Skip to navigation – Site map

Creating the culinary frontier : A critical examination of Peruvian chefs’ narratives of lost/discovered foods

Creando la frontera culinaria: un examen crítico de las narrativas de los chefs peruanos sobre alimentos perdidos/descubiertos
Emma McDonell


This article examines the narratives of lost and discovered foods prominent Peruvian chefs employ to frame their work as chefs and to promote Peruvian food more generally. It argues that many foods framed as recently lost/discovered were not lost but instead unknown, unvalued, or neglected by elite consumers. Tales of lost foods obscure the work of the many people who have produced and consumed these foods, while tales of discovery exalt white, male, elite chefs as protagonists with the vision and expertise to see value in “undervalued” ingredients and dishes. Linking contemporary Peruvian chef’s narratives about their work and Peru as a culinary frontier to heroic tales of Enlightenment thinkers and eighteenth-century travelers, the article shows how the same metaphors of vision, travel, and masculinity that wove their way through early heroic stories of discovery also define contemporary tales of Peruvian chefs seeking out novel ingredients. It argues that even as Peru’s emerging class of celebrity chefs work to subvert colonial culinary hierarchies that hold up European cuisines as exemplars of gastronomic excellence, they ultimately reproduce colonial relationships of power through their narratives of discovery that frame chefs as the arbiters of “good food” and erase the labor of the actors who actively produced and consumed the foods prior to their discovery.

Top of page

Full text

I want to thank those who offered invaluable feedback on earlier versions of this article including the organizers of this special issue, María Elena Garcia and Raúl Matta as well as Lindsey Breitwieser, Edward Brudney, Leigh Bush, Ilana Gershon, Julie Johnson Searcy, Safak Kilictepe, Jennifer Parker, Lindsey Pullum, and the two thoughtful anonymous reviewers.


1In Peru we always have this sense of the unknown, and unknown territory – the unknown Amazonia. There is [sic] lots of things just waiting for us to discover. Discovering these new things that people have never seen before – that is my obsession”, explains Virgilio Martínez, chef of the world’s number-four-ranked restaurant, as he taps the resin from a tree deep in Peru’s Tambopata jungle, capturing the thick black liquid in a glass vial (Chef’s Table 2017). Martínez, a French-trained chef from Peru’s capital, proceeds to shave off a bark sample from the same tree and jot down notes in a leather-bound notebook. This sequence from the opening scene of his eponymous Chef’s Table episode captures the mythology of loss, discovery, and adventure that define Martínez’s own philosophy and underlie public discourse around Peru’s gastronomic revolution.

  • 1 Poverty foods refer to foods linked to poor people. While claiming these foods are consumed out of (...)

2This article examines the narratives of “lost” and “discovered” foods Peruvian celebrity chefs employ in their efforts to define Peruvian cuisine and position themselves as national and global culinary leaders. Linking the tales contemporary Peruvian chefs tell about their work and Peru’s culinary potential to much older stories relayed in accounts by colonial-era travelers and scientists, it highlights how familiar tropes of discovery, adventure, and the unknown pervade their tales of unearthing ingredients and dishes, and ultimately underscores the neocolonial dimensions of these chefs’ work. Even as Peru’s emerging class of celebrity chefs work to subvert colonial culinary hierarchies that hold up European cuisines as exemplars of gastronomic excellence, they ultimately reproduce colonial relationships of power through their narratives of discovery that frame chefs as the ultimate arbiters of “good food” and obscure the labor of those who actively produced and consumed the foods prior to their “discovery.” Framing these foods as “lost” conceals the fact that many of them are not lost but rather poverty foods1 unknown to cultural elites. These narratives of discovery instead exalt the heroic work of chefs who transform these “value-less” ingredients into valuable dishes served in Lima’s high-end restaurants, while the broader discourse of discovery frames Peru’s hinterlands as lands of limitless culinary resources, awaiting “discovery” and “revalorization.” In contrast, Lima is framed as a hub of gastronomic capital where a handful of elite chefs have the expertise and vision necessary to transform these raw materials into valuable dishes worthy of a coveted spot on an award-winning restaurant’s tasting menu.

  • 2 An exception is Gastón Acurio, whom many farmers were aware of, and whose work linking food to poli (...)
  • 3 Limeño refers to a resident of Lima, Peru’s capital city and commercial hub. Lima is considered the (...)

