CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! with CHRISTIAN MOTTE
Lima – New Jersey – Washington DC – Lima – London – Dubai. That is the broad journey of Chef Christian and his culinary path to how he arrived in Dubai to proudly introduce his home cuisine to Dubai his way. What I loved about Christian is his firm self-belief in how good he is; yet humble enough to have wanted to learn from the best along his journey. His loyalty to fellow Chefs in the kitchen resonates when he talks about people he has met along the way – and trust me there have been quite a few kitchens he has cooked in before he arrived in Dubai. I do hope that his wish to add New York to the list of cities comes true, when he takes the INKA concept to the Big Apple. Until then, I hope Dubai makes him feel at home, so he never feels like he has to leave and go anywhere else.
Name: Christian Motte
Restaurant: INKA, Sofitel Downtown
From: Lima, Peru
Culinary School: Le Cordon Bleu, Lima, Peru
Knife Hand: Left
Were you a good kid, did you eat your veggies as a child?
No. I had no beetroot at all. I didn’t like vegetables, but I loved fruit. But I also liked to eat things I had never eaten before – I wanted to eat liver and all those other weird things that a kid does not normally get. Honestly growing up we used to have pretty balanced meals between carbs and protein. We used to have fish thrice a week, beans or lentils every Tuesday, beans every Friday which I hated, chicken twice a week and then some meat. There was always a salad with our meals, which I skipped most of the time.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A football player. Very common story right J I played football in school and in university and also played pro in Peru. I was 22 and I was offered a 4 year scholarship to go to New Jersey in America to play football. So I went. After college, due to economic circumstances, I started working as a server in a restaurant in Washington DC. My best friend Jorge (or as we liked to call him – JL) had family in Washington so it was easy for us to go there. Jorge’s uncle, Marco took care of me and it was he who got Jorge and me a job at the restaurant he managed (now co-owns) called Idylwood Grill which served Mediterranean food with a French focus. While working at the restaurant, I caught the attention of kitchen, but I was making good money on the floor and I did well and moved up to being behind the bar. Uncle Marco noticed that I enjoyed what I was doing and he came and told me that he was going to do something for me – he said the restaurant I worked at was small – so he fired me. He told me I had to go to a bigger restaurant and get properly trained and if I needed money I could come back and work on my days off. After a few jobs, I landed a job at J. Gilberts which served steak and seafood in Virginia and I was a waiter there having the time of my life. One day the Chef came to me and asked if I spoke Spanish and I said yes. He then told me that one of his Chefs was down and he needed someone to be on the pass where I just need you to call the tickets and decorate the dishes and hand them over to the runners. It was not a busy day and so I did it and that is when I fell in love with the kitchen. I got a kitchen uniform that day and I felt so good wearing it and I said to myself – this is what I want to be – and I want to be better than the Chef. After that I started working a couple of kitchens in America. I was going to go to culinary school in Miami but my father told me of a big gastronomic boom in Peru. He told me that if I wanted to live in America and study that was ok but I needed to be a different chef, and he suggested I go to Cordon Bleu in Peru. So after nine years in America I went back to Peru to culinary school. I was not the youngest Chef in class but I had a lot of experience which helped.
Tell us a bit about your first steps into the culinary world.
I was not required to do an internship after culinary school as I had the experience and good connections. So after school, I started harassing celebrity Chef Coque Ossio in Peru till I reached a point where I used to call him 10 times a day. One day, he finally asked me what I wanted and whether I wanted to meet him. I said yes, and he told me where he was going to be for the next 20 minutes and drove so fast to get there and I got a job. Chef Coque worked for Bombomair – it was his mother’s restaurant and she is the best caterer in Peru – but today he has I think 8 restaurants. So Chef Coque told me that he had nothing at Bombomair for me but he was working on this new project which would come up in summer in this high-class location in Peru called Asia. He was planning to open a restaurant which he called Nordiko – and I was part of the opening process. So I worked with Chef Coque for two summers developing the menu. In 2012 I was selected by the Peruvian Government along with three other Chefs to go to Tokyo (Japan) to represent Peru in a culinary festival. The festival was for 14 days and that put me on the radar because I went with two very well-known Peruvian chefs and suddenly I had more connections.
What was your most memorable restaurant job?
I returned to Lima where I and my investor friends were exploring the possibility to open a restaurant in Lima and I was also doing some consulting work which is when I got a call from Martin Morales of Ceviche in London saying he was looking for a Chef. So when he came to Lima to finalise the Chef he came to my house and asked me to cook something for him. I thought he would be at in the dining room, but he came and sat in the kitchen while I cooked, looking at everything I was doing – it’s very different when you cook at home and in a professional kitchen. I was a little more messy at home but I had done my research both about Chef Martin and Ceviche and I decided to cooking dishes that could easily go onto the menu of Ceviche and I think that is what Chef Martin liked. But while I served the dishes he took photos and ate along with the Head Chef of Ceviche at the time and then left saying he would get back to me in two weeks. Three weeks later, nothing! I really wanted to go to London. And then an email pops up on my phone offering me the job while I was partying with friends.
Chef Martin told me that we were going to open a new Ceviche restaurant – so I was at Ceviche for two month developing the concept the dinner – and then we moved to the new restaurant – Andina in London. I thought I would be going there as a junior sous Chef because I did not have the experience to be the head Chef but I went in as senior sous Chef. At the start we did not have a head Chef so I had to manage it all – it was a lot of fun, a lot of mistakes, a lot of learning – I think it’s the best thing that could have happened.
