Diego Oka of La Mar on Peruvian Cuisine, Miami, and the Perfect Ceviche
Diego Oka is excited about bringing his skills to Miami.
Chef and prolific restaurateur Gaston Acurio is launching La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental in December. The upscale restaurant will feature novo-Andean and Asian-Peruvian cuisines.
Diego Oka, formerly of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana in San Francisco, will helm the kitchen. He has worked with Acurio for more than a decade.
Oka is excited about living in the Magic City. "In Miami, I think there's an abundance of authentic cuisine to fit any mood, and the Latin food movement is bigger than other parts of the country. I can learn a lot about the different Latin food cultures in this city," he says.
Short Order talked to the chef about his guilty pleasure, his love for cooking, and an authentic recipe for ceviche.
Short Order: How has your background influenced your cooking style?
Diego Oka: I was born and raised in Peru, so all my life I was surrounded by amazing flavors and ingredients. Although my family comes from Japanese descent, we ate Peruvian food at home -- and a lot of it. My parents always enjoyed trying new restaurants, so I was submerged in the culinary world from a young age. I also was deeply inspired by the best cook, my grandma.
What will be La Mar's must-try dishes?
I recommend trying [the] ceviche sampler, which features three types of ceviche; La Chalanita, a sampling of our three favorite causas -- chilled potato dough with different toppings such as meat crab, octopus, and tuna tartare; the octopus anticucho, which are traditional skewers with octopus, Peruvian black olives, and potato; and the lomo saltado.
What do you hope to achieve as the new chef at La Mar?
My goals are very simple. I want to serve great food made with excellent ingredients in a fun environment with fantastic service. I want to show Miami what Peruvian food is all about and also share my Peruvian culture.
How is San Francisco's food scene different from Miami's?
I'm very new to Miami. I just moved here a month ago, but I've already discovered some unique restaurants and the amazing culinary movement growing in Miami. I've been eating a lot -- 23 restaurants in the past month -- which is a great way to understand the city!
San Francisco is more sustainable product-wise. I think it will be a great example to follow here in Miami, and at La Mar we will try our best to practice that philosophy.
What is the most important lesson you learned working under Gaston Acurio?
To love my country, our traditions, and the bounty of ingredients available in Peru.
What kitchen gadget or utensil can you not live without?
What herb or spice can you not live without?
Ají amarillo (Peruvian pepper).
Can you give us a quick and easy recipe for ceviche?
With the freshest fish you can find: Add salt, some Persian lime juice, rub the aji limo (depends how spicy you like), add red onion julienned (after chopping, wash it three times), brunoise celery, chopped cilantro leaves, and a pinch of garlic. Chill it on ice and serve with choclo (Peruvian corn) and boiled sweet potato. Enjoy.
When it comes to food, what's your guilty pleasure?
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