If you want a role model for lightning-fast career ascendancy, look no further than Peru-born chef Ricardo Zarate. In 2009, he launched his first solo restaurant, Mo-Chica, in a food court near the USC campus in Los Angeles. Two years later, he was named “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine and opened Picca in Beverly Hills—it’s now a semifinalist for a James Beard Award. We tracked down the culinary phenom at The Taste to talk home cooking, favorite dishes and the future of food.

MADE MAN: You’ve been called the father of modern Peruvian cuisine. What are some of the staples of Peruvian cooking?
I’m from the coast, from Lima. We are very strong in seafood. I come from a town that is very traditional, so I like to elevate those traditional dishes to the next level.

I think cooking is history, so first you have to watch your mom. Everything comes from family, and that’s why we have to respect food.

MM: What’s your favorite dish to make?
RZ: I have a few of them. The oxtail from my restaurant Mo-Chica, the Colita de Rez. Another favorite is the Sangrecita Morcilla, a crostini with quail egg, brie cheese and jalapeno salsa. From my restaurant Picca, I like the Anticucho Black Cod and the Chicharron de Costillas, a crispy pork ribs crostini with sweet potato puree, feta cheese sauce and salsa criolla.

MM: How is your first restaurant different from your second restaurant?
Picca is more like a Peruvian version of tapas, and I put some Japanese flavor in there. Mo-Chica is more traditional Peruvian food.

MM: Do you ever watch any of the reality cooking competitions on television, and would you ever compete in any of them?
I wish! I mean, my life is all about cooking. So, who wants to challenge me?

Zarate’s Unagi Causa Roll at Picca. See more tasty bites in our 7 Seas of Seafood gallery.

MM: If a guy is used to picking up take-out every night, how would you encourage him to begin cooking?
I think cooking is history, so first you have to watch your mom. Everything comes from family, and that’s why we have to respect food. Also, look at the food movements—in the eighties it was the French, then Italian, now the Japanese. Cooks are combining different ingredients from different cultures for new, exciting flavors. So they can try to do that.

MM: What direction do you see food headed in the next 10 years?
In the future, there will be more humanity. Right now, it’s about using more ingredients from different cultures. I just saw Ludo Lefevre making Thai food. I think it’s good. Understanding different cultures is very important. Through the food, it’s a good way to know people and to know cultures, and it will maybe change the world.

MM: By the way, congratulations on having Picca named as a semifinalist in the 2012 James Beard Awards!
Thank you. I hope I win!

You can follow Zarate on Twitter here.

Photography: Stephanie Nelson