Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Peru's Revolution in Tastes: Innovative Chefs in Lima Are Dishing Up a Fusion of Andean and European Cuisines with Seasoning from around the World

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Peru's Revolution in Tastes: Innovative Chefs in Lima Are Dishing Up a Fusion of Andean and European Cuisines with Seasoning from around the World

Article excerpt

Gaston Acurio was a young man when he left his native Peru to study law in Europe. But when he returned home it was with a diploma from Paris's Le Cordon Bleu. In a "rare and fleeting burst of courage," he says, he decided to change his life and follow the path of his true passion, cooking. Named for his father, a respected politician who was a senator and a cabinet minister during the presidency of Fernando Belatinde Terry, Acurio was expected to follow in the elder man's footsteps. In the end, his father had no alternative but to support his son, who traded in a future of courts and lawsuits for a life of ladles and cook stoves.

Today Acurio may be one of his country's best known chefs, but he prefers to be called simply a cook. He and his German wife, Astrid Gutsche, whom he met at cooking school, are celebrities in and outside of Peru. Their restaurant, Astrid y Gaston, opened its doors in 1994 and within a short time became one of the best restaurants in Lima. Today it has branches in Santiago, Bogota, and Quito. In January 2003, Acurio opened a delicatessen, T'anta, meaning "bread" in Quechua, in Lima's Surco neighborhood and in May 2005 inaugurated La Mar in the tourist haven of Miraflores. La Mar is a restaurant where ceviche--the dish that seven out of ten Peruvians believe best represents Peru--heads a mouth-watering list of some fifty seafood delicacies.

Acurio is probably the most successful proponent of novoandina, the name given to a new Peruvian cuisine. This is an arbitrary name--and some might object--for a culinary phenomenon that is generating great expectations. It's a revolution begun by a generation of cooks trained in prestigious European schools who today are using their techniques to reevaluate the ages-old wealth of their home cuisine.

"It's true that we've gone from rustic and modest dishes to more contemporary offerings at the vanguard, but these are, in essence, just as Peruvian," says Acurio.

Today's novoandina cuisine has brought such humble Andean food crops as quinoa, kiwicha tarwi, and arracacha to the fore in the most sophisticated culinary endeavors.

Because of the exquisite result of the syncretism of flavors from all over the globe, Peruvian cuisine is currently considered one of the world's best. The key to this fusion of flavors is the meeting of the Andean and European worlds, something that happened with absolute ease and no hard feelings.

"It was on the gastronomic plane that the natives and the invaders understood each other best," says Rodolfo Hinostroza, poet and culinary expert, "probably because the most permeable part of any culture is that which is closest to pleasure, need, and hunger."

Modern-day visitors to Peru may find it easy to succumb to the cuisine's traditional aromas, tastes, and colors: ceviche served with onion julienne, tender choclo (corn on the cob), and sweet potato; lomo saltado (sauteed shoulder cuts of beef) with tomatoes or onions julienne and fried potatoes; or a chupe de camarones (a robust soup with vegetables, milk, and plenty of shrimp).

But all successes require effort, and the result of such a convincing combination of ingredients began even before Christopher Columbus set foot on a Caribbean shore in 1492. It wasn't until after the Spanish conquistadors had dodged some arrows and experienced hunger that they began to slowly discover and consume the products of the New World. At first it was more out of need than taste. Later, chroniclers like Fray Antonio de la Calancha, an Augustine monk and author of The Chronicle of a Moralist of the Order of Saint Augustine in Peru, recorded the unexpected abundance of food that surprised the conquistadors: "It is clear that this land is more fertile than that of Spain and Europe because all of the fruits we bring from Europe flourish here, but not so with the plants we take from here to there. Food here is two-thirds cheaper, and this is the place with the most silver in the whole world. …

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