3This paper’s line of inquiry developed during the year I spent conducting dissertation fieldwork among quinoa farmers in the Peruvian highland region of Puno. I had glimpsed the glitz and glamour of Lima’s booming gastronomic scene during brief visits to the capital city as I traveled to and from the highlands. I grew interested in the specific ways quinoa was framed in Lima’s gastronomic discourse, and began following leading Peruvian chefs through social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram, as well as traditional media forms. Following Peru’s culinary scene virtually while located literally and figuratively far away in rural Puno produced an odd juxtaposition – the lives of quinoa farmers who had produced and consumed quinoa their entire lives and the glossy stories celebrity chefs told about coming upon quinoa and Peru’s other culinary treasures. Farmers were unaware of these chefs’ work for the most part2 and found the idea that an upper-class limeño3 chef would claim quinoa as part of his heritage puzzling.

4My rather unique positioning as an anthropologist immersed in the daily lives and struggles of quinoa farmers, an active social media user, and member of the foreign target audience of the elite gastronomic boom discourse underscored disconnects between these worlds. Being attuned to the stories circulating about quinoa and other foodstuffs long known to native peoples but recently “discovered” by Lima’s gastronomes while spending my days with people for whom these exotic products were neither novel nor exotic but quotidian and essential helped shed light on the broader loss/discovery narratives chefs were using to frame their labor and the value of these “new” commodities. This article leverages the central role social and traditional media have played in Peru’s gastronomic boom and the concomitant rise of Peruvian celebrity chefs, drawing on an eclectic set of sources including Instagram and Facebook posts, cookbooks, television programs featuring each of the three previously mentioned chefs, interviews I conducted with chefs and other gastronomic elites as well as interviews with some of these figures published in Peruvian newspapers and other online media.

  • 4 Here I invoke Susan Lepselter’s (2012) ideas about “narrative resonance.”

5First, I introduce Peru’s gastronomic revolution and the central role narratives of lost/discovered foods play in it, while demonstrating how a grand trope of discovery inflects the stories Peruvian culinary leaders tell about their personal interest in Peruvian food and Peru’s gastronomic value more broadly. Next, I locate lost/discovered food narratives in Peru’s gastronomic revolution and Peru’s unique racial political context while situating the arguments within the broader literature on changing consumer tastes for “exotic” and “authentic” comestibles. Drawing on the work of historian of science, Mary Terrall, I then outline patterns in historical narratives of discovery told by explorers and scientists during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries – patterns that resonate4 with contemporary chef narratives. Tracing the narratives of loss/discovery, I profile three Peruvian celebrity chefs illuminating patterned similarities between their narrative structures and those of early scientists and explorers. I argue that these narratives (1) reinforce a core-periphery imaginary in which “authentic Peru” is coded as Other and contrasted with white, upper-class Lima, (2) center on a frontier imaginary, in which wilderness and the unknown effectively erase prior claims to culinary resources and thereby render them appropriable, and (3) create conditions for chefs to “discover” foods deemed “lost” or “unknown.” Finally, I conclude by connecting the narratives of loss and discovery to related savior narratives and point to relationships between the gastronomic boom and Peru’s long history of boom-bust markets.

Peru’s Gastronomic Revolution: discovering lo nuestro

6Recipient of the World Travel Awards’ top culinary tourism destination prize for six consecutive years between 2012 and 2017 (World Travel Awards 2017) and home to two of the world’s top ten restaurants (The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017), Peru now fits squarely into the global culinary pantheon alongside France, Italy, and Japan. While a mere two decades ago Peru was known more for a brutal decade-long civil war than any culinary grandeur, Peru’s “gastronomic revolution” has put it on the global culinary map, reshaping the ways foreigners and Peruvians alike view the country.

7Prior to the gastronomic revolution, the concept of a white-tablecloth Peruvian restaurant was an oxymoron. Lima’s expensive restaurants exclusively featured European fare and Peruvian dishes were considered unequivocally inferior to European fare.  “If you came to Lima, Peruvians would take you to a French restaurant. Never a Peruvian restaurant,” explains Peruvian celebrity chef, Gastón Acurio, echoing a sentiment Lima’s elite class unanimously now expresses with lament (Clay 2014).

  • 5 Chenopodium Quinoa, Oxalis tuberosa, Ullucus tuberosus, respectively.

