Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gaston Acurio: Inexhaustible Creativity

Original: María Elena Cornejo, CARETAS, 04/07/06
To read the original Spanish post on María Elena's blog, click here.

This is another translation of an article by María Elena Cornejo, journalist and food critic at the Peruvian magazine CARETAS. This time she interviews acclaimed Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio. This article originally appeared in the magazine, and is now posted on María Elena's blog, Mucho Gusto Perú.

Inexhaustible Creativity

By María Elena Cornejo, CARETAS, 04/07/06
To read the original Spanish article, click here.

Down to earth, playful, with an easy smile, and a good sense of humor, Gastón is everywhere: we see him on television, in the markets, in newspapers, uncovering pots, opening restaurants, cooking over almost any fire, talking with chefs of every stripe, and greeting passers-by. People adore him.

A recent edition of ELLE magazine named Gastón Acurio one of the, "Three Chefs That Broke the Mold," along with Charlie Trotter and Thomas Keller, both darlings of American food critics.

Meanwhile, back in Lima, at the very thoughtful University of the Pacific --that neither offers a degree in Gastronomy nor anything related to the subject--- Gastón was invited by the students to give the inaugural speech at the opening of the current academic year.

Gastón and his wife Astrid are passionate about cooking: they create, enjoy, and grow at a spectacular rate.

At the end of this month, Gastón's newest venture, Don Pasquale, a shop specializing in Peruvian-style sandwiches, will open its doors. His flagship, Astrid & Gaston Restaurant, is now in (or coming soon to) Lima, Santiago, Bogota, Caracas, Quito, Panama City, and Mexico City.

Another of Gaston's ventures, Tánta now has four branches in Lima, including one recently-opened right off the Plaza de Armas, in the heart of Lima's historic center. Gastón's cebichería La Mar, now in Lima, is expanding soon to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Brazil. Branches in London and Washington D.C. are not far behind.

It is no exaggeration to declare the food at Astrid & Gaston absolutely splendid. Each mouthful is an explosion which occurs amidst your taste buds, waking flavors dormant since infancy, providing unfamiliar textures, and creating wonderfully unmanageable salivary experiences.

Each dish at Astrid & Gaston has its own history. Maitre d' Alfonso Candiotti recounts each story as if it formed part of an adventure novel.

I am completely certain that any dish I do not mention will be as equally wonderful as those I do. Having said that, I would like to recommend the following:

In the classic lenguado ceviche the fish has a firm texture and a translucent color. The anticucho, or brochettes of pigeon with bits of foie gras, mango, and a Cuzco corn tortilla, is quite a daring fusion dish. There is also a seafood and riparian causa, a delicious mouthful of trout and tuna tartare enclosed in potato.

For this course, the accompaniment of a Chilean Viu Manent is perfectly appropriate.

Among the entrees to sample is the very tender roast suckling pig with a Canary bean tacu tacu, maki made of machacado de membrillo, a quince-based sweet, and morcilla, Spanish-style blood sausage. There is also bacalao with the mashed, carrot-like racacha; and, crispy duck with aguaymanto mustard. This final dish is unsurpassable.

For the main course, the suggested wine is an Argentine cabernet sauvignon by Los Haroldos.

Desserts are so good and so varied that they deserve their own post. I tasted an espuma de suspiro with merengue ice cream, and a quinoa and milk dessert with tumboice cream. Do I need say more?

Photo of Gastón Acurio by
María Elena Cornejo, Mucho Gusto Perú.

MEC: I'm beginning to suspect that you have the gift of ubiquity.

GA: Actually, I hardly move out of my workshop. I'm here almost all day, tasting, inventing, thinking about how I can transmit a philosophy, ideas, values, so they serve as tools for other chefs.

MEC: You don't spend much time at your restaurants, do you?

GA: Sometimes, I am just in the way. At first, I would get embarrassed, then I realized that people like Thomas Keller and Alain Ducasse, two major reference points in world gastronomy, with three stars each in the Michelin Guide, don't spend much time in their restaurants either.

Besides, I don't want there to be differences between the various restaurants in the chain, it's a way of demonstrating respect for the client.

MEC: How far do you think culinary experimentation will go?

GA: Globally, cooking underwent a stage of collapse, of searching. Fusion cuisine suddenly became popular, and chefs became crazed creating outlandish things like food-flavored photographic paper. Thankfully, that fad has passed, and now we seem to be attaining a certain balance. What remains standing is truly noteworthy.

MEC: Was the 2006 edition of Madrid Fusion an important event for you?

GA: Something very interesting happened there. Amidst those hyper-deconstructivist tendencies, we showed up with our little basket of ají amarillo, huacatay, zapallo loche, Andean squash, and muña. People flipped out.

