Growing up in Peru, Chef Ricardo Valverde’s fascination with cooking started when he’d cook for his three brothers. He’d make simple dishes like tomatoes and onions with turmeric on baguette with a fried egg that they enjoyed. He also benefitted from watching his mother cook. Valverde’s family moved to Canada and he started out as a dishwasher in a fish and chip restaurant before working on the line as a cook. He says, “To me it was fascinating to see something I put out being enjoyed by people!”
Canadian Chefs: Ricardo Valverde, Ancora Waterfront Dining and Patio, Vancouver B.C
Chef Ricardo Valverde combines the influences of his Peruvian roots with the bounty of West Coast seafood at Ancora Waterfront Dining in Vancouver.
Chef Ricardo Valverde
The true culinary awakening for Valverde happened when he first learned about fine dining. His mind was “blown” by what he saw and realized that it was what he wanted to do with his life. He went to culinary school at Dubrulle Academy and his first practicum was at Diva at the Met. He says, “ I went there in 2004 and they were at the peak of their best. When I saw the plates they were putting out and their intensity, I fell in more deeply in love with the whole idea. It was really very professional. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that anywhere else.” He also learned that putting in the hours was the only way to progress as a young chef at Diva.
His second formative experience was working in Frank Pabst’s kitchen at Blue Water Café. He worked his way up the ladder there and cooked with a group of people that had a strong influence on him as a chef. Valverde enjoyed the high skill level of the people around him and the healthy competition that existed in the kitchen despite finding the experience stressful at times.
Part of Valverde’s approach to the dishes at Ancora was taking classical French and Peruvian dishes and adding his own twists to them. Valverde has been influenced by the multicultural nature of the city in how he creates his food. He also wants to ensure that he responds to his customers and gives them dishes they’d like to eat. He says, “I’m not really trying to make people eat things that they’ve never tried. I’m not trying to educate anyone. To me, a chef is also a businessman, so you still have to sell something to people.”
An example of Valverde’s respectful approach to the diners in his restaurant is the care he takes with vegetarian dishes. He has found that many vegetarians and vegans feel short changed when they go out to eat so he challenged himself to create interesting dishes for them. One such dish is the “vegetarian ceviche.” Valverde marinates tofu in lime juice, water and oil so it soaks up those flavours and then chars the tofu with a torch. He adds roasted mushrooms and charred artichoke hearts and finishes the dish with a cilantro-pumpkin seed dressing.
The creative process for Valverde starts at home. He cooks with his fiancee and many of the basic dishes they’ve created have ended up in a modified form on the menu at Ancora. He has all of the spices and ingredients he needs at home so that’s where he starts formulating ideas.
Scallop and prawn ceviche tiradito style, purple yam, red jalapeño, aji amarillo crema.
Seared East Coast scallops - braised pork belly, English pea tarragon broth, Bearnaise sauce
Overall, the chef has a good relationship with his suppliers, although finding Peruvian ingredients isn’t easy. He’s managed to work with some local members of the Peruvian community in order to establish reliable, reasonably priced sources for his special ingredients.
While Valverde doesn’t entirely subscribe to the farm-to-table concept he does work with farmers to source specific ingredients. He explains, “There are certain things I prefer to get from farms like my salad greens. I do work with a farmer and help him plant the seeds for the greens in the spring. It’s nice to see that stuff coming up.”
When it comes to his kitchen team, Valverde wants cooks who are willing to put as much effort into their jobs as he does into his role as a chef. Loyalty and hard work are other traits that Valverde looks for out of his cooks. He adds that he always tries to lead by example so he arrives before the kitchen staff and leaves after them.
The major motivation in Valverde’s career comes from a desire to make his family proud. He credits his fiancee for her understanding and support. Both Valverde and his fiancee have found success in their respective fields and that mutual success spurs him on. The chef also credits his parents for their sacrifice in bringing the family to Canada and supporting him. He says, “Even though they hadn’t envisioned me becoming a chef they supported me financially. They loaned me the money to pay my school fees but I had to pay it all back to them. They didn’t give me a fish, they taught me how to fish.”
The interview upon which this article is based was conducted via telephone on Sept. 14, 2015 and recorded at that time.
Haida Gwaii pan seared halibut, 'Forbidden rice' chorizo paella, Peruvian corn, baby squid, pimenton emulsion