Chef Ricardo Zarate is alive and well, having made it through an 18-month stretch that saw him lose his entire restaurant empire and, in large measure, disappear from the Los Angeles restaurant scene. Munchies managed to talk to the quiet man about his decision to pull out his restaurants entirely and, in his words, start from scratch.
The free-flowing thought piece puts Zarate at the center of a whirlwind of acclaim and media attention. After being named Best New Chef by Food & Wine in 2012, based on the strength of his genre-defining Mo-Chica, the Peruvian native quickly goes on to establish a four-pack of concepts before things begin to take their toll. Within months of each other, Paiche, Mo-Chica’s new location Downtown, and Blue Tavern all shutter, while Zarate also loses control of Picca, his Pico Boulevard stop, which remains open today.
To hear Zarate tell it, things started to fall apart once the money rolled in. Suddenly there were investors and expectations, people wanting things from him that he tried but couldn’t give to them. And so, with expectations too high and stress levels through the roof, he walked away.
Of course, some of this is in contrast with things that (now former) partners have said about Zarate’s exit over the years. In 2014, Bill Chait — then the principal behind much of Zarate’s work — told the LA Times that the chef had simply stopped showing up for work, and was perhaps more interested in building a brand than being a chef.
Either way, Zarate seems on better terms with himself and the industry these days. After a run of pop-ups he’s secured the former Comme Ça space in West Hollywood, and has a cookbook to boot. Just don’t expect him to pick up where he left off and hope another half-dozen restaurants in the next 18 months. This time, Zarate says, he’s only in it for the passion.