Less than two years after its opening in 2015, Peruvian Chef Jose del Castillo’s restaurant Isolina gained a spot in the top 50 restaurants in Latin America. The restaurant, now ranked 41st in the continent, is located in Barranco, Lima and serves delicious traditional and homemade limeña food. We spoke to José who told us more about himself, Isolina, and his inspirations.
Castillo explained that his love for cooking started with his family restaurant, called La Red, which was created by his mother 35 years ago. He was young at the time, and used to work there with her along with his other brothers. After a while they all went off to follow their own career paths while he stayed there helping to manage the restaurant – he was always more interested in the business side. After the restaurant grew he needed to learn how to cook in order to manage the business in the best way possible, so he started taking classes about 15 years ago, and from there his passion grew.
“That was when I realized I had inherited my mother’s gift and that actually cooking was something I was talented at”
He learned the technicalities in cooking school and the practical side by spending as much time in the kitchen as possible, cooking alongside his mother.
“My mum was really my maestro – she taught me everything I know!”
He credits her for teaching him the skills to manage the restaurant in La Red and also be able to start his own projects, such as Isolina.
There are a few things that people may not know about Castilla, principally that he never wanted to be a chef from the offset – it’s more an idea he came across through circumstance and the need to learn in order to run a business, which then turned into a passion and something he really wanted to pursue.
“I think lots of chefs know from a young age that they love to cook and that they have a talent for it, so it’s something that they focus on right from the beginning. For me it wasn’t like that – it took me a while to realise that cheffing is what I love”
You might also be interested to know that while most people see him as a very friendly, laid back person, he told us that he has a very serious side when it comes to cooking – he likes to put a lot of passion and emotion into his dishes to achieve the best results.
If you’re looking for a great gastronomical experience in Lima, check out this excellent foodie tour of the city by bike here.
While Castillo also manages La Red, his family business, Isolina is a restaurant he created completely for himself, as a personal project. He wanted to create a place where he could focus his passion for cooking and make his own mark.
“It’s an homage to my mother, really – it’s named after her and installs all the same values which she taught me when I was young.”
For anyone wanting to follow in Castillo’s footsteps, perseverance and dedication are key. He told us that being a chef means you have to take on a lot of responsibility – you’re responsible for your kitchen, the staff who work for you and the food you serve, so you must be prepared to put in a lot of hard work and dedicate a lot of time to your restaurant if you want it to be a success.
“Think of your kitchen as a tool – if you respect and look after it well you will achieve better results”
Like most chefs, Castillo has his own culinary heroes and inspirations, but for him, it is more the chef community as a whole that helps motivate him, rather than one single person – they all inspire each other. He explained that they are able to share ideas and advice which is a really great thing, and support and respect each other mutually for the things they achieve. Yet when pushed, he did single out one person in particular who acted as his main inspiration.
“If I had to choose someone who’s influenced the type of chef I am today, it would be my mother. She’s the one who really inspired me and instilled in me the work ethic and values needed for me to get where I am today. She’s who I would call my role model”
In Castillo’s opinion, the Peruvian culinary industry differs from others across Latin America as the cooking in Peru has really developed over the last 15 years and the industry has grown enormously. Not just in terms of the big restaurants, but in all types of cuisine.
“You can find a lot of variety here now, however in Lima especially we are particularly good for seafood, such as Ceviche – The cebicherías here are second to none!”
He also explained how in Lima and Peru in general it’s very common to go to the market on the weekend to buy your ingredients – it’s a custom that they’ve always had. Although there are great supermarkets, Castillo always recommends the markets if you’re looking for fresh, good quality produce for the best prices.
José’s restaurant Isolina, based in Lima, is his most recent project and is a tribute to his mother and his family’s traditional recipes, perfect for anyone looking for delicious Peruvian Food. To find out more you can visit its website at www.isolina.pe, and be sure to see José’s and other expert recommendations in Latin America in TheBesty app.