Celebrated celebrity chef, Gastón Acurio has officially opened La Mar by Gastón Acurio at the Five-Star Mandarin Oriental Hotel, a gorgeous, expansive restaurant, with indoor and outdoor waterfront seating and three bars that provide distinctive culinary experiences.
Considered "the ambassador of Peruvian cuisine," Acurio's unique restaurants rank among the world's finest. The opening of La Mar by Gastón Acurio in Miami marks the third Acurio restaurant in the U.S., following sister concepts La Mar Cebicheria in San Francisco and Tanta in Chicago. Helming the kitchen, La Mar's Executive Chef Diego Oka, who has worked alongside Acurio for more than a decade, creates authentic Peruvian dishes ranging from upscale novo-Andean fare to Asian-Peruvian fusion and traditional seafood Ceviche. Oka's eclectic menu is comprised of small plates such as Nikei, Peruvian nigiri; Anticucho Grill items; and tapas-style Piqueos and large plates including a selection of Peruvian Specialties and pan-fried rice called Arroces.
“We are extremely excited to introduce the spirit of Peruvian food culture to the vibrant city of Miami,” says Chef Gastón Acurio. “Our new La Mar by Gastón Acurio restaurant pays tribute to the sea with a beautiful waterfront location and the freshest local seafood on the menu.”
NBC spent some time getting to know Chef Oka, who shared insights about his life, experiences with Acurio and the exciting menu at La Mar.
Tell me a bit about your Latin Roots.
Japanese blood, Peruvian heart! I was born and raised in Lima, Peru, but my family is of Japanese descent.
How have your ethnic background and past culinary experiences influenced the menu at La Mar?
I feel lucky to be Japanese, but raised in Peru. Peruvian cuisine is a mixture of many cultures – and one of the strongest influences comes from the Japanese. Other influences are Chinese, Italian, African and Spanish. Because of this unique blending of cultures, the menu at La Mar is a little bit of everything. We believe La Mar is a place to celebrate diversity.
I also learned a lot from my time living in Mexico, Colombia and San Francisco. I learned how to adapt local ingredients in my recipes, to study what local people enjoy, to understand their culture, etc. These meaningful experiences have been a great influence to me.
How did you connect with Gaston Acurio? Describe your collaboration.
A long time ago – almost 13 years now– while I was in culinary school, I needed to complete an externship and my dream was to do it in Astrid y Gaston restaurant (Gaston’s fine dining restaurant). I happened to run into Gaston in a supermarket one day and without knowing him personally I introduced myself and took the opportunity to ask for the externship. After several casual questions in the supermarket he told me to visit the restaurant whenever I had time. That was a Sunday and I went to apply the very next day.
I was proud to work with him on the opening of the first La Mar in 2005, located in Lima. From there, I’ve been in Mexico City, Colombia, San Francisco and now Miami. My goal is to transmit Gaston’s philosophy, ideas, recipes and adapt all of our Peruvian flavors.
Describe the menu at La Mar.
The La Mar by Gaston Acurio menu is divided into 10 “families.” These families are categories that include cebiches, tiraditos, Peruvian nikei, causas, vegetarian dishes, hot piqueos, anticucho grill, soups, arroces and Peruvian specialties.
What are some of your favorite menu items?
Cebiches are definitely a favorite, but it depends on my mood! For first timers, I would suggest cebiche clasico, la chalanita (causas tasting), chaufa aeropuerto and lomo saltado.
Will the dishes change seasonally? If so, what do you see as the mainstays?
Yes we will incorporate seasonal products into daily and weekly specials. There will also be staple dishes including cebiche clasico, lomo saltado, anticuchos, causas, etc.
Do you offer anything on the “lighter side”?
Yes, we have salads and vegetarian bites – also, cebiches are very light!
What's for dessert?
In our desserts we will use Peruvian fruits (lucuma, cherimoya), Peruvian cacao (fortunate) and of course traditional Peruvian recipes like picarones (street food dessert) and alfajores.
In celebration of La Mar’s opening, Mandarin Oriental, Miami has partnered with LAN Airlines to provide two round trip tickets from Miami to Lima in Premium Business class; dinner for two, with two pisco sours, at La Mar by Gastón Acurio at Mandarin Oriental, Miami; and lunch for two, with two pisco sours, at La Mar Cebicheria in Lima, Peru. More details can be found by visiting www.mandarinoriental.com/miami/culinary-adventure-giveaway.