“It is possible to change the world through food” – Michelangelo Cestari

Laura Price - 17/11/2017

Five years after he arrived in La Paz with chef Kamilla Seidler to set up Gustu, restaurateur and entrepreneur Michelangelo Cestari talks about how the project began, why it is now ready to flourish on its own and where he plans to roll out the concept beyond Bolivia.

Cestari spoke at the “#50BestTalks Latin America: united by food” event in Bogotá, part of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017, alongside Malena Martínez of Central and Mater Iniciativa and Sergio Meza and Nicolás López of Villanos en Bermudas. Read some of the key points from his talk and watch the full video below.

Our story didn’t start in Bolivia. We [Kamilla Seidler and I] were part of a group run by Claus Meyer, one of the founders and investors in Noma.

In 2012, Claus spoke at TEDxCopenhagen about the possibility of adapting the Nordic Cuisine Manifesto to other countries. We talked about how we could somehow replicate the results we’d had in Denmark in places with much bigger social and economic challenges – and that is where Bolivia comes in.

Bolivia was a pilot project. Now we are in the process of expanding the model, which is one of integration of social and commercial entities.

Gustu restaurant works with 100% Bolivian ingredients. The idea was to mimic what the Nordic Cuisine Manifesto had done. Gustu also acts as a cooking school.

When I lived in Copenhagen, I didn’t know what Bolivia was like. I imagined it one way and it turned out to be a spectacular place, incredible, marvellous, with fantastic people – and if it weren’t for those people, the last five years of results wouldn’t have been possible.

From the very beginning, we were always preparing for the day when Gustu would be able to run completely with local talent. After five years, I can now say that all of the units we built are sustainable, independent and led by local people.

Kamilla and I thought we would stay up to a year and a half in Bolivia. We ended up staying five years because we fell in love with the place and saw a lot of opportunities. Now we have two new head chefs, Mauricio López and Marsia Taha, so it has been a success story but there is still a lot to learn.

Manq’a began in 2014 and we now have 10 restaurant-schools in La Paz, Bogotá, Cali and we’re opening in Sucre. The idea is to grow, because Manq’a is a development project that we’ve inserted into vulnerable societies. We did it to encourage education, empowerment and employability through courses, but we also offer products like baked goods and jams to create sustainable models.

Melting Pot, the holding company that we created as a non-profit, is now independent and I’m so happy about that. I’m moving to Bogotá now with idea of showing that it is possible to change the world through food. We can turn this into something much bigger.

Watch Cestari's full speech at #50BestTalks: 

Stay tuned for videos from Malena Martínez and Sergio Meza and Nicolás López at #50BestTalks Latin America: united by food.

Now watch the highlights from Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017:

Discover the full list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna. For more videos and photos, subscribe to the 50 Best YouTube channel, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.