Fish cured in citrus juice

Fish cured in citrus juice

Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio is on a ceviche tour to promote the iconic dish and may even open a restaurant here

Acclaimed Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio is on a mission to promote South American cuisine on a global scale and he is going beyond his empire of 44 restaurants to do it.

Hailed as an ambassador for Peruvian cuisine, the 47-year-old is on a quest to promote the iconic Peruvian dish, ceviche, a cured fish or seafood dish.

He has assembled a team of three other chefs and they are called Tiger's Milk Gang, in reference to the term Le Leche de Tigre, or Tiger's Milk. The name refers to the citrus-based marinade used to cure the seafood in a ceviche.

The three Peruvian chefs are Virgilio Martinez of Central (No. 15 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 list), Mitsuharu Tsumura of Maido (No. 11 on Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 list), and Rafael Piqueras of Maras.

Acurio and his wife are the founders of Peruvian restaurant Astrid y Gaston, which is No. 18 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants 2014.

The team has been to cities such as Paris, Barcelona and Argentina. Singa- pore is the only Asian stop for the ceviche tour.

Chef Acurio speaks excitedly to Life! on the telephone from his hometown in Lima about the tour: "We've been working for the past 10 years to promote Peruvian cuisine and to train the new generation of chefs. We promote the food with the same intensity as we did before and do something unique to show that our cuisine is multicultural with our language - ceviche."

He will also be cooking at Restaurant Andre and Ola Cocina Del Mar, and says he is excited to try the street food here.

It may be his first time in Singapore, but Acurio already has his eye on opening one of his restaurant concepts - La Mar - here. The restaurant chain is well known for its ceviches and fresh seafood.

He says Peru cuisine has strong Japanese and Chinese influences.

Peruvian cuisine with a Japanese influence is called Nikkei, while Chifa is the name for Peruvian cuisine with a Chinese influence.

He says: "In some cases, you would have Peruvian ingredients in Chinese recipes and vice versa. It is the perfect balance, with a lot of respect. It is not a reinvention."

And through his ceviche tour, he also showcases different ways of creating the same dish, as each region and chef would have their own take on the ingredients and flavour.

The ceviche from chef Tsumura, for example, will have Japanese accents.

The Lima-born Acurio, whose father is an 84-year-old retired politician and mother an 80-year-old housewife, wanted to be a chef at the age of seven.

He was spurred to create his own dishes because the "food in my house was not too good".

And even though he was pushed to attend law school by his parents, he quit and headed to culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu in Paris instead.

Now, having passed the reigns of Astrid y Gaston to new head chef Diego Munoz, he is working even harder to rally a foodie community in Peru and getting chefs and producers to work together.

He says: "This is not a marketing campaign. It is about unifying the chefs' community for everyone to help, trust and fight together for the dream. It is about letting the locals feel the pride and heritage of our culture."

The father of two daughters is also training the next generation of chefs. He runs a cooking institute to train underprivileged kids to become chefs and is working on a culinary university slated to open next year.

He says: "The students will be trained in the new vision of chefs in the 21st century. They will be leaders and storytellers. But they will still have roots in farming, agriculture and fishing."

His 44-year-old wife Astrid, who works closely with him, handles the chocolate side of his restaurants and is in charge of linking chocolate producers with the chefs.

Acurio speaks so passionately about his mission that people in Peru have urged him to run for president.

Calling it the "generosity" of the Peruvians, he chuckles heartily and says: "It is not going to happen. I stay as a politician in the restaurant. People do not trust the politicians in Peru very much. They think because chefs are efficient in the kitchen, they will be likewise in politics. That is not true."

He emphasises the need to have "democracy and honesty" in the kitchen, where both chefs and diners are treated with respect.

What matters most to him, though, is that his family has accepted his profession.

He says: "When I went home after culinary school, my family was waiting for a lawyer. But they got a chef instead and were very unhappy. Now, they are very proud. My father never dreamt that a chef could be considered in the running for president."

This article was first published on March 4, 2015.
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