Deep in the Andes mountains near Machu Picchu, Lenin’s grandfather was a gold miner at the height of the Peruvian gold rush in the 1940s. He died of cancer at age thirty-eight: “In those times, when you work in a mine, you go inside for maybe two, three months, and you’re back maybe for one week. They don’t work with no protection, because they don’t know too much about all the kinds of sickness you can get later.”
His young widow-Lenin’s grandmother-had already been selling soups out of a pushcart on weekends to supplement her income from cleaning mansions in Lima, so she stepped up her cooking game, first adding ceviche to her pushcart menu, then opening her own restaurant in the Surquillo neighborhood of Lima in 1970 - a restaurant that would thrive under her management for the next thirty-three years.
Little Lenin lived with his grandmother from age eleven to sixteen, and often helped her out. His grandmother’s restaurant-running routines became second nature to him: “Six AM: Wake up, do the potatoes. Go to meat market, come back, start to do all the breads. Around eleven: the ceviches. So for me it was an inspiration, you know?”
At age sixteen, in 1995, Lenin was sent to join his mother in NYC, who was working as a nanny and a housekeeper. He quickly found a dishwasher job and has remained in the lively NYC restaurant industry ever since, working his way up to top server and manager at some of the finest French and Latin restaurants. Don Ceviche was born as a weekend passion project in 2017 at the LIC Flea & Food Market, and at the Queens Night Market, and has also been running out of a stall in the Essex Market on weekdays since May 2019.
Lenin still visits Peru every year and loves learning about the latest culinary innovations: “The ceviche in my grandma’s time was so simple-it was orange juice, salt, and onions. They don’t put lime. Around 1980, they changed orange juice to lime, maybe pepper.... Ceviches are evolving with the times. So my ceviche is now completely different than my grandma’s was thirty years ago.
My dream is trying to do this Don Ceviche thing here in New York. Then, after that, maybe two or three years, open the restaurant in Lima and continue with the legacy, you know?”