Nearly 3,000 miles separate South Carolina from the multicultural country of Peru. But you don’t have to book a flight to experience authentic South American flavor. At Ratio in Elgin, Chef Javier Uriarte is bridging the divide by sharing the varied and distinctive gastronomy of his native land.
Likewise, his journey to becoming a culinary professional has also been a long one. As a teen living in Maryland, he got his first taste of food service by working as a cook to help finance college. Becoming a chef was not even on his radar. But the more cooking he did, the more he realized just how much he enjoyed it.
“I first knew I wanted to become a chef in 2014—right after I moved to South Carolina from Maryland,” he said. “I was at a time in my life where I could either finish school or give the chef world a spin.”
He took the leap, trading school for an on-the-job education in Columbia-area restaurants. Overcoming cultural and language barriers and his lack of formal culinary training made it even more challenging. But Chef Uriarte’s determination landed him in the kitchens of Motor Supply Co. and, eventually, Hendrix where he served as executive chef. With the opening of his tapas concept, Ratio, Chef Javier realized his dream of restaurant ownership—an impressive feat considering he is just in his early 30s.
His remarkable fortitude and reputation as a skilled, innovative chef have led to yet another achievement: a place on the 2024 roster of South Carolina Chef Ambassadors. As one of three accomplished chefs who will represent the state’s culinary scene, he will spend the coming year sharing his culinary knowledge, perspectives and experiences with the dining public.
In this Q&A, Chef Uriarte reveals more about his approach to cooking and aspirations for his tenure as a South Carolina Chef Ambassador:
Who or what were your earliest culinary influences?
“My main influence, apart from my Peruvian culture, is my mother. She always cooked for us when we were little. Unfortunately, I was a bit of a picky kid. But I feel this eventually helped me appreciate food and my culture even more. It almost feels like I am gaining back all those years when I wasn't super sure about food.”
What makes being a chef in South Carolina so unique?
“Being a chef here really makes you understand a ‘home-cooked’ feeling about food. In South Carolina, there is this wholesome feeling about cooking and feeding people. Of course, I also learned to love different ingredients: grits, collard greens, peas, good pork and other kinds of products. I think my favorite, though, is the abundance of seafood. Being from Peru, I am inclined to love seafood and was excited to have great seafood here to work with.”
Do you have a signature dish?
“Ceviche—a traditional dish from Peru but one that incorporates many ingredients and cultures into one dish. It is a simple marinated fish dish that starts with lime, ginger, celery, garlic and is finished with thinly sliced red onion and cilantro. It carries a lot of emotions for me as I loved it so much as a child. Now, I can eat it every day if I wish.”
What is your approach to developing dishes at Ratio?
“At Ratio, I aim for a unique fusion of Peruvian cuisine and various other foods from the South as well as dishes I enjoy overall. But the focus is mainly on giving Peruvian/Asian flare to our food.”
What do you hope to impart to the dining public during your time as a SC Chef Ambassador?
“I look forward to sharing the full greatness of South Carolina’s culinary scene. I want to emphasize how we aren't just about Southern food. We have become a true melting pot of all cultures and cuisines.”