Interview with Diego Muñoz (Bilson’s)

Last week I met Peruvian Chef Diego Muñoz in Bilson’s, the restaurant where he was once sous chef and has welcomed back as chef de cuisine. I published an article based on that interview in the Peruvian gastronomy portal La Yema Del Gusto.

After about forty minutes of interesting conversation, I was ready to go but Diego told me I could hang out in the kitchen to watch a bit of action while the first customers of the night arrived. I stayed, of course.

Diego Muñoz

The kitchen is small for what I had imagined, especially considering that they bake their own bread, and make their own butter and chocolates. Meaning that Jean-Charles, the French chef patissier has a lot of work to do!

Chef patissier Jean-Charles Sommer

I stayed there trying to bother as little as possible (hard with a big backpack and trying to take decent photos). I watched an apprentice deep fry and dish up the fishchips (fish & chips-flavoured ribbons served in a cone of “newspaper”). Then Diego helped her dish up a dish with different kinds of garlic (it was the first time I saw Japanese black garlic) and then he showed his team a new dish that involved seafood and avocado powder. Great stuff.

Plating garlic dish

Diego giving instructions to staff

Diego showing how to plate new dish

Plating new dish

Plating new dish

Here’s the translation for those who can’t read Spanish :)

Peruvian Diego Muñoz returns to exclusive kitchen in Sydney

At age 34 and with excellent references in his resume (Relais & Château’s Girasol restaurant, Silversea Cruise’s Silver Wind restaurant and El Bulli in Spain), chef Diego Muñoz from Lima has returned to Bilson’s after two years working in Perú.

Bilson’s, owned by chef and restaurateur Tony Bilson, known as the godfather of Australian cuisine, is ranked among the top restaurants in the country. It was awarded three hats in the famous Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide in years 2007, 2008 and 2009. Diego worked as a sous chef in the restaurant in 2006/7 and 2008/9 and came back this February to lead the kitchen.

In only three months of work Diego has re-structured the menu; the restaurant no longer offers dishes a la carte, but only degustation menus: two omnivore, two vegetarian, both with a 10-dish “Grande” version and a 7-dish “Petite” version. On top of that, this month a 15-dish super menu was launched, which summarizes the best of the other four, costs $280, and has caused controversy in the media and the web.

Maybe one of the biggest challenges for the chef has been to transform Bilson’s cuisine, which had a strong classic French influence. “We’re trying to do a cuisine that’s more modern, more oriented to the product and much lighter, more fun, a little bit more surprising, too”, he said. The response has been mixed, on one hand some old customers have been shocked, but a big share of the market, customers -mainly young- searching for new experiences, are delighted.

His kitchen team is also very young and multicultural. A few Australians, a French, a Korean and a Nepalese are the pieces of this machinery that Diego leads aiming for excellence.

Bilson’s menus are dynamic because they adapt to produce seasonality and reveal the chef’s strong preference for Australian seafood. There are no Peruvian ingredients in the menus yet but that’s not a definite “no” for Diego. For him the world is so globalized that barriers are disappearing also in the kitchen; now, for example, quinoa is everywhere and is no longer a product that people necessarily know as “typically Peruvian”.

Passionate about the topic of Peruvian natural resources, Diego had the opportunity of being part of Mistura 2009 and 2010, as well as to sow potatoes with the farmers in Urubamba, at 4000 metres above sea level, “a magic moment”, according to him. “Our true richness is the renewable products like corn, potatoes, chilies, the sea, those that if we knew how to exploit them, would be Perú’s richness, with the cooks as soldiers”. He also emphasized the importance of standardising the naming of produce and of giving cooking graduates the opportunity to practice in professional kitchens. “There is still a lot to do, that’s why I’m dying to be there and be part of it.”

Regarding that, Diego said he was willing to come back to Perú next year to start investigating and open a restaurant suited to the market and based on exploration.

The original article can be found here.