While Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio has opened more than 30 restaurants around the world, few have been as big of a test as the branch of La Mar that is set to open in New York City this September.
Details of the cebicheria are slowly being released as the opening date gets closer. The latest word from the restaurant is that, while there is no official opening date, it will open in early to mid-September. The restaurant, set in Danny Meyer’s former Tabla space on Madison Square Park (11 Madison Avenue, Tribeca), is being designed by architect Stephanie Goto, whose portfolio includes Aldea, Corton, and Morimoto. Goto is transforming the bi-level space into a modern Peruvian restaurant that resembles its sister eateries in South America, but also presents a distinct New York point of view. If you paid any attention to La Mar in San Francisco, you know that it has the most expensive lease of any restaurant in the city, so expect nothing less from Gastón with this one.
The General Manager of La Mar will be N.A. Nadir, formerly the General Manager of Japonais in New York and Las Vegas, Assistant General Manager of Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain, and General Manager and Managing Partner of Pico in New York. The chef, who was kind enough to grant New World Review an interview, will be Victoriano Lopez, who has been Gastón’s right hand man for nearly two decades.
Lopez was born into a humble family in the Andes and at age 18 he went to Lima to work for an uncle as a street vendor. He later landed a job at Astrid & Gastón (now one of San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants), where Gastón discovered and developed Lopez´s talents in the kitchen and he swiftly moved through the culinary ranks. Lopez has held many positions in Gastón’s various kitchens nd has oversaw the openings of new restaurants around the world. In addition to Gastón’s restaurants, Lopez has trained in several of the world’s kitchens, including Cellar de Can Roca, Mugaritz, and Arzak.
NWR: So you have been the head of the global La Mar empire for some time now. What did Gastón have to say to get you back in the kitchen?
Victoriano Lopez: I have been apart of the team of chefs from the group of Acurio restaurants for 17 years. From Gaston I learned almost everything I know today: I learned the philosophy of the restaurants, to be humble, to commit myself, to work together, and teach others to cook (something that we both) to conquer the world through food and make our customers happy.
NWR: You have worked in quite a few of the world’s great kitchens (Celler de Can Roca, Mugarit, Arzak, Astrid y Gastón, etc). Is there any chef or restaurant that has been particularly influential to the way you cook? Why?
VL: It isthanks to Gaston I have known the kitchens of great restaurants and learn these techniques. Today, I am a friend of the chef Joan Roca, Andoni Aduriz and Juan Mari Arzak, with whom I shared many ideas.
If you ask me which of the chefs I’ve met in my life, beside Gaston, that have influenced me the most, I will say Teresa Izquierdo (who passed on July 27, 2011), owner of the restaurant El Rincon Que No Conoces in Lima. She is the mother of Peruvian cuisine and is a clear example of getting ahead economically and professionally through the kitchen.
NWR: I know La Mar is fond of sourcing locally. Are there any farmers, fishermen, and producers that you are particularly excited to work with?
VL: I have been here for just 15 days and yes we want and will work with local and organic products, but so far I don’t have a supplier. Certainly later I will be contact directly with local farmers and fishermen.
NWR: How will the New York menu differ from the one in San Francisco?
VL: New York La Mar is Peruvian cuisine and the flavors are the same as we have in Lima and in San Francisco, but there will be surprises, special dishes and other dishes from other brands of Acurio NYC Restaurants to bring the best Peruvian cuisine.
NWR: I have heard there won’t be cuy (guinea pig) on the menu. Any reason why? Other Peruvian restaurants in New York serve cuy.
VL: We will have cuy dishes later. For now, we will delight in the other dishes we have on our menu.
NWR: Considering that you were born in Huaraz, do you have favorite dish from the Ancash region? Will it be on menu?
VL: My favorite dishes from Huaraz are Picante de Cuy and Llunca Cashki, that is like a Sopa de Gallina with trigo (a hen soup with wheat). I’m sure these dishes will be reinvented and later offered here.
NWR: How often will Gastón be in New York?
VL: I don’t know, probably frequently.
NWR: What types of pisco cocktails will be in the restaurant? Do you have a favorite?
VL: There is a great variety in pisco cocktails. My favorites are the pisco sour, pisco punch, and the chilcano.
NWR: Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
VL: There are many. Surely later on I will have a favorite.
La Mar Cebicheria New York City
11 Madison Avenue, Tribeca
For more information visit La Mar’s website at www.lamarcebicheria.com.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.