Around three years ago, people started endorsing Gastón Acurio as the next Peruvian president. Not just friends or admirers he’d meet while shopping in local markets, but in several newspaper articles, Facebook fan pages, TV debates and a new movie, Finding Gaston, from Peruvian director Patricia Perez. Even President Gaston, a fantasy novel by author Niko Chiesa, was a bestseller – such is Acurio’s popularity with both the humble of Cusco and the Lima elite.
But is a mere presidency ambitious enough? After all, what head of state could match the 45-year-old’s achievements as Peru’s global ambassador? Since his original restaurant Astrid Y Gastón opened in Miraflores, Lima in 1994, the chef-restaurateur’s mission has been to emphasise simple Peruvian cooking like ceviche, and rebuild what he called “the strong relationship between the fields and the city.” Now, Acurio’s culinary influence stretches around the world, with new openings and franchises like confectioner T’anta and gastrobar Papachos appearing in 20 cities, from Bogotá to Madrid to New York. As a result, Peru’s comforting, intricately balanced cuisine has never been more in demand.
The secret, as demonstrated by his long-running TV career, is Acurio’s quirky, exuberant personality permeating the entire operation. Where else, other than Astrid Y Gastón, could one enjoy Octopus Trapped In A Smoker Cylinder On Fire (“We give him a little Peruvian yellow potato to relieve the pain”, the menu adds, comfortingly) followed by Punished Apple for dessert?
And yet the empire, built in partnership with his German wife Astrid and head chef Diego Muñoz, is only just beginning – with 35 new openings promised in the next two years. So any presidential aspirations may have to wait.
“The world is finally discovering and appreciating Peru’s gastronomy because of its language,” Acurio told one interviewer. “The fear has been lost and the creative energy released.”