Meet The Perennials: Chef Alejandro Chamorro
On our way back from the Galapagos last winter, we stayed at a chic new hotel called the Illa Experience in Quito, Ecuador. Tucked away in an historic, artsy part of town on a charming street, this welcoming oasis had just opened to the public. We were the lucky first guests who had the 10-room hotel mostly to ourselves. The night we arrived a sophisticated and exquisite feast was laid out for us. It was a pleasant shock to eat this well at a hotel restaurant but then this was not a hotel restaurant after all. Nuema is the hotel’s spectacular, award-winning restaurant partner helmed by Alejandro Chamorro and his pastry chef partner (and wife) Piedad Salazar.
Alejo, as he is known by friends, was trained in Peru but also at Noma in Denmark, a two-Michelin-star restaurant often called the best in the world, which explains his commitment to using the freshest, local ingredients in innovative ways. The food at Nuema is Michelin-star quality but at refreshingly affordable prices you’d expect pay at an everyday bistro. Dinners were five course meals paired with wine. Breakfast was always several courses too. It was like having your meals prepared by Thomas Keller before he became famous at The French Laundry. We felt incredibly fortunate for the (Illa) experience and sat down with Alejandro the day we left to ask him our questions for Perennials, which he most definitely is. Remember the name Alejo Chamorro because you just may see him one day on Chef’s Table or read about him in the New York Times and you’ll have heard about him on The What first.
CHEF ALEJANDRO (ALEJO) CHAMORRO
TW: Why is your restaurant called Nuema?
AC: It’s the three names of my children: Nuria, Emilio, and Martín.
TW: Did you always know that you wanted to be a chef?
AC: Ah, I think no. I was supposed to be an architect, or maybe an artist, but I didn’t feel that that kind of career was the best here in Ecuador. So I feel the closest way to be an artist, in an economic way, was to be a chef. I was interested in the artistic part of a gastronomic career.
TW: When did you decide that you were going to be a chef?
AC: When I was ending high school. First I studied here in Ecuador then I got an internship to study in Peru to cook with Gaston Acurio. I was five years working in Peru then I applied to go to Noma and I think I was the very first Ecuadorian to get to the Noma kitchen in 2015.
TW: What gets you excited right now? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
AC: Nowadays what’s exciting to me is to be a restaurant in a hotel, not a hotel restaurant. You know, it’s different because it’s two families that are colliding in one dream. They are the best at running a hotel and I have to be the best in the restaurant. In the morning I’m excited to see what I’m going to cook that day or for whom I have to cook and to talk with people, which is always very exciting.
TW: What are you going to learn next?
AC: Techniques in the industry are changing every day so I have to be aware of what’s coming next.
TW: So, what is coming next?
AC: For me it’s to search the products we have here in Ecuador–to feel proud of what we can work with to make Ecuadorian gastronomy known worldwide. I also like to read and practice mixed martial arts in my spare time.
TW: How do you pick yourself up when you feel down?
AC: I know this sounds strange but when I feel down I do the dishes and clean everything. It helps me to think because when I wash the dishes I think about all the things I can do better.
TW: What is your hope for 2018?
AC: My hope is to spend more time with my family because the opening of the hotel takes away a little bit of time with them but my wish is to get the business really stable so I can travel around Ecuador and get to know more about the culture and everything related to cooking. Cooking is related to social, cultural — all the people of the country.