Acurio never imagined he would become the most representative face of the new Peruvian cuisine although from a very young age he already showed an inclination for learning the secrets of cooking. Times were hard. His family wanted him to study law, but Acurio— restless and intuitive— knew his future lay in cooking. Secretly, he enrolled in a catering school. Two years later—this time with the consent of his family— he joined the renowned Le Cordon Bleu Institute in Paris to seriously study a career that in Lima in the 1980s was considered a hobby.
In 1994, Gaston Acurio began his legendary journey as a Chef. He opened his first restaurant, Astrid & Gaston, with his wife Astrid, a young French woman of German descent who, like Acurio, left college to devote herself to the world of haute cuisine. In 2014, the restaurant Astrid & Gaston–located in Lima–won second place in the San Pellegrino list of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America. It also was ranked 18 in the list of top 50 restaurants worldwide.
The marriage of Astrid and Gastón has proved to be a perfect combination. They own 34 restaurants in eleven countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, USA, Spain, UK, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador. “Every time we open a restaurant, we make sure we have the right group of people to help us,” says Acurio. “The staff has a great responsibility, because in the restaurant business, if you want to grow, you need to have a team that deals with the operational side and the daily tasks, and another group working on creativity and conceptual evolution, to which I belong.”
La Mar Restaurant, Miami.
One of his newly opened restaurants, which provides the opportunity to explore the authentic flavors of Peruvian cuisine, is located in the heart of Miami. It’s called La Mar (The Sea), and its executive chef is Diego Oka, who has worked in Acurio‘s restaurants for more than a decade. Located in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, La Mar offers a warm atmosphere and a unique view of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline. Its cuisine is notable for a detailed selection of the most exquisite versions of Peruvian gastronomy, from the delicious anticuchos— grilled kebabs— and the inevitable lomo saltado to fish ceviche and fresh squid in octopus sauce. The desserts are also a superb display of taste and creativity, highlighting the chocolate mousse topped with lucuma ice cream and the lemon mousse with almonds, cream, and Italian meringue.
Gastón Acurio is a benchmark of Peruvian cuisine worldwide and, as such, does everything possible to continue to grow this activity both in his country and beyond its borders. “You do what your scope allows. If gastronomy is not present in public education and at the same time some young Peruvians have to leave their country because they don’t find opportunities, something is wrong,” says Acurio with concern. “To fight this problem we have founded a cooking school for young people without resources. It’s called Pachacutec and has already trained more than 300 young chefs.”
The Pachacutec Culinary Institute has had as guest teachers and lecturers several illustrious international chefs, including Ferran Adrià, Albert Adrià, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Joan Roca, Xabier Gutierrez and René Redzepi. The school offers students the opportunity to gain work experience in restaurants owned by the famous Peruvian chef, as well as access to the course Signature Cuisine. The course provides personalized guidance by renowned chefs who meet with students once a week.
The Peruvian master chef has won several awards and significant recognitions, including the Global Gastronomy Award 2013 –which he received in Sweden from Prince Charles Philip–for his work in the promotion of sustainable foods, the use of local resources and the Pachacutec project.
Acurio says that–in the simplest preparations–you can find a delicious and universal formula, like a bowl of rice with fried egg (his favorite dish). “I don’t need a recipe to prepare it, but it’s the details that make the difference,” says the chef. “A fork generously loaded with rice, well soaked in juicy and bright egg yolk, and all the world’s problems are forgotten. At least while you enjoy that bite.”
A prudent and severe market analyst, Acurio explores all possible options. In fact, he recently opened a new restaurant in Argentina, La Mar Buenos Aires, whose concept, according to the chef, is the constant dialog between Peruvian cuisine and local products. “I’ve been fortunate to be Peruvian: Peruvian chefs are where we are because we have heritage and tradition,” emphasizes Acurio. “We exist thanks to that multicultural diversity.” ■