Nearly twenty years ago the restaurant Astrid y Gaston opened in an old house at Calle Cantuarias 175 in the Miraflores neighborhood of Lima, Peru. In 2014, after being named the #1 restaurant in Latin America and #14 on San Pellegrino’s World’s Best Restaurant list, the restaurant, long having outgrown its original location, will be moving into an old hacienda in San Isidro that is currently being transformed into one of the greatest restaurant spaces on planet earth. It will also have a new name: Astrid Y Gastón Casa Moreyra.
When the restaurant began in July of 1994, chef Gastón Acurio and his German born wife Astrid Gutsche, recent graduates of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, opened a restaurant serving classic French dishes. It only had mild success. However, around this time something began to change in Lima and all of Peru for that matter. The native ingredients like quinoa and olluco, once looked down upon as peasant food by the people of Lima, began to be explored. The publisher Bernardo Roca Rey and chef Cucho la Rosa began creating new dishes, applying international techniques to these ancient grains and other Peruvian ingredients, as well as rescuing long forgotten recipes. Realizing the potential of the diverse set of ingredients around him, Acurio saw an opening. Increasingly he began cooking Peruvian food and giving it gourmet touches, while at the same time, Peru, closed off and disorganized from years of terrorism and government instability, began to come together around food. Soon he became the biggest name in Peruvian gastronomy, his name on billboards, the author of dozens of cookbooks, and the host of a television show, Aventuras Culinarias, that explored rural cookeries and selflessly promoted the food of some of the country’s under recognized culinary greats. Today Acurio has more than 30 restaurants around the globe and countless others on the way and Peruvian food has become one of the great culinary discoveries of the new millennium, yet this one restaurant remains a shining beacon to Peruvian food around the world.
Developments have been ongoing for sometime to turn Astrid y Gastón into something more than just the flagship of the Acurio empire. In late 2011, Diego Muñoz, a chef who had put in his time at many of the world’s great kitchens, from Bilson’s in Australia to Spain’s Mugaritz and El Bulli, was named executive chef. Last year he initiated a haute degustation menu, called La Naturaleza, that rivaled any other in South America. Recently, Luis Garcia the floor director of El Bulli, was hired on full time and another sommelier from El Bulli may join the growing team as well. The latest menu, El Viaje, the last in the original space, telling the story of an Italian immigrant to Peru, was a work of culinary theatrics rarely seen in a restaurant of this caliber.
The final piece of the puzzle will be completed in February of 2014, or so they hope. Ongoing for several years, Casa Moreyra, a 17th century hacienda originally constructed by Lima aristocracy and was only passed between a few families in all of those centuries. Even with several major earthquakes in the city, much of the original character of the Casa Moreyra remains in its original form.
A few weeks ago as Mistura was ongoing, Muñoz and Garcia, were kind enough to show myself and a few other journalists around the future home of Astrid y Gastón Casa Moreyra. Though it is still very much a dusty construction site in the hands of renowned Peruvian architectural firm 51-1 Arquitectos, the magnitude of this project, estimated to top $2 million, is clearly evident. On entering the compound through a circular driveway, you are face to face with a small chapel and the main building, graced by a grand staircase that will lead to small salon that will act as a lobby of sorts. To left will be a gastrobar, which will seat 60 and feature cocktails and light menu items. Straight and to the right are a maze of salons and dining rooms, where gilded mirrors and some period pieces are already installed. Inside they are actively rescuing loads of original details: hand painted murals and tiles, cornices, balconies, ceilings, teatinas (a type of locally used raised skylight), and hand carved wood of every sort. There will be five kitchens in total, event spaces, a text kitchen at the basement level, a large garden area plus roof space. Whatever was lacking at the Calle Cantuarias location will be possible here. Every dream and idea the Acurio group has ever had can come to fruition here. Think of Wonka’s Choclate factory but with a Peruvian food theme. There is still a lot of work to be done and nothing is set in stone as of yet. Here’s a first look:
Astrid Y Gastón Casa Moreyra
Avenida Paz Soldán 290
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.