News broke of the influential Peruvian chef’s award as he prepared for service in Bangkok
One of the most influential and revered chefs in the world, and an ambassador and godly figure in his native Peru, Chef Gastón Acurio is accustomed to the pressures of travel, well versed in foreign kitchens and flying between time-zones.
Yesterday evening, however, as he attended Lord Jim’s restaurant at The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok to prepare for a media dinner before his three-night pop-up opens to the public (17-19 May), he appeared more casual and more relaxed than any chef should on the eve of a media invite.
A flurry of press releases and tweets had just gone live and the news was out. The announcement of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Diners Club® Lifetime Achievement Award 2018 for Chef Acurio, at the forthcoming The World’s 50 Best Resturants ceremony in Bilbao, in June, was circulating the culinary world and everyone from Joan Roca to Gaggan Anand were sending their congratulations.
Chef Acurio appeared to be taking it all in his stride, though. “Yes, I am very proud,” he told me, “this is a beautiful award, but this is not recognition for one chef, but chefs all over the world. It also helps to spread the culture of Peru, and that is something special.”
He continued, “Think about all of those chefs right now who are waking up and going to the kitchen, working in a silent way. This is an award to be shared, just as all professional chefs should be sharing their experiences, cultures, and recipes.”
With a franchise that includes food festivals, cookbooks, and restaurants spanning a range of themes and price points, Chef Acurio has not only created an empire but helped to promote Peruvian cuisine to the world, shattering cliches and stereotypes – it’s not all quinoa and barbecued guinea pigs – making it accessible to a wider audience.
He is credited with not only elevating Peruvian cuisine but promoting it globally, while also training some of the country’s modern-day culinary stars, including Virgilio Martínez and Pía Leon (Central), and Mitsuharu Tsumura (Maido).
The flagship restaurant in Lima, Astrid y Gastón, which Chef Acurio runs with his wife, pastry chef Astrid Gutsche, is responsible for helping to transform contemporary Peruvian cuisine to what it is today; promoting the cuisine and honouring the rich ancestry and traditions of the country. And while the restaurant presents a global platform for Chef Acurio to shine a light on Peruvian ingredients and cooking, he believes the root of change begins at home.
“For me, cooking at home is really where the spirit of cooking is. It’s important for families to cook at home. It unites people and gives value and respect to ingredients. You celebrate food with family. The real deal is at home.”
The son of a former Peruvian senator, Chef Acurio played in a heavy-metal band, dropping out of law school to study cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where he met his German-born wife Astrid Gutsche. They returned to open Astrid y Gastón in 1994 as a traditional French restaurant, but Chef Acurio grew bored, soon replacing imported items with local ingredients and experimental plates.
Some of the signature plates from Astrid y Gastón appeared on the 7-course menu for the media dinner at The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, such as ‘Cebiche afrodisiaco with king crab, sea urchin, clams and scallops’, with added grouper and choclo (Peruvian corn). Other dishes created for the special series of dinners include ‘Tiradito Nikei’ with Ahi tuna, dashi and yellow chilli leche de tigre and avocado, and ‘Estofado de Cordero’ with braised lamb shank, quinoa tamales, and pickle salad.
Returning to the Lifetime Achievement Award, Chef Acurio tells me, “I have a responsibility, like all professional chefs do, to share our stories and make people happy. That’s what food does. It’s a beautiful weapon and we must take that opportunity.”
The World’s 50 Best Resturants 2018 ceremony takes place on the 19th June at Bilbao’s Euskalduna Palace.
For information about the Gastón Acurio dinners at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and to inquire about availability, contact [email protected] or call +66 (2) 659 9000 ext. 7390