It’s not every day that a fellow peruano gets voted “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine. Lucky Angelenos are reminded how Lima-born Ricardo Zarate earned his 2011 title each time they dine at his two L.A. Peruvian restos, Picca and Mo-Chica. Chef Zarate stepped away from his busy kitchen to chat with Señorita Vino about his passion for vino and why every day is the perfect day for a special-occasion wine.
SENORITA VINO: What’s your favorite wine?
RICARDO ZARATE: I like ceviche, and Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best wines for this dish. I love Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It’s so aromatic. If I want something fancy, I’ll pick a Sancerre.
SV: Besides Malbec and Torrontés, which wines would you pair with the most popular Peruvian dishes?
RZ: In the U.S., Malbec and Torrontes are two of the most available South American wines. I like Argentine wines because they get good mileage when paired with Peruvian cuisine. Malbec is light-bodied and not too rich. South American cuisine is rich in flavor, so you don’t want a wine that’s too rich. I would add New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Chilean whites are good with Peruvian food.
SV: Will we ever see the day when Peruvian wines compete on the global stage?
RZ: Peru makes some great wines, but because they’re small-vineyard wines, you rarely–if ever–see them outside Peru. The majority of grapes grown in Peru are used in making Pisco. I think at one point wine will become bigger because Peruvian cuisine is moving toward fine dining, and fine dining needs a fine drink like wine. It may be 10 years before we see more quality wines coming out of Peru.
SV: What advice would you give someone who is not well-versed in wine and may feel intimidated by it?
RZ: I used to go to restaurants and I’d see a French wine and get instantly intimidated. I’d think, “My God, I don’t know what I’m doing!” When you order wine in a restaurant, you have the option to taste it first. The more you taste, the more you learn what grapes you like. California is a fantastic place to live. Go wine tasting in Napa Valley with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and make it a hobby or something you do just for fun.
SV: Do you have a favorite memory associated with wine?
RZ: When I was 20 I received a really expensive bottle of wine as a gift. Don’t ask me the name; all I know is that it was worth a couple thousand dollars. I decided to save it for a special occasion.
Soon after, I moved to London for work. One night I went out drinking with a good friend, and he overdid it and asked to stay on my couch. My wine collection was out in the living room where he [would be sleeping]. I had about 30 bottles, and I separated the expensive one from the others. My friend wanted to keep drinking, so I told him he could open any bottle except for that one, and then I said goodnight.
The next morning, I saw that he had opened the expensive bottle. I was furious! I figured it was ruined since it had been left open overnight. So I sat him down and said, “We’re going to finish this bottle.” The wine was perfect, and my anger disappeared.
A few years after I left London, I learned that my friend had died in an accident. The night we drank the wine was the last time I saw him, so it was all meant to happen. The special occasion was enjoying a great wine with a good friend.
4 thoughts on “Meet the Wine Lover: Chef Ricardo Zarate”
Me encanta Ricardo Zarate y su trabajo como chef! Cada ves descubro una nueva faceta de su vida!
Me alegro, Natalia! Es cierto que Ricardo tiene un don en la cocina.
Thanks for the interview and great lesson in enjoying the present!
Absolutely, Ernesto. As you know, every day is worthy of popping open a special bottle of wine. ¡Salud!