After being a record producer and music industry exec, running record labels for EMI and Disney and heading up iTunes Pan Europe, Martin Morales decided it was time to feed his soul and go back to his Peruvian roots. He began to cook as a chef, quit his job, sold his house and opened Ceviche in Soho. The success was immediate. In just 5 years Martin has opened a further 3 award-winning restaurants and published 2 best selling cookery books: Ceviche and Andina.
In this article, not only he tells us about his love for food, music, and the culture of his country but also about his endeavour to enrich British people’s lives with the excitement, depth and variety of South American cultures.
I was born in Lima and came to Britain with my family when I was 11 years old. The Shining Path guerrillas in Perú made it hell for many, so my father decided life wasn’t safe there and brought us to his native country. I think I must have been 8 years old when I started cooking, helping my great aunts with small chores in the kitchen and going with them to the market. It was these special moments that first gave me a buzz about food, ingredients and cooking. Music surrounded our lives in Lima; on the bus, at home… everywhere the radio played chichas, cumbia and all kinds of Latin music and at the weekend jam sessions were a regular occurrence at home, as everybody in my family played an instrument. So when I arrived in the UK, I missed all this terribly and so I began to seriously study, collect and listen to music, cook and collect recipes.
At Leeds University, music and food gave me strength and served as therapy for the yearning I had for my home country. I even created an event at Uni called ‘Global kitchen’ where I cooked and DJ-ed at the same time. I played mostly world music and cooked dishes from around the world to show people in Britain that there was more to music than pop and rock, and more to food than fish and chips. An example of music I used to play at the time is La Chichera, by Los Demonios de Mantaro, which I have included in our album Andina. Oh! And Ruben Blades’ Juan Pachanga was a particular favourite at the time.
After Uni, I started to work for an independent label in Bath working with Latin and Cuban Music, particularly with musicians who were key members of the Buena Vista Social Club. At the same time I was writing a bit about music, cooking and DJ-ing all over the world. I did that for 18years! NY, Moscow, Morocco, Rio, Ibiza, Glastonbury… A key track I used to play was Nitin Sawhney’s Homelands (Joe Claussell Remix) and La Camita by Traffic Sounds (from our album Perú Bravo).
I then moved on to another independent label whose sole focus was producing compilations. I produced compilations of music by Celia Cruz, John Coltrane, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba and many more. Eventually I was headhunted by EMI to look after one of their labels. While there, I signed artists like KT Tunstall and Koop, and worked with Josh Stone. 3 years later I was headhunted by iTunes. Steve Job’s team contacted me saying they were starting a new platform called iTunes and so I joined a team of just 4 people to launch it from absolute zero. I was head of Pan EU and worked across 16 countries with our team.
After a few years Disney Music Group knocked on the door. The boss of Disney music, Bob Cavallo, ex-Manager of Prince and Alanis Morrisette, hired me to be Executive Director of Disney Music EMEA, where I helped launch Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and Jonas Brothers. I started to look for artists in each country to represent Disney and sing in local languages and this way we launched projects like High School Musical and Hannah Montana.
After 18 years of working for music and arts projects for others, I felt I was ready to do what I truly loved and do it on my own. I love Perú, my culture, my roots, our food and our music. I couldn’t believe there was no great Peruvian restaurant in Britain. I always wanted to create a restaurant that respected tradition but was also highly creative and relevant to London. I wanted to show the true Perú of today, with all its colour and flavours and creativity, away from stereotypes.
So with no funds but with tons of passion, I first ran a supper club at my house, starting in 2010, and then another and another until I ended up doing pop-ups of Peruvian food. They proved very successful so I began to build a team from scratch. I was clear that I didn’t want to be elitist, I want- ed my food to be inclusive, not exclusive: Something stylish and fun, delicious and attractive to be enjoyed by everybody. For that reason it had to be in Central London. We spent 2010-2011 looking for investment but it was impossible. I pitched to nearly 300 people. So we sold the house and with the little money we made and my wife’s support I went back to the 300 investors and some of them came forward, especially, ex-bosses from previous companies I‘d worked for, and together we brought the funds needed to start Ceviche. After searching for months for the right location, wearing down 3 pairs of shoes, I found the perfect pitch on Frith Street, right across from my favourite music venue in the world: Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. That same year, one of our signature dishes, Don Ceviche, was named within the Top 10 best dishes of the year by The Sunday Times. This year Ceviche Soho has been voted the 9th best restaurant in London out of 17,000 other restaurants.
A year later I wrote Ceviche The Cookbook, which was an immediate success (translated into 13 languages and selling 120,000 copies) and we also launched our first music album, Perú Maravilloso, on our own Tiger’s Milk record label. We did it because customers kept asking us. You must listen to Lucho Neves and Mambo de Machaguay.
At the end of 2013 we opened Andina. My mum and grandmother are Andinas, ladies from the Andes. They inspired our restaurant in Shoreditch as well as the picanterias – family run restaurants in
the Andes of Perú, full of soulfood and incredible flavours and ingredients. Andina has become a local favourite with its unique take on brunches and cocktails, veggie and guilty pleasure dishes.
Andina The Cookbook has just been published. It features 100 recipes from the Andes as well as creations by our team headed by Executive Chef Vitelio Reyes and Executive Pastry Chef Ana Velasquez. In the book we tell the story of Andina cuisine, our restaurants, picanterias, and
is a homage to the women chefs of the Album: Andina, the sound of the Peruvian Andes Andes who carry our customs and culture. Together with the book we launched an accompanying compilation called Andina. One of my favourite tracks is Cesar Miro’s Todos Vuelven, performed by Los Walkers de Huanuco. I knew this song when I was a kid through Ruben Blades. It talks about going back home, about the melancholy of being away from your country, so it’s my favourite.
In 2015, we opened Ceviche Old St, which is housed in a 1898 stunning building by Sir Thomas Lipton, full of restaurant heritage. We restored it to its former glory and opened it with the idea of focusing on the cuisine of the three regions of Perú: Coast, Andes and Amazon. It also features Ceviche Old St Gallery, with works from over 50 of Perú’s top contemporary artists. Ceviche Old St won Best New Restaurant and Best Restaurant in the UK Awards at the Retailers Awards. It is a great place for great cuisine, fun, music and live events.
Finally, on Peruvian Independence day in 2016 (July 28th ), we opened Casita Andina in Soho, focused on the cuisine of Cusco and Ayacucho, and also with a focus on its beautiful textile culture. For two years running, it has been awarded an AA Rosette Award. All 4 restaurants are featured in the Michelin guide.