‘Food as a weapon for liberty and justice’ by Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio

ARTICLE / 04 JUN 2016 / BY DIMITRIS PANAGIOTIDIS

PERU: GASTON ACURIO
Peru: The Cookbook by Gastón Acurio published by Phaidon / phaidon.com
Astrid & Gastón. Av. Paz Soldán 290, San Isidro, Lima, Perú / astridygaston.com

Ηumble, visionary and traditional. Peruvian culinary ambassador Gastón Acurio talks to Gastrometry about motivation, happiness and his vision and introduces one of the world’s most innovative and flavorful cuisines. The history of Peruvian cuisine is as rich as its ingredients and nuances are varied and exquisite. You would have to go back 5,000 years to trace its origins and when ingredients such as tubers, cereals, and fruits appeared, ancient dwellers of modern-day Peru domesticated and cultivated them with utmost respect for the environment, in a harmonious dialogue between nature and man.

Gastón Acurio
STREET FOOD: Beef Heart Anticucho / Peru: The Cookbook by Gastón Acurio.

Gastón Acurio says “We never imagined that a cook would become a messenger of peace and solidarity among people, a spokesperson for educational, nutritional, and environmental issues, and, above all, a bridge to happiness for many people in the country, at sea, and in cities.”

Ever since Ferran Adriá announced in 2011 that Peruvian food held the key to the future of gastronomy and Alain Ducasse announced that it was the next big thing, the excitement around Peruvian cuisine has been unavoidable. Lima is now a culinary destination on the food map; London now has a growing number of successful Peruvian restaurants and interest in Peruvian ingredients has never been greater. Peru: The Cookbook is a timely publication and new addition to Phaidon’s best-selling national cuisine series, bringing together a definitive guide to Peruvian home-cooking. The book includes over 500 authentic recipes that reflect the rich culture and cuisine of the country and has been put together by chef and national celebrity, Gastón Acurio. Considered to be the “Jamie Oliver of the Andes,” Acurio is renowned for his for his work in promoting Peruvian cuisine around the world and for his philanthropic work for the under-privileged. He has his own television show, millions of fans on social media and many say that the country’s presidency would be his for the asking.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My father has been my greatest inspiration, he learnt to me the love for liberty and justice.

What motivates you?

Life contradictions, food as a weapon to find final solutions to big world problems.

Gastón Acurio
CHILIES, STEWS & ROASTS: Spicy Seafood Stew / Peru: The Cookbook by Gastón Acurio.

What is your idea of happiness and what has been your most satisfying moment in business?

Friends and family in a peaceful and simple lunch… The most satisfying moment in business was the first day that we opened our small restaurant with my wife. Our dream finally came true.

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

We thought that Peruvian cuisine was unbeatable. With our failure at New York we realized that we need always to be very careful to understand every city, every moment for any idea and goal.

“We, the chefs of Peru, are precisely that today: messengers. With honor and humility we are the ambassadors of our cuisine in the world, which is why we feel privileged and grateful to be able to share the treasures of Peruvian cuisine with our sister nations.”

With its coast, mountains and rainforests, Peru benefits from very distinct ingredient groups and cultures. Often referred to as the original fusion food, and for good reason, Peruvian dishes are diverse and unexpected. The food is underpinned by Incan origins, which are still evident today, particularly in the use of corn, potatoes (of which more than 4,000 varieties are grown in Peru) and chillies. However it has also has been enriched, adapted and added to by centuries of immigration. The Spanish, African, Chinese, Japanese and, most recently, Italian and French have all played a large part in what is known today as Peruvian food.

Gastón Acurio
DESSERTS & SWEETS: Fried Sweet Potato Cubes / Peru: The Cookbook by Gastón Acurio.

The book includes an entire chapter on ceviche, possibly the most common export of Peruvian cuisine, alongside the tiradito and other raw and marinated dishes with its infinite variations of Leche de Tigre (the citrus-based marinade the ceviche ‘cooks’ in). Throughout the various chapters Acurio introduces the reader to ingredients and techniques that will be new, for example: Chupe de Camarones (a shrimp-based soup) and Tacu Tacus (rice and bean patties) and the pachamanca (a stew of meats, tubers and greens). These sit alongside more familiar dishes such as tamales and quinoa stews. Street food features heavily and there is a chapter on drinks and cocktails for those who want to serve the perfect Pisco Sour along with numerous other authentic refreshments using the national drink of Peru.

What’s your dream?

My dream is that one day every family in the world will have every day a delicious healthy sustainable and accesible meal cooking and celebrating together at the kitchen and the table as one oF the most powerful and beautiful actives in life.

Suppose you were hosting this coming Saturday night. And you could invite anyone you wanted. Dead or alive.

Which four would you invite to come over and why?

I would invite to come presidents from the U.S.A., Russia and China. Serving them Peruvian food and explaining how we could build in every dish, a peaceful world of flavors where all the different cultures that arrived to our country embraced together with love and respect.