Uma’s Alejandro Saravia brings Peruvian perfection to the heart of Perth

Sue YeapThe West Australian
VideoFollow Alejandro Saravia's recipe to make the perfect traditional ceviche at home.

Peruvian ceviche offers the perfect balance between acidity, spice and fresh and beautiful seafood.

“It is what makes Peruvian ceviche so regarded around the world,” says Alejandro Saravia, executive chef of Uma at the Pan Pacific Perth.

Saravia, who moved to Australia in 2006, is credited with bringing Peruvian cuisine Down Under. He launched his A Taste of Peru Project in Sydney in 2007, then his restaurants Morena in Surry Hills and in 2014, Pastuso, in Melbourne, where he now lives.

Uma opened in January and Saravia has been clocking up the air miles, often spending two weeks at a time in WA getting to know local suppliers and customers and introducing his cuisine to a different audience at the recent Fish & Sips festival at Coast Port Beach.

“Peruvian cuisine is all about how we balance the spice of our chillies, which are not overly spicy — they are very mild — and the herbs that we use,” says the chef, who has worked in European restaurants including The Fat Duck.

“We don’t use many spices — we only use four: cinnamon, star anise, cloves and cumin. That’s it, you will not find any other spices.”

Uma’s ceviche.
Camera IconUma’s ceviche. Credit: Sue Yeap

The food and beverage ambassador for the Gippsland region will next year open a Melbourne CBD restaurant, Farmer’s Daughters, championing the produce of the region. But he’s equally passionate about the local produce he is using at Uma, working closely with Fins Seafood to source seasonal species, and is staking his claim for WA’s best steak with his introduction of aged Gingin grass-fed beef to the menu.

While goldband snapper is the star of the ceviche peruano with “tiger’s milk”, charred sweet corn and caramelised sweet potato, Saravia won’t be using snapper during breeding season in June-July.

“We have created a breeding calendar for the species we use and slowly we are going to be increasing the variety of species that are included in the calendar,” he says.

“We stop using snapper in those particular months and replace with another variety in the market that is not in a breeding season.”

Everything on the menu is locally sourced, apart from one type of potato and four chillies, with the aim of eventually growing those at the hotel.

Uma’s seafood platter.
Camera IconUma’s seafood platter. Credit: Sue Yeap

“We only import four chillies as a paste from Peru (aji Amarillo, aji mirasol, aji panca and rocoto), which we will be growing in our rooftop garden once it’s up and running,” he says.

Saravia says part of the appeal of Peruvian cuisine is the clean, easy-to-digest flavours. “It is very healthy in approach to cooking and the utilisation of ingredients,” he says.

Ceviche is the starting point for discovering Peruvian cuisine, versions of which are now found in high-end restaurants around the world.

In the food of regions beyond South and Central America, such as the South Pacific, it is often made with coconut milk.

The Uma menu was updated this month to include Jalea Real, a local seafood platter with a difference using WA crystal crab legs, WA rock lobster ceviche and Albrolhos Islands scallops.

Making ceviche at home isn’t hard, according to Saravia.

Tiger’s milk is the marinade used to create traditional Peruvian ceviche using lemon juice, lime juice, chillies, fish offcuts, coriander roots, eschalots and fresh red chillies.

“It is very important the ingredients are very, very fresh, don’t use any pre-squeezed lemon or lime juice in the mix,” he says.

“We keep all of the bones for stocks, we keep all the offcuts to emulsify our ceviche dressings, so instead of going and using xantham gum or using an artificial emulsifier, we use scallops and fish traces to make it creamier.”

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