Gastón Acurio, BBVA Continental Ambassador: "Eating is a life sharing experience"
Peruvian cuisine has always been one of the best in the world, but only knew the Peruvians knew about it.
This situation changed some years ago when Gastón Acurio prepared a recipe that had communication as its main ingredient. “If we have the best food, all we have to do is make it known by presenting it the right way, but not losing its roots,” was the approach taken by Gastón, who for the last eight years has been BBVA Continental’s image and its ambassador. Today, after a little more than 10 years, Peruvian food has become a source of pride for the entire country, and great dishes like “ceviche” (raw fish or shellfish dish) and “ají de gallina” (chicken in a spicy sauce) have gained world renown.
At the time of this conversation, the cook – he prefers this term to chef – is working with his team on a new dish: causa de tres papas. Causa is a delicious dough made with potatoes, of which there are over 4,000 varieties in Peru. This new creation will be accompanied by tempura and an as yet unknown shrimp mayonnaise. “What if we use causa dough made with purple potato?” he says to his team. “That way we give the dish its own history”. The team agrees and they proceed to the kitchen. Shoulders to the wheel.
How important is the history behind a dish?
It is essential. Food is not just taste, as it was 20 years ago. Today, eating is an experience and a life opportunity that awakens individual and group memories. A dish is enriched by its history, beginning in the countryside, where the farmer gains more income and a better family situation thanks to developments in gastronomy. It is the history of the place where the potato comes from; it is the story of the lad who works in the restaurant, and of the cook who has created the dish. Transmitting this chain of stories makes it possible to have a unique life sharing experience.
Mexican tacos are known all over the world. Can Peru have a dish that is recognized everywhere?
Mexicans are understandably proud of having managed to introduce into the market a dish that is sold all over the planet, but I feel that the taco does not do justice to Mexico’s extremely rich and varied cuisine. We also have the history of sushi, another universally recognized dish, but one that has gained an aura of exclusivity and sophistication, which is what we should try to achieve for our food. We Peruvians should lean from both experiences – Mexican and Japanese – to make Peru’s cuisine known for its quality and history rather than for its price.
How do you see Peruvian food developing in the coming years?
We have to strengthen the legal framework to encourage the development of small businesses, not only in the area of gastronomy but in all the other areas that make up the industry. We need to provide security to small business entrepreneurs, SMEs; that is the great challenge we have meet to promote development, because they are the future, the so-called small entrepreneurs. I think that our role as cooks has earned us the credibility to be able to push for these changes without entering politics. You do not have to be a politician to initiate change, it is just common sense.
You have had an intense relationship with cooking for two decades How have you managed to maintain your passion?
When you are young you are arrogant, but time teaches you to be more humble, allowing you to enjoy what others create and, above all, to keep nourishing the child inside you: the child who wants to learn more, to experiment and create new flavors. If you keep that child alive you always have a relationship of affection and passion with what you do. If you are not careful you lose the child living inside you and, in the case of cooks, this means their food starts to decline.
What are your five favorite Peruvian dishes?
“Ceviche”, “Lomo saltado” (marinated steak and vegetable stir-fry), “Anticuchos” (grilled marinated beef heart), “Chupe de camarones” (shrimp chowder) and “Causa”.
“Ceviche is clearly the dish that best represents the values and richness of Peruvian food in the rest of the world. In addition, it is a dish that has an exclusively Peruvian feel. We must aspire to our most famous dish being eaten at only high- quality restaurants, representing the best all of us can offer. Ceviche has great potential to become synonymous with Peru”.
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