A Southern California native and graduate of the San Diego Culinary Institute, Luis Hinostroza‘s passion for cooking has taken him all over the world – from Alinea in Chicago to El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain and Maaemo in Oslo, Norway – learning from some of the best Chefs along the way. He is currently Chef De Partie at Chef Rene Redzepi’s gastronomic mecca, Noma in Copenhagen.
Since leaving San Diego you’ve staged & worked at Michelin-starred heavy hitters in Denmark, Norway, Spain & Holland. As a young chef and SDCI graduate what has the experience working & traveling your way around some of Europe’s best kitchens been like?
I can honestly say that it has changed my life, actually a couple of times around. I am still living thru it so I am sure there will be more change to come. It’s been an amazing experience. I never planned to be in Europe for so long, it all just happened. I was working at Alinea in Chicago and I knew at some point in my career I had to come to Europe to learn from the Chefs I was idolizing and reading so much about. The original plan was a three-month trip to come and stage at a couple of restaurants and then return to Chicago, and now I am writing this five years later in Copenhagen.
Yes, it has been difficult – new city, new restaurant, new country and new culture. There are always set backs like finding an apartment, the language, getting paid (legal or not), which is all outside of the kitchen. Then you have a different set of challenges inside the kitchen: “the culture of the kitchen” in every kitchen is different and what might be completely normal in one, could be a big “don’t you dare” in another, so it’s important to realize this in the beginning. I have been very fortunate to have made a lot of friends and people have been able to help me along the way, with everything from a couch to crash on to a contact to send an application too.
Tell us about some of the other young cooks doing similar things that you have met along the way? Who should we be looking out for?
There are always people that you meet who make a huge impact both in and out of the kitchen, I can confidently say you will be hearing more in the future from these machines: Dean Stavenuiter (Chef De Partie at The Jane in Antwerp, Belgium), Hugh Allen (Chef de Partie at Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark), Cara Davis (Sous Chef at Restaurant Story in London) and Juan Carlos Reyes Moreno (Chef de Partie at AbAC in Barcelona, Spain).
Noma has decamped to cities around the world, including Tokyo and *Sydney, hosting its insanely popular pop-ups. What are some of your most memorable experiences from the Australian trip?
The most memorable experience from the Australia trip had to be learning from the Aboriginal tribe’s culture and traditions. Being able to cook with products that are extremely rare and precious to the history of those tribes was the biggest gift that I experienced during that trip as an outsider. To be allowed to cook with such ingredients definitely makes you feel welcomed and trusted, that for me was an incomparable moment in my career, which truly made me feel welcomed.
*Priced at $485 per head all 5,500 seats to the Noma Sydney pop-up sold out in four minutes, there was a wait list of 27,000 and 100 staff members of 20 different nationalities took five research trips around Australia to source ingredients for the menu.
What are some of the most important things you have learned working with René Redzepi?
To say it’s challenging working for him is a massive understatement, you really never know what to expect. He is constantly pushing you and doesn’t let people get comfortable, that’s the most exciting thing about working for him. As soon as you feel you have mastered something, and you think you have really understood a dish or a station, he will change things around. He will continue to push you. I see some of the Chefs that have been working for him for years, still running and still being challenged, which means they are still growing. This for me is very exciting and motivating, as I know I will continue learning from him.
As a chef, what motivates you the most?
Spreading awareness about sustainability is without a doubt the biggest motivation. The more I learn about sustainability, the more I realize that vegetable driven cuisine is the way of the future, for both environmental and health reasons. My way to bring awareness to this world issue is to devote my career to vegetable-driven cuisine. I know with this focus, a restaurant would be making a bigger impact in the world than to be another amazing Michelin-starred restaurant. But of course, I will aim for both. So this is what I am working towards.
You have a pretty cool tattoo on your hands, what’s the story behind it?
It’s a clock and 13:15 is the time it reads. It’s a time on the clock that doesn’t really exist, a metaphor about not waiting for the perfect time to do anything. The clock is divided over both of my hands, to express that it’s in your hands to make time to follow your dreams.
What local ingredients are you most excited about working with this winter?
Sea Buckthorn. I consider it to be the passion fruit of Scandinavia. It’s wildly used now but un-ripened is my favorite way to incorporate them. They have a fresh tart level, which is very citrusy. Pineapple weed is a wild plant that’s extremely similar to chamomile, amazing for any infusion. Douglas Fir Pine, a winter favorite, you can smoke with it, infuse it, make salts, sugars, vinegars or oils.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
My dream is to go back home to California at some point, I want to open a restaurant that is self sufficient in every sense of the word. A restaurant that can grow its own food, make its own power and filter its own water. The cuisine will be plant based and bio-diverse. I will aim for the restaurant to have zero carbon footprint, and a design that uses minimal energy, and if so reusable energy only (geothermal, solar and wind). There will be water filtration systems, vertical farming and composting. Everything will be used. I feel this style of restaurant will open a new way of cooking, as it will force us to think differently about the creative process, and add to the sustainable movement.
What are some of your favorite, local cheap eats in Copenhagen?
Both as an adventurous eater or not, 108 is a sick place to eat. Kristian Baumann is the head chef there and he is bringing a good balance between the fine dining side of the Nordic Kitchen and making it more approachable for anyone. At the wine bar you will only find natural wines, perfect for a Sunday night too. Hija de Sanchez by Rocio Sanchez is an amazing taqueria in town, most of the ingredients are imported from Mexico, I know the corn she is getting from Oaxaca and she is grinding and nixtamilizing it herself, for the masa of the tortillas, not even Mexican restaurants in Mexico do this from scratch! She’s also making queso fresco from biodynamic Danish dairy and I dare to say it’s better than the queso fresco that I used to buy from my block in Tijuana.
And finally, any word on where Reneé & the team might be popping-up next?
The world will find out in two weeks time, so everyone has to be patient. The only thing that I can say is that it’s going to be an amazing experience for the whole team at noma.
Find out more about Luis Hinostroza at his CHEF’S ROLL PROFILE.