Carving out a career as one of Melbourne's top Chefs is no easy feat, yet Chef Alejandro Saravia is cementing his place amongst the best of the best. Charming, playful and down-to-earth, Saravia is widely credited with introducing Peruvian cuisine to Australia’s food culture. In addition to running his own critically acclaimed restaurant, Pastuso, Peruvian-born Alejandro is a consultant chef and advocate for Latin American cuisine and culture.
He takes us through his morning routine, his favourite foods and what made 2017 one the most significant years of his life to date.
OH: You’ve established yourself as a respected chef in Australia's culinary scene, and are known for doing it with style. Describe your average day to us.
AS: My day starts with taking my dog Croqueta (croquette) for a walk which gives me time to start planning my day, going through my meetings with suppliers, my kitchen team or tasks in my mind. In my business, the days are always so different and varied - I have to stay flexible and well organised.
My average day has changed since the 19th of June this year (2017), when my first son Lucas was born.
Before, I used to rush to work and throw myself into things straight away. Now, I make sure I spend some time with him before I get to work. For me that's so important, kids grow up fairly quickly and you never get that time back - he gives me a special peace which makes my day better.
OH: Tell us about Pastuso and how it came about?
AS: Patuso is a modern Peruvian grill, cevicheria and Pisco bar where we take guests on a journey of discovery through the coast, Andes and jungle of Peru’s beautiful food and culture.
It takes its name from Paddington Bear's Peruvian name - an orphan bear who was originally from Lima before he was sent to England. Parts of the story resonated with the journey of our ideas and inspiration of Lima coming to the western world and how it adapts and how it is received. We also aligned the motto from the tag that his Aunty put on his wrist before sending him off with the message “please look after this bear” - this was adapted onto our business cards as a reminder to us what hospitality is truly all about - looking after the customer!
The coast of Peru is reflected in our ceviche bar, the Andean Sierras are reflected in our open grill and custom made smoker, and finally the lust and playfulness of the Amazon jungle is reflected in our Pisco bar - using tropical flavours and Peruvian Pisco as our base spirit.
OH: Favourite thing to cook at home on a night off?
AS: I usually like to have a nice bottle of wine and eat a bit of everything! My wife is from Spain so for we enjoy a sharing style of setup - good cheese, some jamon, a delicious salad and lots of bread. If I have the weekend, I love cooking hearty food like a roast or stew and having friends over to share it with.
OH: Tell us about your first job?
AS: I worked in Marketing for 4 years before quitting everything to follow my dream to be a chef. I was working at L'Oreal Paris, followed by Novartis and Johnson and Johnson, very corporate. Suits were my everyday outfit.
OH: When did you decide to turn cooking into your career?
AS: Being the oldest grandchild, I was exposed to good food from a very early age - helping my grandmother in the kitchen, peeling vegetables and then cooking with her.
Cooking with her was always like an adventure, starting early in the morning with a trip to the local market to buy fresh ingredients. My grandmother established great relationships with most of the market vendors so it was an amazing place to learn how to choose your ingredients and the best time to source them.
Following my grandmother’s passion for good food and hospitality I decided to study to be a chef at Le Cordon Bleu in Lima that, at that time, was the only Le Cordon Bleu school in South America.
OH: What lessons have you learned, that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
AS: I like to spend time talking with young chefs that are starting in our kitchen and understand what their expectations are for this career. There are a lot of misconceptions about what it takes. I try to instil in them that good things take time, and success doesn't happen overnight - as is true with many things.
OH: How often do you get the chance to get out of your chef jacket and wear a suit?
AS: I used to live in my chef jacket until not long ago! I don't wear suits as often as I would like, but try to find a reason to whenever I can. I like wearing things that are unique, that set you apart, and I like when there is a story behind things. When you wear a perfectly tailor-made suit it give you that sense of individuality and uniqueness that makes it feel special.
OH: Do you remember your first suit?
AS: Hahaha! Yes, I remember my first suit, its was made by the family tailor back when I was living in Peru. It was a great experience. My father took me to this old school tailoring shop. The suit I wanted at that time was very 90’s style - black with 5 buttons all in a row. I used it to go to my school disco.
OH: How has your style evolved since then?
AS: My style has evolved quite a bit over the years. When I left my corporate career I became more casual. Nowadays my style is a bit of a mix, I love to wear basics with some kind of statement garment and when I have the opportunity, I suit up.
OH: What do you think is important to consider when getting garments made?
AS: I think the first thing should be to know the purpose of the garment. Once you've got this covered, the next most important thing should be your relationship with your tailor and the way you communicate what you want. A suit should reflect your personality, your style and you should feel comfortable in it. When I'm creating a new dish, it's about knowing the ingredients and the way they combine together before even trying it. With a suit, azit is the same. A tailor knows the fabrics and the design and style that work on every occasion and type of body before even starting to measure you. They are kind of the 'fashion chefs'!
OH: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
AS: Since I arrived in Australia my mission has been to introduce Latin American food, especially Peruvian, into Australia. I'm so proud of my country's gastronomy and I truly believe everyone should know about it! Starting with 'A taste of Peru', followed by 'Morena' and now 'Pastuso' and 'Che' I think I have achieved my dream to introduce Australians to the beautiful and exciting Peruvian cuisine.
I'm also very proud of the work we are doing at Pastuso in training and inspiring new chefs. I like to make my kitchen team part of the menu development and take on their ideas and suggestions. I also enjoy spending part of my week discussing with them their goals to make sure we are working towards them. Every time I see any of my chefs achieving their dream it makes me so proud and makes it all worth it.
And last but not least, my beautiful son Lucas who I simply cannot wait to see him growing and achieving his own dreams.