Christopher Cramer Interview, Part Two

Cramer turns up the heat on his Peruvian creations.
Cramer turns up the heat on his Peruvian creations.
Photo by Riki Altman

Here's Part 2 of our interview with Panorama at Sonesta Bayfront Hotel's chef Christopher Cramer. You can read the first part of the interview here.

New Times: You have a repeat award winner on the menu.

Christopher Cramer: We've done well in Taste of the Grove. Won the Best Taste Award for four years for our tempura shrimp, aji raviolis, and lobster chupe (soup).

Three influences that, culinarily speaking, got you to where you are today?

Neighborhood. We were the only Irish family in an all-Italian neighborhood, but we were kind of adopted. It was good, especially on Sundays. That was one of my first hooks onto food as a child, watching the family -- all of them in so
many ways, shapes, or forms -- work all day for one big Sunday dinner. It was lots of foods I probably would've never been exposed to -- rabbit and all different things.

And then there are some of the chefs I've worked with: Danish, British, and Italian ones all taught me a lot of different things.

Then there would be Rafael Piqueras and James Berckemeyer, who mentored me and got me my start in Peruvian cuisine. 

What is the most important advice to impart to a new chef?

Always cook for your tastes.

Describe your food in five words.

Tasty, (hopefully) exciting, simple, casual, refined. The Sonesta concept is "Food is art." They push to go with the art concept. 

Any ingredient you don't like working with?

I'm not a huge fan of liver, but I love pâté and foie gras.

Most unusual food combination?

Roasted garlic ice cream. We did that in D.C. We had an ice-cream maker -- we'd try anything!

If you could have one last meal, what would it be?

Maine lobster. You can't take the New Englander out of me!

What's always in your refrigerator at home? 

Besides beer? [Laughs.] A lot of Peruvian ingredients: peppers, corns, steaks for the grill... I'm a condiment freak. Every door is full of weird mustards, capers. I have a wide selection of coffee creamers...

What's your favorite brew? Is it Peruvian?

Not a chance. My mainstay is Miller Lite. And I love Blue Moon and Newcastle.

How about Peruvian cocktails?

If I had my way, we'd serve only Peruvian beers. Cusqueña. I'm not much of a cocktail fan. But we came up with new cocktails for our party. I think one of them was the Borealis, with Don Q rum, blue curaçao, orange juice, and pineapple juice. 

A traditional Peruvian drink is, of course, the pisco sour. And don't cheat on it when you make it. Some places have been known to use a powder instead of [fresh] egg whites. The drink uses raw egg whites, then simple syrup. Some people use a mix instead. But best is to use fresh lime juice, simple syrup, pisco, egg whites, and create your froth in a blender. You let the head settle, then top it with bitters or cinnamon. In Peru, they usually put cinnamon on it. 

How important is the notion of value when dining out?

Very important. Especially now. Sonesta priced their small plates so you don't have a $25 to $30 commitment on an entrée. For only $7 to $15, you get to sample the cuisine. 

And if someone was to dine at Panorama for the first time, what would you recommend he or she try?

Our signature dish is our ravioli. And we have our own style of Peruvian bouillabaisse with swordfish, mussels, clams, and shrimp. Then there's the arroz con pato, a traditional Peruvian dish. The duck is marinated for 24 hours. 

Anything you'd like to add?

I'm superexcited about the menu. You have to take a chance to have people know us. Even if they don't know the cuisine, they won't be disappointed. It may look intimidating on the menu, but they'll be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, Part 3: A recipe from the chef.

2889 McFarlane Road, Coconut Grove
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2889 McFarlane Rd.
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