8During the late 1980s, a small cadre of journalists and chefs sought to change this. They began meeting with the goal of developing a Peruvian haute cuisine that could compete with the likes of French, Spanish, and Italian foods. The resulting “Novo Andino” cuisine paired mostly Andean ingredients such as quinoa, oca, ulloco5, and Andean potatoes, many of which were disparaged or relatively unknown in Lima, with European cooking techniques and plating styles. For example, an archetypical Novo Andino dish is quinoto, a risotto prepared with quinoa instead of rice.

  • 6 The author has carried out all the Spanish-English translations.

9While Novo Andino cuisine was an explicitly elite project intended to produce an exclusive culinary culture, the scope of Peru’s culinary project radically expanded in the early 2000s as a result of the work of Gaston Acurio and a more encompassing media project. The son of a prominent politician, Acurio was sent to Spain to study law in the 1980s. While there, he dropped out of law school to follow his childhood dream of cooking professionally, attending a hospitality school and ultimately Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Returning from Europe, Acurio and his German wife, Astrid Gutsche opened Astrid y Gaston, an upscale bistro serving French food. Within a few years they had changed over to serving Peruvian food, a shift Acurio explains using the trope of discovery: “[At first we cooked] French food – it’s what they taught me. But I then realized that right in front of me was the green pepper, which is super difficult to find, and that I could have four or five Peruvian species of green pepper along with a dozen exotic fruits at my disposal. I began to rediscover my country and to associate all that I had learned in Europe with my surroundings” (Fuentes 2007).6 In other words, once Acurio discovered the culinary potential of Peru and its limitless untapped culinary resources, he began to incorporate Peruvian dishes and ingredients into Astrid y Gaston’s menu. Acurio became a prominent media figure that promoted and continues to promote pride in Peruvian food and the idea that revalorizing food traditions can help Peruvians see the cultural and economic value of diversity. In doing so, he transformed an exclusive gastronomic project into a broader social and political project that reframed food as a national development program and sought to unite Peruvians around a vision of Peru as a multicultural nation (Matta 2013; García 2013; Lauer and Lauer 2006).

10The public-facing nature of chef work in Peru is by no means unique to Peru. In the age of new media, chefs are increasingly required to engage in a new kind of sociality based on celebrity chefdom (Bush 2017). Celebrity chefs play key roles in defining, framing and mediating the grammars of “good food” for much of the contemporary foodscape (Johnston and Goodman 2015), and many prominent chefs are involved in both commercial and political projects. In Peru, besides being tastemakers in a Bourdieusian sense, these chefs are enrolled in an explicitly nationalistic political project that is also a commercial project. Their objective, implicitly and often explicitly, is to develop and define Peruvian food while branding and selling it to the rest of the world – a project that is based around a set of shared narratives that emphasize loss, discovery, and revalorization.

  • 7 These chefs’ travels abroad to acquire European lenses of various kinds that ultimately allow them (...)

11Although Acurio is the most famous and influential, a handful of other chefs have played pivotal roles in shaping discourses around the gastronomic revolution both within and beyond Peru. Virgilio Martínez of Central, Diego Muñoz who took over for Acurio at Astrid y Gastón, Pedro Miguel Shiaffino of Malabar and Amaz, and Rafael Osterling of Rafael – all chefs of upscale Lima restaurants – are highly visible public figures in Peru. They use social media, television shows, and traditional media channels to publicize not only their cooking but also their adventures to remote parts of Peru as they seek out “unknown” Peruvian food traditions and obscure ingredients to sell to a growing audience of consumers hungry for novelty. All of these prominent chefs hail from upper-class limeño families and were trained in culinary academies in the US and Europe, making them racially classified as white in Peru (Matta 2013).7 They also take on a central role in promoting Peruvian food beyond Peru (Cánepa 2013), travelling abroad frequently to promote Peruvian food as “ambassadors” for the Ministry of the Exterior Commerce’s program tasked with branding the nation and promoting Peruvian products globally.

12This article focuses on three key chefs: Gastón Acurio, Virgilio Martínez, and Pedro Miguel Schiaffino. Acurio can be seen as the pioneer of the adventurous chef in Peru. Acclaimed chef, businessman, television personality, and writer, Acurio rose to the highest echelons of Peruvian public life in the late 1990s and early 2000s after his French-bistro-turned-Peruvian-restaurant, Astrid y Gastón, garnered international accolades. In 2002 he released his first cookbook titled Peru: A Culinary Adventure, and began hosting a television program called Aventura Culinaria. Since then, he has published various other books and been featured in countless media outlets in Peru and abroad, while developing a restaurant empire that now boasts over forty restaurants across eight countries.

