Gastón Acurio (Lima 1967) wants to make Peruvian cuisine famous around the world. It may be his political upbringing. His father is a former senator and minister who insisted that he studied law, but he secretly enrolled a cooking school. But the truth is that his skills have turned him into a real ambassador of Peruvian gastronomy. Since the opening of Astrid & Gastón in 1994, he has run 34 restaurants and managed a staff of 3000 employees, although today he sees himself as an ideologist and not so much as a chef. In Barcelona he is known for opening the Peruvian restaurant Tanta. During his latest visit to the city to present the book The revolution of Peruvian cuisine, published by RBA, he talked about how food contributes to the development of the countries and communities. We had the chance to interview him.
My duty is to vindicate the work of the people who have made this possible
There is no doubt Peruvian cuisine arouses the interest and appetite of many. Peru won the ‘First Culinary Destination’ award at the 2015 World Travel Awards. Should we pay special attention to it in some kind of way?
This is the right time and conditions are more favorable than ever. There are more and more Peruvian restaurants: cevicherías, Nikkeis, etc. With such a diversity, it would be nice to educate people on the origin and the differences within Peruvian gastronomy. In Peru, there is everything from, for example, Jorge Muñoz’s Pakta –one of the Adrià brothers’ restaurant— to more traditional proposals.
How do you think your work has contributed to put Peruvian cuisine on the international map?
My duty is to vindicate the work of the people who have made this possible. The truth is that thousands of Peruvians have been adding to the work of a previous and misunderstood generation who were not aware of what they had on their hands. New restaurants are opening at a rate of three or four a day, and that’s possible thanks to those who have articulated this movement.
Have you applied any kind of policy to internationalize your country’s cuisine?
I’ve fought to universalize Peruvian cuisine. Luckily, we have thousands of shareholders to defend it all over the world, from Miami to Singapore. They all feel they are bringing their culture closer to the rest of the world, and that is a good thing. The fact that I’ve had certain opportunities in privileged locations or more resources is merely circumstantial. Without these people, I would not be where I am.
It is true that I’ve had a political education and that it has helped me articulate proposals outside the kitchen
Could your role as an ideological leader be a byproduct of your political upbringing? Your father is a former senator and minister and you were sent to Madrid as a young man to study law and follow his steps…
It is true that I’ve had a political education and that it has helped me articulate proposals outside the kitchen. I’ve been reading books on politics since I was a kid. I try to live up to the circumstances, but I’m not the only one. My role now is not so much in innovation; I’m more of an ideologist.
Who has the role of innovating?
There are two guys at the vanguard right now, Virgilio Martinez and Mitsuharu Tsumura, for example. Innovating is their role now, mine is to reflect on how to articulate new opportunities to internationalize our cuisine without forgetting our responsibilities.
What do you mean by responsibility?
We must be responsible for issues such as the challenging Andean agriculture, where everything must be produced in a friendly way. We must also focus on how chefs can connect with consumers. It is time to fight battles within our territory. Internationalization is already here.
Where do you see Peruvian cuisine in five years? Will it survive beyond hype?
The world is moving very fast. For example, sushi as a flagship of Japanese gastronomy is over, in favor of other products. This means ceviche’s life won’t be as long as that of sushi, we need to start showing different Peruvian dishes, such as soups, grilled foods and anticuchos… There’s a long way ahead in terms of recipes and in Peru we eat to share what we haven’t eaten before.
Do you believe in the importance of regionalism in cuisine?
Yes, regional cuisines have never been as valued as they are now. What sets Peruvian culture apart from others is multiculturalism. Sometimes our food tastes Japanese, others it tastes Spanish, Italian and even African. Chile is the ingredient that unifies all these influences.
Peruvian food has often been underestimated for being popular. It is interesting to see now that Peru’s boom is based on popular recipes and ancestral ingredients. What do you think this is so?
It is about reversing a negative scenario and changing the historical process. Rebellion is a sentiment among all chefs in Latin America, who see in their roots the beauty they were looking for. In many place, people can’t see what’s beautiful about their own culture. But the good thing about Peruvians is that they are proud of their’s.
According to your point of view, what are the four most important ingredients in the kitchen?
To share, to love, to nurture and to celebrate. The job of a cook is to try to shake things up when there is fear and to calm down when there are excesses.
Photos © Cecilia Díaz Betz