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Ceviche: The Great Unifier

In a world of molecular gastronomy—think bacon-salted caramel ice cream, lemon-maple cronuts, organic juice cleanses—it’s hard to stand out. Unless, that is, you are Gaston Acurio, a revolutionary chef in Lima who has broken through the clutter by leveraging the most powerful ingredient at hand: A cultural connection to food.

An ambitious chef who studied at Le Cordon Bleu, Acurio returned to Lima to bring to life a cuisine drawing from local influence—what the world now knows as Peruvian food. Half artist, half entrepreneur, the 45-year-old Arcurio has opened outlets in over 7 different countries.

Acurio’s success has fueled the development of a small-but-important industry. Hundreds of local men and women work at his restaurants, and he has galvanized low-income youth from the slums by training them at his culinary schools for one-tenth the cost of high-end culinary educations. By emphasizing the culture of food, Acurio has taken on a mission far bigger than gastronomy—he has put Peru in the limelight, a feat that has significant implications for the country’s economic growth.  Rather than protecting his trade secrets, Acurio has welcomed local competitors to study his methods, copy his dishes, and even buy from his suppliers to help fuel the tourist industry.

But Gaston didn't stop there. He has also galvanized low-income youth from Pachacutec and other slums through his culinary schools, training them- at roughly one-tenth the cost of high-end culinary institutions- to become skilled, disciplined, and ambitious chefs.

As far as Gaston is concerned, his “product” is the Peruvian culture and all that it comprises. He may be communicating about it through food, but he believes that people feel the connection Peruvians feel to the mountains and sea, their deep commitment to family, their artistic sensibilities, and their yearning for respect and recognition.

‘‘We want to conquer the world emotionally,’’ said Gaston. ‘‘Let America and Korea be the technology countries. Let France and Italy be the luxury countries. We can be the country of diversity and magic, and the world will come to us.’’