DUBAI: Jolbi Huacho began his career in 2012 as an assistant sushi chef in his native Peru at a restaurant serving Nikkei (a mix of Peruvian and Japanese cuisines) food.
After working at several other Nikkei restaurants across South America and the rest of the world, Huacho is now the head chef of Clay, an award-winning Nikkei concept that is rapidly gaining popularity in the region with outposts in Bahrain and Dubai.
“Clay offers real Nikkei food. I’d say our dishes feature 50 percent Peruvian ingredients and 50 percent Japanese ingredients. Nikkei (originated) in Peru, which is where I’m from and where I’ve grown as a chef. So, all of this experience I’ve poured into Clay,” Huacho tells Arab News.
Here, he talks about his love for chilis, his management style, and the need for patience when cooking.
When you started out, what was your most common mistake?
I think the biggest mistake as a young chef is letting your ego get in the way. You think you know everything but, in reality, there are so many ways you can get to the next level. You have to learn to listen, you have to open your mind. And then you can grow. As a young chef, you want to progress fast, but you can’t grow if you don’t have a solid base.
What’s your top tip for amateur chefs?
First: Be a sponge. We have to absorb everything in the kitchen. Second, be disciplined and patient. That’s very important. But, at the same time, you should enjoy the journey and experiment.
What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish?
I come from a country where there are so many kinds of chilis. So, for me, chilis form the base of any and every dish I make.
When you go out to eat, do you find yourself critiquing the food?
No. I like to enjoy. I like exploring different kinds of food. And I like it when the chef comes to the table.
What’s the most common issue that you find in other restaurants?
Sometimes restaurants go overboard trying to wow their patrons. For example, they might make a simple dish like carbonara but then they try and take it to the next level and turn it into a spectacle. It’s OK to mix and match ingredients and create something new, but then it’s not the same dish — it’s not what it should be.
What’s your favorite cuisine?
I really enjoy Asian and Latin American food. My favorite dish is Udon noodles with some beef and a good glaze.
What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly?
Usually a ramen-type thing. I put some noodles in the bowl, add some stock, eggs and vegetables. It’s the easiest dish to put together and doesn’t take more than 10 minutes.
As a head chef, what are you like? Are you a disciplinarian? Do you shout a lot? Or are you more laid back?
Honestly, what I like is to teach — to pass on my experience. I’m very patient, but I can be very strict when it comes to discipline. I like to have everything arranged and organized properly. It’s important to be disciplined in this industry. And at the end of the day I like to go out and see my guests and see the happy faces at the table. That’s priceless.
Chef Jolbi’s tuna ceviche
For the ponzu sauce: 100ml orange juice; 20ml lime juice; 20ml lemon juice; 20ml yuzu juice; 70ml soy sauce; 30g white sugar
For the ceviche: 100g fresh raw tuna; 4g ground white sesame seeds; 4g ground black sesame seeds; 3ml sesame oil; 40g cucumber; 5g ginger; 5g coriander; 2g salt
For the ponzu sauce: Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
For the ceviche: Cut the tuna into cubes and place them in a bowl. Add the sesame oil, sesame seed powder; chopped cucumber; chopped ginger, chopped coriander stems and salt and mix well. Serve on a cold plate. Top with ponzu sauce.