For me at Andina it was the bonds that I created with the Chefs that are most memorable and the fact that it was my first experience in London. With Andina it felt different because you are opening a restaurant in London and its Peruvian cuisine – there is this pride you get because you are Peruvian and you are introducing your culture to the rest of the world. At Andina I learned organizational skills because in London you get deliveries every day, you work with very fresh products. In Peru you get delivery about three times a week and you organize your working freezer. In London you to organize every day, setting up for the next day and the fast pace because Andina was looking at about 180-200 covers a night and between 90-110 covers at lunch. I learned to work 17 hours a day sometimes and I felt I was finally getting everything that I had read in books or you learn in school.
I was at Andina for a year after which I decided I wanted to branch out and work in different restaurants in London. So for 9 months I worked in 2 restaurants: a French restaurant and Boundary Restaurant – a British restaurant – picking up cooking style and skills along the way. After which I went to Martin Morales’s competition – Señor Ceviche – after I had a chat with Martin of course. This is where I was officially the Head Chef.
What did you have for lunch yesterday?
Nothing. Sometimes I don’t eat during the day because I am tasting, tasting, tasting! And the story of my life is that I go home at 1am starving and I then eat whatever is at home or sometime I call for home delivery.
Place you eat most often on days off?
I haven’t had a day off since I arrived in Dubai in September.
What’s your favourite ingredient/ condiment to work with?
Coriander. Bring the acidity that I am always trying to achieve in the Peruvian dishes.
If it’s the last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in and what are you eating?
Ceviche in Lima with my friends. I think I will go to La Rev by Chef Jose Del Castillo because he is one Chef taught me many things.
If you left Dubai to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
New York. Because I started cooking in the United States and New York is like the city for Chefs. So it would be nice to go back there at some point. It would be amazing to take INKA over there. I think this concept will totally fit.
Who is the person you would most like to cook for?
Either Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White because these are the Chefs that I have always looked up to. I like their career line and I would like to follow that. I would most probably cooking them a very nice ceviche.
What is the dish on the menu you eat most?
Tequeños – it’s an appetizer, like bar bites. It’s a three cheese sauce. It’s like a wonton pastry rolls filled with a three cheese sauce and its deep fried. We serve it with avocado puree, coriander and a touch of honey. It’s just simple and addictive and all the ingredients just work perfectly – I would say in nice harmony.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
I respect the ingredients. Even though Peruvian cuisine is all about condiments I try to accomplish the flavour by respecting the ingredient. That being said, if I had the Aji amarillo (it’s a yellow chilli), I know that in Peru they will put many condiments in that sauce but I will want the Aji amarillo to be the king of that sauce with the condiments to just be complimentary.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Ants. This was in the Peruvian jungle while trekking with friends where you have small towns scattered around and they sell fried ants on the streets. They were crunchy with a little bit of bit of spice and acidic taste and I did not think they were too bad. If there was nothing else on the table to eat, I guess I would eat them again.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
I think for one of my last meals in London I went to Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant Dinner (Heston is also known for his restaurant The Fat Duck).
As soon as I moved to London I wanted to visit The Fat Duck but I never got the chance to go because it’s a little further from London and it was only after two years, closer to my last days in London I said I had to go to Dinner (instead of The Fat Duck). When I got there the General Manager approaches and asks me if I was the Chef from Ceviche and I was surprised. They gave me the best table, the best service and a lot of complimentary dishes. Even at the end the bartender approached me and said he had a Peruvian drink made of Pisco and whether I would taste it. and I was overwhelmed. If I had gone as soon as I had arrived in London this would never have happened. They took really good care of me and they even took me on a tour of the kitchen. And the food – all I can say is – Its Heston!
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure food?
It’s always going to be chocolate. I like white chocolate.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
There are two things I always go by. One is a quote I heard in a movie which I watched that I really liked – Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t deserve what you want. Basically, if you want something just go for it. The second is definitely more to do with my Dad, Paul who raised me to be loyal to what you are doing and to your beliefs.
If you weren’t a chef, or in the food business, what would you be?
I would probably be one of two things – either I would be in marketing or a pilot.
Best culinary tool? Chef Knife. You can do everything with it.
A chef that inspires you? Marco Pierre White for his vision of perfection
Favourite cuisine? Technique-wise French. Flavour-wise Peruvian.
One dish you can’t live without? Ceviche. I always need fish.
What’s one food trend that needs to end? Molecular. Because I like to respect the ingredients and I feel sometime molecular goes a bit too far for me.
Favourite food from your childhood/ Describe one of your first food memories. Chifa – a fusion of Chinese and Peruvian cuisines. So growing up in Peru by the sea we used to surf a lot when we were kids, so after surging around 6pm we used to go to this place and get Chifa where we used to eat Arroz Chaufa which is rice and tamarind sauce and it’s the best thing ever. Or we used to go to another Peruvian place to have deep fried calamari.
Last thing you cooked for yourself? Quinoa Tamal – it’s a little cake made of quinoa and is wrapped in a corn husk. I miss it because it is a Peruvian dish and you don’t get it here and I was just in the mood and I decided to make it.
Describe your cooking style in 3 words. Fresh, simple and savoury.
THIS OR THAT
Food on a skewer or food in a tiny spoon?
Hot curry or haute cuisine?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Mints or gum?
Soup or salad?
Greek yogurt or labneh?
Butter or olive oil?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Baked or fried?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
And lastly, cake or pie?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!