Before Christmas I completed a second month long stage in another of Lima’s finest, Mó. I cannot overemphasise how valuable my experience in Siete was. It opened my eyes to Peruvian food, showed me I can survive in a Spanish speaking kitchen and exemplified the value of structure. But once I ate in Mó I knew it was more my style. Siete was downtown in grungy, boho Barranco, Mó is uptown in clean, spacious San Isidro. Bright, airy, full of mirrors and indoor trees, with a breezy terrace. If Mó was a person it would be Mandy Moore. (New Mandy, who hikes the Himalayas and sings Fleetwood Mac-y songs in vintage dresses, not old Mandy – though she was not without her charm).
Mó offers casual, elegant food. Small plates. Salads. Lunch and dinner every day, brunch from Friday to Sunday. Everything is thoughtfully, beautifully presented. The food is not wildly different from things I’ve seen and cooked before, but with little twists that make me go ‘oh my god why didn’t I think of that?’ Take the ricotta pancakes. I made these all the time when I was a hotel breakfast chef, comme ça, with the cheese mixed into the batter. In Mó they put blobs of house ricotta and blueberries into regular pancake mix on the griddle. The finished stack is topped with more blueberries, more ricotta, lemon zest and served with miel de guayaba – tropical Peruvian honey. More texture, more contrast, more good. Mó hollandaise sauce is another improved-upon staple. It is made using clarified brown butter, which makes a richer, deeper, almost cheesy sauce. The lower fat content also makes it more stable for service. Win win.
I got off to an emboldening start. On my first day there was an event with a visiting chef, Francesca Ferreyros. I assumed I would stay out back on prep during the dinner itself but I was invited out front to do service. I was scared because in Siete, with the exception of putting one slice of cheesecake on a wooden board, and garnishing a few plates of pasta, I never did service. I wasn’t asked to, which was fine by me. Before we started I nervously whispered to Méilín, another chef, that I had never cooked to order in Spanish before and she laughed, saying “now you tell us!”
It went swimmingly! Meilín had said – usually the events here are “bien divertido” – Spanish for “good craic.” She’s putting her best foot forward for the newbie, I thought. But, the service was kinda fun. Mó is a well oiled machine. Prep gets done, people are trained, but above all there are enough chefs. I used to work in a restaurant where there would only ever be two chefs on service at any given time, for dinners that could have up to 70 people. Sometimes it was doable. Sometimes I would finish work and cry. Realistically, if you want to make quality food, you need time to focus. Mó allows that. Matías, the boss, manned the pass and garnished plates. Francesca was on the hot section with Gonzalo the head chef, and Méilín was on colds. I filled in the gaps, replenishing mise en place items as needed and manning the fryer. Everyone had a beer in hand throughout the night, had enough time to chat to their coworkers and the guests who were watching us work in the open kitchen. Bien divertido, indeed.
My main takeaway from Mó is the value of time. Of course there will always be moments when you get slammed and have to hustle, but on the whole I felt chefs there had time to do things properly and carefully. Exquisite dishes with perfect garnishes, where every element has been carefully considered – they don’t just happen. Moving forward, I want to do fewer things and do them well.
On the technical side, my knife skills came a long way. Having spent much of my time in kitchens baking bread, then working in a place where we made food in such large quantities that chopping was delegated to industrial machinery, I felt like things I sliced were lacking in uniformity. Mó was knife skills bootcamp. I was frequently given buckets of onions to slice razor thin or kilos of carrots to brunoise. It may sound boring but seeing all those tiny bits of vegetables come out the same size was downright exhilarating.
Working in a kitchen as a stageur was not my intention when I landed in Lima, but thank god it worked out that way. A stage lets you get a feel for what works for you and what doesn’t, without making a long term commitment. Doing it in Spanish added another educational element. When the opportunity first presented itself to me I was petrified and didn’t think I’d be able to do it. Now I’ve worked in two top notch restaurants in one of the worlds greatest gastronomical cities. It goes to show – don’t underestimate yourself!
It’s hard to take pictures when you are an intern and trying not to get in the way. Here’s a few I managed during quieter moments.
Highlights of the menu include :
Yuka rosti with sea urchins, radishes, and seaweed. A fresh, summery, Peruvian take on something that is usually heavy and starchy. Yucas are nicer to work with than potatoes. Potatoes oxidise rapidly so you have to hurry, yucas don’t. The vegetarian option uses grilled field mushrooms, with pureed kim chi, yoghurt and chives.
From left to right : Tostada de trucha. Baguette with yoghurt, gravadlax, beetroot, fresh leaves, borage flowers and popped quinoa.
French Toast with figs and blueberries.
Tiradito de charela. Charela is a commonly used fish from northern Peru often used in ceviche and tiraditos, a kind of Peruvian sashimi. In Mó they serve it with fried calamari and spicy leche de tigre – the citric juices used to cure ceviche.