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Robert Ortiz at Taste of London

by Felicity Spector

As part of our lead up to Taste of London, Felicity Spector interviews Robert Ortiz of Michelin starred Peruvian restaurant, Lima.

"We learned a lot after last year", Robert Ortiz tells me, taking a break from lunchtime service at his Michelin starred Lima restaurant in Fitzrovia. "That was our first time at Taste of London - now we've learned how to juggle our staff and make sure we can prepare as much as possible in advance." Robert has been part of the vanguard of Britain's new wave of Peruvian cooking: winning a Michelin star, and propelling Lima into the world's 50 best restaurant list. There's now a more informal sibling, Lima Floral, in Covent Garden.

Part of the fun of being at Taste of London, he says, is the chance to introduce his restaurants to thousands of people who might not have come across Peruvian food: he'll be offering dishes which are exactly the same as the ones served in the restaurants, "except they're on takeaway plates."

On the menu for 2015 - a traditional fish ceviche, and another one involving all sorts of grains - red and white quinoa, and kaniwa - another South American superfood which Robert is really excited about. "It will be really great to showcase kaniwa and see if people like it, and if other chefs are interested in trying it out. It will go down really well with vegetarians and customers who are gluten free. I'm also thinking of trying to incorporate another Peruvian grain - kiwicha." For the uninitiated - that's another name for aramanth, which grows high up in the Andes. Dessert lovers will be excited to hear there will also be alfajores on offer - irresistibly delicate biscuits paired with - wait for it - chocolate mousse.

It's a huge logistical task for Robert's small team to prepare everything in advance: "We'll probably be getting up at about 5am to do the prep - and there's a small gap between the sessions when we can get more work done. We've got one dish, chicken marinated in a chilli and herb sauce, which we can do ahead of time, but all the ceviches have to be done fresh." He's worked out they'll probably need to make about 400 servings on the first night of Taste - a thousand plus on the other days: "It's a lot to get done. And we really don't want to run out of anything. There's a balance between being busy - and being too busy." Robert says he's also looking forward to demonstrating some of the tapas dishes from Lima Floral in the AEG Taste Theatre - a chance to show his cooking skills to a live crowd. "The first time I had to do a demo I was really nervous - but it's got easier since then, and it can be really great fun cooking on stage, with an audience."

As well as introducing people to what his restaurants have to offer, Robert hopes people might be inspired to have a go at cooking Peruvian style at home. "It's because I really love the things I do - not just for me, but for Peru. I always say that making these things at home is so easy. You can just get together with friends in the garden and cook ceviche - it's simple!" Another highlight of the Taste festival is being able to hang out with fellow chefs: Robert admits that his long working hours mean he rarely gets a chance to eat elsewhere, apart from the odd glass of Pisco sour from Ceviche. "So Taste of London is a great chance to meet colleagues, be part of the whole scene: we exchange quite a lot, we try the dishes other people are doing while introducing them to our food. And generally people are getting more familiar with Peruvian cooking - there is a lot of interest, and our customers enjoy being able to try new experiences and new flavours."

In the end, though, what Robert has achieved is down to sheer talent - and hard graft. "When the critics came to Floral Street they just said - keep doing what you are doing. It's a lot of work, a lot of effort - but we love it."

Felicity Spector has worked in national television journalism for nearly thirty years, but has now combined her day job with an increasing interest in food writing in her spare time.

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Robert Ortiz at Taste of London

 
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