Why I Left Astrid & Gastón to Travel the World : New Worlder

As told to Claudia Sofia Von

By the end of this month, it will have been a full year since I left Astrid & Gaston and my amazing team at Casa Moreyra. It was a hard decision, especially after gaining the trust of Gastón and Astrid, who allowed me to lead one of the most important restaurants in South America, not to mention the world. It was, with all its challenges, one of the most beautiful and fun projects I’ve ever led, and a perfect job to be so close to my home.

However, I needed to look at the last four years and figure out what I wanted to do next. So, after taking a break to settle 1111 Peruvian Bistro in Miami, a classic Peruvian restaurant that utilizes local products, I was ready to go. From Europe, Kristian Brask Thomsen, Bon Vivant Communication’s ambassador and a great guy with a sense of humor as huge as his determination to showcase Peruvian food to as many countries as possible, had prepared a seven-week journey for us. Emilio Macías, a great friend and Mexican chef who joined my team at Astrid & Gaston when I came back from Australia, agreed to press pause on his evolving Lima restaurant project, El Diablito, to become my other half on this adventure.

Embarking on a tour like this, in an attempt to merely explore and learn, means you can only take the very basics with you: your knives and who you are. It also means you actually understand who you are.

Seven weeks turned into a year-long adventure, extending the trip by two more seasons. We brought Perú — our heritage and our products — to a castle in Austria, a Nordic congress in Norway, a meal for refugees in Germany, a young 1*Michelin restaurant in the heart of Geneva, as well as additional restaurants in Vienna, Lisbon, Copenhagen, Barcelona, New York City, Panama, Helsinki, Moscow, Miami, Macau, Zuhai, and Tel Aviv, all the while defying the menace of jet-lag and relying solely on the language of the kitchen when other means of understanding were unavailable.

It was very hard to keep pace between airports, early and late flights, hotel rooms and scenery changes. All the while, I was missing my family. But it also made me proud to feel that I was representing and bringing Peruvian gastronomy to so many different places in such a short but powerful ride. Knowing this made things much easier because there was great interest about Peruvian cuisine and who we are at each of our many stops.

With each changing country, city, and language, there was also new ingredients and produce to learn about, as well as new customers. But in every new destination, acceptance of what we had to offer was a revelation; everyone was ready to experiment with us. The cooks and their teams were so curious to learn about what is happening in Perú’s culinary space, anticipating our visit. In the end, gastronomy is about sharing, and each new culture was ready to share with us. During every dinner, in every market, with every conversation, we got to learn and give back.

Of course, I’ve also fell for travel, itself. Each new culture and cuisine offered new and interesting traditions, and we experienced as many as we possibly could.  We explored the wines of the Wachau region, classic Viennese cuisine, as well as the precision of the Steirereck kitchen in Vienna, the familiarity of Barcelona, the innovation of elBulli Foundation, and the joy of Barcelona’s Disfrutar and Pakta restaurants. We got to see the work of my great friend José Avillez, who is at the forefront of Portuguese cuisine in Lisbon, first-hand, and we got to sample both the simple and complex flavors that are to be discovered across New York City. The tradition food of Zhuhai, China stood in contrast to the lively scene Tel Aviv, Israel. In each place, both the cuisine and the people were special and surprising.

Most kitchens had prepared, professional teams, who trained and prepared with us. During this process, I gained strong enthusiasm for meeting my next team, and a huge respect for each kitchen team we left behind. Since, I’ve come to place a higher value on the importance of teamwork. Being an outsider, I could see how essential forming a great team was, and in the end, I have learned to value working partnerships even more. I know that without Emilio this trip could have been much harder, and I crave the familiarity of having a successful team around me again.

Now, I’m ready for new beginnings, many of them resulting from this adventure, including a project with my friend José Avillez in Lisbon and another in Copenhagen. But most important is my desire to continue bringing Peruvian cuisine to as many places I can reach. There is a great opportunity to create awareness about our heritage and produce and I’m thankful to all the friends that have helped me on this journey, both near and far. Looking forward, it is in this way, through new residencies and new restaurants, that I look forward to leaving my mark.