He has been called the unofficial ambassador of Peruvian cuisine, but chef Gaston Acurio prefers to share that title with his fellow countrymen.
"For us as Peruvians, we feel that we represent the culture all over the world," he said. "For us, it's the opportunity to promote our food, our culture, our image."
Modesty aside, Acurio is undoubtedly the face of Peruvian cuisine. He has some 40 restaurants across the world, from Madrid to Miami, and his flagship restaurant, Astrid&Gaston, was ranked No. 14 on this year's World's 50 Best Restaurants. And now his latest spot, La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental in Miami, is scheduled to launch in February.
"We feel like we have the opportunity to share with the world our lovely food that we've been hiding for a long time," he said in an interview Wednesday.
Hiding, indeed. Peruvian cuisine was named the top ethnic cuisine for 2014 among chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association. Yet even Acurio acknowledges that Peruvian food has yet to take off in the U.S.
"You know how many years it took Italian food to become global? One-hundred years. Japanese food? Forty years. Peruvian food, maybe five more years," the chef said with a laugh.
Acurio said now is the right time to introduce Americans to Peruvian cuisine because "in this journey we've been trying to put in people's heart the flavors or Peru."
It may take a popular street food in Peru to get more Americans to chow down on the flavorful and often spicy cuisine. Ceviche, or fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices, is one of the most popular dishes in the country — and abroad. When most Americans think of Peruvian food they think of ceviche, Acurio said. And then there's also the popular pisco sour, a delicious sweet and citrusy cocktail with a refreshing hint of lime.
Acurio says La Mar in Miami will serve up inviting helpings of both — pisco sours along with authentic flavors of Peruvian gastronomy, from novo-Andean fare to Asian-Peruvian fusion and traditional seafood ceviche.
For Acurio, fostering the next generation of Peruvian chefs is just as important as opening a new restaurant in the U.S. He is the primary supporter of the Pachacutec School of Cuisine located in one of the poorest areas in Lima. "If I know that there are young kids hugely talented in my country and suddenly they can make it, then one day they will be the ambassadors."