Justin Hamam and Renzo Canepa are the men at the helm of the gorgeous little Peruvian Restaurant in the suburbs at Glenelg called Mestizo Cocina Peruana.
These two passionate chefs are part of the ever-growing trend of great restaurants in the suburbs of Adelaide that are making their mark in the industry, with more and more diners moving away from dining in the city. We sat down with them to hear their story, discover their passion for bringing the taste of Peruvian food to Adelaide, and to chat about all things hospitality.
If you dine at Mestizo, you will be welcomed with open arms and introduced to the world and tastes of Peruvian food. Their dishes are not from one region in Peru, but instead take you on a journey of the three key and distinct regions of Peru, from the Coast, to the Andes, through to the Jungle. Their dishes have influences from all the different regions and historical parts of Peruvian cooking.
Peruvian food is relatively new in the Australian dining scene. It’s becoming more recognised and renowned in Europe as a food with great cultural background and heritage.
Having the opportunity to open their own restaurant is something they are immensely proud of, and Justin says there is “no one else I’d rather be doing this with, or who I’d want to do this with. The environment of a kitchen is stressful and intense but we love what we do”.
“Not many people get the opportunity to work at what they love, and do it with one of their best friends”. Justin says, in meeting Renzo, they had similar values and beliefs about cooking and working together was “The start of a friendship that is really quite special”. As the years went on they had the opportunity to open Mestizo together, which has been a career highlight.
They have also been fortunate to have great staff who are more than employees, they’re friends, and these relationships have helped with their success. Mestizo is just the beginning for the two, and they hope to one day expand and have a city restaurant to their name, helping to educate more people about the wonderful tastes of Peruvian food and culture.
“I couldn’t see myself doing anything else than this” Renzo says, coming from the Glenelg Pier Hotel where he met Justin many years back.
Justin trained Renzo and they quickly became friends. Justin comes from a big family and food has always been part of the celebration from a young age, both on his Mum’s and his Dad’s side of the family. Food has always been the centre of his life, and he has fond memories of his grandparents making gnocchi at the kitchen table and loves the creative aspect of cooking.
Renzo grew up in Peru and studied hotel management. He worked in the US at the Four Seasons before coming to Australia where he has called Adelaide home for the past 11years. He wasn’t sure where his cooking career would lead him, but it was at a time that Peru was growing and starting to educate the world about Peruvian food.
He has discovered more along the way and gained an appreciation over time which developed in to his passion for Peruvian food.
Renzo then went on to work at The Lion Hotel for three years, whilst Justin stayed at the Pier and then headed overseas to Canada for a time. But over the years, they always got together to prepare ceviche and that’s how Justin was introduced to Peruvian food.
“We had a dream of having a ceviche bar” says Renzo, and started doing Peruvian nights on Tuesday at Sabai Café just down the road from where they are now.
This gave them a testing ground for their methods and these nights proved very popular. From there they started looking for a venue to open a restaurant.
The current venue became available, and having previously been used by a florist, they became tradies for 3 months to get the venue to where it is today. Justin said “it was a great experience, and from there they fell in love with the place”.
“We cook for people to enjoy. Food should be about having a good time”.
Renzo has noted a change in the industry to diners seeking a more relaxed style of dining, but still wanting high-quality food. He sees the move away from fine dining establishments as a key change in the industry. Justin sees an evolution in the Adelaide food scene through new bars and younger people giving it a go in the industry. They both think that one of the main challenges faced in the industry here is that Adelaide is a relatively small market, but they are enjoying the changing trend to suburban dining that is influencing the landscape of the Adelaide dining scene. On the weekends, they get diners travelling to their restaurant from across town which gives them a real buzz.
Consistency, day in and day out in food, service, and the complete package is key to staying at the top of the game. “You need to keep it up and keep that high standard”. They have a lot of repeat customers, and Justin states it’s nice to hear people feel like they are at home when they come in to their restaurant.
“You can’t drop your game off, not even just a little bit”.
If you want to stay at the top if the game in a competitive and small market, consistency is key and keeping up to date with the current trends. Both Renzo and Justin enjoy trying new things and going and eating in new places to see what is current and new.
They both actively follow some of the world’s best Peruvian food Chefs to stay current with the trends including Gaston Acurio. He has been influential in the Peruvian food scene in bringing the cuisine of the coast, the Andes and the Jungle together, and Justin loves the fact that there is no boundary, it’s up to us what we can do in the kitchen.
They also admire people like Jock Zonfrillo and what he is trying to achieve in bringing native Australian plants into a restaurant environment, and working with the Aboriginal community to ensuring these native flavours are not lost.
They look up to that type of innovation, in bringing the old with the new.
For those starting out in the industry Justin says “It’s important to really love it and enjoy what you’re doing. There can’t be a mentality where money, or what your earning outweighs the passion and love for what you’re doing, otherwise you won’t be successful. Take any opportunity to do some travel, get out there and learn and listen. Be like a sponge, you can learn from anyone you work with”.
Both Renzo and Justin exude passion for what they do and educating diners about Peruvian food. They’ve been running cooking classes to teach the art of cooking Peruvian food to others, and hope to be involved in more festivals like Tasting Australia.
And the ceviche, oh my…… Wow!. Just sensational!. Get down and check these guys out. Open Tuesdays to Sunday, you won’t be disappointed! Mestizo Cocina Peruana