Originally a fashion designer hailing from the capital city of Lima, Peru, Margot Blondet has always been passionate about creating beauty. After spending some time in France, she decided to leave fashion behind and return home.
When her best friend opened a culinary school with Le Cordon Bleu, Margot saw it as a golden opportunity to pursue something she enjoyed while spending time with a beloved friend. After studying and working for nearly two years, word got around of her delicious food. People started asking Margot to come to their house to cook, all while she continued to take classes at the culinary institute. Becoming a chef wasn’t her first path, but it became clear this was a world in which she could weave together her love for cooking and making beautiful things.
“It’s a lot of thinking. Every dish needs to be pretty, not just good,” states Margot Blondet, Executive Chef and Owner. She spends the next hour describing to me all that truly goes into designing the perfect experience when dining at Salar. “It’s a theater” she states. No detail is too small.
“Coming to a restaurant is not only about the food, I think it’s about the space, where you’re sitting. It’s about the plates you are being served on. It’s about the lights, music, the service, the smell.” Salar Restaurant and Lounge is located in the ever-popular Oregon District in Dayton. The area is filled with many eateries but one glance inside Salar and you won’t be able to deny the unique elegance and charm.
In 2005 Margot elected to relocate herself and her children to Florida for a much-needed change. She had only planned on staying just a few months, but life had a surprise in store for her. She reconnected with her high school sweetheart, and they picked up their relationship and fell back in love. When he was offered a job in Ohio they moved together and got married.
Margot did some catering for some time when she met the owner of Sidebar. She was asked to help open the restaurant here in Dayton and one in Columbus for him. Although that establishment closed, the owner of the building was so impressed with her work, he offered the space to her if she was interested in opening a restaurant of her own, and that is how Salar was born.
Salar, which means to salt, or season, was opened in 2013. “I love salt. Salt is the essence of life.” Margot points out the many pictures of salt around the restaurant. Most of the pictures were of the salt mines in Peru, which Margot has visited herself. The salt mines are still active, as they have been since the time of the Incans. Chef Blondet has many varieties of salt in her kitchen, all with a distinctive flavor of their own.
When asked what she loves most about cooking she tells me that she is not the most patient person. Delayed gratification is a difficult thing, but with cooking, you get rewarded straight away. She goes on to say, “You feed somebody, and they try it and they like it. You see their face and its immediate.” Feeding someone a good meal is satisfying, “The restaurant came after the food by logic.”
The food at Salar isn’t strictly traditional Peruvian cuisine if there ever was such a thing. Margot describes Peru as “the catalog of the world.” Everything from their culture to their dining has been influenced by immigrants from all over the world. “We have a lot of Chinese immigrants. A lot of Italian immigrants… We were conquered by the Spanish too.” They also have influences from Africa, and the Middle East. In addition to all the cultural influences, Peru is known for its over 90 microclimates. Microclimates are pockets of weather conditions that differ from atmospheric conditions nearby. These variations mean the food available locally is entirely dependent on what part of Peru you reside in. “I haven’t even eaten all the food”, Margot chuckles.
The food at Salar Restaurant and Lounge is all house-made. “If you want French fries, you have to peel the potatoes.” Margot is dedicated to sourcing the best ingredients in the market, as flavor and quality are priorities for her. Even the cocktails are made completely from scratch. “I put a lot of love. This is like my second house”.
Owning a restaurant has not come without adversity. In 2017 Margot was awoken with a phone call letting her know her restaurant had caught fire. “I thought it was a prank at first.” Sadly, this was no joke. This was a very painful process for her, especially because she felt responsible for her employees. It took 9 long months to get the restaurant open again. As difficult as that was for her, Margot’s mindset looking back at the whole experience is impressive. “It was an opportunity, as much as it was a bad thing, in the end, once you pass it, you see it as a good thing because everything is brand new. You build something better.”
Through the course of the remodel, Margot gave special attention to every aspect from the Peruvian art adorning the walls to the stunning chandelier hanging in the Pisco bar that Margot put together with her own hands. Pointing to an alluring waterfall feature, she informs me that it’s not just for aesthetics, but also doubles as an air purifier. Everything in the entire space has been chosen with much thought, all intended to cultivate an atmosphere and give the diner much more than a delicious meal. “That’s the whole mentality here that we try to do. From him (pointing to the gentleman greeting the customers at the door) with a big smile to welcome you.”
Margot gives me a tour of the restaurant, and somehow each room is more lovely than the last, ending at the intimate outdoor patio space. I marvel at how she has pieced together each component of the experience together like a puzzle. “The food is just one piece of it. The food is a start. It wouldn’t be possible without all the other elements.”