Gustu, La Paz Bolivia, 12000 feet, extreme locavorism:
If you had asked me last year to guess where the next great destination restaurant would pop up, my answer would not have been La Paz, Bolivia. The second-largest city in one of South America’s poorest countries, La Paz is not on the tourism circuit. Getting there from New York City required a journey of close to 20 hours, and once I arrived, it took a few days to acclimate to the altitude. At 12,000 feet above sea level, the air there is so thin that, for my first 24 hours, I felt as if an invisible vise had been secured to my temples and was being slowly, mercilessly tightened.
And yet, La Paz is the city that Claus Meyer, the visionary co-owner of Noma in Copenhagen, chose as the setting for his next and perhaps most ambitious project: Gustu. Like Noma, Gustu is a cutting-edge restaurant that uses avant-garde technique in the service of extreme locavorism. But in Bolivia, Meyer is facing an added degree of difficulty. Here, he doesn’t just want to engineer a world-class restaurant. He wants to “combat poverty with deliciousness.”
Meyer didn’t pick La Paz at random: In collaboration with the Danish nongovernmental organization Ibis, he funded a two-year-long investigation to find the location. The process examined countries around the world in five categories: low crime, high poverty, political stability, biological diversity and a cuisine that didn’t effectively showcase the country’s incredible ingredients.
On paper, Bolivia was the clear winner. Poorer but also safer and more stable than its neighbors, the country has one of the most diverse ecologies on the planet, with three distinct climate zones that produce more than 1,200 varieties of potatoes alone, as well as an astonishing and exotic array of tropical fruits, fish, grains and herbs. There are hot pink papa lisa tubers, otherworldly fruits like the pacay (a large green pod filled with fluffy white flesh that tastes a bit like lychee) and lots of llama meat (which is surprisingly tender). In contrast to neighboring Peru, Brazil and Argentina, Bolivian cuisine is underdeveloped. Even in La Paz, most high-end restaurants serve bastardized Italian or French food in comically formal, Continental-style dining rooms. “The learning process of creating Noma, and the revolution that has changed the food culture of Denmark, was too important to keep for ourselves,” Meyer told me.
Meyer imported only a few things to Bolivia: Two chefs, Kamilla Seidler (who is Danish) and Michelangelo Cestari (an Italian citizen born in Venezuela), who both speak Spanish and have worked at some of the world\’s best restaurants, including England’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Spain’s Mugaritz. Also Jonas Andersen, a six-foot-seven restaurant manager and sommelier who’s a blond giant among the dark-haired locals, one American barista and a battery of high-tech gear, including a Thermomix and a Pacojet. Everything else—from the wine to the servers—is Bolivian. The staff was chosen from a pool of 600 low-income families, almost none of whom had serious culinary experience before embarking on Gustu\’s two-year training course. It’s the stuff of reality TV—watch newbie cooks run an ultra-high-end restaurant!—except this is actual reality.
breakfast, eggs: Let me get out the thermometer.
Most of us boil an egg for breakfast. Not Dave Arnold, director of culinary technology at The International Culinary Center in New York.
Arnold is cooking that egg in a circulating water bath at a specific temperature a couple of hundred times over and over to make magic for inventive chefs. His eggs may be elastic or creamy or melting. This inventor and culinary tech expert is the go-to man for the chefs on New York\’s innovators list. His egg-cooking chart appeared in Lucky Peach magazine.
Chinese food, lists: 8 Chinese Dishes You Need to Know – Zagat.
Pecan Pie Cobbler, dessert, recipes: I must be really hungry.
Pecan Pie Cobbler
1 Box refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
2 1/2 cups light corn syrup
2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
4 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
6 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
Butter-flavor cooking spray
2 cups pecan halves
Vanilla ice cream, if desired
1. Heat oven to 425°F. Grease 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with shortening or cooking spray. Remove 1 pie crust from pouch; unroll on work surface. Roll into 13×9-inch rectangle. Place crust in dish; trim edges to fit.
2. In large bowl, stir corn syrup, brown sugar, butter, vanilla and eggs with wire whisk. Stir in chopped pecans. Spoon half of filling into crust-lined dish. Remove second pie crust from pouch; unroll on work surface. Roll into 13×9-inch rectangle. Place crust over filling; trim edges to fit. Spray crust with butter-flavor cooking spray.
3. Bake 14 to 16 minutes or until browned. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Carefully spoon remaining filling over baked pastry; arrange pecan halves on top in decorative fashion. Bake 30 minutes longer or until set. Cool 20 minutes on cooling rack. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Bunny Chow, South African food:
This is actually a simple curry traditionally served in a scooped out loaf of bread and is a popular quick meal in South Africa.
The stories of the origin of how it became known as “bunny chow” are varied, however, one I heard more than once was that of Indian merchants that used to sell this meal under a banyan, or ‘bania’ tree. It became known as “bania” chow, then eventually shortened to bunny chow. Just know that if you go to South Africa and a group invites you to grab some bunnies for lunch, never fear, they’re actually inviting you to taste this popular delicious Indian curry dish.
Indian curries are popular in South Africa, especially in the city of Durban where the Indian population is the largest outside of Asia and their cultural influence is definitely evident in the foods and spices. The Indian spice markets have been around in Durban since the late 1800′s and you can still experience the exotic scents at Victoria Street market where merchants have an array of seasonings piled in high pyramids and fragrant curry perfumes the air. As a foodie, it was one of my favorite shopping stops in South Africa. I was in HEAVEN smelling all the options. I picked up an ounce of saffron for the equivalent of $7 US dollars and one of the merchants at Madari & Sons helped me pick out my own “masala” spice mix that I used in this recipe below.
The market is located in the middle of Durban on the corner of Victoria Street and Queen Street. If you go, I definitely recommend hiring a guide, such as Julnic Tours, to show you around.
Pairing Chocolate and Wine, Food & Wine: Someday I will try this … but really I am not sure wine could ever improve chocolate. Pairing Chocolate and Wine | Food & Wine.