flavors.

Corn custard with caviar
Corn custard with caviar

How different is the kitchen at Pakta from the 41º kitchen where you were previously? Both Pakta and 41º share one thing – the taste, their food is very tasty. The obvious differences are the use of more techniques throughout the menu. We are also making Peruvian and Japanese cooking known using the product as the protagonist, good products and the way we combine them so that the result is incredible Nikkei cooking. Do you enjoy shopping for ingredients yourself? When there is a change of menu or dish if necessary we go to the market ourselves to look for it. But at least twice a week we have to go to the market to see what is new. It’s very important that we go, given that we depend on the producers. Who better than them themselves to explain us the process and season of each product? Your favorite restaurant or tapas bar in Barcelona and what do you enjoy most there? In Poble Sec there is a restaurant of tapas and menus and I love their “patatas bravas” and marinated fish (Jon-mai), I think their “salsa brava” is the best, perfect acidity and an incredible taste of toasting. You work with Albert and Ferran Adria and does that put more pressure on you to be more creative? It is a good type of pressure, given that often we work more and better under pressure. The creative work is in group, as a team we have to think about and develop new sauces that we can combine with the products. To look for a creative inspiration which is outside the restaurant as cooks we have to go out to eat and try new things to evolve, travel to pick up new experiences which help us. Do you collaborate on the menu changes or does one person decide the direction? In each menu change we all participate. Whether it is or for questions of production in the kitchen or creativity we work as a team. When a product comes into season we decide to work on it and begin to develop sauces, cooking techniques or take inspiration from a traditional dish (Peruvian or Japanese) to apply it to this product.

Jorge, Sebastian, and I in the Pakta dining room
Jorge, Sebastian, and I in the Pakta dining room

Who has been the biggest influence on you professionally? I believe I don’t have a specific person who has influenced me professionally. Since I began in cooking a lot of people have passed through my life who have had a large influence on me and my being passionate about my work. From my first head cook to Sebastian Mazzola, Albert Adrià, Ferran Adrià and all the people who have been around me. Professionally you learn a lot from all of them. As well as that I am lucky to work with the best group of cooks that there is at the moment. I saw you at Mistura in Lima and you were very comfortable. Do you enjoy doing such demonstrations? Comfortable? Haha! I was really nervous. It was the first time I had been onstage, and on top of that in my home country. It was a unique experience that has marked my life -the return of a Peruvian boy who left his country 14 years ago and has returned to show what he is doing with his also Peruvian colleagues in Barcelona. I remember that in the first row was Alain Ducasse, when I saw him I was even more nervous. But the nerves go when you explain something that you have given birth to and know very well. You know exactly how it is and you happily explain it with pride.

Backstage at Mistura
Backstage at Mistura

Are you traveling to other food events this year? No, at the moment we haven’t been to more congresses. We have to take into account that we are a young restaurant and we have to make ourselves known little by little. This is done by working more every day, improving and surprising people, making them enjoy themselves and have a nice time with us. What is the most special learning experience you have had while working with Albert Adrià? Without doubt not resting and continuing working to improve, to do it better every day, to investigate products. We work for ourselves and this implies being the best for the clients. We work for the short term future and this is demonstrated in the quantity of dishes that we do for each season in each restaurant. I loved the dessert with images of you and Kyoki at Pakta. Who decided to do that! They are two caricatures that also appear in the menus at Pakta. A friend of Albert did them and we decided that they would appear in the restaurant. An in “escriba” they make stencils like stickers to put on warm chocolate. It occurred to us that it would be amusing to give a farewell card with our caricatures, as a way of saying goodbye, saying thanks and also a memory of having come to Pakta. Is there a special restaurant in the world that you want to dine at? To be honest -no. The only thing I would like is to eat again is the pickled fish that my grandfather made. I thought it was perfect dish, extremely balanced and homemade. So I could say the restaurant that I would like to go to again is the restaurant of my grandfather (my grandfather kitchen) What do you do on your day off? Relax, visit my family who I don’t see too much of, and spend some time with them. Try to disconnect from the restaurant at least for 1 day and go out with the boys to eat in restaurants in Barcelona or outside, as it is extremely important to see what the others are doing. What are your hobbies? My hobbies are very simple: play sports, like football and skateboarding with my friends in Barcelona, especially in summer. Your favorite tapas bar in Barcelona and your favorite meal in Lima? My favorite restaurant of tapas is Jon-Mai, a restaurant in the neighborhood where I go to eat their “patatas bravas” and “pescado adobado.” In Peru my favorite food is from the north, based on fish, stews and ceviche. It’s the area where I grew up and I enjoy eating the food from there which is very intense and is said to be the tastiest in Peru.

In the Pakta kitchen with the whole gang
In the Pakta kitchen with the whole gang

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