“You see this kid over there? ” said then Michelangelo Cestari, Gustu’s director, as we sat at the restaurant’s bar just after closing not long after the restaurant opened. It’s Saturday night and a few members of the staff are hanging around having a beer. “The one with the big fucking smile on his face? He can’t believe where he is right now. He’s discovered this world that he never knew existed and he cannot believe he is a part of it. It’s like a spaceship has landed and he got on board.”
He points to another kid that stays up at night watching Ted talks. He points to another and tells a story about how one day all of the roads were closed so employees couldn’t reach the Zona Sur where the restaurant is located. The kid literally woke up before dawn and walked down the mountain. Everyone here has a story.
I haven’t found a better way to describe what Gustu is to anyone. This is a special place. It’s bigger than just a restaurant and everyone there knows it. They cannot believe it came out of nowhere and into their lives. It’s a culinary opportunity non-profit and everyone it touches could not be more appreciative. There’s an energy here unlike any other restaurant on earth.
Gustu is the complete redesign of the restaurant concept. The aim is spectacularly high: to be a world class kitchen with a mostly local team in a place that has never known one. It’s a social force for good; a spark that ignites high altitude winemakers, coffee farmers, line cooks, street food stalls, embassy employees, llama meat butchers, and market vendors.
Founded by Noma co-founder and Danish food superstar Claus Meyer’s Melting Pot organization, this fine dining restaurant, cooking school, and culinary launching pad has completely transformed the idea of Bolivian gastronomy in the more than two years since it opened. The group has organized a phenomenal street food tour of La Paz, it launched a culinary event called Tambo, and opened up a collection of simple cafeterias and cooking schools called Manq’a, among other things.
And yet, Gustu is also a restaurant. It isn’t just a good restaurant or even just the best restaurant in Bolivia, which it is, but a spectacular restaurant at a global level. Danish born chef Kamilla Seidler, whose background includes places such as Mugaritz and Relae, created a menu comprised of 100 percent Bolivian ingredients, and the efforts of current head chef Marsia Taha continue to push boundaries.
While the tasting menus change seasonally, on any given night you can expect a tour of Bolivia through it’s products such as sustainably raised caiman, served raw with grilled watermelon and Amazonian cucumber, or the fettuccine like heart of palm noodles topped with alpaca charqui and an egg yoke. Keep in mind the philosophy extends to wines, beers, and spirits too, so pairings might include high-altitude wines or singani from Tarija, artisanal beers from Cochabamba, or gins distilled in the Andes or Amazon.
Concept: Modern Bolivian
Head Chef: Marsia Taha
Year Opened: 2013
Basics: Gustu uses 100% native Bolivian products, including wine, beer, and spirits. Food is offered as a tasting menu or a la carte, as well as bar snacks. Reservations recommended.
Standout Dishes: Silky Palm Marrow with Alpaca Charqui and Egg Yolk; Soft Poached Rabbit with Choclo Cream and Lemongrass; Surubí, Spinach Purée, Chives, and Crunchy Quinoa; Chirimoya Sorbet with Spicy Tamarind, Oca and Tomato Flakes.
Calle 10 #300
La Paz, Bolivia