Kevin Uy on studying culinary arts in Spain, working at Central in Peru, and opening Viajé in the midst of a pandemic
Kevin Uy was on the perfect path to fulfilling his culinary dreams. The 26-year-old chef had finished his master’s course from the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastián, a city renowned for its cuisine and gastronomy. For his internship, Kevin traveled to the Andean mountains to research its rich ingredients and flavors. Afterward, he was offered a permanent position at Central, a Peruvian restaurant that has been ranked the best restaurant in South America by the prestigious World’s Best 50 Restaurants.
Of course, Covid does not care if you are working tirelessly to pursue your dreams. It disrupts plans and lives indiscriminately. In response to the pandemic, Central, like restaurants around the world, closed their doors. With no clear idea of when it would be safe to go back to work, Kevin took one of the last flights out of Lima. Back home in Manila, the young chef started the takeaway food service Viajé. Drawing from his culinary experiences around the world, Viajé promises to bring adventure on a plate.
“I am actually still employed by Central to this day, but the pandemic has delayed my return to their kitchen,” Kevin shares with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. “Viajé was born so that I could create my own opportunities despite not being in Peru, so I can share what I’ve learned to the Philippine food scene.”
As long as he could remember, Kevin hadn’t actually wanted to be a chef. In fact, as a child, he wanted to be a lawyer.
“But it turned out I hated reading long articles and being confined in one place,” Kevin says with a light laugh. “Then I found cooking to be something that kept my hands busy and my mind sharp. I realized the kitchen is where I wanted to be as early as the sixth grade. It set me apart from the other kids in school. It kind of made me a weird kid. But it didn’t affect me. This was something I was truly passionate about.”
Searching for opportunities that would challenge him and allow him to hone his craft, Kevin found himself studying in the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastián.
“This is so much innovation going on in their food scene, spanning from experimental pintxos to three-Michelin star restaurants,” the young chef says on his education and experiences in the culinary capital. “Being alone in Spain taught me so much about my personal and food philosophy, the things I value, the things I treasure. All of that I would never have realized if I didn’t move away.”
Despite all that he learned in Spain, he knew it was too early to come back home. There was so much more to learn and discover. Still interested in exploring the global culinary landscape, Kevin was led to the culturally rich and agriculturally diverse valleys of Peru. And, with the school’s contributions, he was not only able to meet his idol, but actually work directly under him.
Virgilio Martinez, who won Chef’s Choice Award at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 ceremony, is the head chef at Central. But before he allows anybody to even step inside his world-renowned kitchen, they must prove their dedication and passion to food and the culinary craft.
For his internship, Kevin worked as a researcher at Mil, Martinez’s restaurant in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Over 11,000 feet above sea level, near the capital of the ancient Incan empire, it is a hub for Andean culture and ingredients.
Soon after, the young chef was offered a permanent position at Central.
“I jumped at the opportunity without a second thought,” says Kevin. “It was a dream come true, working in proximity to my culinary hero, alongside some of the best chefs in the world. I reveled in the chance to learn and grow from the best.”
“Central, to me, is unforgettable. The restaurant is what I believe all restaurants should aspire to be: innovative and sustainable, whilst showcasing the culture of Peru to its fullest extent,” he continues. “The special culture starts from the top because that is what Virgilio, as well as his wife Pia, who is a great chef in her own right, embody with their staff. In my book, Virgilio is the best chef in the world, not only for what he was able to do for his restaurant, but also, more than anything, for the country of Peru. They opened the world’s eyes to how great their cuisine can be, which is what I ultimately want to do for the Philippines.”
Like Magellan, Kevin took the long way round from Spain to the Philippines, passing the rich lands of South America. Unlike Magellan, Kevin finally made it back home. With his position at Central on hold, and most flights grounded, due to the health crisis, Kevin brings the flavors of the world and the thrill of adventure straight to your home.
“Viajé is a manifestation of my experiences traveling, eating, and learning from all over the world,” says Kevin on his takeaway experience venture. “This is a way for me to do what I love in a way that will help me make financial contributions to my family.”
It is impossible to pinpoint the exact cuisine of Viajé. Kevin serves traditional Peruvian roast chicken called pollo a la brasa, as well as Japanese yakiniku burgers, Segovian-style cochinillo, and classic, Spanish callos, among other dishes. It is to be savored and shared, with generous portions fit for a family meal.
“Viajé was born to serve people the type of food they would otherwise only have been able to try abroad,” he adds. “The food I cook is reminiscent of the happy times in my life, and I would love to share that with people. That is what Viajé was born to do: create not just delicious food, but happy memories for people to share.”