Chef Ferran Adrià made a quick self-criticism in the sense that while everyone was trying to exhaust the possibilities of ingredients and recipes by looking for new techniques to give life to their products, they were slow to look at pantries such as ours.

MEC: How do you see the future of our cuisine?

GA: We have spectacular potential ready to expand worldwide. Unlike other countries, we can handle eight, ten, twelve Peruvian brands each with a unique personality. In addition to our beloved criolla-style cuisine, we also have cebicherías, anticucherías, sangucherías, Nikkei cuisine, Novo Andina cuisine, pollerías (our roast chickens are marvelous), picanterías, chifa, as well as our own contemporary cuisine.

Translator's note:Cocina criolla is traditional coastal cuisine, cebicherías feature seafood dishes, anticucherías specialize in grilled brochettes, sangucherías offer Peruvian-style sandwiches, Nikkei cuisine is Peruvian-Japanese fusion, Novo Andina cuisine is new Andean cooking, pollerías feature roast chickens, picanterías are traditional home-style restaurants, and chifa is Peruvian-Chinese fusion.

MEC: It sounds like a complete gastronomic revolution.

GA: Of course. Just think, twenty years ago, there may have been about 300 Mexican restaurants in the world but now, there must be 200,000 Mexican restaurants worldwide.

Imagine if in the next 20 years, hundreds of thousands of Peruvian restaurants open worldwide. The demand for the production of such basic ingredients such as papa amarilla, ají, and Peruvian limes will increase exponentially.

MEC: Absolutely.

GA: In Europe, a kilo of papa amarilla sells for five Euros, while here, the Peruvian farmer only receives about 10 cents of a US dollar for the same amount of potatoes. If we change the status quo, our economy will become so much more dynamic in agriculture, in industry, in creating employment.

MEC: Does your fame overwhelm you?

GA: No, because I don't take it that seriously. I am a chef because I enjoy it, and a businessman because I have to be.

MEC: Have you changed your look?

GA: Since I had eye surgery, I no longer have to wear glasses. And now, I take better care about what I eat. Obesity is not a good friend in the kitchen.

MEC: What cologne do you use?

GA: I'm always changing colognes, just to see if some cute girl turns her head.

Astrid & Gaston Restaurant
Cantuarias 175, Miraflores
Monday to Saturday, lunch and dinner.
Bar, restaurant, and wine cellar.
444-1496, 242-5387
All cards.
Median price per dish: 40 soles
Wine List: Outstanding, including top wines classified by country of
Website: Astrid & Gaston

Read more about Gastón Acurio here at Peru Food by clicking on any of the links below:

Gastón Acurio: Inexhaustible Creativity

Another Interview with Gastón Acurio

Video: Anthony Bourdain in Peru

Gastón Acurio Interviewed by Elena Hernández in Panama's Diario La Prensa

At Madrid Fusion Elena Hernández Chats with Gastón Acurio

Gastón Acurio

Astrid & Gaston Restaurant

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Restaurant: La Gorda in Madrid

Have I mentioned the Peruvian diaspora?

This is an informal, unofficial translation of two articles about Carmen Delgado, a Peruvian living in Spain who in 2004 opened her highly-acclaimed Peruvian restaurant,
La Gorda, in the Prosperidad district of northeast Madrid.

Carmen is considered to be one of the finest ethnic chefs working in the Spanish capital.

The first article by Paola Miglio appeared in the Lima daily, El Comercio.

In doing research for this post, I also found an article by Fernando Point in the Madrid daily, El Mundo.

In 2004, El Mundo named
La Gorda one of the year's best new dining establishments.

I thought the popularity of Peruvian cuisine in Madrid was quite interesting.

I know there is now a sizeable Peruvian colony in Madrid, and I've wondered if Peruvian food had experienced crossover appeal among Spanish diners.

It seems it has.

La Gorda, at the center of map.
Calle Matilde Dí­ez 16, Prosperidad.
At the bottom of map, you can see the
Plaza Prosperidad Metro Station.
Click on the map to enlarge image.

Prosperidad is an historical neighborhood in the Chamartí­n district, just past wealthy Barrio de Salamanca, as if you were heading towards Hortaleza. When it was founded in the late 1800s, as a result of the expansion away of the city from the historic core, it was considered so far away from Puerta del Sol, the geographic center of Madrid, it could have been a separate town. Now, it has been enveloped within the urban mass that is greater Madrid.

Prosperidad, or la Prospe, is known both for its historical architecture, as well as for being an area where immigrants have settled in these surrounding areas of the Spanish capital.

Photo by Sergio Tomé Fernández at the
University of Oviedo, Department of Geography.

