Kirkland, Wash. – Emmanuel Villeran is a cook of ambitious aspirations.
A career creating exquisite dining experiences isn’t enough for Villeran, a rising star who is Chef and Co-Owner of downtown Kirkland-based Mixtura.
From his kitchen at Mixtura that is overlooked by the restaurant’s main dining room, Villeran is fulfilling a higher calling. His is to usher from obscurity the cuisine of his native Peru.
“One of the best things my country has is its cuisine and I want to show that to the world, said Villeran.
Few South American chefs with the sort of classical training as Villeran ever have migrated here with a similar purpose. Villeran stands out internationally for his lead role among a growing number of chefs propelling New Andean cuisine, the latest twist in ever-evolving Peruvian cooking.
Mixtura–where interiors are modern but warm, staffers are attentive and informed–is a perfect venue in which to present superlative New Andean meals. Mixtura’s menu is energized by tweaking Villeran made after a recent trip to Peru.
Proximity to Puget Sound and the Pacific allows Villeran to prepare the freshest sea foods, including cebiche and oysters on the half shell–recent versions inspired by Villeran’s trip to Lima this past October. Also within easy reach of Kirkland are wild mushrooms, truffles, fine cheeses, year-around produce and other offerings from the bounties of Washington’s and Oregon’s varied growing regions.
Mixtura’s wine list includes selections from in-state wineries as well as others from Spain, Italy, South America, Oregon and California. Classic South American cocktails, such as the Pisco Sour and Capirinha, and house specialties complete the New Andean dining experience.
New Andean–also known as Novo Andina–is a still-emerging and avant-garde approach Peru’s ethnically diverse and sophisticated foodways.
Awareness of and appreciation for Peruvian cuisine has built internationally among foodies in recent decades. The message gradually has filtered to mass audiences.
The greatness of Peruvian gastronomy lies in a slow fusion among the country’s ancient indigenous foods and those brought by immigrants from Europe, Asia, Africa and elsewhere.
Mixtura is named for Villeran’s take on that fusion. The menu mingles neo-classical takes on duck, chicken, purple potatoes and other pre-colonial Peruvian dishes with selections inspired by immigrant cultures. Afro-Peruvian fire-roasted beef heart, risotto prepared with quinoa and a modern take on a traditional Spanish ham sandwich are a few of Mixtura’s post-conquistador offerings.
The result, said Seattle Times restaurant critic Nancy Leson is “unconventional, improvisational, irresitable.” Taking artistic license–and getting away with it–is what makes this kitchen so great … Be still my beating heart,” Leson wrote.
It is not Villeran’s first success in avant-garde cooking. He is founding chef at the only restaurant in Oregon serving white tablecloth Peruvian cuisine. Villeran introduced Portlanders to New Andean cooking in 2003 with the opening of Andina, which received a “Big Deal” designation in 2004 from Gourmet and “Restaurant of the Year” in 2005 from The Oregonian.
Enjoying the momentum of pioneering, Villeran moved to Washington the same year to begin again. Partners Gus Rivadeneira, Oscar Acosta and Villeran opened 148-seat Mixtura in December 2005.
“I grew up in Peru eating fantastic food every day. In all my years of living and traveling abroad, I never found a restaurant serving meals as good or better as what I had growing up,” said Rivadeneira.
“That is until I went into Andina and tried Emmanuel’s cebiche. And I kept going back, for one remarkable dining experience after another,” he said. It led to the genesis of Mixtura.
That Villeran is “a passionate ambassador” for Peru and New Andean cuisine–as Food & Wine Magazine dubbed him–is no accident.
He took a deliberate route into the culinary arts. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Lima, Villeran worked in the same city at Restaurant Pantagruel under the direction of Chef Cucho La Rosa. La Rosa is credited with introducing New Andean cuisine to the world.
In San Sebastian, Spain, Villeran worked at renowned Restaurant Arzak under Chef Juan Mari Arzak.
Arriving in the Northwest involved serendipity. Villeran, working in Alava Spain at Palacio Samaniego, heard from friends back home in Peru that a Peruvian family in Portland needed a chef for its soon-to-be restaurant.
His latest locale of metropolitan Seattle offers the best of both worlds for Villeran and his vision. “One of the reasons that I know I will stay here is that so many wonderful ingredients are within easy reach. But also, the people in this area are looking for something new and those we’ve met so far seem to really love us,” he said.
Mixtura, 148 Lake Street South, is open for dinner 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday, dinner is served until 10:30. The bar is open 4 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. everyday except Monday. Reservations recommended; call 425-803-3310.