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TED en Español en NYC

Gastón Acurio: Can home cooking change the world?

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When Gastón Acurio started his now world-famous restaurant Astrid & Gastón in the 1990s, no one suspected that he would elevate the Peruvian home-cooking he grew up with to haute cuisine. Nearly thirty years and a storied career later, the chef wants the rest of us to embrace our culinary roots and transform the world with the meals we prepare each day. (In Spanish with English subtitles)

- Chef
Gastón Acurio is a chef, writer, entrepreneur and one of the most important promoters of Peruvian cooking in the world. Full bio

We're living in difficult times
00:12
because, on one hand,
thanks to connectivity,
00:15
we can see the most
beautiful sides of humanity
00:17
but, on the other hand, also the ugliest:
00:20
hunger, violence, war,
hatred, intolerance;
00:23
daily scenes
00:27
that, when we come home
at the end of the day,
00:29
we feel that everything is kind of lost.
00:31
But it's not,
00:34
because it's precisely at home
where we might find
00:36
one of the most infallible tools
00:40
to fight for the nutritional,
00:42
emotional and environmental
well-being of our planet.
00:47
Where at home?
00:50
Well, in the kitchen.
00:52
I'll tell you why with three stories.
00:55
The first one:
00:58
I'm from Lima,
00:59
a product of mixed bloods, as you can see:
01:00
my mother, a daughter of the coastal area,
aristocratic and viceregal,
01:05
and my father, a son of the Andes,
the Incas, from Cuzco.
01:09
So in my home,
01:13
the Andes and the coastal area,
which are historically confrontational,
01:15
ended up together because of love,
01:18
as happened to most people from Lima,
descendants of diverse backgrounds:
01:20
Africans with people from the Amazons,
01:24
Japanese with Andeans,
01:25
Chinese with Italians.
01:26
Like this love story, for example:
01:30
the daughter of a prosperous
Cantonese store owner
01:31
fell in love playing on the streets
of the port of Callao in Lima
01:36
with the son of a famous
Genovese pastry chef from Italy.
01:40
In the beginning, their parents
were totally against their love,
01:46
so they decided to run away
to create their home.
01:49
It's there that they discover
their biggest differences.
01:52
Where? On the table.
01:55
She discovers that she really loved
01:56
the fried rice that her father
used to make for her in the wok.
01:59
And he loved his grandmother's
slow-cooked risotto.
02:02
She wanted to add soy sauce to everything.
02:05
(Laughter)
02:08
And he wanted to add
Parmesan cheese to everything.
02:09
(Laughter)
02:12
In the end, they come to an agreement:
02:14
They cook their rice in the wok,
02:18
but they slow cook it.
02:20
(Laughter)
02:22
They add a little bit of Parmesan cheese
02:23
and a little bit of soy sauce.
02:25
And a new dish is born:
02:27
the Peruvian rice with seafood,
02:29
which has a little bit from one,
and a little bit from the other --
02:31
like all the dishes in our cuisine
02:36
with that magical seal of a Peru
02:38
that, for many centuries,
received millions of people
02:41
who had the dream of
building their lives in our country.
02:44
They were not received in ghettos
02:49
or separated,
02:51
but integrated, joined together,
02:53
and, at least in the kitchen,
02:55
learned to build
bountiful bridges of love and peace.
02:57
The message from Peru is clear:
03:01
nothing bad can happen to us;
03:04
only good things will occur
when we embrace our diversity.
03:06
The second story is about me, a chef.
03:11
I started my training in Paris,
as a student,
03:17
where I also had the good fortune
of meeting my wife, Astrid,
03:20
who I convinced to come to Peru,
03:24
to make our dream come true:
a small restaurant,
03:27
a nice restaurant
that would support our family.
03:31
This was our first restaurant:
03:34
Astrid and Gastón.
03:36
This was the 90s,
03:37
and during the 90s -- as was happening
with cuisines across most of the world --
03:39
we were living under the influence
of the French haute cuisine,
03:43
in a world where the local public
would also always prefer
03:49
anything that came from abroad,
rather than from our own land.
03:54
Maybe that's the reason
why when we came home,
03:59
even though we had
a lot of customers every day,
04:02
we didn't feel fulfilled.
04:04
We'd hear that little voice saying:
04:07
"Does it make sense
04:10
to have a French restaurant,
04:12
run by a German and a Peruvian,
