Christopher Cramer of Panorama: Interview, Part One

​This chef has been trying to fly under the radar, but we're outing him. Christopher Cramer, a Providence Johnson & Wales grad who has worked for numerous hotels around the country, has been the top toque at Panorama, Sonesta Bayfront's only restaurant, for six years. "I spent five years working in D.C.," he explained. "It's very sophisticated, food-wise. But South Florida was my first exposure to Latin flavors."

Panorama focuses on Peruvian fare, a type of cuisine that Cramer believes is rising in popularity. "People aren't really aware of it, but they're in need of something new." He invited Short Order over for a tasting of his "seasonal overhaul," wherein he expanded his Nuevo Andean offerings in conjunction with a renovated lounge/dining area on the pool deck. Panorama offers the region's most incredible view of Coconut Grove and the sunset from it's eighth floor sky lounge, so it made sense to try it out. "Our big focus is appetizers to fill a niche in the neighborhood," he explained. "That way people can taste their way around the menu."

How does this Irish chef know his way around Peru so well? It doesn't hurt that he has a Peruvian wife, for starters.... 

New Times: So how did Panorama become a Peruvian concept in the first place?

Christopher Cramer: There wasn't any restaurant identity. The former GM jokingly said, "We're gonna go to Peru and you're gonna learn to cook Peruvian cuisine," then the president of the company made a joke about, "So I hear you are going with [the GM] to Peru," I figured I better first learn where Peru is! 

We went to Lima and stayed at the Sonesta there. Spent a couple of weeks there with chef Rafael Piqueras (one of the top 10 best young chefs in the world). He gave me the fundamentals of classic dishes.

So your wife didn't teach you the basics?

No. Her mom has taught me more than Monica has! The best way to learn it is homestyle.

What's something people in America don't necessarily know about Peruvian cuisine? 

The number one style [there] is Chinese. It's amazing! It's like Chinatown in San Francisco.

And what would you consider some of the essential dishes?

Aji de gallina [a creamy chicken stew], lomo saltado [sautéed beef tenderloin], causa [mashed yellow potato dumplings]... The dishes are mostly savory and come from three distinct regions: coastal (seafood), mountainous (meats) and jungle (exotic fruits and vegetables).

What would you say are some ingredients commonly found in Peruvian dishes?

Aji (peppers), corn, potatoes for sure. You know, there are 4,000 documented varieties of potatoes in Peru.

I had no idea!

Yeah. There's a potato museum in Lima.

Are there other Peruvian restaurants in Miami you feel are authentic? 

There's a lot. I wish I got out more often. But I do get a lot of feedback from my co-workers. There's El Gran Inka. El Chaman in Kendall is supposed to be well known and they do a good job. But we do things a little differently. We consider our cuisine Nuevo Andean.  

What are some of the dishes we'll be trying today?

Anticuchos. It's traditional street fare. Meat on a skewer. Cau cau de conchitas: bay scallops with aji. Camarones: poached shrimp. Spoons of lobster mango ceviche with papaya and tuna Nikkei. Causa, that's a grilled yellow potato cake with yellow peppers and lime. Tricolored fingerling potatoes with yellow pepper and cheese sauce. Corn and cheese soup, wontons with shredded and hand-pulled chicken...

Nice. You know the readers are going to really hate me right now...

Panorama at Sonesta Bayfront Hotel 
2889 McFarlane Road, Coconut Grove

On Monday, we'll talk about his inspirations, his background, and roasted garlic ice cream.

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Riki Altman