Martin is a newcomer to Melbourne but has been cooking for 14 years in Mexico and Spain. He loves welcoming diners into his Richmond restaurant, El Atino, and sharing Latin American flavours with them. This summer he is setting up a weekend pop-up cevicheria in the restaurant which will trabsport you to the coast of Huanchao, Peru, as fast as you can say I’ll have a Pisco sour with that, please.
Hi Martin. How did you become a chef?
I don’t have any chefs in my background; I don’t have a family of chefs or anything. What does happen in my house is a lot of entertaining. That might explain why I like hospitality and working in this industry. I was just looking for things and I found this and I found it very easy and it was very natural to me and I loved it.
I studied in Mexico. I’m from Argentina but I studied in Mexico and lived there for 20 years. I started my career there and I liked it. I just started cooking and I loved it. I’ve been cooking for 14 years.
What made you come to Melbourne?
It’s my fourth country and my third continent. That’s one of the reasons I chose this career because you can do it wherever you go. I’ve been in Argentina and Mexico, Madrid in Spain and now here.
It’s very important for me to share our culture and the ingredients and the way we do things. Even if I do things my own way, we always certain use Latin American techniques and ingredients we want to show people here. Alfredo, my business partner and brother-in-law, and I came up with this idea and thought it was cool. So I was in Spain and I came here and I’ve been here for a year and a half and the restaurant has been open a year and we are doing well. We’ve been working hard to try to introduce these ingredients and flavours to Australians and Melburnians and that’s one of the missions of the shop as well.
You have classes as well?
Yes, we have classes. Well it’s more like a demonstration class. It’s the only night of the week where we do traditional food because I am always twisting stuff. We pick a theme for the classes and I respect the traditions as I show people how to do it. There are some tricks in the kitchen maybe you don’t know at home. They are fun nights.
People love to learn all those insiders’ tricks. But when you learned to cook in Mexico, what’s the apprenticeship like? A lot of the chefs I speak to here have had a very European entry to cooking.
I studied all cuisines because I studied for five years, but the techniques and the process, the way of doing things nowadays in Mexico is to still preserve very Spanish methods like soaking the chillies, making the moles using mentatos and molcajetes, we use these in the restaurant.
Australia would have been quite a cultural shock in terms of food.
I did take time to try to study and understand how it works. I haven’t seen a lot of Australia; I’ve been in Melbourne. I have been observing and trying to find out the ways and how people react to different ingredients and what are the most popular items and the most popular restaurants. Learning about all that gives me a big picture of the venue I wanted to have when I opened a restaurant. So I took a little bit of that but always trying to use flavours and the spiciness of my style of cooking. It’s very important to get known so that people can trust you and then you can do whatever you want to. They need to know that you know how to cook and then you can do whatever you want. That’s how we do it with the cooking demonstrations. You might like it a certain way but this is the way it’s meant to be. It’s a big job to understand customers. I have an idea of what I can use. Finding ingredients has not been easy but there are good importers; we import stuff from Mexico and from Peru. We say that we do Latin American cuisine but it’s more that we choose the ingredients and the techniques and then we try to deliver Australian food with a Latin American twist.
And the cevicheria? How will that work?
The idea is that El Atino will run the cevicheria which is a place that makes ceviches and cocktails. It’s all seafood and fish. So we are going to set up a stand down the front of the restaurant and take fresh ingredients and make everything à la minute. We are going to do the classic ceviche with red snapper and the ceviche mixto with seafood and fish and then we’re going to do tiraditos where we change the shape of the cut of the fish and we marinate it on the Peruvian chillies; we have two different ones. And then we’re going to do Mexican prawn cocktails with sweet sauce and avocado and jalapeno. They are very nice. There will be tostados as well. And then we’ll play and see what people want and shape and change it. It will be available every weekend over all summer.
What is it like being in Richmond?
In the beginning we opened early and closed after lunch service and we found that Richmond businesses were heading towards night service. So now we are opening a little bit later and sacrificing a little bit of the breakfast service during the week by opening at 9am and then close at 3.30pm. We reopen at 5pm and close at 9.30pm. We are putting a lot of effort into night service. Our brunch service on Sundays is very strong. That’s why we tried to create this new idea of the cevicheria so that we build new strands and get more people in.
So you want people to come in and discover more about your food and allow you to take them through some new flavours?
I think what you can find here is always something new. We have a huge respect for ingredients. We do everything fresh every day. We do everything from scratch. The only thing we don’t do in the restaurant yet is bread, but apart from that we do everything. You will feel that. There will always be a Latin American flavour. The idea is to learn and share how to use the ingredients and you can take them home and make your own. It’s not that there is chilli only for one thing, it’s for a lot of things. We think when we create plates, ok let’s show them how to use this in different ways.
I am just doing traditional, actually I don’t like the word traditional, because you can’t change tradition because then its not traditional. I prefer classic. Then you can tune the classic stuff, change it. We don’t do traditional. I’m against rules so if I find that something has to be served on a certain way I always want to change it. And that’s what you’ll find on my menu.
366 Bridge Road, Richmond