From Southgate to Soho via Peru
The kitchen at Chotto Matte, one of London’s trendiest restaurants, is overseen by Jordan Sclare — a former Maccabiah competitor
Within 18 months, half a dozen Peruvian restaurants have opened in London to near-universal acclaim.
Peruvian food, with its call for indigenous yellow chilis, and rare varieties of corn and potatoes imported from 5,000 miles away is an unlikely food to become the toast of London's chattering classes. More surprising is that one of the capital's Peruvian hotspots is in the hands of a nice Jewish boy from Southgate.
Jordan Sclare, who presides over the kitchen of Chotto Matte in Soho, is no stranger to the pages of the JC but in the sports, rather than the food pages.
"I played basketball for England in the Maccabiah Games," explains the 33-year-old chef, who still sometimes shoots hoops at JFS on a Sunday.
We talk about his journey from North London to deepest Peru and back again, following a piquant and colourful lunch of tiraditos and a rainbow-coloured assembly of finely-pared raw vegetables so fragile Sclare dubs it "paper-thin salad".
This is authentic Peruvian fare, but not quite as those familiar with the mainstream menu staples know it. There are Peruvian aji chilis, but there are also Asian flavours and influences in every dish. That's because Chotto Matte specialises in Nikkei cuisine, the fusion brought to Peruvian kitchens by Japanese immigrants who have descended on the country in waves over the past century.
Which is how Sclare came to Peruvian food - by way of Nobu Park Lane, whose eponymous owner is also infatuated with Peru and adds Nikkei touches to his Japanese cuisine.
Sclare's journey started in Southgate. "I've always loved cooking for the family - I scrambled eggs for them from the age of five - and I've wanted to be a chef since I was 14," he says. "I had my first catering job at the place where my barmitzvah reception was held. It was my work experience and they let me be a chef for two weeks rather than a dish washer - dealing with eggs and making sandwiches."
Hedging his career bets, Sclare also kept up his training for the Maccabiah, and went on to represent his country in Israel. "During the Games I secured an apprenticeship at the Savoy, and wasn't going to sacrifice the chance of being a professional chef to pursue life as a basketball pro."
It was a tough experience keeping up with one of the world's biggest kitchens while also attending catering college.
"My mum saw the opening in a paper and took me for an interview with Anton Edelmann. They had 110 chefs working in a kitchen on five floors; I worked with William Curley, the famous pastry chef, and other great guys I still respect today."
Yet it was Asian rather than classic French food which captivated Sclare. "I always loved eating Chinese - the mix of sweet and sour was so different from the flavours I worked with at the Savoy, and what I liked to eat was what I wanted to make."
However, he put that ambition on hold to prove he could survive a week with Gordon Ramsay at his three-Michelin-star restaurant in Chelsea: "I ended up staying three and a half."
When he dined for the first time at Nobu Sclare knew he had found the right venue to hone his ambition: "I worked there for five years and ended up leading the kitchen when the restaurant was voted seventh best in the world."
But although he had an inkling of the flavours, which had enchanted Nobu during his time in Lima, he had to go to Peru himself to learn how to prepare authentic Nikkei cuisine - the owner's vision for Chotto Matte.
"Healthy eating is paramount to that vision, so it's not just about using citrus and the right amarillo chili," he explains. "Our raw bar has got bigger and bigger, our tempura menu has shrunk, and we are using ingredients like miso, sake and soy sauce which are missing in Peruvian food and adding a certain elegance which comes from the Japanese."
Chotto Matte has a sizeable Jewish clientele, many of whom have followed Sclare from place to place: "Not all are that adventurous, but they appreciate the fact I will tailor the menu for their personal taste."
Paper thin salad
Favourite dishes with Jewish customers include the Dragon Roll - a maki roll of rice and seaweed stuffed with salmon, decorated with overlapping scales of avocado - and the paper thin salad, a dish of outstanding beauty featuring shaved beetroot, daikon radish, carrot and other colourful veggies. They are marinated in a dressing that's not only packed with nutrients but also sweet and sour, a reminder of the sweet and sour chicken from his local Chinese which got Sclare slaving over a hot stove in the first place.
Jordan Sclare’s paper thin salad
Preparation: 20 - 30 minutes plus 4 hours marinating
Cooking: 2 minutes
40g moolis (white radish or Daikon)
60g butternut squash
40g beetroot juice
30g boiled quinoa
40ml lime juice
15g washed sliced red onion
20g physalis slices
20g quartered cherry tomatoes
l Cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces. Plunge into boiling water for 2 minutes, drain then immediately put into ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain and pat dry with kitchen towel.
l Thinly slice the beetroot, moolis and butternut squash, 2mm thick.
l Place into the beetroot juice and leave to marinate for 4 hours. The juices that run off will make the beetroot dressing.
l After the 4 hours, remove the vegetables from the juices. Pour some of the beetroot juice over the quinoa, reserving the rest for dressing. Allow the quinoa to soak up the liquid.
l Lightly pat the vegetables dry and arrange on the plate.
l Sprinkle over the quinoa.
l Sprinkle around the red onion, coriander, sliced physalis, broccoli and cherry tomatoes.
l Mix the reserved beetroot juice with the lime juice to make a beetroot dressing — adding gradually according to taste.
l Blitz the remaining physalis to a purée.
l Sauce the plate with the physalis purée and beetroot dressing.