Adding to the thriving Peruvian restaurant scene in Dubai is the recently opened La Mar By Gastón Acurio at the iconic, Atlantis The Royal.
Known for its myriad options of fresh ingredients, this restaurant decided to bring a unique blend of ancient Peruvian cuisine with authenticity at its helm.
Known for its dedicated cebiche bar and an anticucho grill, this restaurant promises the entire experience from start to finish with exquisite pisco sour cocktails to complement the meal.
Inspired by the design of a Fisherman’s Wharf, the simple interiors promise a laid-back atmosphere with natural light and colourful hues to emulate that classic Peruvian feel.
After already receiving awards internationally, the restaurant has recently been awarded one Michelin star in the latest 2023 guide.
Adding to the dynamic food scene in this part of the world, Emirates Woman speaks to the restaurant’s Executive chef, Cesar Ulloa to delve into its culinary journey.
Talk us through your career.
Before discovering my passion for food, I was fascinated with the world of magic, but that quickly changed when I began cooking and learning culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu in Peru. 11 years ago, before I started working with Gastón, I had the opportunity to work at several Michelin restaurants including Celler de Can Roca Girona Spain (three-Michelin-star), Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen (three-Michelin-star), as well as Mugaritz Donostia, San Sebastian (two-Michelin-star). In 2012 I began working with Gaston at the original La Mar restaurant in Lima, and since then it has been a wonderful journey. Thanks to Gaston my culinary career has taken me all around the world and I am excited to see where my new chapter in Dubai takes me.
Where does your love for food come from?
Flavour! I enjoy trying and tasting different foods, cuisines, and most of all flavours. It’s a simple thing in life that brings me so much joy, inspiration, and excitement.
This restaurant explores authentic flavours of Peruvian gastronomy. How was this a challenge and how did you overcome this?
Peru boasts an abundance of ingredients that make distinctive regional cuisines and is recognised as one of the best cuisines in the world. It was important for us to capture the essence of Peruvian cuisine and bring a slice of Lima (capital of Peru where La Mar was first brought to life) so sourcing the right ingredients was definitely a priority. Leading up to the opening of the venue, it took us up to six to seven months to find the right produce – we’re currently sourcing most of our ingredients straight from Peru, from small ingredients such as chilli to staples such as potatoes and corn.
What does it mean to you and the La Mar brand to work along Atlantis The Royal?
Atlantis The Royal is the latest icon of Dubai and is home to a collection of ultra-luxury experiences, especially when it comes to F&B – there is no other hotel that offers a celebrity F&B showcase like Atlantis The Royal. The operations team has carefully identified each cuisine and has invited the best of the best to represent it. To be the Chef de Cuisine at La Mar, representing Gaston Acurio and my homeland’s cuisine is an honour. As I travelled with Gaston to his various venues across the globe I would always feel like an ambassador of Peru, and this is the same feeling while in Dubai and at Atlantis The Royal.
What are the hero dishes according to you at the restaurant?
As the only dedicated cebichería in Dubai, one of my hero dishes is of course cebiche! At La Mar you can explore a wide range of different cebiches from traditional cilantro, lime, and red onions to more unique creations such as nori and daikon. The other hero dish would be the Anticuchos, which was originally a street food and a major part of Peruvian culture. Anticuchos is grilled marinated meat packed with flavour and is served with a spicy salsa and Peruvian chilli paste. When I have these, the flavours transport me back to days as a child playing with friends.
What are the three rules of thumb for a perfect Cebiche and what does LA MAR’s live cebiche bar add to the restaurant?
The cebiche bar at La Mar is what anchors the restaurant, it’s a focal point that is interactive. Here we practice three very important rules of thumb which is to make sure you only use the freshest fish possible, Never use fish or seafood that’s been previously frozen, Always use fresh lime, never juice from a bottle – slice and squeeze and consume immediately. Ceviche is not a dish that should be left to linger.
You take presentation seriously. How do you seamlessly combine design with gastronomy?
Peruvian cuisine is so colourful, full of contrast focusing mainly on the ingredients. The country has more than 2,500 varieties of potatoes in every colour imaginable. More than fifty kinds of corn grow there, too, in shades ranging from midnight black to pale pink. So, our main focus is really the ingredient, whether it’s the delicate raw fish or the fresh garnish – we always let the ingredients be the hero. Our second focus is the chinaware, we went on a quest to find the right chinaware that will complement our dishes the most. We currently source handmade designs from both Spain and the UAE.
What piece of advice would you give to those wishing to follow your culinary journey?
Passion is the main drive in the hospitality industry in my opinion. You definitely need passion if you’re going to succeed. While a lot of perks come with the job which involves travelling the world, and working with amazing brands – it is possibly one of the most competitive sectors to work in, which is where passion comes in place and drives you forward.
Working at LA MAR in different cities & continents, how do you take a brand globally while maintaining the essence of Peru?
The DNA of La Mar is cemented by Gaston’s love for Peruvian cuisine and his energy to share it with the world. Of course, country to country the consumer tastebud differs, and they have desires for certain flavours, but we use this as an opportunity to educate the world about Peru and to entice them to explore the flavours of our cuisine. We story tell the diverse history and culture through the sense of taste no matter where we are. Another way La Mar remains true to its core is the fact that Gaston always recruits a handpicked team many of which are Peruvian nationals. I have been lucky to experience this a few times. During my career, my work with Gaston has taken me from Lima to Geneva, through each experience I’ve seen how he builds his teams while igniting enthusiasm and passion.
How does the F&B Industry differ here from the rest of the world?
Given its geographic location, Dubai is a cultural melting pot, and this is reflected in the F&B industry here; it’s one filled with excitement, diversity, and creativity. I think we are all very lucky to live in a city where you can discover all cuisines – especially when it’s authentic. In recent local reports, we’ve seen that Peruvian food is back on the rise – this is very exciting for everyone at La Mar. It’s been such a privilege to be part of a growing cuisine here in the Middle East region. At La Mar Dubai we try to elevate Peruvian cuisine through creative gastronomy, nicely mixing traditional flavours with unique plates. La Mar Dubai’s menu features exclusive dishes that have been crafted especially for this restaurant at Atlantis The Royal with the Dubai market and clientele in mind.
You’ve been working with Gaston Acurio for years, what’s your biggest learning from him?
Over the past 11 years, my journey with Gaston has taken me to different places across the world, which has been incredibly exciting as I have been able to become an ambassador for Peru. Even though we were cooking our native cuisine and Peruvian cuisine is becoming more popular, the customer differs from country to country, culture to culture. This means we never stop learning and this is something Gaston has ingrained in me.
What’s next for La Mar?
We opened our doors a few months ago and the feedback has been overwhelming and positive. It was also incredible being recognised during Dubai’s second edition of its Michelin Guide, where Tomislav Lokvicic, General Manager of La Mar was awarded Service of the Year and the restaurant received an honourable mention in the 2023 guide. For the time being we are going to continue delivering excellent service, delectable food, and culinary stories of Peru. We are excited to see more people to come to La Mar and experience Peru.
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