Alejandro Saravia León from new restaurant Morena Restaurant is the king of Peruvian Gastronomy. Find out all his cooking secrets now.
Where did you grow up?
“I grew up in Lima, Perú.”
When did you realise you wanted to be a chef?
“I always had a great interest in cooking; I have good memories of my visits to the market with my grandmother, where I learned to recognize the different ingredients that we have in the local market in Lima.
After these experiences and seeing my Grandmother and the cook of the house, my passion for cooking and understanding the different qualities of the ingredients increased.
I remember in high school, I had to make a video for my communication class so I presented a cooking segment. I would kill to see that video now!”
Is there one dish you still struggle to get right?
“Pastry is probably not my strong point in the kitchen. People think it’s quite a basic product to make but it’s actually very technical.
What does it take to be a successful chef?
In my opinion the chef's career is like any arts career. Anyone choosing to be a top chef must be motivated by a real passion for it and also be a perfectionist and be motivated toward excellence.
It’s a very competitive career, but with many rewards. Like every profession there are stages and a good chef will never stop learning and wanting to learn about new ingredients and techniques.
You have to value natural resources and respect traditions of every cuisine. For a chef it’s very important to understand this to develop your own style.”
Worst job you have ever had?
“I have had a great experience in every restaurant that I have worked in, but maybe the most painful was in a coffee shop in a beach in the Northern beaches, where the chefs didn’t have any respect for cooking and I only lasted for two weeks! I couldn’t work there next to people who had no respect to food and didn’t have any interest in feedback.”
What is your signature dish?
“I think that a signature dish depends on what is the chef researching at that time. I love to work with fish and seafood and at the moment I am researching on different ways to cure meat and fish.
I have researched how Peruvians were curing and cooking ham, so now I am very into my Peruvian ham, which will be on my new menu for Morena.”
For a delicious Peruvian ceviche recipe from Alejandro, click here
What can people expect from your restaurant?
“At Morena we are committed to showcase a quality modern Latin American cuisine, refined and elegant and to produce a fine dining experience for all budgets.
But what is very important for us is to maintain the Latin spirit, warm and provocative and engaging.”
What is unique about your restaurant?
“Morena is all about experiencing new flavours and different ingredients, many of which are not used by any other restaurants in Australia. We’ve tested lots of these through our pop-up dinners with "A taste of Peru".
Morena is formed by a group of professionals who are passionate about what we do and about the Latin American culture, which helps us to reflect that authentic, yet sophisticated and youthful Latino spirit in our restaurant.”
What is the chef serving in heaven?
“I will provably take with me a hand full of Quinoa, a few potatoes, aji Amarillo (Peruvian chilli), a nice fresh fish and a lot of aromatic herbs to create a convey the sort of dish I enjoyed as a kid.”
What is the most bizarre dish you have ever tried?
“I have tried a few Asian dishes that are very difficult to describe, because of the way they prepare them and because of the ingredients involved. All I can say is that a monkey was involved!”
What is one question people are always asking you?
“Is it true that in Peru you guys eat guinea pigs?”
What is your biggest food indulgence?
“Cooking with friends and family is always great. I like to be inventive and use my friends as guinea pigs, (not as Andean Peruvian does, haha) but to get them to try my newest dishes. Not everyone is always is happy about it, but it’s always good fun!”
What flavours/ingredients are your favourite to work with?
“I love to infuse flavours, to make my own oils and salts.
Now I am experimenting a lot with the curing technique, so I am studying that process in every single meat.
I am happy to be able to work with Alpaca and Quinoa, which are great ingredients and the Australian seafood and fish is incredible.”
Which three people would to invite to a dinner party?
“My wife, I love to see her when she tries something that I have been working on. It’s like a few seconds that the clock stops while I wait for her to give me her feedback.
My Grandmother. She is a great person, and I always have really good conversations with her.
And Oscar Wild. I love his writing and for sure he would be a lot of fun at the table!”
What is your best tip for home cooks?
“Study the recipe first. Follow instructions. It’s not rocket science, but don’t rush the cooking process - it’s not going to cook faster because you turn the heat up higher.
Enjoy the process!