04:15
in a city that is not in France,
but in Peru?"
04:18
(Laughter)
04:21
The answer would come years later,
at the beginning of this century,
04:23
when two important events took place.
04:28
First, the world was
becoming connected through internet.
04:31
As a result, countries started to value
the diversity of their people,
04:34
and Peru was one of them.
04:38
Second, the Peruvian economy
began to experience a steady growth
04:39
after the defeat of the Shining Path.
04:42
It was the perfect timing
04:45
for my generation of cooks and chefs
04:47
to begin to work together;
04:50
to move past egos, vanities and distrust,
04:54
and to remove any competition between us
04:58
in order to work for those
who didn't have a voice:
05:00
the cooks in the corners,
the cooks in the markets,
05:04
the small farmers in the Amazon,
in the Andes, on the coast,
05:07
the artisanal fishermen on the Pacific --
05:11
all historically forgotten
05:13
or underappreciated.
05:16
Thanks to this movement,
we began to envision
05:18
an opportunity to build
a space of mutual trust,
05:22
an environment of trust
that would allow us
05:27
to work toward collective goals
05:29
that were much more important
and transcendental.
05:32
Thanks to this movement,
05:35
we started to imagine a Peruvian cuisine
05:37
that would bring a new message
05:41
of a magical and seductive Peru
to the world,
05:43
with Peruvian restaurants
that spread all over the world
05:47
transformed into vibrant embassies
05:50
promoting our culture
and our products every day
05:52
and convincing the world's tourists
to come and visit Peru.
05:56
In the beginning, as it usually happens,
06:01
they thought we were crazy utopians.
06:04
"Ceviche?
06:08
As important as a French dish?"
06:10
(Laughter)
06:12
"Using our cooking, an insignificant
and day-to-day event,
06:14
as a tool to promote the image
of our country to the world,
06:17
or as a key to unify a nation?"
06:21
"No, that's impossible," they'd say.
06:23
But, it happened.
06:26
Today, the Peruvian cuisine is
in people's hearts all over the world.
06:29
Thanks to that, something very important
happened -- even more important
06:32
than the presence of ceviche today
on menus of famous restaurants in Paris;
06:36
or that Peruvian cuisine is now,
without doubt, at the same level
06:42
as those other
great cuisines of the world;
06:45
or that Lima has become
a hotspot for tourists
06:47
thanks to the virtues of its gastronomy,
06:50
creating opportunities and jobs
for many people.
06:53
The most important thing that we achieved
06:57
was to build a deep sense of
confidence and belief in our identity,
07:01
and a space of union amongst Peruvians
07:06
that moves us when we see our cuisine
recognized around the world.
07:10
It's true that for a long time,
07:17
we were told that it'd be better
if we denied our origins --
07:20
that to be valued,
07:24
we must act like Europeans or Americans.
07:27
As a result, full of fear,
we hid this love from our parents,
07:31
to protect it.
07:35
But finally, today we can celebrate
07:36
proudly, with confidence and in peace,
07:40
our multicultural identity.
07:43
The message in this second story
also emphasizes the idea
07:46
that cooking can be a tool
07:50
for happiness and well-being
if we embrace our multicultural identity.
07:52
The third story does not bring
very good news.
07:57
From the Industrial Revolution until now,
08:01
we have been forced into a lifestyle
08:05
that prompts us to consume products
we don't really need.
08:07
Products that are also cut off
08:12
from the rational use
of our ingredients and environment --
08:16
but that marketing campaigns
have led us to believe
08:22
we couldn't happily live without them.
08:26
Today, for example, this has culminated in
08:31
more people dying due to obesity
than due to hunger.
08:36
In developed cities,
08:39
more people die by suicide than by crime.
08:41
In the case of Peru,
08:46
despite a growing economy,
there's malnutrition and anemia
08:48
in places that export their own food,
08:53
while the Amazon and our seas
are being destroyed and overfished.
08:55
Here is where cooking can help us again --
09:02
not just in Peru, but all over the world.
09:07
How?
09:10
By placing cooking
at the heart of our homes,
09:12
at the center of everything,
09:14
with information and education.
09:16
Because with information and education,
we can make the right decisions
09:17
about what to cook and what to eat
so we can find a new balance,
09:23
in which we can all live in harmony.
