Robert Ortiz

Robert Ortiz

Robert Ortiz is a pioneer of Peruvian cuisine, bringing the heady flavours and bright colours of his native country to an appreciative European audience. Showcasing both traditional Peruvian ingredients and rare, ancient edibles from the country’s mountain regions, coast and rainforest, he creates wholesome and beautifully-flavoured plates with vibrant, artistic flair at his Birmingham restaurant Chakana.

Growing up near the Marañón River in Peru’s Amazonian terrains, Robert Ortiz cooked with both his mother and grandmother as a child – an experience which has left its mark on his cooking today. He tells British Airways High Life magazine: 'I always remember my mother’s escabeche, a pickle made from onions, garlic, chilli, tomatoes and coriander … The duck escabeche we serve in Lima is not exactly like my mother’s, but it’s certainly influenced by her recipe.'

Robert Ortiz founded his career at the famous Costa Verde restaurant in Peru’s capital, before deciding to swap Lima for London. He found work in Italian and Spanish restaurants before taking a role at The Landmark Hotel, where senior chefs like Georg Heise, Glen Watson and Gary Klaner helped to sharpen his talents. After The Landmark, Robert Ortiz moved on to the legendary Four Seasons, Canary Wharf. Here, he increased his appreciation of European-Latin cooking and first met fellow Peruvian chef Virgilio Martínez – a meeting that would eventually lead to his collaboration on the Lima project.

Having worked for several years in the UK, he moved back to Peru to reacquaint himself with his country’s cooking, resuming his London career in 2012 when he was entrusted by Martínez to head up his Lima restaurant in London’s Fitzrovia. Incredibly enthusiastic about bringing the flavours of Peru to the tables of happy London diners, he describes to the London Chocolovers website his greatest achievement: 'The fact that I have contributed to Peruvian food, Peruvian culture … to make it better known and established in London, also as a community.'

Robert Ortiz received the ultimate culinary recognition in 2013 when Lima was awarded a Michelin star. Praised in the guide for his use of 'punchy, invigorating flavours', Lima was the first Peruvian restaurant in Europe to be recognised by the Guide. In 2014, Lima Floral – a new sister restaurant in Covent Garden – opened, with Robert Ortiz positioned as executive chef of both this new branch and the original Lima London.

The food in Peru, a country with around thirty-five different microclimates, is nuanced and complex, with a wide variety of influences building on a landscape already rich with edible bounty. Robert Ortiz tells The Staff Canteen: 'We have a mixture of 500 years of tradition. When the Spaniards arrived in Peru they brought us their ingredients, then eventually the Chinese, the Japanese and the Italians all came with their influences, but for some reason our own ingredients stood up very solidly and the outside influences didn’t change them.'

Explaining how this agricultural history is reflected in the menus of Lima, he further explains: 'The idea behind Lima is to explore the three main regions of Peru – the Andes, which is rich in cereals, corn, potatoes; the coast with all its seafood; and the Amazon, which is new for us and where every day we’re finding new fruits, roots and nuts – these three regions we bring onto the plate.'

But Lima is not just a representative of traditional Peruvian cuisine in London, it is also showcasing the epicurean explosion that has taken place in the South American country, described on Lima’s website as 'the gastronomic capital of the Americas'. Robert Ortiz tells The Staff Canteen: 'It’s a country where, at the moment, there are around 150,000 students training to be chefs; it’s massive what’s going on.'

Virgilio Martínez, owner of Peru’s Central restaurant and Robert Ortiz’s co-collaborator, has travelled to the Cusco region of the country over forty-seven times, braving both hostile rainforest and high altitude in search of rare, ancient edibles for his restaurants. These wild ingredients and unique flavours feature in both the menus at Central in Peru and across the water in London. Describing a tasting menu at the Lima Floral, Martínez says: 'We just came two days ago from Ancash in the Andes, where we picked some ingredients, like cushuros, (a cyanobacteria that appears at more than 4000m), then we will be going to the Amazon area of San Martin, and right in the jungle we will get some wild fruits, cacao and coffee.'

Working together with Martínez, Robert Ortiz developed his menus around this ever-changing supply of fascinating, native food stuffs – to great acclaim from UK diners. The chef’s talent lies in his ability to make complete sense of a fantastically diverse and wide-reaching cuisine. A studied presence in Lima’s conspicuous, open kitchen, he worked quickly and quietly to produce vivacious, wholesome and intensely-flavoured dishes that distil rather than distort or dilute the unique flavours of Peru.

His light, fresh plates were characterised by clean, vibrant flavours, wonderful textural combinations and dramatic, natural colours – all beautifully and artfully arranged with clean, contemporary style. Ortiz’s signature preparations, such as Octopus olivo (braised octopus with white quinoa and Botija olive) and Lomo steak Huancaina (beef loin with yellow ají sauce), reflect his flamboyant, but precise, style – where every ingredient brings something to the plate and nothing is just for show.

Robert parted ways with the Lima group in 2019 to open his own restaurant Chakana in Birmingham, where he continues to showcase the flavours of Peru.