Chef Emmanuel Piqueras: A Peruvian Cevichero
September 7, 2017
By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña
Cooking shows on television give the illusion that successful kitchens are ran by dictatorial chefs, but internationally famous Chef Emmanuel Piqueras demonstrates that it takes an educational approach to succeed.
Piqueras is the executive chef and partner at Pisco Rotisserie and Cevicheria, a recently-opened Peruvian restaurant in Liberty Station.
“Chefs have a reputation of being dictators and that a kitchen does not work without yelling,” Piqueras said. “And no, this kitchen is a school, it is a school where we are molding people who are very interested in learning about Peruvian culinary arts.”
When he was young, Piqueras had an eagerness to learn and work with food, and now having the opportunity to bring his food and culture to a new country, has transformed him from student to teacher.
Piqueras grew up in Lima, Peru, where he discovered his love for cooking through his love for the sea. He loved to surf when he was young and sometimes he would catch some fish.
“Before calling myself a chef or a cook I call myself a cevichero,” he said. “That is my passion, ceviches.”
Eating at Pisco Rotisserie and Cevicheria is an experience for all the senses. The colorful decorations and paintings of Peru instantly take restaurant goers on a journey. They offer a variety of ceviches made from fresh catch and “leche de tigre”, or milk of the tiger, a famous citrus marinade in the ceviche.
The restaurant, occupying what was once a Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza, came to be when local restaurateur Sami Ladeki fell in love with Peruvian food after eating at a restaurant that Piqueras had opened.
They eventually met in person, and Piqueras said that they decided to bring Peruvian food to San Diego and that they are like kids with a new toy.
“I have opened many restaurants with many investors and normally investors are about the money, but when I spoke with Sami and I saw how his eyes shined like a child’s, I knew this was the right person,” Piqueras shares with goosebumps on his arms.
But, although he is now a teacher of Peruvian cuisine for many, Piqueras is no stranger to being a student.
Growing up, Piqueras’ grandfather had an influence in his interest in cuisine because he was someone who Piqueras describes as a foodie. The house his grandfather lived in had an area in the back where fresh fish and shrimp were brought to the house for their chef to cook.
Piqueras would spend time at his grandfather’s house when he was young, but unlike his cousins, he was not in the dining room with grandpa, but in the kitchen with their Chef Jesus.
He considered her a mentor because she was the one that taught him a lot about cooking and he spent time with her in the kitchen.
But, like many Latin American parents, his father and mother, who was Lima’s first elected female mayor, wanted him to get an education and attend a university, so Piqueras earned a degree in marketing. After graduating, his father told him education was forever and that even if he did not work in marketing, he had done a great thing for himself.
Determined to pursue his passion for food, a 22-year-old Piqueras knocked on the door of the most popular and influential chef in Lima at that time, Chef Cucho La Rosa, for whom he worked for at his restaurant, Pantagruel.
Piqueras graduated from Lima’s Le Cordon Bleu in 1999, and although he was already in charge of the kitchen at Pantagruel, he decided he wanted to learn from another master, Chef Juan Mari Arzak in Spain.
So again Piqueras became a student, and he recalls that Arzak told him to forget everything he knew about cooking. After completing an internship with the chef at Arzak, a restaurant once named as one of the world’s best restaurants, Piqueras became the first Latino american on the payroll.
He eventually moved back to Peru to get married and then moved to the United States where he lead kitchens for restaurants like Andina, Mixtura, Limon, and Panca among others. Throughout his career, Piqueras has cooked for several celebrities, the first lady of Peru, the Queen of Spain and U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
While working in Portland, Oregon in Andina, Piqueras became a student once again when he had to overcome his language barrier. He could not communicate with his team of chefs because he did not speak English and although he felt frustrated and wanted to give up, he did not.
He started by learning the names of ingredients in English and was able to improve the communication with his team. And in two years, the restaurant was named the best restaurant in the state.
“That is my philosophy, I get better every day and if one day I did it well, then tomorrow I will do it a little better,” Piqueras said.
And improving a little better everyday for Piqueras also means understanding the gastronomic revolution that is happening and his role as a “machetero” or a person who helped open the path.
“I have had a lot of luck and I have gotten a lot further than I thought I would in my career and I am very thankful for that and I am humbled,” Piqueras said. “But I know that the next generations are going to go further because they won’t have to open the path, all they have to do is shine.”