I have just returned from a two week trip to Peru taking in the varied sights of the Amazon rainforest, the Inca trail and finally the world’s highest Lake Titicaca. Our trip was not a culinary one, but I couldn’t help think about the fact that Peruvian food is capturing the imagination of most switched on foodies these days.

Last year, the key chefs of the world travelled to Lima to partake in the Mistura Festival which is Peru’s annual 10 day celebration of local food. It boasts street food, farmers, restaurants and a variety of focused corners showcasing the country’s chocolate, bread, coffee and of course the signature alcohol: Pisco. This September festival in Lima drew in 600,000 people this year so it is an impressive showcase. There has to be something to see when you consider the fact that Ferran Adria, Dan Barber, Heston Blumenthal, Michel Bras and Rene Redzepi all went to see what was on offer. It’s quite an impressive list of attendees. So how did Peruvian food come to be so important? Well you can pretty much put that down to one man: Gaston Acurio.

Gaston Acurio

Gaston and his wife Astrid have 28 restaurants around the world including the eponymous Astrid y Gaston in Lima which entered the World’s 50 best restaurant list at number 42 this year. He may be called the Jamie Oliver of Peru but frankly I think that under sells the influence of this man. He clearly leads the way in his country and has not taken that responsibility lightly. He is the father of the Mistura and as such has earned his place as a Peruvian national hero extolling the virtues of his very own Peruvian cuisine.

“If you’re fortunate enough to occupy a position where people listen to you, you need to use your voice wisely. One man can be strong, but if he uses his power to help his people, amazing things can happen. In Peru there is no ME. There is only WE” he says.

If you think this sounds a little unlikely, then think about the street food vendors we visited on our way up to Lake Titicaca. Who could have predicted that this unassuming Peruvian blanket covered a local lamb delicacy? even though it was served in a yellow plastic bag!

Underneath the blanket lay sheets of brown paper and inside there, slow cooked, seasoned, flavoured lamb that was crispy at the edges and soft and juicy inside. There was nothing glamorous about this. It was hacked apart with a cleaver and ripped with her hands so even the hardiest of street food veterans may have wondered what it was all about, but when you tasted it….well, let’s just say you had to be there.

Mr. Acurio was told about these ladies and their wonderful lamb some years ago. Our tour guide told me that Gaston made his way up to find them simply to try out the lamb and bring them back to attend the Mistura that year. Apparently, as a result of attending the festival, they now own a really successful restaurant in Lima serving the very same lamb. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

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