Martin Morales is a man of many talents: as well as being an acclaimed restaurateur for his Peruvian eateries Ceviche and Andina, he’s also a DJ, art collector and philanthropist. In a previous life, he worked for Disney and Apple before risking it all on a mission to bring the best of Peruvian culture to the UK.
What made you start Ceviche?
I always dreamt of creating the most fun, delicious and exciting restaurant in London serving Peruvian food and drinks. But as a music producer and art lover I also dreamt that we would be playing Peruvian funk, punk, chicha and cumbia, and showing Peruvian art and contemporary design. It had never been done before and London didn’t ever have a great Peruvian restaurant. And with Ceviche Soho we achieved that.
We were the first contemporary Peruvian restaurant in the UK. Since we opened Ceviche Soho we have also opened Andina in Shoreditch and Ceviche Old St. Both completely different to Ceviche Soho, unique restaurants with different dishes, drinks, design and atmosphere.
Tell us a bit about your background – what led you to starting your own business?
I was a music and tech industry exec, a globetrotting DJ and music producer working with Miley Cyrus, Lee Scratch Perry, The Muppets, Joss Stone, Matthew Herbert, etc but I also love food. I was born in Peru and have been cooking since I was nine years old. I love cooking and so five years ago, after working for Apple and Disney, and the likes of Steve Jobs and Bob Iger, I really felt that I needed to go back to my true love of creativity and craftmanship – working with my hands and becoming a chef and bringing my country’s food to the UK. That’s how Ceviche was born; first as a supper club, then a pop-up and then Ceviche Soho.
Where does the name come from?
Ceviche is the name of Peru’s national dish. It’s fresh, it’s healthy and bursting with flavours. Above all it’s so easy to make at home using ingredients form your local supermarket. I do cooking classes on how to make it: our YouTube channel Martin’s Peruvian Kitchen has over 50 two-minute videos with different recipes and our award-winning cookbook Ceviche: Peruvian Kitchen features many of these too. People are blown away by how easy it is to make. Here’s a video of how to make my favourite ceviche ‘Don Ceviche’:
Which entrepreneur or business has given you inspiration?
Chefs that cook with their hearts, do it for others and not their own egos, make exquisite food which has meaning and that have not had it all handed to them on a plate. Like Doña Maria Zunini – a lady in the north of Peru in Lambayeque, who is representing the traditional food of her ancestors with dishes that date back 3000 years. Teresa Izquierdo also inspired me – a chef who is being recognised only now as being the mother of Afro-Peruvian cooking. Her dishes represent the soul of Peru even today. La Lucila also inspired me too – a lady that had her restaurant named after her until she was 94 and cooked there until she passed away in the highlands of Peru.
None of these ladies had sponsors. None had money. All grew from poverty and started street carts which then became stalls, which then turned into restaurants….which have survived 20, 40, 80 years. Their food was like funk. Full of rhythm, food that tastes like sweet melodies and sounds delicious. Full of street and tradition and improvisation too. I also admire David Chang, Jason Atherton, Mario, Rich and Jeff from the Major Food Group in NYC and Fred Branson, who in my mind is the smartest social entrepreneur in the UK right now and whose work is truly pioneering. He runs the phenomenal charity Amantani.org.uk of which I’m a part of. Please check it out – it’s essential we help the children in their care.
Running a business is tough – what do you do when you aren’t working, and how do you manage the life/work balance?
I have a loving family. I spend time with my wife and kids cooking, playing sports and running. I love DJing and I am a record collector as well as a cookbook collector; a real trainspotter. I collect 7-inch singles of jazz, funk, Peruvian and Cuban music as well as 78s. I do pilates, work out and cook for friends.
How big is your team?
I care for about 170 diamonds, and they care for me. I love my team and we have a lot of fun. They love what they do, and work so hard to present our dishes and drinks, service and style, arts and culture with passion and excellence. We have a saying that came from my grandmother which is “Aqui se cocina con cariño” which means, “Here we cook with love”. Above all we always have fun!
