(A version of this interview was published at The Daily Meal)
The petite and charming Karime Lopez Moreno Tagle the creative and research chef at Central restaurant in Lima that placed fourth in the world on the Restaurant Magazine’s World’s 50 Best Restaurant list and first on the Latin American 50 Best Restaurants List was in the kitchen for the Gelinaz! Shuffle last week assisting guest chef Carlo Mirarchi from Blanca in New York. The Gelinaz! Shuffle, a food event that had 37 chefs exchanging identities and kitchens and traveling to undisclosed locations around the world was the first of its kind since the inception of Gelinaz in 2005. Founded by Andrea Petrini and Fulvio Pierangelini, they refer to it as a collective culinary entity comprised of a select group of cutting edge chefs who constantly push forward the boundaries of cuisine while exchanging knowledge and culture. Past events in Ghent, Lima and New York have left guests with memories of the organized chaos and unforgettable tastes like Massimo Bottura’s octopus dessert served at Huacca Pucllana, the Adobe pyramid complex in Lima in the early hours of the morning in 2013. Chef Karime Lopez is certainly a Gelinaz veteran since, along with Pia Leone from Central, she presented an octopus dessert that night/ morning with octopus skin, herbs and, Peruvian sweet potatoes, one of the more palatable dishes of the event.
On July 9th, this first of its kind event, the cast of participating chefs ranged from Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi, Alex Atala, and Massimo Bottura to ‘indie chefs’ just breaking out on the international culinary scene. The event which was sold out instantly to excited diners set social media on fire around the world with conjecture about the identity of the guest chefs by foodies and the nights attendees, who were clueless about the identity of the guest chef until the very last moment. Thirty seven well known chefs from France, Spain, the US, the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Thailand, Canada, Turkey, and Slovenia, set out on journeys just days before the event taking them in to new kitchens and cultures. While Virgilio Martinez of Central left for Henne Kirkeby Kro in Denmark, Chef Carlo Mirarchi left New York for Central in Lima, leaving his kitchen to guest chef Alex Atala of D.O.M in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Chef Karime, originally from Mexico, began her career in 2007 at Enrique Olvera’s famed Pujol restaurant in Mexico City, and her tenure included a stage at the famed Noma restaurant in Denmark. Post Pujol and after training at the prestigious Ryugin in Tokyo with Chef Seiji Yamamoto, she joined Virgilio Martinez in Peru. Originally starting as head chef at his now closed Senzo restaurant in Cusco, Peru she moved two years ago to the flagship Central in Lima. Currently she heads the R&D at Central under the Mater Iniciativa, while working the daily service and traveling around the world with Martinez to cooking events and congresses. Karime had just returned a few days prior to the Gelinaz event from cooking a Central influenced Peruvian dinner at Chef Daniel Canzian’s restaurant in Milan, Italy. So presumably she was in the Italian-Peruvian groove ready with the rest of the kitchen team for the Italian chef to arrive from New York.
Questions for Chef Karime LMT:
When did find out who was the guest chef coming to Central?
More or less a month ago, but only I knew since I had to arrange the ingredients and it was hard to keep it a secret. I was excited that Carlo was coming even though I didn’t know him from before, but I had heard that he had a real sense of humor.
How does your team react to a new chef in the kitchen?
We got a chance to see him cook and observe how he managed his products. Opportunities like these open your mind to new flavors and techniques so it was a good learning experience. We were a little apprehensive before he arrived but he was so easygoing and put us all at ease.
You had just returned from cooking in Milan the same week, so was that helpful in your Italian experience with Chef Mirarchi?
Yes, that dinner at Daniel Canzian’s restaurant was fun and it was my first trip to Milan. I was amazed at the food and products. It was exciting to see how differently they think about gastronomy and how they cook. It’s a really a big part of their daily lives.
So when did you start working on the menu for the Gelinaz shuffle?
We started a month ago because first I checked with him about ingredients he would like to use. He is very natural, and when he arrived he tried all our fruits and seafood. He was amazed with our potatoes and luckily this is the harvest season so he had a lot of choices. He actually based one of his dishes on our potatoes.
Did he visit the markets?
Yes, we went to two of our biggest markets and then we took him to the local cevicheria so he could begin to familiarize himself with the flavors of our cuisine.
Did he experience the Central menu as well?
Yes he did, and we wanted him to see how we work here and he could see how our menus were structured and the ingredients we use. Essentially he got a look at our organization and style here.
Since your kitchen has a strong presence of women, how did he react to that?
That is true and it was interesting for all of us. He is a very easygoing person and he is very open to new idea and products so it worked out. I was amazed at his palate which is very refined and he is very knowledgeable. He knows a lot about bitters and how to manage that taste and we learned a lot about that from him.
Did you have any input in the menu for the dinner?
We worked together on some like a warm potato dish which displayed a variety of tubers, and our contribution to it was our Tiger’s milk, or Leche de Tigre.
Were the wines paired that evening from the region?
All the wine pairings was with Peruvian wines that evening.
How did your local clientele react to the food that evening, and what was the most surprising dish on the menu for them?
They loved everything but I think that potato dish was a standout. There was another dish with razor clams, scallops, and clams with a broth that we made together with kale, ginger, and onion, and it was really fresh and delicious.
Peru has a connection anyway with a large population of Italian immigrants, so did it make it easier for your Italian guest chef to conceive and prepare food for your clientele?
Actually we have so many products here and he was trying to concentrate on incorporating them into his dishes. Carlos and the Central team had fun putting it all together.
Was there any equipment that is not standard in your kitchen, like for making pasta, that he brought or you had to provide for him?
No, he didn’t make any pasta, but he brought black limes that we were not familiar with. He grated it over a dish of Amazonian fruits and cacao and it was very interesting for our team.
How long was he in Lima?
He arrived three days before and stayed two days later.
Was there a New York flourish to the event?
The fun thing was that he made a playlist for the dinner and it was awesome. It changed the whole atmosphere and it was so typically Carlo. The mix of other ingredients with ours, a different style of music gave a New York style to Central for one night. New York is so cosmopolitan and here we had people in the team from Colombia, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Lima, and all over so it all fit well into the experience.
Was he on the phone a lot with Alex Atala at Bianca and Virgilio in Denmark while he was here?
When we started our dinner here Virgilio was already done with his event and it was 5:00am for him, though he was texting and messaging earlier in the day, but only best wishes for the night. Carlos was always connected to his kitchen in New York for sure.
Which restaurants did you take him to while he was in Lima?
We went to Amaz, Maido, twice to have sandwiches at La Lucha because he really liked those, and then Saturday after the event we went to an Italian tavern, to Raphael and Mercado de Raphael.
What position do you hold in the Central kitchen these days?
(Laughing) Everything! I am developing menu ideas in the creative area for Central and I also travel with chef Martinez for his demos, and now I am trying to be more on the service every night.
Would all of you at Central like to be part of a similar event again?
Absolutely as it was fun and we learned about new flavors and cooking styles.
What was the most memorable part of the evening for you?
At the end of the service Carlo used the remaining one liter of green juice that we made with ginger, apple, celery, and kale with vodka to make shots. So we were all knocking back these shots which were quite tasty. It was funny as I thought that it was yet another research project at the end of the evening.