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


Anonymous said...

Para nosotros los peruanos radicados fuera del pais, nos llena de orgullos escuchar el nombre de "Gaston", el en corto tiempo, a logra situarce en el corazon de cada uno de nosotros, se gano el respeto de los peruanos con su buena cocina, por llevar nuestro pais en las venas, por internacionalizar nuestra cocina...en fin, por poner nuevamente al Peru en la mira. Nuestra cocina en si estan variada por tener una inmensa biodiversidad, con muchas microclimas que hacen que productamos una vasta diversidad de
vegetales y igual que productos del mar.

Chef de la talla de Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, que fue al Peru a trabajar en la cocina para masterizar su ceviche, el del sushi samba, etc....realmente nuestra que el Peru se esta volviendo la Mecca de la gastronomia en america...y seria un doble orgullo para nostros, ser la capital arqueologica de america y porque no la gastronomica tambien.

Tenemos un restaurant llamado "La Costa Verde" q esta en el record de guiness por tener mas de 464 platos en su carta....dejenme decirles que en nuestras costas hay solamente como 1,800 diferentes tipos de sopas sin incluir las otras imagina?

En general, Gason es, hoy por hoy, un embajador de la cocina Peruana, querido y adorado por donde vaya...y con cada una de sus ideas, ahi estaremos todos los blanqui rojos de corazon para apoyarlo con el alma.....ademas, a la buena cocina hay que elogiarla venga de donde venga......a mas de uno se le caera una lagrima despues de provar un riquisimo ceviche..!!!

Que Viva el Peru y Gaston.....ajo!!!!

::Alejandro:: said...

Lastima que te anotaste como anónimo porque me gustó lo que redactaste. A ver si la próxima vez que vaya al Perú pase por la Costa Verde.



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::Alejandro:: said...

William: Absolutely.