On the Line: Renzo Macchiavello of Renzo's A Taste of Peru, Part Two

Family is a recurring theme in our interview with Renzo Macchiavello: influencing his past, supporting his present and inspiring him to excel at what he does best. His expertise earns him gold medals, and here, he offers a few good anecdotes in part two of his On the Line interview. If you missed part one, be sure to catch up here.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
Baby-sitting my 18-month-old daughter, Nikole. I brought her to the beach and had no idea what to do when she cried.

What would your last meal on Earth be?
Steak, medium-rare.

Who's your hero, culinary or otherwise?

My wife, Dawn, for putting up with me.

Tell us about your food-service background.
I worked for two years in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles, where I worked for six years in various hotels and restaurants in Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. In 1993, I graduated from the Los Angeles Culinary Institute under Certified Master Chef Raymond Hoffmaister. I've competed in several professional culinary competitions, winning gold medals from the Chefs De Cuisine Association of California (CCAC) and the American Culinary Federation.

How did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Since I was a baby, I had a big appetite. My family owned restaurants in Peru, and I remember being in the kitchen as a kid. Seeing how rice would start off dry and hard, then become soft fascinated me. I started off as a dishwasher and was really fast with my hands. I moved on to prep cook, busboy, waiter, etc. I didn't like bartending, though.

How did opening Renzo's come about?
We owned a restaruant called Peruvian Grill 15 years ago in Huntington Beach. When that closed, I started catering for friends and family as a personal chef. The Irvine location was an opportunity at a good price. My wife and I decided to go for it before I got older. We opened Renzo's last May.

Do you still participate in culinary competitions?

I did  Celebrity Chef OC last month to benefit Meals On Wheels. I was paired with former baseball player Rex Hudler. It was like Iron Chef, in that we had an hour to prepare an appetizer and entrée using a mystery ingredient–duck. We won for best appetizer: a Napoleon of fruit medley, with blue cheese and raisins over arugula salad with duck chicharron and a balsamic reduction.

Tell us more about the Peruvian ceviche bar.
We use ahi or tilapia, calamari, scallops, and shrimp. To that, we add onions, cilantro, corn, chiles–I use habanero and aji amarillo, a Peruvian yellow pepper–and a side of sweet potatoes. Tortillas never made it to Peru.

What dish would you tell newcomers to Renzo's to try first?
Arroz con pollo: chicken in cilantro sauce and rice. It's our most popular dish.

What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
Mother wanted me to be a Peruvian diplomat. I'm a diplomat of Peruvian cuisine.

What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?
Get in the kitchen and work for a year, and then decide.

What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
In five years, surfing with my daughter in Huntington Beach. In 10 years, owning a few more restaurants.

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