When Octavio Olivas, attorney by trade, began hosting friends at home for his revered ceviche dinner parties, he didn’t know that it would eventually become his livelihood, with a business known simply as the Ceviche Project. What began as a simple love for the dish and entertaining quickly turned into a moneymaking venture when Octavio, together with his wife, Shannon Olivas, hosted their first pop-up dinner party at The Sidebar at Covell, Los Angeles in 2011 at the suggestion of a friend. The rest is seafood history.
With Los Angeles as their home base, the Olivases have been sharing their love for ceviche across the nation ever since with dinner pop-ups in New York, San Francisco, and finally —drumroll—Houston, with a pop-up scheduled for Sept. 25 at Peska Seafood Culture. The dinners consists of guests eating, drinking, conversing, dancing and engaging as the Olivases cook, host and serve a five-course dinner of oysters, three ceviches and dessert, with corresponding cocktail pairings.
What else do diners need to know? We asked the host himself.
Houstonia: How did the idea for The Ceviche Project first come about?
Octavio Olivas: It started when I was living in New York. I’d host parties with friends where I’d cook ceviche, prepare cocktails, and put on some good cumbia music, and when I moved to Los Angeles, those friends told me I should open a restaurant. Back then I was a lawyer, so then I just started doing these pop-up dinners, and I was lucky to have tons of friends who owned bars, and restaurants and would lend me their venues.
I love ceviche. It also reminds me of my childhood. I’d travel with my dad, go to the beach, he’d fish and we’d make ceviche by the beach. I also lived abroad for a while, in London and then New York and one eventually starts missing those things from home.
You never make the exact ceviche twice, so what kind of ceviche do you like best?
Something very fresh. Right now, I love spot prawn ceviche from Santa Barbara. It’s sweet, crunchy and delicious.
How have the dinners evolved through the last five years since you started the project?
The main change is that my recipes now are refined and have more technique. Along the years I’ve been learning more –I’m not a chef and didn’t go to school for it—so all my recipes are more complex and balanced now. Now I marinate all fish for different amounts of time, etc.
What other business ventures have arisen thanks to the success of the project?
This year, we took rented a space in Hollywood for seven months and did a long-term pop-up with a ceviche bar and amazing cocktails. It was a very amazing project. It went from January to July. This year we’re also going to be at Los Angeles’ Taste of Mexico festival, and are working on opening a restaurant, for which we’ve been looking for places around Los Angeles.
We get a lot of opportunities through social media. When I did a pop-up in Mexico City, I did it in La Trainera. The owner then messaged me over Twitter and said they were opening a restaurant in Houston, Peska, and wanted to do a pop-up here. We’re super excited. Peska looks amazing.
What keeps you believing in your vision?
I believe when you have passion for something and you’re dedicated about ingredients you use, and the quality of your food, that passion and determination transfers to the customer. In a way that’s what people like. It’s always like a party at my house, but in a different restaurant. We’re super excited to go to Houston, and finally check out the food scene there.