In honor of Diner En Noir (a three-part, all-black attire, dining experience on July 20, get your tickets here), we sat down with Rivera and her husband Noel to talk about the best place to get Peruvian fusion food in D.C., the first dish she fell in love with and why you should always eat the shark if you’re in Colombia.
What was the first dish you mastered?
Maribel: Salmon. I love salmon, all the fish, but especially salmon. I have a connection with the ocean. My favorite food to cook is fish, but I have a passion for Louisiana’s cuisine. I love the fusion between African and French cuisine.
How did you get started in the catering business?
Chef Maribel: It’s a long long story. I have more than 15 years in catering. I love not only the cooking part, but the business overall. I was working as a server, bartender and sharing my passion with the food, cooking. Five years ago we decided, my husband and I, to start the business.
Noel: It was all planned on the couch one day. I was teleworking and she just decided, “I’m going to do this.” And she did it. I was proud of her. She went and got a license and started a business. She took the ideas of different places she had worked. One time I went to pick her up and I noticed, man, people who are hiring these folks for events aren’t getting what they should. She said, “I can do this, this and that,” and she does. She gives those folks a lot more, in my eyes, than what they’re really paying for. She doesn’t let them down. Just by the reviews, you can see, she’s a very hard worker.
What made you want to go out on your own?
Chef Maribel: A lot of things. I would like to share our talents with everyone. I say “our talent” because we are a team. I don’t work alone. I want to show the people how we can bring very very good food, complimentary with excellent service. My passion is not only the food, it’s everything involved in catering.
What is your favorite dish to make?
Chef Maribel: Jambalaya. I have a passion fro African cuisine mixed with French, of course, I have my secret touch.
Chef Maribel: I mix a lot of Latin spices, especially from my town. I’m from the middle of Colombia, in the middle of the mountains. It’s different when you try salmon, but with a different spice. Or Jambalaya or, let’s talk about Colombian food, sancocho or ajiako. It’s different.
Where’s your favorite place to eat in D.C. When you go out, where do you go?
Chef Maribel: Okay! In D.C. I love Pisco y Nazca. It’s Peruvian fusion cuisine, it’s excellent. I don’t have anything but excellent comments to say about each plate. It’s a very good fusion.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re preparing for Diner en Noir?
Chef Maribel: Diner En Noir has a fusion of different cultures. I don’t want to tell you exactly what we have, but you will see Asian, Maryland, French and, of course, Latin cuisine. A mix of different dishes.
For the people who are going to be bringing their own picnics, is there any recipe you would recommend? Something that travels well maybe?
Chef Maribel: I love vegetables and fruit. When you mix these two things, you can create a lot of very good things. Especially the citrus flavors. I love orange and mandarin involved with some vegetables.
Have you every catered for an event like this? One with a secret location?
Chef Maribel: No! [Laughs] We do a lot of social catering, like weddings. Right now, we do a lot of corporate. I love the concept, the whole concept.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Chef Maribel: The hardest part is trying to put everybody in the right place and coordinate everybody. This is the most difficult part because each person has different ideas.
What is the best part of your job, on the other hand?
Chef Maribel: The best part, for me, is when I see the face of my clients. When they say, “Everything is fabulous. I like your service.” That’s the best part for me.
What is one thing you always have in the fridge?
Chef Maribel: Baby tomatoes. I love to use baby tomatoes in a lot of my plates. Not only baby tomatoes, but most vegetables.
What’s one recipe that everyone should know?
Chef Maribel: My mother would say, “Rice, Maribel, rice.” But, what’s simple for everyone is fish or pasta. Pasta is a good compliment with dinner, lunch.
Noel: Something we were just talking about yesterday… Have you ever had shark?
Noel: What do you call it in Colombia?
Chef Maribel: Toyo is shark.
Noel: I know there’s a truck, it’s usually parked in L’Enfant, it’s a West African truck and they usually have coconut rice, which is very common where she’s from in Colombia. Coconut rice with some shark.
I’m into it.
Chef Maribel: It’s smoked shark meat. If you have the opportunity sometime, try it.
Noel: It’s to die for.