As I sat in a conference listening to Sonia Bahamonde of the cult cebicheria Sonia in Chorrillos speak to a closed room of Latin American reporters, along with her husband Fredy and daughter who is also named Sonia, a sort of hubbub came from outside. Shouts of “Gaston, Gaston” rang out and came closer. Soon Gaston Acurio, Peru’s most famous chef and the organizer of Mistura, walked in the door. He stood to one side of the room, certain not to interrupt one of his culinary idols. He was just catching his breath it seemed. Sonia gave him a big smile, but went right on answering questions like it didn’t faze her. Acurio soon walked out and a cloud of paparazzi and screams chased him as he went out the door. Lines formed to take pictures of him and crowds swarmed him. If you didn’t know who he was you would think the President or Paris Hilton were walking by. That is his curse, but if it wasn’t for him, none of this would be possible.
While the event is for the public, the chefs here – of the past, present, and future – are the stars. The old ones are treated like heroes. In the Restaurantes de Oculto (Cult Restaurants) section posters that stand fifty feet high are draped on the side of a stadium with the images of Javier Wong, Teresa Izquierdo, and Humberto Sato. The festivalgoers recognize them from their restaurants and from TV and ask for their photos and signatures. The chefs of the present make their mark in the dozens upon dozens of restaurants that have set up stands to sell a few of their dishes. They are creative and use catchy names and flashy signs. They’re talented too and have studied their craft well. They are taking Peruvian cuisine to new levels everyday.
Then there are the chefs of tomorrow, the hordes of young chefs wearing the white jackets of their culinary schools. They are everywhere at Mistura. This festival is for them more than any others. They are having life changing moments as they meet these iconic figures and ask them the questions that will alter their understanding of cooking forever. More than the enormous crowds – which are expected to top 200,000 for the 6-day event and make it the largest gastronomic festival in South America – the young chefs are encouraging. They are the ones that will buy organic produce. They will work with farmers in remote parts of the Andes and Amazon and encourage them to preserve the rarest of ingredients and it will encourage many others to do so. They will be the ones who not only make Peruvian cuisine into a household name around the world, but will save their country from the disastrous environmental concerns that await with the onslaught of multinational companies that are slicing up Peru as I write this.
Mistura 2010 Day 1 By The Numbers:
-An estimated 20,000 People entered the event.
-Tia Grimanesa sold more than 1,200 skewers of anticuchos.
-Los Carritos de Papas, the rolling carts that can be found most days in the neighborhood of Rimac, sold 1,000 portions of potatoes with Queso fresco, choclo, charqui, and egg.
-Tamales Magaly sold 1,000 portions of her famous tamales.
-El Rinconcito Arequipeño sold 500 portions of Queso Helado and more than 1,000 portions of chupe before 3pm.
Parque de la Exposición
September 7-12, 2010
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.