Latin American Food Renaissance Excites Diners

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

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SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Food is essential for a good life and plays a critical part in overall human health and development. The better the quality of food available to the population, the better each individual’s overall health will be, and this will have a direct impact on mental and physical performance (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213453012000055).

An innovative restaurant can be the beginning of a taste and flavors renaissance as new foods are discovered and the recipes and foods are cross-marketed. It is an effective strategy that has worked around the world. The restaurant’s brand, in turn, becomes a valuable commodity that can be used to promote a range of products. For example, Brazil’s D.O.M. Restaurante has successfully used its strong reputation to help promote a range of food products drawn from the Amazon rainforest. There is money to be made in this and it can be a major boost to the incomes of food producers, especially small-scale farmers.

As is being found across South America, a rediscovered love of local cuisines and indigenous culinary culture can also lead to profits and a growing global awareness of the continent’s varied foods and recipes.

Innovators are playing with traditional cooking and locally available foods to come up with a modern Latin American cuisine that is getting people very excited.

The latest country to benefit from this is Peru. The first Michelin star awarded to a Peruvian restaurant in Europe went to a restaurant in London, UK. The Michelin (http://travel.michelin.co.uk/michelin-guides-105-c.asp) star is awarded to a restaurant based on the quality of its food and its overall atmosphere and service.

The London restaurant Lima (limalondon.com) is part of the global rise in awareness of Latin American food. It was launched by Venezuelan brothers Gabriel and Jose Luis Gonzalez in partnership with Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez. Their signature dishes include sea bream ceviche (a lime-preserved raw fish dish) and suckling pig done in the “Andes” style.

Martinez is also a chef consultant for the Central Restaurante (http://centralrestaurante.com.pe/es/) in Lima, Peru. It was named one of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants by S. Pellegrino (theworlds50best.com).

Gabriel Gonzalez moved to London from Paris two years ago, and is surprised at how quickly he and his colleagues have made an impact.

“It was definitely not expected. … It’s just incredible, it definitely sets a precedent for Peruvian food and gives it a stamp of credibility and a lot of promise, it’s just amazing,” he told the London Evening Standard.

As another mark of the rising profile of Latin American food, the first edition of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants was held in Lima in September 2013 (theworlds50best.com/latinamerica/en/). In its press release, it said: “The evolution and robustness of gastronomy in Latin America has demanded recognition.”

It comes after the first expansion of the awards to Asia with Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, held in Singapore in February 2013.

The ceremony in Peru is being seen as another vote of confidence in Peru’s innovative restaurant scene. Other acknowledgements of the country’s culinary success include winning in 2012 the World’s Best Culinary Destination by the World Travel Awards. The Organization of American States (OAS) also declared Peru’s cuisine part of America’s World Heritage (oas.org).

The number of South American restaurants on the The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list increased to six in 2013, two more than in 2012. This year’s winners include the innovative Brazilian restaurant D.O.M  in Sao Paulo, and Astrid y Gaston (http://astridygaston.com/en/) in Lima.

D.O.M. Restaurante’s (http://domrestaurante.com.br/pt-br/home.html) chef Alex Atala is a passionate champion of Brazil’s traditional ingredients and dishes. He trawls the Amazon rainforest for new taste sensations and then deploys them in his inventive dishes in the restaurant. D.O.M. was named the best restaurant in South America for four years in a row by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

At Astrid y Gaston in Lima, an innovative take on menus shows how the restaurant stands out from the rest. The restaurant uses storytelling techniques to build up interest in its various menus. One example is the Winter 2013 Tasting Menu with its title El Viaje, meaning trip or journey. “It is a story told through a long sequence of courses divided into five acts, a mise en scène where we attempt to take the life experiences of a restaurant beyond its traditional gastronomic limits,” the restaurant says on its website.

“During each of the five acts, the dishes, the music, the clothing, the decoration, the tableware and the book that accompanies this experience, will narrate the turning points that define this life journey”

Astrid y Gaston is a partnership between a German and a Peruvian who set out to challenge the dominance of French haute cuisine and started the restaurant in 1994.

“Twenty years later, much has happened with Peru and Peruvian cuisine. Unlike those times when inspiration was sought in foreign ingredients and recipes, when cooks locked themselves up in their kitchens and lived with suspicion of their peers, ignoring the farmers’ work and the social and ecological challenges of the environment, today’s cooking is fortunately getting a breath of fresh and beautiful air.”

Another cuisine pioneer is Pujol (pujol.com.mx) in Mexico City, Mexico. It serves Mexican cuisine focused on local ingredients blending ancient and modern culinary techniques. The food is original and exciting: for starters, there is baby corn and chicatana ant, aguachile with chia seeds and avocado, suckling lamb taco, and for desert, fermented plantain, macadamia nuts, plantain vinegar and chamomile flower petals.

The potential is enormous for marrying these restaurant innovators with the many small-scale farmers and food producers to boost awareness of their products and increase incomes across South and Central America.

Resources

1) Latin American food pyramid: A guide to eating a healthy diet using common foods from Latin America. Website: http://www.foodpyramid.com/food-pyramids/latin-american-pyramid/

2) Visit Peru: Peru Tourism Bureau: Includes extensive information on Peruvian food and cuisine. Website: http://visitperu.com/

3) How functional foods play critical roles in human health by Guangchang Pang, Junbo Xie, Qingsen Chen and Zhihe Hu. Website: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213453012000055

Southern Innovator Issue 3: Agribusiness and Food Security: Website: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=-Y6Gnqx9PIcC&source=gbs_similarbooks_r&cad=2

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