La Paz, Bolivia
She may have only burst into global consciousness in 2020 when she appeared on Netflix’s hit series Street Food: Latin America, but Marsia Taha has been quietly earning a reputation in the region for several years. Since joining Gustu in 2013, she has helped raise the profile of Bolivian cuisine both through the restaurant and through her research project, Sabores Silvestres. Now head chef at Gustu and transforming the restaurant with little-known ingredients that show Bolivia at its best, she is blazing a trail for young chefs and helping put her country on the gastronomic map.
Despite studying biochemistry and being on track to work in medicine or biology, the young Taha quickly realised she “had little chemistry with chemistry”. Her mother’s suggestion that she try to put her passion for cooking into a career quickly led to her attending culinary school and falling in love with the profession. After studying in Bolivia and Spain, she worked as a chef in La Paz before hearing about Danish entrepreneur Claus Meyer’s project for Gustu, a restaurant with a socio-economic mission that would pioneer the use of local produce, based on the successful Nordic model.
Taha joined Gustu from the beginning and rose to head chef in 2017, working with great respect for Bolivian producers. In 2018, she realised she was no longer receiving such a strong variety of ingredients and decided to do something about it. Knowing there was more to be discovered, she set up Sabores Silvestres to conduct regular research trips to the Amazon, the Andes and the Altiplano, to connect with communities, discover new produce and preserve and promote local traditions and food heritage. Always with a commitment to sustainability, Taha and her team have uncovered ingredients like tuyu tuyu, larvae that grow inside palm trees and can taste both fruity and succulent.
To eat at Gustu is to eat the Bolivian rainbow – a tasting menu might include sustainable raw alligator with green plantain crisp and citrus granita, or smoked llama with wild quinoa and huacataya herb. The brightly coloured dishes reflect the variety of ingredients from all over Bolivia, many of which the team have brought back to the plate after falling out of use. As well as the eight-course tasting menu, there’s a great value three-course à la carte for about $20, making Gustu accessible to locals and international travellers alike.
In 2021, Taha was selected for the first ever edition of 50 Next, a list of young people shaping the future of gastronomy, for her work as a champion of Bolivian produce. At just 32 years old and as one of few Bolivian women to achieve the position of head chef at a top restaurant, she is setting an example for those who will follow, making her a truly worthy winner of the title of Latin America’s Rising Star Female Chef.
Read the interview with Taha and watch the video:
The Latin America’s Rising Star Female Chef accolade replaces the annual Latin America’s Best Female Chef Award for one year only in 2021. Both prizes aim to support and promote inclusivity in the culinary sphere and provide the opportunity for female role models to inspire future generations of young women to reach for the heights of their chosen profession.
Five women were shortlisted for the title of Latin America’s Rising Star Female Chef, with Taha being declared the winner on 28th October 2021. The other shortlisted candidates were:
- Debora Fadul – Diacá, Guatemala City, Guatemala
- Francesca Ferreyros – Baan, Lima, Peru
- Pía Salazar – Nuema, Quito, Ecuador
- Sofia Pfannl – Pakuri, Asunción, Paraguay
In 2021, due to restaurant closures caused by the pandemic, no vote was held for Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Instead, Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants is holding a special ‘Pasado y Futuro’ edition to be unveiled on 22nd November, recognising the top 100 restaurants of the last eight years of the list, and a series of individual and special awards that celebrate emerging talent.
Discover more about the previous award winners