Interview with La Mar's Chef de Cuisine Dennis Arvizu

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Team with Gaston Acurio
La Mar kitchen crew. Chef de Cuisine Dennis Arvizu is second from right. Photo courtesy of Dennis Arvizu

La Mar Cebichería Peruana, on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, will celebrate its third birthday on September 25. Live music from a Criolla band and complimentary shots of Pisco Sour will be served up for all dining guests for this shindig. Reservations are recommended if you plan on eating at a table; the lounge will be come as you are.

La Mar’s Chef de Cuisine Dennis Arvizu caught up with Bay Area Bites via email interview while in the midst of planning for the birthday. La Mar has a new menu with lower dish prices, and is meant for tapas style sharing. Signature Peruvian dishes as cebiches, anticuchos, causas and lomo saltado are part of this updated menu. Arvizu said of the updated plates that, “Aji Amarillo and Aji Panca bring the Peruvian essence to every bite.”

The East Bay resident is originally from San Diego and had food leanings at an early age. “I grew up going across the border to Baja California. I remember standing in long lines waiting for my morning tacos. Nothing beat a hand made tortilla, and fresh salsa. This was usually the routine before heading out to sea on fishing trips with my dad. We’d catch fish, clean them out and try the meat right on the boat. Every fish had its own flavor. These trips led to my curiosity of the culinary world.”

Arvizu has worked at Mariposa in Coral Gables, L’Ecole and Rosa Mexicano in Manhattan, and staged for two summers in Mexico. He attended UC Santa Cruz, where he met his girlfriend of over six years, Mariana, who is a Bay Area native. The two remained friendly when Arvizu decided to finish college in Southern California. “After graduating from the University of San Diego, I attended The French Culinary Institute in New York City. Next I ventured off to South Florida and got a feel for Caribbean cuisine and introduced to Peruvian cuisine. I moved to the Bay Area in July of 2008 to work for La Mar.” The chef plans to travel to Spain in the spring of next year.


Dennis Arvizu and Mariana Sanchez in Napa. Photo courtesy of Dennis Arvizu
Dennis Arvizu and Mariana Sanchez in Napa. Photo courtesy of Dennis Arvizu

Where do you source ingredients for the restaurant?
We work closely with Monterey Fish Market and Royal Hawaiian to maintain the highest level of quality. Our Peruvian ingredients are harder to source than most other foreign ingredients. We import all our bases from Peru. Due to the novelty of this cuisine in the states, Peruvian products are limited.

Tell us about the restaurant’s new Lonchera “on the go” menu from La Mar’s café:
Our goal with the café is to capture the essence of La Mar’s flavors in a to-go package for customers. “La Lonchera” (the lunch box) consists of a Peruvian sandwich, a choice of a side salad or house-made chips and salsa, and an Alfajor (cookie).

What are your favorite food & drink spots?
I’m a fan of tapas, in a more casual environment. In Oakland, there is Barlata, with an extensive menu. Their gambas al Ajillo are spectacular. In the city there is LaLoLa Bar de Tapas, with a smaller menu. I can never pass up their patatas bravas. On weekends, I go to the local Taqueria Los Gallos for home-style Menudo.

Guiltiest food pleasure?
Homemade tortilla chips and salsa made in a molcajete.

What is your favorite meal to have with friends and/or family?
Growing up, my father and I always cooked outdoors over a wood-fire grill. One of the favorites was “Pescado Zarandeado,” which is a whole fish butterflied, marinated in chiles and spices, grilled and served family style in the center of the table.