When I lived in Madrid in the early 80s, I recall there being but two Peruvian restaurants in town: one was just off the Plaza de España, and the other was in Chueca. Both lacked authenticity. At the time, Peruvian cuisine was considered to be very exotic by Spanish standards, and I know authentic ingredients were hard to come by.

Clearly, 20 years of immigration from Latin America to Spain (much of it to Madrid) have changed both its complexion, as well as its culinary heritage. Peruvian cuisine has now been discovered by Spaniards.

If you happen to be in Madrid, enjoy Peruvian!

La Gorda in Madrid

By Paola Miglio, El Comercio, 2/27/06

To view the original Spanish article: Click here.

In the Prosperidad neighborhood of Madrid, a small bastion of Peruvian cuisine is conquering Spanish palates. In her restaurant, Carmen Delgado, affectionately known as La Gorda, daily receives dozens of diners who are captivated by the taste of her Peruvian cooking.

This Peruvian, who arrived in the Spanish capital almost 20 years ago, fervently believes the key to excellence in cooking is doing it with love. Clearly, this philosophy is providing her excellent results.

It is 3:30 in the afternoon and there is almost no place to sit. Every table in the house is occupied. Carmen Delgado meets us in her chef's uniform with a broad smile. After living in Madrid for 17 years, two years ago she was finally able to open her own restaurant, now an obligatory stop for those Peruvians who live outside of Peru and miss their cuisine, as well as anyone living or passing through Madrid who desires to discover the wonders of New Peruvian Cuisine.

A chef by vocation and out of conviction, La Gorda believes the key to cooking is love. This is the lesson she learned in her own home. It is the flavors and odors of her mother's kitchen that she recreates in her restaurant.

Photo of Carmen Delgado by Paola Miglio in El Comercio.

Prior to arriving in Madrid in 1988, she had worked for years making desserts for Lima restaurants. In Spain, once again, she found herself drawn to cooking.

She recalls, "When I first arrived in Spain, I began to distribute desserts door to door. I had to be very ingenious in order to attract new clients. I lived in a tiny apartment, and hardly had any storage space at all, so my neighbors would let me store my ingredients in their homes! They would even give me their house keys. Little by little, I started making contacts, and then I began catering for the Chilean embassy. I did that for four years."

But, Carmen Delgado's dream had always been to have her own restaurant. Today, her restaurant is her life. There are days when she has to turn away customers because her place is completely full. The majority of her diners are Spaniards so captivated by the dishes La Gorda prepares, they return time and again.

"I make sure my food isn't too spicy. Many people think Peruvian food is spicy, and it isn't at all like that. I explain to my customers that the right amount of ají­ is added just to give each dish a special flavor. I also explain what they're eating, the influences and origins of our food, and about the ingredients we use. I try to have a personal touch with my customers, and I can see their immediate positive reaction," she notes.

Without a doubt, she enjoys herself immensely.

Besides running the restaurant, she continues to work as a caterer, alongside another Madrid-based Peruvian chef, Brisa Deneumostier. She also continues to learn new techniques and invent new ways of presenting homestyle Peruvian dishes.

At the restaurant, once a week she dedicates a day to the Peruvian-Chinese cuisine known as chifa. Weekly, she also makes a traditional Peruvian one-pot meal, the soup called sancochado. La Gorda recalls she, "made it one day, and people were so impressed. People came from nearby offices to try it and they all left happy. They say my sancochado doesn't make them sleepy, it's not so heavy."

"It's all a matter of presenting our cuisine with certain refinement by stylizing the dishes. You can't simply associate our food with our folklore. Peruvian gastronomy has been evolving quite a bit in the recent past, and the number of products that are being incorporated into our culinary lexicon is incredible. Every day, I learn something new, either when important chefs come to dine here, or when I go to conferences." She emphasizes, "There is always a constant exchange of information and techniques."

Carmen is involved in many culinary activities. She participates in festivals such as the Latin American Cooking Conference, first held in 2005 in the southern Spanish city of Málaga, in the Madrid Fusion International Gastronomical Summit, and in the International Tourism Festival of Spain.

All this involvement means she is always up-to-date to with the latest in the gastronomical world.

She attempts to maintain authenticity in her cuisine, and use Peruvian products. But, she also compare textures when she has to find substitutes for products that are hard to find in Spain. For example, to make ceviche she uses bacalao, and wild lubina for tiradito.

Most importantly, she tries to preserve the warmth you feel when you dine in someone's house in Peru.

For Peruvians who live in Spain (and fans of Peruvian cooking) that warmth is the draw, that is what makes people leave their homes and head out in search of La Gorda, whether it be on a lazy Sunday, or during one of the infamous Castilian cold waves, or when the subway is packed. Diners in search of the flavor of Peru know they will not be disappointed once they enter through her doors.

