Peruvian cuisine’s recent global popularity naturally began at home, with a few discerning gourmets championing the country’s exceptional diversity in ingredients and influences. Chief among those cheerleaders is Gaston Acurio, restaurateur extraordinaire and the subject of Patricia Perez’s worshipful, mouth-watering “Finding Gaston.” If no man is a hero to his valet, no executive chef is a hero to his line cooks, yet such a possibility would seem like sacrilege here among all the accolades. Perez’s enthusiasm is infectious, and Acurio’s support of indigenous farmers and fishermen laudatory; combined with attractive lensing, what more does a culinary documentary need? Pic will be ideal fare for food channels worldwide.
In the docu “Peru Sabe: Cuisine as an Agent of Social Change,” Gaston was a sort of sidekick to Ferran Adria; here, he’s front and center, with ample testimony to his vision from such rock-star chefs as Rene Redzepi and Massimo Bottura. Curiously, Acurio began his restaurant career in Lima, serving up French cuisine with his German wife, Astrid, but feeling unfulfilled, he began thinking about the richness of his country’s gastronomic offerings, and Astrid y Gaston was born, consistently earning coveted spots on lists of the world’s top dining establishments.
That was just the start — Acurio rivals Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in the number of restaurants he runs, with franchises from Miami to London. His indefatigable personality makes him the perfect ambassador for Peru: It used to be that the country was best known for Machu Picchu, but now apparently it’s the food, and if pundits are to believed, that’s largely because of Acurio. Perez films him traveling the country, sampling regional fare and praising local quinoa farmers practicing traditional crop-raising techniques, as well as fishermen whose methods privileged sustainability long before it was a fashionable concept.
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Of course the film also includes the kinds of nail-biting scenes featured in shows like “Chopped,” with Acurio sampling and criticizing dishes brought him by assistant chefs. More often, though, he’s seen nurturing talent: educating school kids about the riches of their land, encouraging a new generation of culinary students, praising local cooks. A host of talking heads testify to Acurio’s significant impact at home and abroad in raising the country’s profile and encouraging a sense of Peruvian pride.
Noticeably absent is Astrid, though their flagship restaurant puts her name before his (she’s glimpsed briefly at a restaurant awards ceremony). More importantly, the food here looks absolutely scrumptious, lovingly photographed in ways that highlight the delectable colors, full of reds, yellows and deep purples. The way Perez organizes the documentary’s various themes feels less than surefooted, but Peruvian restaurants and food carts will see business jump wherever “Finding Gaston” plays.