What’s your plans for the future growth of Ceviche?
We will always seek the new, the exciting, the fresh, but always the honest and healthy way forward with food, drinks, arts and design. We are the leader and innovator in our sector and believe we can carry on doing cool stuff. We love creating unique restaurants and experiences at Ceviche and Andina with a focus on excellent food, with excellent ingredients in an exciting environment. We’ve had a ton of request to do restaurants internationally, but I love London and the UK and we love our customers here so I think there is plenty for us to do here.
How do you find the balance of creative ideas vs commercial viability? Has there been anything you really wanted to do which wasn’t commercially viable?
We are a highly creative team of individuals; our main focus is food, but we don’t have boundaries, so we work with food across music, art, TV, cinema and charity and love to blur these and create new experiences. For example we have just launched Ceviche Old St Gallery which features works from 50 of Peru’s top contemporary artists. This has never been done before outside of Peru.
Our focus though is always on our time; what can we do to maximise it, run stunning restaurants that people will love and create experiences that will be memorable. Our restaurants are pure theatre. Our menus are like music albums with hits or alternative tracks, and our service is like a dance. So we focus on making all these incredible. On our YouTube channel Martin’s Peruvian Kitchen you can check out Meet My World, where we co-produced a series of short films with the kids of Amantani and then created an edible cinema event where we served the dishes on screen at the same time.
We collaborated on a digital-food event using data and algorithms to create personalised menus, we’ve done pop ups at Heathrow with Virgin’s Upper Class and we are creating an incredible app with support from Moorfield Eye Hospital to help the visually impaired enjoy our works of art at Ceviche Old St Gallery. Where there is a great idea that relates to what we do, then we always find a way to make it commercial through sales, fundraising or sponsorship.
What’s been your most successful form of marketing and promotion for Ceviche?
Word of mouth. Our food is delicious, unique and packed with flavours, and the palette has the strongest memory. So by creating incredible dishes and drinks, our friends and customers spread the word to others.
What’s been your favourite project to date?
Winning New Best Sustainable Restaurant in the UK and achieving top rating for all our three restaurants this year was a real favourite. It’s a great achievement and a focus or project for us for the last few years. Growing our ethos on sustainability and having that incorporated into every aspects of our work is crucial.
A dream come true for me was writing and launching our cookbook Ceviche Peruvian Kitchen. I won Sunday Times Cookbook of the Year and it’s now been translated into 10 languages and sold in 20 countries. I’m very happy that the work my team has done is recognised.
What’s the best thing about running your business?
I think my team are making the world a better place through what we do. That makes me personally happy. Seeing my team happy and learning, and also seeing our customers have fun and having a say in making these things happen are the best things about running our company.
What’s on your work playlist?
Peru Boom, our new bass heavy album from our own record label Tiger’s Milk Records featuring key Peruvian producers and DJs that have helped develop Lima’s reputation as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of South America’s party scene. Peru Boom shows that those at the forefront of today’s music are carrying the flag for Peru’s musical heritage, bringing traditional and once popular sounds bang up to date, creating a new history influenced by the fast paced and modern city of Lima.
What advice would you give to any budding entrepreneurs?
Make time for yourself. Relax. You need to daydream to be good for yourself, your family, friends and team. This will help you relax and think clearly. Your best new ideas, strategies and protocols will come straight after. Entrepreneurship is a long game in the search for excellence in leadership; if you think it’s a short game, no-one will follow.
Also, trust yourself. I was Head of Pan EU at iTunes when we launched it for Apple. Steve Jobs said: “Trust that the dots will connect in future”. And I have and do.
And finally, what’s your favourite Madonna song?
Crazy For You. It was written by Jon Lind whom I worked closely with when I used to run Hollywood Records Europe. He used to crack me up. He is a crazy guy, partied a lot, was part of the Studio 54 scene in NYC back in the day (when I was still in nappies!) and produced many albums at Hollywood Records for Selena Gomez, Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato. He also wrote Boogie Wonderland. A legend!