09:27
A new harmony between
health and enjoyment,
09:31
between small producers
and the big industries,
09:34
between the local culture
and the environment,
09:38
between local products
and universal products.
09:41
That's precisely the reason
09:44
why we have to place cooking
at the heart of our homes.
09:46
Because if we take
this message to every home,
09:49
if cooking becomes important
again in each home,
09:51
the effects in the market
and in many other activities
09:55
would be massive and powerful.
09:59
Maybe some are thinking
10:02
the same thing as those
other people who thought that
10:05
Peruvian cuisine would never be
in the hearts of people around the world.
10:09
I can imagine them thinking:
10:17
How can we relay to the public
10:19
a message explaining that a balanced meal
10:22
cooked in their home kitchen
10:25
is the best tool to fight
inequality and disease
10:27
and to help save the environment?
10:32
How can we convince politicians
10:34
to write global public policies
following this idea?
10:37
It looks impossible.
10:40
How can we achieve this?
10:41
To be honest, we don't know.
10:42
(Laughter)
10:45
That's the reason why, for a long time,
10:48
chefs from around the world
have been working together,
10:50
each of us in our own field,
10:54
to reach the goal
of spreading this message --
10:55
and not waiting for the governments.
11:00
For example, here in New York,
Dan Barber, in his Blue Hill,
11:03
very close to New York City,
11:06
has been fighting for a long time
11:08
to show that a diverse
and sustainable agriculture
11:10
can produce food and products
of high quality at a massive scale
11:14
for all families --
11:18
and they can be delicious, accessible,
healthy, friendly and sustainable.
11:19
Or in France, the great chef
Alain Ducasse in his Hôtel Plaza Athénée,
11:25
on Avenue Montaigne,
the most luxurious of Paris,
11:28
decided to remove meat from his menu
11:31
without fearing that
his sometimes capricious clients
11:33
might leave --
11:37
because he's aware of the negative impact
that excessive meat consumption
11:38
has on the environment
11:42
and is convinced that by sending
a coherent discourse from his restaurant,
11:44
his message can reach many more homes.
11:48
Or in Peru, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino,
a great chef and a good friend,
11:51
who goes to the farthest corner
of the Amazon
11:54
looking for ingredients,
traditions and craftsmanship,
11:56
because he believes that
by bringing them back to his restaurant
11:59
he can convince
the 10 million inhabitants of Lima
12:02
that using these products
12:05
will bring prosperity
to these communities,
12:07
while also showing respect and
giving value to their cultural identity.
12:09
All over the world, chefs are
joining forces thanks to their cooking,
12:13
just like our parents joined at the table
because of their love.
12:17
Just as it happened
with that generation of chefs in Peru
12:22
that one day decided to work together
to promote their culture.
12:26
Just as it's happening now.
12:30
We're convinced that
we can't wait for others to do it.
12:31
So we've decided to act,
12:35
because thanks to the media
12:38
and the popularity of the professional
kitchen in the world today,
12:41
as chefs, we know that we can do a lot
12:44
to help spread this message of placing
cooking at the center of our home.
12:46
In this way, sometime in the near future,
12:52
each and every family, home and person
12:54
with good information
12:57
can pick ingredients that will help
to recuperate our health and environment,
12:59
to fight inequality,
13:04
and moreover, to recover
that emotional peace that we need.
13:06
This is the power of cooking,
13:11
one of the most infallible tools
to achieve our well-being.
13:13
Thank you.
13:16
(Applause)
13:18

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About the speaker:

Gastón Acurio - Chef
Gastón Acurio is a chef, writer, entrepreneur and one of the most important promoters of Peruvian cooking in the world.

Why you should listen

Gastón Acurio studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and in 1994 he founded his first restaurant, Astrid & Gastón. He has received a wide array of recognition for his work; he was named Business Man of the Year by the magazine América Económica in 2005; received the Prince Claus award in the category of Collective Memoires and Journalism; and was named a Goodwill Ambassador by Unicef in 2009.

More profile about the speaker
Gastón Acurio | Speaker | TED.com