Translator's Note:This is the other article I found about La Gorda, from a list of Madrid's best restaurants, published in the Madrid daily, El Mundo.

La Gorda in Prosperidad

By Fernando Point, El Mundo, 07/28/04

To view the original Spanish article: Click here.

It is not a very glamorous neighborhood, the decoration is minimalist, the walls are painted light orange and green, and the kitchen attempts to offer an exotic cuisine true to its origins.

Carmen Delgado has a passion for her cuisine. You see it in her dishes, always attractively presented, and in her dedication. She has pride in her origins, and
using the finest ingredients available, she tries to reproduce to the best of her ability, her interpretation of Peruvian cuisine.

She attained her goal when her restaurant, La Gorda, in the Prosperidad neighborhood in Chamartín district, was acclaimed as one of the best ethnic restaurants in Madrid.

This young chef,
still called La Gorda although she weighs much less than before, is passionate about the traditions of her native Peru, which along with Mexico has the finest cuisine of the Americas.

Photo of Carmen Delgado, her husband Félix Martín, and her kitchen staff, by Diego Saniva in El Mundo.

Carmen also keeps abreast of the most current trends in Asian cuisine, so important in Lima's culinary world, and therefore, informing contemporary Peruvian cuisine as a whole. With her arrival to the Spanish capital, as well as that of Manuel Flores Garcí­a at Hakkasan, the Peruvian culinary presence in Madrid has made a great leap forward, evolving from the old folkloric-style cuisine to something much more exciting and modern.

So, when faced with the fine tiradito de lenguado made by Manuel, we then encounter the even better lubina tiradito, made by Carmen. She creates balance between the fish, the lemon, and the spices. The shrimp dumplings with a sweet and sour sauce is another dish Carmen prepares that has definite Asian influence.

In fact, Carmen feels such passion about this culinary style, that every Wednesday night her menu is all chifa, as Chinese-Peruvian fusion cuisine is called, which is a result of Chinese immigration to Peru commencing in the late 1800s.

La Gorda offers an excellent and potent ceviche made with abadejo, which for the owner is the Spanish fish most similar in texture to the Pacific Ocean corvina; she uses yuca root,
instead of the more traditional potatoes, to accompany the creamy huancaína sauce; and, she makes a a very tasty stir-fried veal cutlet saltado with the juxtaposition of French fries and rice, as typically served in Lima or Callao. However, because the current gastronomical trend is to not combine starches in this manner, just as nouvelle cuisine did away with using flour in sauces, Carmen also needs to now purify these heavy culinary combinations.

A few more comments. At midday, the restaurant is an excellent value, due to its authentic and varied prix-fixe menu which costs less than 10 Euros (in 2005). You begin your meal with a very good pisco sour, and conclude with a sweet suspiro a la limeña. The bread and wine are fine. In short: highly recommended.

La Gorda
Matilde Dí­ez 16, Prosperidad, Madrid
Phone: 91-515-3534
Closed: Sunday evenings and Mondays
Open: 1:30 to 4:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. to midnight.
Credit: Visa, Mastercard, 4B
Median price: 15 to 25 Euros
Metro Stations: Cruz del Rayo (Line 9, towards Herrera Oria) and Prosperidad (Line 4, towards Parque de Santa Marí­a.) View Madrid Metro map here.
Closed for vacation: August 1 to August 31.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Friday, April 07, 2006

Recipe: The Definitive Papa a la Huancaína

For those of you who don't know, César and Sury are good friends who share a passion for cooking.

There's only one problem: César lives in Lima, while Sury lives in Delhi.

Thanks to technology, the distance has been gulfed by the creation of one of my favorite food blogs: (Lima) Beans and Delhi Cha(a)t.

On their blog, Sury and César write about two of the world's greatest cuisines: Indian and Peruvian. They provide pictures and recipes, interspersed with commentary about their respective cultures and cuisines.

As they say, their blog is about, 'All things FOOD from Peru and India.'

In my opinion, it doesn't get much better than that.

Recently, César posted the mother of all recipes for papa a la huancaí­na. This dish of potatoes in a creamy, spicy sauce, is a standard of Peruvian fare.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I also posted a compilation of papa a la huancaí­na recipes I had found on the internet; but, I knew that César was going to be posting his own recipe shortly. I couldn't wait. Now, it's up at his blog, and it is one the best recipes for papa a la huancaí­na I have found.

I hope you visit Sury and César's blog for your viewing and hopefully, tasting pleasure.

To read César's recipe for papa a la huancaí­na, click here.

To read the Peru Food post with other papa a la huancaí­na recipes click here.

Happy eating!

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana