Chef Juan Chipoco is a hard man to pin down. His self-made success as a restaurant owner and chef is the kind of story that inspires people. In less than 10 years, Chipoco — along with his friend and partner, Luis Hoyos — has gained an ardent following throughout South Florida for serving some of the freshest, most flavorful ceviche and Peruvian dishes at the growing number of restaurants they have opened throughout the area, including CVI.CHE 105 Downtown Miami, CVI.CHE 105 South Beach, Pollos & Jarras and Wasska Lounge. The powerhouse team is currently working on opening a new CVI. CHE 105 in Aventura, as well as kicking off a collaboration with South Beach institution Yuca, aptly named Yuca 105. While it may seem like this is far from where it all began, it’s also a return to how it all started.
In 1988, at age 25, Chipoco moved to Miami from Peru. “To be honest, I’m blessed. I come from Peru. Like everybody else, I immigrated by myself: no people, no friends, no family. I started from the bottom washing dishes to line cook, prep, busser, server, then as a chef,“ Chipoco says.
It wasn’t until 2007 that he and Hoyos purchased La Cibeles, a small Cuban restaurant in downtown Miami. That same space would later house their first venture: CVI.CHE 105 Downtown. They initially tried to make the Cuban menu their own, but met with little success. After a year of struggling, their situation became so dire that the landlord was willing to forsake months of unpaid rent as long as he got his keys back.
“I called my mom and said, ‘Look, I have to do something. I want to start doing Peruvian cuisine. I want to start doing your recipes,’” Chipoco remembers. “I talked to my mom, ‘Do you remember how you make this and that? I remember you put some garlic and onions....’” His mother chimed in, reminding him about the vinegar. “I called every single day to ask a few things.”
The Perfect Mix
Ceviche is one of those dishes you can find in one form or another on just about every menu in town. “Miami is already Peruvian,“ says Chipoco. “People from Miami are people from Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Indian, Chinese, Japanese. Because we have that influence, our food is influenced between Chinese, Japanese, French and Italian.”
This confluence of cultures makes for a heady mix of flavors, aromas and textures. The menu at CVI.CHE 105 features traditional Peruvian dishes and modern takes on that country’s staples. Likewise, Pollos & Jarras (chicken and pitchers) — opened in 2012 right next to the downton flagship — focuses on Peru’s deep culinary roots. But this eatery specializes in grilled and roasted meats, from rotisserie chicken and steak to anticuchos — pre-Columbian skewered meats. Wasska Lounge was set up between the two restaurants. The premium bar features specialty cocktails as well as wine, beer and spirits, and guests can also order small plates there. The various menus play to the rich Asian influences in Peruvian cuisine with array of oriental spices, tiraditos and maki.
All of Chipoco’s restaurants are a celebration of flavor, so many of the dishes easily pair with a classic Pisco sour, among other drinks. Chipoco even included his grandfather’s drink on the menu: The Papa Alfonso Chilcano is a simple but classic mix of Pisco 105, ginger ale and lime.
Frequented by locals, celebrities, socialites and tourists, all the restaurants are known for their lively ambience. The downtown location has become a de facto post-game destination.
“We sat last Sunday 1600 people...I was trying not to put stress on myself. I want to just be relaxed and connect with everybody,” says Chipoco. “I was working as a host...I was in the kitchen rushing food, talking to the employees...Everybody was on point.” And that boundless energy is the key ingredient that makes it all come together so well.