For the first time in its brief history, Masticar, the most important culinary fair in Argentina, added another country to its roster, and it’s really no surprise that the honor went to Peru, the darling of the food world for the last several years. The all-star lineup of participating Peruvian chefs is headed by none other than Mr. Gastón Acurio himself, the godfather and mastermind behind the massive gastronomical movement his native country has been experiencing over the last decade.
Aside from experiencing some of its amazing dishes (the cebiche in La Mar is definitely a must on anyone’s Masticar to-do list) and snapping up all sorts of goodies at their very own stand in the market, hosting a country like Peru as a guest also carries other sorts of virtues. However, none may be as important as learning, first-hand, how is it that its gastronomy evolved into the global powerhouse it is today, an overwhelming success as a model for turning food into the spearhead of a country’s touristic appeal.
One of the Peruvian chefs arriving in Buenos Aires is Javier Ampuero, owner of Candela Cocina Artesanal in Lima as well as TV personality and co-author of some of the most influential books about the country’s cuisine such as Cocina de Alto Vuelo and Los Ajíes. In his opinion, one of the main reasons behind Peru’s successful campaigns has to do with making everybody part of the process, from every possible part of the ecosystem: “When we began with this process, we knew we had to benefit the farmer, the people behind the distribution, those working on the financial aspects, the restaurant owners and, obviously, the chefs. All those parts have to be clear on the goals for the the benefits to be visible in time.”
In that sense, there were a couple of important moments for Peruvian cuisine that are seen by many as the turning points for what is has become since. On the one hand, there was the creation of APEGA, a non-profit organization founded by the aforementioned Gastón Acurio in 2007, whose purpose has been to “articulate efforts to give Peruvian cuisine the place it deserves in the world, and make it a source of identity, innovation, and sustainable development for Peruvians.”
In short, APEGA brings together pretty much all the possible branches of the culinary field, including academic institutions, journalists, producers, and many others.
On the other hand, APEGA created Mistura in 2008, a sort of precursor for Argentina’s own Masticar, which has become in time the most massive fair of its kind in the continent, with more than half a million attendees during its last edition. For Tomás Matsufuji, founder of Al Toke Pez, one of the the most acclaimed cebicherías in Lima and another member of the Peruvian contingency arriving at Masticar, the work done by APEGA can be summed up in one simple word: union. “Union between the cooks and all the other parts of the chain. We had to face the world together. We had to create a gastronomy without any inferiority complex, without jealousy between us, without looking as our colleagues as competition but as allies.”
The rest of the group of chefs arriving at Masticar is a prime example of both the diversity in Peruvian cuisine and the huge success it has been dishing out recently. There is young Virgilio Martínez, the chef behind Central, the best restaurant in Latin America according to Restaurant Magazine and the 5th in the world; there is traditional chef José del Castillo, from Taberna Isolina fame; there’s Jorge Muñoz whose one Michelin star restaurant Pakta has been revolutionizing Barcelona, and several other renowned chefs that will be imparting their knowledge across Masticar all weekend long.
For young chefs like Muñoz, his first trip to Argentina has been an opportunity to explore both the richness of its cuisine and the enormous impact that Peruvian chefs have been having on the country’s cooking scene. “I didn’t know the Peruvian community was so big here,” he explains. “It’s been very nice to come face to face with that reality since I myself have been living abroad in Spain for so long so I really value it.”
For Muñoz, food has had a historical place in uniting cultures and can have that same effect in Argentina and all over the continent. “Latin America is one and we need to recognize each other as the same thing. It’s the same cooking, the same ingredients, when you think about it. With something as simple as food, you can change a lot of things.”
This idea of food as a symbol of Latin American unity is shared by several of the other chefs and can also be seen as an important key to the Peruvian culinary boom. As chef Ampuero explains: “The kitchen has always been where the family gets together, where friends meet, where the people from the neighborhood meet. And it can definitely be the same between countries. I thing we’ve been able to do it in Peru and I see it being done in Argentina thanks to initiatives like Masticar.”
Last but definitely not least, is there is the concept of pride, an idea that has been the backbone of the movement from its beginnings and continues to be its driving force. “A lot of people want to imitate what chefs do in Europe, but South America has amazing food and has nothing to be envious about,” explains chef Matsufuji. “We’re blessed to have the best products in great conditions year round, we don’t have to import anything, we have an amazing pantry. The meats, the cheeses, the wines, the seafood, things we still haven’t even discovered. Why not say ‘my Cau Cau is just as delicious as that soufflé or that quiche. We have no reasons for feeling inferior. We’re just as good”.
For more information on the special activities by the chefs representing Peru in Masticar, visit the fair’s official website