Interview with Robert Ortiz – Head Chef at Lima FitzroviaThu 06 2017 | admin
Q. When and how did you start working int he hospitality industry / as a chef?
Wow haha! A long time ago! I started working in the industry when I was around 16 years old. My parents had a bakery and restaurant in Peru and I was helping out with the cooking and the cleaning.
I came to London for the first time in 1994 to study English for about 1 and a half years. At that time there were a lot of part time jobs so I took one working in an Italian restaurant on Oxford Street. I can’t remember the name but I know it doesn’t exist anymore. I was doing the basic stuff in the kitchen; making the “tricolore” salad, the one with avocado, mozzarella and tomato and things like opening the mussels, the basic stuff.
Then I went back to Peru and I joined a restaurant called La Costa Verde where they really helped me train to be a real chef. They paid my expenses and everything and that’s really where it started for me. I worked from the very bottom to the top. That lasted for a few years and then I decided to come back to London where I worked at The Landmark Hotel and for me, this is where I probably started to feel more like a chef. I was wearing the chef whites and the hat and learning more about other cuisines; French, Spanish, Italian etc.
After The Landmark I went to work at The Four Seasons and from there I moved to Lia Fitzrovia as Head Chef when it opened in 2012.
Q. What do you love most about this industry / being a chef and working in London?
Well London has the most diversity in terms of people and there’s a huge amount of different cuisines. It’s so open minded in terms of flavours, you know, you can go and taste food from anywhere and the thing I remember loving most about coming to London years ago was the fact I could try the best Indian, Thai, Spanish and French food. And I love fish and chips too you know, the simple British things!
Working as a chef in London is very challenging but I love that about it and I like to make people happy in restaurants, and for me, I think that’s foremost the most important thing. Make people feel happy when they eat my food.
Q. What are the best tips for working a busy kitchen?
Be nice to the rest of your team
Never forget to taste the food
Follow the standards no matter how busy you are
Always arrive on time for your shift
Q. If you could five one very important tip to a budding chef, what would it be?
Learn as much as you can; on the job more so than training. Travel around, taste, try different things, try different cuisines, learn about what other chefs are doing and what really inspires you to cook.
Q. What is more important to you in a candidate? Training or passion?
Well passion is definitely coming first but when we talk about passion we also need to talk about passion in the sense of commitment to doing things for ourselves and doing things for colleagues and customers as well. So it’s definitely a combination of passion and good work ethic that I look for.
Q. What do you look for in good kitchen staff?
Always arrive on time
I like them to ask questions and ask if they don’t know something
I look for staff who are very eager to learn
Q. What are your top 3 most important recruitment / interview tips for someone looking to work in a top London venue?
I think it’s important to try get some experience before going into a fast paced kitchen. I need someone with at least some experience. Doesn’t need to be long term experience – 6 months is even enough
It doesn’t look good when you can see someone has moved around a lot, so try to stick it out in one place for a while before yo jump around
Show enthusiasm to get involved with what that restaurant does and what it’s all about
Q. What’s your favourite dish at Lima?
It’s a simple one but I like the clay-baked potato with chillies, black, green and red quinoas, dried leaves and Amazonian chestnuts.
Q. What trend are you most excited about in the London restaurant scene at the moment?
I think very recently I’ve noticed more and more that portions are going smaller, more into sharing plates that are nicely presented. I’ve also been seeing some really good health conscious cooking from a lot of chefs which I think is great.
Foraging too, I like this trend of finding rare vegetables and fruits. I’d love it for someone to start mixing fruit and coffee as well and to start doing more food pairing with vegetables and fruits.
Q. What are your 3 favourite restaurants in London? And what are their signature dishes?
I have one, it’s called Caravaggio – I love the simplicity of Italian cooking there. There’s a very simple dish of grilled vegetables with mozzarella that I really like
The Test Kitchen which just opened in Soho. There is a dish of grilled sweetbreads which is very good.
Celeste at The Lanesborough – the pressed foie gras terrine is excellent.
Q. What does the future hold for you?
We will definitely will open more Lima sites particularly one early next year. I want to continue working hard and developing our chefs and future chefs. I think I will probably stay in London but who knows for how long.