Venezuela-born chef Jose Luis Chavez Rivera has brought to New York City a new fast-casual concept – Mission Ceviche – seeded in his love for Peruvian cuisine.
Rivera embarked on his culinary journey when he made the life-changing decision to move to Peru to study what he loved – cooking. While working at a sushi bar during his college career in Venezuela, he discovered his culinary talents and found his calling. He decided to move to Peru to study cuisine because he believed the country had the best cooking techniques. Since he is of Peruvian heritage, he realized that moving to Peru would be the best way to perfect his cooking talents while getting more in touch with his family’s roots.
Rivera enrolled in culinary school at Xavier Prado de San Isidro, where he was always at the top of his class. He got invited by a Peruvian gastronomic magazine to spend a week in the Amazon with the Incas, studying their culture and learning about their culinary traditions. Here, his love for Peruvian cuisine only grew deeper.
Rivera’s first venture was a small business called La Magia del Gourmet (“The Magic of the Gourmet”), where he would sell lomo saltado in a local market. During this time, he fell in love with a New Yorker that was doing volunteer work with the Peace Corps in Peru. They both decided to move back to the states, where Rivera dreamed of opening a restaurant.
Rivera’s got his first job in the city at a $1 pizza deli, which “kept him occupied.” However, he aspired to much more than that and began to move up to better restaurants. He then worked at the Tommy Bahama’s first restaurant, where he left a legacy; if you go there today, you can still order his recipe – the Peruvian ceviche. After that, Rivera worked at a Michelin-rated restaurant in the iconic New York Palace Hotel, then known as Michel Richard.
His most recent job before starting his own restaurant was as sous chef at Bagatelle, where he had the opportunity to travel to San Tropez. Here, too, he left his legacy; Rivera traveled the world with his aji amarillo and served ceviche and Nikkei to celebrities such as Paris Hilton. During this trip, Rivera found his current partner, who was then the manager of Bagatelle. They threw around ideas about different restaurant concepts, but Rivera was already pretty set on his idea – to bring Peruvian fast-food to people and give them the opportunity to have delicious ceviche without having to sit at a full-service restaurant.
The ideal situation emerged at the old Gansevoort Market, which had a space open for the remaining six months that it was to be open. Although Rivera’s boss saw this future closing as a challenge, Rivera saw in it a great opportunity; these six months would be like a “trial period” for Mission Ceviche.
Upon opening, Mission Ceviche experienced long lines after a shout-out by celebrity chef Gaston Acurio, for whom Rivera used to work and greatly admires. Like Acurio, Rivera wants to spread the love for Peruvian cuisine. He is now operating his restaurant in the new Gansevoort Market, and appreciates how he is able to “touch people from all parts of the world.” Rivera’s passion for Peru and its culinary heritage really comes across when one eats at Mission Ceviche.