Making Peruvian curry at Cilantro

After realizing that Indian spices paired quite perfectly with Peruvian cuisine, chefs Giselle Mavunda and Nilton Castillo couldn’t help but start collaborating. Inspired by the cilantro, ginger, and potatoes common to both cooking cultures, Mavunda and Castillo crafted a menu that would celebrate the richness of both cuisines. From naan, a favorite Indian flatbread, to a delicious Peruvian lamb curry, the menu features flavors from across the globe. Mavunda explains what inspires the duo and why they believe they’re perfectly positioned to become Miami’s newest restaurant.

What motivates you to want to open a restaurant in the A+E District?

I love dining, and I’m always looking for unique dining experiences, delicious food, and great service. That’s something that I love and want to provide for other people. I love our concept. I personally haven’t been to any restaurant that has fused Indian and Peruvian cuisine. Those two cuisines pair really well together. We want to provide this for the people of Miami. It’s quite difficult to get your restaurant off the ground on your own. I’ve had this dream since I started eating, haha. Always been something that I’ve wanted to do — I mean its been on my mind for at least 15 to 20 years. This would be a great vehicle to realize it.

What experience do you have?

My partner and I are both chefs. We both enjoy dining out a lot. I interned with chef Michelle Bernstein at her kitchen at Michy’s. My partner has opened a few restaurants and is a restaurant consultant. I have my own catering company, so I’m really good at managing food inventory and time management. I’m good at managing large food orders and I make really delicious, heartwarming food. My partner is good at doing back of house sort of things. He has more experience running the actual kitchen and running the dinner service. He’s really good at that and I’m good at keeping things together. I’ve owned my own company for four to five years now. Prior to that, my mom is a physician, so she has a few offices and I’ve helped by working in the office. I’m really good with people and managing different people and personalities. And I’m pretty good at keeping the peace, haha.

What are some of your favorite meal concepts?

One thing that we have is a proper Indian thali, so on it we’re going to have four different dishes. We’re calling it the Cilantro thali. We’ll have one Indian butter chicken curry, then one Peruvian lamb curry, and one palak or mattar paneer. This will be kind of a share plate for dinner with different Indian curries and Peruvian curries. We’ll serve it with naan, an Indian bread, and a rice, but do a Peruvian treatment. While creating the menu, we’ve realized that the two flavors pair very well together. For example, we found that cilantro, ginger, and potatoes were common in both cuisines. Another thing we’re doing is samosas with Peruvian hot sauces. We’re also going to add aji de gallina, a Peruvian chicken to the menu.

My partner is Chef Nilton Castillo and his mother used to make it for him every morning. She would go to the market and get freshly hatched eggs and fresh chicken. He tells me that it has a flavor and quality he hasn’t been able to find it here in Miami, and when he talks about it, it’s just so cute. His eyes tear up and his mouth starts watering. Also, my partner went on a culinary tour all throughout Peru. He was inspired by that trip a lot and brought that to our menu.

How did the two of you meet?

We met at culinary school. We both went to Johnson and Wales University and have known each other since 2009. We compliment each other because we both have skills that the other one doesn’t have. Where he’s weak, I’m strong. Also, he’s an Aries and I’m a Pisces, so that also works, haha.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

Giselle with her family.
Giselle with her family. (Courtesy of Giselle Mavunda)

My grandmother’s cooking. I grew up vegetarian, so anything she would make for me was so delicious. She used to make channa batura, which is with chickpeas and potatoes in this lovely gravy. And it comes with a fried piece of dough, which when you pull it apart it just melts in your mouth. It’s sooo delicious. And she makes something called shukkun, which is very Gujarati, think like a homely yogurt with saffron and elichi, I can’t remember the word for this in English, haha. But besides that, I went to The French Laundry in Yountville, California, and that meal was just one of the meals where you close your eyes, and you take it all in.

And the worst?

Airplane food.

What’s your favorite Miami restaurant?

J&G Grill at the St. Regis in Bal Harbour. It’s one of John George’s restaurants, and he’s one of my favorite chefs. They do a crispy poached egg on top of brioche.