Gastón Acurio: “Peru is on the path of becoming a world food power”


By Gonzalo Pajares for Perú21
Translated and edited by Jorge Riveros-Cayo

Gastón Acurio: “Peruvian gastronomy needs democracy”
"I do not think about money. If that were the case, I would be thinking about politics, I would think “oh I am so scared, what is going to happen to my investments,” says Acurio. (Photo: Andina)

“To be among the 50 best restaurants of the world is a starting point because it implies to deepen the experience of Peruvian cuisine, making it more beautiful and intense, more seductive and magical. We have to continue incorporating the history behind its ingredients, continue to have our biodiversity as a flagship and highlight the cultural diversity we have as our wealth. We need to continue exploring a new vanguard “a la peruana,” where the language of our dishes can be found not only in the flavors of our food but also in the stories behind it. All of this makes us unique in the world,” says Gastón Acurio.  

Last year, when you still had not visited El Bulli, you said to me you had not been there yet because you did not want to “contaminate,” or become “influenced,” by it; that you still needed to reaffirm your roots in Peruvian cuisine…

Exactly. El Bulli is a marvelous source of inspiration. I will incorporate those ideas as long as they enable me to tell Peruvian stories. As a matter of fact, we are implementing them already: If I buy from Julio Ancco – a potato producer – all his harvest at three times as much the price, and I ask him to harvest them two weeks before so the potatoes are moist, and from these I choose four or five varieties, the best to be baked, and if additionally I buy some soil where these potatoes were grown and I bring that soil to my restaurant to bake those potatoes in it so they keep that countryside flavor, and if I turn that soil into a perfume with a distillery – this is Adrià’s technique – in order to spray my table where I serve those potatoes, and if the person that brings those potatoes to the table is Julio Ancco himself, who I have hired, so he can tell the people what are they eating, this is a Peruvian experience, a refinement that starts from simply baking potatoes. What I mean is that, from Adrià’s influence, I use everything around me to make it Peruvian. That is just the beginning of a path that is quite clear.

Is your condition as a media celebrity a problem for local cooks?

No, actually it is the other way around. A proof of that is that “Aventura Culinaria,” (Acurio’s television program) has helped to build the image of a lot of my colleagues.

Do you think Astrid & Gastón is the best restaurant of Lima?

Of course not. There are four or five Peruvian restaurants that could be on that list. Pedro Miguel Schiaffino’s Malabar, for instance, deserves to be among the best 50.

Do you live thinking about the food you make or in those $100 million your restaurants make a year?

I do not think about money. If that were the case I would be thinking about politics, I would think “oh I am so scared, what is going to happen to my investments,” but my mind is in the kitchen, idyllic and perfect, creating, making things all the time. The numbers in La Macha (Acurio’s company) are dealt with by my business partner. But as the rest of Peruvians in the country, I am concerned about the output of the elections, but I would be more worried if I were scared and stop working. It would be a sign of cowardice if those of us that have the opportunity to foster processes of change in the country, stopped because we are scared that our investments could be jeopardized.

Does Peruvian gastronomy need democracy?

Democracy, freedom, principles, tolerance, respect to differences between us and, above all, we need a leadership that shares with us the dream of offering the younger generations a prosperous Peru that can become a protagonist in the world. This is something that we are doing already from the kitchen. Peruvian cuisine represents us all, that is why we cannot take sides for any political party. But we also are certain that if anybody wants to destroy the democratic system, all of us in the gastronomic world will be the first to go out into the streets and protest to the bitter end.

You are against the import of genetically modified (GM) foods – also called transgenic – into Peru…

I am emphatically against it. Peru is a grand nation, among other things, for its culture and biodiversity. Today, thanks to globalization, our products can be sold in niche markets in order to bring our farmers – who have been historically forgotten – out of poverty and turn them into exporters.

My parents are agronomists and they have told me that transgenic foods are not bad, but that we do not need them here because of our biodiversity, and because they require large extensions of land that Peru does not have, and in which we should take advantage of planting our rich biodiversity instead…

Exactly. I have not said that transgenic foods are bad. If I am from the country “with nothing,” please give me your transgenic seeds, but if I am from the country “with everything,” why would I want transgenic soybean and corn seeds?

They say that if we do not plant transgenic seeds, which are more productive, we will not have anything to eat in 30 years…

That is false. Peru is self sustainable food-wise even with three times as much population of what we currently have. The problem is the distribution…

Our farmers are accused of having a “low performance”…

“Low performance” does not mean low quality. In Peru it means high quality and this is precisely what the world wants now. We are on the path of becoming a world food power. Nowadays we do not export just any product, we export top-end, appetizing products, with a high value in the market. You have to look for opportunities even when you have a small plot of land. The best French vineyards only have a half hectare. Our organic farming grows three times as much as our traditional farming and, additionally, its value is four or five times as much.