Interview with Danny Parreno (La Bodeguita Del Medio)

La Bodeguita Del Medio is an institution of Cuban food and drinks. Since it opened in la Havana in 1950 has been recognised as the “home of the mojito”, and now has restaurants in the most important cities in the world, such as Prague, Macedonia, Miami, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Beirut and Mexico City. Recently, its Sydney restaurant was launched with Peruvian Danny Parreno as executive chef, and in a few weeks has become a huge success.

La Bodeguita Del Medio

Dishes like tiradito de vieiras, codillo de cerdo con naranja, and empanadas de conejo con pebre show the influence that Danny and Nelson Burgos, the Chilean head chef, have on the menu. In an environment that perfectly recreates the bohemian vibe of old Havana, surrounded by wood, dark brown leather, photos and Latin music, Danny told me about his previous experience and his work in La Bodeguita.

La Bodeguita Del Medio

I know you were in Slip Inn before coming to work here.

Yes, I was there basically helping out, I had just arrived from Miami, I was working there, in no particular restaurant, but when I arrived in Sydney obviously I quickly found myself a workplace, which was Slip Inn.

Danny Parreno, executive chef

Always trying to organise Latin things I made that Peruvian festival called The Pescador Platter. It was a success, we had about 250 people that night and it was really good, everything obviously with seafood. We had a show with big octopus cooking them on the barbecue with anticuchos chilli and all of that, everything based on Latin things, on Peruvian things. Then I went to work to Prague with people of this same business, with this same company for 2 months, I came back to Australia and basically straight here with them. I got this job practically from that festival, the owners were to that restaurant and said “this is the kind of food that we need, this is the kind of vibe that we want”.

How does it work? Because the Bodeguitas in other parts of the world have different menus…

To explain what I do: what I work with is fusion, I don’t mess around too much, what I do is to incorporate indigenous ingredients because obviously being Peruvian I use a lot of Peruvian things, but keeping the Cuban identity. What I do in the kitchen is more focused in flavour, presentation obviously is very important in what we do but I like to combine a lot and understand the flavours. I am very conscious of the ingredients that we use in a dish, in how we will do it and how it will sound, how it will be described in the menu.

La Bodeguita Del Medio

How many years have you been outside of Peru?

I left when I was 15, but before that I lived 3 year in Venezuela, also in Colombia, my father worked as a musician, so since I was a kid I was always travelling, I was in Chile, traveled around South America, Central America. I was in Miami recently, my mother has lived in Miami for many years. I always go to Miami, I have just arrived from there, I was around 2 years there, in Canada, Toronto, Cuba. I’ve worked in French restaurants, I’ve worked with Michael Lambie, who worked with Marco Pierre White, I’ve worked with Achatz, with all those people who have been a big influence in what I do.

And in Australia?

Living in Melbourne I was in Taxi, Upper And Lower House, that also belongs to Michael Lambie, then I worked for The Supper Club that is also a good restaurant, I worked as executive chef in Waterfront in Melbourne, with seafood. In all of those restaurants I’ve worked with key people, obviously learning a lot from them.

I’ve been working in kitchens since I was 17. I haven’t had the opportunity of working overseas in many restaurants that I would have liked to but my work is based on research and learning.

Danny Parreno, executive chef

Do you go back to Peru once in a while?

I was in Peru in 2003, I’ll go back this year. When I just arrived there I had a baby girl so we couldn’t travel too much, we stayed in Lima, but this time we’ll travel around and eat, because I know that things have changed there so much food-wise. It’s incredible and that’s what I love, and Peruvian food obviously is delicious.

Do you use any Peruvian ingredients?

Many, obviously ají amarillo, ají panca, huacatay. To get huacatay, because the only way of getting it here was in jars, I went to see some horticulturists and they told me that here is considered a weed but it grows, then they showed me where to look for it, in the Blue Mountains, and I have a friend who gets me some branches and I show them to the guys in the kitchen. I keep some jars just in case because sometimes it’s not in season. And I have friends who grow ají amarillo and they give me some. I buy Peruvian ingredients in Tierras Latinas in Fairfield. The head chef is Chilean and he brings aachiote, pebre, Chilean ají, merkén, and we combine the ingredients.

Every element that we add to the dishes has to work, even the parsley or the coriander that is added in the end.

What we want to do with Latin fusion in Australia is similar to what Longrain did with Thai and Asian food, they made it as close as possible to traditional food but more modern in a way that the customers can understand it, and that definitely works.

About the guys in the kitchen, are they all Latin American?

Just one, Nelson, a Chilean, he has a lot of determination in promoting Latin American food, he worked in French restaurants, in top quality restaurants during his career, and I have worked with him for many years. Being Chilean he understands Latin American food. Then we have a pastry chef who is a Brazilian girl, who won a prize in Le Cordon Bleu and has been working in patisserie for a long time. Key people in the kitchen are Latin American because they have to understand the cuisine, but the rest are Australians and one from Estonia.


Can you see a future for Peruvian cuisine in Australia or for Latin American food as a whole?

I think that Peruvian cuisine can definitely work. I think that if it did, it would be in Melbourne first because people there like things that are unique, many people there understand food, they’re alternative, they like to try different things. I think that something like a peña from Lima would work, without being too traditional. I can imagine that there are Peruvian restaurants in Lima that could bring here what is not available yet. The only drawback is that obviously the products, the ingredients are not very accessible, which I think is the key. Especially with food, the freshest, the better. But the concept is what could be Peruvian, with a bit of fusion.

I think that we have arrived to the climax of Asian cuisine and there has to be something different, especially with Peruvian food that is so similar to Thai food because it has the same fresh elements like lemons, limes, chillies, rice. Obviously I thank Peruvian chefs in Australia who are doing what they can to contribute.

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.