Yachay means “exploration” in Quechua. This concept baptizes one of the gastronomic projects of the Peruvian chef Jaime Pesaque -located in Ica- and perfectly defines the vision of this chef. Curious, tireless and determined. His is a world that we will never tire of exploring, made up of formats such as 500 degrees, Sapiens, Mad Burger (a hamburger venture born in the pandemic, which now has its own location) and the award-winning Mayta, its center of operations.
This 2022 has been a great year for the chef and businessman. Precisely Mayta, the first restaurant that opened more than a decade ago (they moved to a new location on Avenida La Mar four years ago) was recognized internationally, reaching 32nd place in The World’s 50 Best ranking, the most prestigious culinary list. in the world, and, on November 15, it surprised all of Latin America with the number 9 position of the 50 Best Latam. It is there where his imagination flies high, and flies free. At Mayta, each dish is a complex combination of flavors where the product is perfectly combined with technique and the avant-garde.
Mayta’s tasting menu consists of 12 dishes that represent a journey through the mountains, jungle and coast. Through different ingredients from each region, different flavors, textures and ways of cooking or preparation are explored. From a dish where they use 98% of the carrots through different preparations, to a delicious tunta pre-dessert and tunta and chincho ice cream. This experience can be carried out with a specific pairing that ranges from artisanal vermouth to coffee.
Pesaque, attentive to diners, does not lose sight of the fact that the main thing on a day-to-day basis is directing his group of collaborators to provide the best possible experience. After well-paced service and a wide variety of dishes, the chef sits down at our table for a calm conversation about this hectic – but exciting – moment in his career.
—What did it mean for you to enter the ranking of The Worlds 50 Best, a few months ago?
Motivation. I think it is the consequence of a lot of work in the last 15 years. It’s not like this has happened to us fast, it’s been a long road. We never look for it, really. We didn’t say to ourselves: ‘let’s get into this’.
“What was the goal?”
We are happy so that the public is happy too. That’s why it suddenly took so long, it’s a consequence of a very long job. Obviously, having recognition motivates, but at the same time that it motivates, there is a responsibility to fulfill, you have to live up to it. We are a small embassy of culture and we must represent it as such, right? At the end of the day, after this, the fence is going to be higher and we have to be at that height, accompany this with decisions and an adequate service, polish absolutely everything to measure up.
—When you introduce Mayta to the diner, what can he expect from the overall experience?
A display of the Peruvian product and a concept. We are telling something that has content, creativity and fun. We also want them to have fun, to have a good time.
—The environment goes hand in hand too.
Exact. We want to show products, but we don’t want to be teachers either. What we want is for them to see these products, the display of creativity, the wide range in the pantry that we have and for them to see something different, so that it is difficult to compare ourselves. We don’t want to be compared, we want to be unique, we always try to be better every day.
—Mayta is almost 15 years old, what was it that encouraged you to bet on this restaurant as your first project?
This is what I do, right? Before opening Mayta, I spent about 8 years working for various sites. Now, I think I was young, I don’t know if it was time to open something or wait a little longer, but sometimes opportunities don’t come twice and I decided to take it.
—You have projects that are different from each other, but united by some principles…
I believe that all the brands we have have very different and defined concepts, in which we are always concerned with the product. Mayta is the mother and base of everything, but I am an entrepreneur, I like to make restaurants, make people have fun with the concepts and have a good time. I like to generate work with what I find fun.
—Looking at the path you have traveled, what is success for you?
Success is being happy with yourself, with what you do and what you have around you. I think it is that, beyond work and achievements, success is being at peace with yourself.
—Do you consider yourself successful under that definition?
I consider myself lucky, because I have a family, I have three daughters, we are united, healthy and happy. I wake up every day happy to go to work. I don’t know if I’m successful, but I feel privileged. I work long hours, I start at 7:30 am and finish at 11 pm, but I go to work happy.
-How is your day?
I get up early, at 6 am, I leave my daughters at school and I go to 500 degrees to work. There I organize my day, my meetings, I have everything that is not the service until 11.30 am Then I go to Sapiens and organize everything for a while. Afterwards, I come to serve Mayta from 12 noon, 12:30 pm to 3 pm or 4 pm. Sometimes I have meetings and I join here to continue with the night service, at 6 pm, or sometimes I make time to go home for an hour, kiss my daughters and go back to work and I’m here until 11 p.m.
—What is the engine that moves you to continue betting on gastronomy?
It was a way of life I think, a way of expressing myself, of motivating myself. I have never been good with studies, but I felt good at this. It was a way to get up every day, a motivation to feel useful and be good at something. That, little by little, is being fed, you are working on it, you are seeing the creative part, the discipline. It is a race that gave me discipline, before it was not.
—Talking about these lessons that the world of gastronomy gives you. Looking back, what do you think are the most valuable lessons you take away with it?
The value of the team, of the human being, of the collaborator, of the friend. The most beautiful thing that I have taken with me is learning that without a team, we are nothing. We are just ideas, but if you want to make them concrete, make them tangible, you depend on them. That is the message that I take with me and it is the most beautiful thing that has happened to me, because making a team is not easy. Having a team is very nice, but also a responsibility, because they are watching what step you take, what continues. You have to know how to lead and that is something that is also learned.
Why is the team important?
Because in the end we are dedicated to hospitality, so you have to feel that you are well cared for. You have to have someone who serves well, who can read the diners and recommend things, who guide them. In the kitchen, it is sought that it is cooked rich and everything is taken out on time. In the end it is a chain that has to be well tied up, we depend on each other.
—This edition of The World’s 50 Best has marked a milestone in some way, what do you think is coming for Peruvian cuisine?
There are several paths. One is to continue making Peruvian cuisine and then continue trying to explore the pantry that we have and be able to bring these products to more people through different kitchens. And I mean Peruvian cuisine in all its forms because it can be haute cuisine as well as casual, traditional, Creole food. I believe that all those who want to bet must continue to grow. I believe that haute cuisine continues to have a future and we must continue to evolve, we must continue creating, growing, advancing, I believe that this never stops.
—Why are prizes like the Peruvian Summum important?
Because we are the gastronomic capital of Latin America, a country that has one of the most important pantries in the world. I think that this deserves to have some awards in which all this is staged and valued, that all this living culture is celebrated.
—What was the reason for this Resilience Award that was given to you?
It was an honor for me to receive that recognition. I will not deny that I did a very strong job, we worked very hard with the whole team to leave with a brand, move on and retain the team. But I also don’t think we did something very different from the others. That’s why when I received the award I said it was for a lot of people. I can’t deny that we work extremely hard. Today I turn around and tell myself that we did it very well, but I think that many did it that way too. I was recognized for some reason. There was a discussion table with some specialists, they determined that and I feel very grateful.
—All the achievements that you have been reaping can point to people seeing you as the next great chef of Peruvian cuisine, do you feel that way?
There are people who can see it that way, but I have been in this for a long time, it’s been a 24-year career. I have never worked to receive any recognition or to be seen in a certain way, I have always done it for myself, my team and to serve my clients. All this has happened over time and after many years, but it doesn’t move me back or forward. I feel privileged and I feel very good. If they believe that, they make me feel really proud because, furthermore, I feel that it is not a recognition for me, but for my country and my team and that makes me feel very good.
—Finally, there is a typical question for every cook, but one that is acquiring new nuances with the passing of time. Why is cooking so important to us?
It is a meeting point, it has no color, race, religion, it has absolutely nothing. It is a healthy and beautiful meeting point for all Peruvians. It is in these times when we realize that it is what makes us all proud and it is the point where we are all happy.