Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Gastón Acurio: A Recipe for Success

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Gastón Acurio: A Recipe for Success

Article excerpt

in the Fall oF 2012, my good Peruvian friend, Germán Echecopar, a professor at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Chile, approached me to consider developing a teaching case on Gastón Acurio, the well- known Peruvian chef and restaurateur.

As executive director of the Harvard Business School Latin America Research Center (LARC), based in Buenos Aires, I helped HBS faculty with their field research in the region. When I first took the job in November 1999, I expressed my interest in also contributing to the development of social capital in the region; that is, to the enhancement of relationships between our faculty and business and academic leaders in Latin America. During the past 14 years, I've found-with the support of HBS and DRCLAS-that the creation of intel- lectual capital and the enhancement of social capital are not always parallel paths. They often come together with mutual contributions.

The beauty of my job with HBS was that I often was given the opportunity to convene talent from far-flung places to make our research the absolutely best possible. Most times I found myself on the "buying" end, looking to provide our faculty with leads that satisfied their interest. But sometimes-as in the case of my Peruvian friend's proposal-I received interesting field research oppor- tunities. I then had to "sell" those leads to faculty whose line of work was compat- ible with the lead at hand. I referred to case leads as "orphans," and our faculty as "foster parents." I viewed our job at the LARC as bringing orphans together with happy foster parents.

In the Acurio case, Professor Michael Norton was the first name that came to mind. I had collaborated with Mike in the development of a teaching case on El Bulli, the famous Catalonian restaurant near Barcelona. He immediately became interested and engaged Anat Keinan, a HBS colleague, to work with us. I, in turn, recruited Cintra Scott, a LARC research associate. The team was then in place: Keinan, Norton, Echecopar, and Scott, with Herrero providing support from the sidelines.

the advent of Peruvian cuisine

I had done quite a bit of work with another HBS faculty member, Rohit Deshpandé, who had constructed a robust body of work on widely recog- nized products and services that became characteristic of their countries of ori- gin. Such was the case of Colombian cof- fee or of Indian yoga, for instance. But his research also addressed businesses that were not necessarily perceived as being natural exponents of the countries where they developed. Such was the case of Mexican beer, Turkish chocolate, "New World" wines, and U.S. soybean sauce, for example. Deshpandé called it "the Provenance Paradox."

Cuisine had not been, in my mind, an obvious development opportunity for Peru. Yet, the country had become a renowned world leader, along with tradi- tional European players like France, Italy and Belgium. My first exposure to this particular Peruvian success had come from reading the first volume of my good friend Tony Custer's book titled The Art of Peruvian Cuisine. Tony, as pointed out on the Amazon website, "shows Peruvian food as a visual work of art." The book was first published in 2000, and it has sold more than 85,000 copies. Tony went on to produce The Art of Peruvian Cui- sine, Vol. II in 2010. Custer's work has made an important contribution to the country's image, receiving broad media coverage and inspiring other authors to write about Peruvian food.

Peruvian cuisine gained international acclaim toward the end of the 20th cen- tury, gaining momentum in the 2000s: on September 10, 2011, Katy McLaugh- lin wrote an article titled "The Next Big Thing: Peruvian Food," in the Wall Street Journal. The following year, tourist- ranking specialist World Travel Awards elected Peru as "World's Leading Culinary Destination 2012." Gastón Acurio was at the forefront of this evolution; he received the Global Gastronomy Award 2013.

With one out of every five Peruvians employed in the sector, the government recognized its importance with a policy paper entitled "Peruvian Gastronomy for 2021: Guidelines for a Development Program of Peruvian Gastronomy in the Framework of the Bicentenary Plan" by the National Center for Strategic Plan- ning (CEPLAN). …

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