¡Gastón para presidente!
Gastón Acurio's flagship "Astrid y Gastón" restaurant in Lima, recently honoured as the 14th best restaurant in the world. (Photo: San Pellegrino.)
He’s a hero in his own country – Peru – and a familiar and respected presence throughout Latin America. Lately, he has been gaining fame in diverse U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and (soon) Miami, where he has extended his influence or soon will. Now the rumour mill suggests he might even take a shot at the Peruvian presidency in 2016.
That would be a switch.
After all, Gastón Acurio is not a politician. He’s a chef.
But not just any chef.
He’s the multi-millionaire owner of a cluster of restaurants in his own country, with an expanding constellation of celebrated eateries scattered across the length and breadth of Mexico and South America, not to mention Madrid. He’s also the champion of contemporary Peruvian cuisine, a gustatory fashion that goes by the name of Nueva Andina – “new Andean” – and might be described as a fusion of Peruvian gastronomic traditions with influences from Asia and elsewhere.
His flagship Astrid y Gastón restaurant in Lima was recently selected the 14th best restaurant in the world, on a list sponsored by mineral-water purveyor San Pellegrino.
They surely love the man in Lima, which is now widely regarded as the culinary capital of Latin America, a city where you have to push yourself pretty darned hard in order to find a less than excellent meal.
But what has food got to do with politics?
In the past, Acurio has flatly ruled out the merest suggestion that he might one day exchange a cooking pot for the presidency. In a recent interview with Lima newspaper El Comercio, however, he seemed to take a subtly different tack.
On the one hand, he appeared to dismiss the whole political thing out of hand, as usual.
“Maybe this is your moment,” suggested interviewer Milagros Leiva. “People say it all the time.”
“Yeah, they say it constantly,” he replied. “I won’t ever get tired of trying to convince them that it would be the wrong choice.”
That seems fairly categorical, but the interviewer was nothing if not persistent.
“Don’t dance around the question,” she said. “Is it possible that you will throw your hat in the ring?”
In reply, Acurio said this: “If you ask me right now, I’ll tell you that it’s not possible. Today, I’m telling you it’s not possible. Tomorrow, I don’t know.”
Tomorrow, he doesn’t know?
In one sense, this is merely a statement of the obvious. (Tomorrow, we don’t know, either.) But among gossipmongers – no less plentiful a breed in Peru than elsewhere – it’s tantamount to an official declaration of the man's candidacy.
¡Gastón para presidente, 2016!
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Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter for the Toronto Star.