If someone were to ask you which country was famous for its food, what would you say? Would it be France, with its countless varieties of cheese, bread, and endless choice of good-quality wines? Or would it be Italy, famous for its pasta, pizza, gelato and wine (again)? Or would it even be somewhere as far away from here as Mexico, well known for its tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and guacamole? While these countries are often very much associated with their celebrated cuisine, we tend not to think of other countries, such as Peru, as being one of the food capitals of the world. However, the sheer diversity of Peruvian food is off the scale, and it's surprising that people have not taken notice of it earlier.
From cuy (guinea pig) to chifa (Peruvian-Chinese fusion cuisine), its dishes have an immense range of influences from within Peru’s borders and beyond – they really do have something to offer everyone. There is one man in particular who enjoys experimenting with all these amazing influences, and his name is Gastón Acurio.
Gastón Acurio is actually a pretty remarkable guy; he originally studied to become a lawyer, but the problems in Peru at the turn of the century meant that his father sent him away to Europe to continue his studies. No longer under his watchful eye, he ran away to Paris to get an education at Le Cordon Bleu. Now he is an entrepreneur in the catering business, with many of his franchises popping up worldwide, including one in our own capital! Two of his restaurants have been placed at 4th and 14th in the Telegraph’s Top 100 Restaurants of the World, proving that they have been a huge success.
But what is really interesting is that Acurio, through the diversity of his restaurants’ menus, represents the gastronomic variety of his country and the adaptability of the Peruvian flavour. Firstly, we have La Mar, famous for its ceviche, seafood, and a Peruvian-infused Japanese classic: sushi. Then there is Panchita, which is known for la comida criolla: in other words, traditional Peruvian food with a modern twist. And there is also Papacho’s, an American sports bar feel with a Peruvian flavoured menu. Oh, and did I mention Mistura, an annual food festival with Peru's diverse food collection all in one place? The list really does go on…
By popularising Peruvian food, Acurio can be commended not only for his entrepreneurial endeavours, but also for having helped it become a cultural asset in the process. In the past, Peruvian food was based very much around the home, and if people went out to restaurants they would most likely choose to dine at the stereotypical French or Italian restaurants. This is because people were encouraged to think negatively of Peruvian food; cevichería, for example, was something to be ashamed of.
However, Acurio, through Mistura and his many restaurants, has demonstrated that this is certainly not the case. Instead, he has presented la gastronomía peruana as something to be celebrated, something that they should be proud of, thus boosting the morale of the people. And it doesn’t stop there – Acurio also sees food as something he can use to an experimental end by blending different flavours from across the globe. His work promotes the versatility of traditional Peruvian dishes, and its reception has shown how accepting people are of these new, foreign influences.
It seems that, by putting Peruvian cuisine on the map, he has generated a truly positive response on a cultural level. His innovation and successes undoubtedly form part of a much bigger picture, showing everyone that food can mean something a little more than just flavour.