Back in 2010, Martin Morales made the monumental decision to quit as Head of Disney Music to follow his passion for Peruvian food and open Ceviche Soho. Five years later and there’s a sister restaurant, Andina, a cookbook, record label and now a new Ceviche on Old Street, London. We talk to the man with the most exciting CV in the business

Was now the right time to launch a second Ceviche? Or was it because you found the location on Old Street?

A bit of both. I used to live and work in the area many years ago, so I knew it very well. I have had links with the technology industry as I used to be Head of iTunes Pan Europe, so there’s a lot of people from my days in the technology industry that work here. There are a lot of gallery businesses who are artists or gallery owners – this is a hub for creativity. When I first walked into this space I could see the potential to bring the building’s past back to life – but also for it to continue my Peruvian mission here, presenting incredible food, incredible drinks and Peruvian art too.

Will this restaurant be any different to the Ceviche Soho?

Yes, completely. The menu is almost completely different. The drinks are very different, the way we have created the kitchen and bar is very different. It’s much larger, and the design is completely different. The team is different. On the menu side, we have been inspired by the heritage this site has got, so by the Victorian era. So we have thought about what food was like in this era, but in the equivalent in Peru.

There’s Torreja de Sesos (lamb’s brain fritters, tomato and rocoto chilli jam), which we found in a 1908 book of Peruvian gastronomy. There’s Jalea de Anguila, which is eel and sea bass. The Victorian ate a lot of eel, and this is a traditional Peruvian dish with Amarillo chilli tartare, crispy garlic and salsa criolla. As a kid I used to have this one dish which we have recreated, Huevo Criollo (Burford Brown egg, quinoa, morcilla sangrecita, rocoto sauce). We also have a whole array of delicious ceviche, fresh and hearty dishes. Ceviche del Dia will have the freshest fish you can find in London… There has been a lot of innovation put into the menu.

Then there’s the drinks. We have our own draft beer, which we created with Hammerton brewery. It’s a big dream of mine to create our own craft beer. We got a call about three months ago from Karina and Lee, who run Hammerton. They said they had been watching my work for the last three years and had always wanted to work with me. The same afternoon I got on a bus with our head barman Miguel and we went straight down to Hammerton – and we decided there and then on the taste profile of a beer we could create together. We decided on a name too: Somos Libre, which means ‘we are free’. They are a local brewery, which fits in beautifully with what we are doing here in this building. A hundred years ago this was the Alexandra Trust Dining Rooms, which was a place for local people – and that’s what we want to offer too.

Let’s take a step back Martin – was your childhood one exposed to good food?

Absolutely. I grew up close to the Andes, my grandmother is from the Andes – hence the name Andina – and I also grew up on the coast, so two worlds of great cuisine. I grew up eating wonderful ceviche on the beach as I was a surfer, and I started cooking at a very young age. I’m a creative person. I have worked across music, TV, cinema, and I grew up loving the craftsmanship of cooking, the fact you hold things in your hands, see a fruit being born from a seed, then work with that fruit or vegetable to become a beautiful dish by combining it with other ingredients. That hand craftsmanship element is so exciting and interesting.

When did you first come to the UK and was it a culture shock?

I was in my teens and it was the mid/late 80s – and, absolutely, it was a culture shock! Two things kept me going. One was cooking – I would cook for friends and family, and I would make friends through my dishes. I would cook all kinds of dishes that are now featured in my cookbook. Second, the regular calls made to my great aunts, who encouraged me to do well and to take this opportunity to make the most of my life in the UK. I felt like I owed it to the people in Peru to do just that.

Why did music initially become the focal point of your career?

Well at weekends I would DJ around the world, but during the week I was working with Steve Jobs at Apple running iTunes Pan Europe, or running Disney Music or signing artists at EMI. That was my day job. At weekends I would play at festivals and concerts. Do I miss it? Life evolves. I like doing different things as time goes on. Cooking right now is what gives me great enjoyment, and the creative process is fantastic. I like that ambassadorial role of raising the profile of Peruvian food and getting people to be excited about it. But we are doing a similar thing with records. We run a record label, Tiger’s Milk Records, which is just promoting Peruvian music. And now through Ceviche Old Street we also have an art gallery. I have always been fascinated with breaking down barriers between food and art, music and art, food and music… I think the lines are being blurred and that’s what I am most fascinated about. Ceviche Old Street is the first contemporary Peruvian art gallery, and we are featuring 65 top artists, from sculpture to photography to painting. It’s really exciting the work we have got here.

How tough was it to get the first Ceviche open?

It was incredibly tough. When I told my friends at Apple and Disney Music they said I was mad! I was throwing away a career and a decent salary. When I started doing supper clubs and pop-up restaurants, many in the food industry said I hadn’t been a chef for 20 years and had not been a restaurateur, so I was going to fail. Even the Peruvians in London said what I was trying to achieve is impossible. ‘This is a cold country Martin, you can’t sell raw fish’… People said it simply wouldn’t work.

But I started the supper clubs and people started to taste the dishes – and then they were hooked. These were flavours they had never eaten before, and the dishes were unique and healthy. I was one of the first to start doing pop-up restaurants. I started to build up my team, but to raise the money to open Ceviche was a mountain. I must have knocked on 300 investors’ doors, but nobody wanted to invest – it was the hardest time for the last 50 years for investment, we were in a deep recession. So I decided to sell my house and put my neck on the line to show I was committed and had the skills to do this. Investors started to believe me.

How is Peruvian cooking viewed today?

We opened the doors to Peruvian food and there are now great Peruvian restaurants around London. But this is just the beginning – I am really excited about what the future holds.

Words: Mark Kebble

Ceviche Old Street, 2 Baldwin Street EC1V 9NU; 020 3327 9463;

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