13Virgilio Martínez is the young chef and owner of Central, who heads two other restaurants in Peru along with two Michelin-starred locales in London and recently open restaurants in Dubai and Hong Kong. While Acurio focuses on revalorizing Peruvian dishes and refining them for upper-class audiences, Martínez emphasizes Peru’s biodiversity and the introduction of previously unknown ingredients to Lima’s culinary scene. Martínez bases each course of Central’s $US112-a-head prix-fixe menu on altitudinal ranges such as “tidal zones,” and “4000m” – and each dish includes only components from its specified altitudinal zone. He has been showcased in international outlets from the New York Times to Marie Claire, and constantly appears in interviews and the social pages of Peruvian media. Boasting 102,000 Instagram followers and 35,000 Facebook fan page likes as of December 2017, Martínez frequently updates his social media accounts with images and stories about his travels and culinary discoveries. He has published two cookbooks (both sold worldwide), and was featured in an episode of Chef’s Table in 2016.

14Pedro Miguel Schiaffino is the chef and owner of Malabar and ÁmaZ, both upscale “Peruvian-Amazonian” restaurants in Lima, and also serves as executive chef for the Aria Amazon luxury cruise line which features “new Amazonian cuisine.” Inspired by his trips to the Amazon to study the cuisine and seek out novel foods, Schiaffino’s menus incorporate numerous exotic ingredients including camu camu berries and wild cashews. Like Acurio and Martínez, Shiaffino utilizes social media and television extensively to promote his work. He has an active Instagram account where he posts about kitchen happenings and documents his jungle trips. Schiaffino also hosts a television program called Desde el Jardín (From the Garden) in which he travels around Amazonia to feature regional ingredients and dishes.

  • 8 Sacha inchi’s scientific name is Plukenetia volubilis.
  • 9 The concepts of “marginalized foods,” “traditional foods,” “native foods,” and “indigenous foods” a (...)

15The creation of a Peruvian cuisine has centered in large part on the recovery of marginalized dishes, such as pachamanca, alongside the “revalorization” of marginalized ingredients, such as alpaca and guinea pig meat (García 2010; Markowitz 2012), and sacha inchi or “Amazonian peanut”8 (Köppel 2017). As is the case in the development of all national cuisines, Peru’s national cuisine did not already exist as a cohesive culinary system, but instead has involved a process of selectively emphasizing certain traditions and forgetting others, accompanied by the large-scale invention of tradition (Wilk 2006; Appadurai 1988; Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). Acurio emphasizes this revalorization dynamic in his articulation of the goal of Peruvian cuisine: “[The goal is] to protect threatened traditions, to recognize the value of biodiverse species and to support historical gastronomic routes” (RPP Noticias 2011). The gastronomic boom’s emphasis on revalorizing “traditional” or marginalized dishes9 and food products is commonly framed as a “decolonizing” project (García 2013; Acurio 2016) to increase national self-esteem and valorize Peru’s exceptional biological and cultural diversity – an explicit move away from an elite culinary culture that seeks to mimic Western, specifically French, foodways. Gastón Acurio expresses the nationalistic ambitions of Peruvian chefs:

16“We’re a generation of Peruvians trained to cook in Europe. And yes, we returned to our country a bit confused because we had to imitate what we had learned in France, in Italy, in Spain. We had a marvelous variety at home, yet we didn’t have the support of the Peruvian eater because when he went out to an important restaurant and was going to spend money, he wanted French or Italian food.” (Morán 2016)

  • 10 It’s worth noting that María Elena García (2013) and Jorge Lopez Canales (2019) draw attention to o (...)
  • 11 Some forthcoming work elaborates my point about extractivism. See forthcoming work by Amy Cox Hall (...)

17While the effort to generate pride in Peruvian food culture and shift away from the implicit self-depreciation involved in equating good food with European food has been read as a decolonial endeavor, my research complicates this reading by drawing attention to the neo-colonial dimensions of Peru’s gastronomic boom.10 The work of celebrity chefs who seek out new ingredients to “revalorize” can be read as an extractivist project with striking similarities to projects of colonization of natural resources and peoples of previous eras.11 We see a shift in the actors – the colonizers of the culinary resources are upper-class limeño chefs rather than European explorers or foreign businessmen – and also in the resources – cultural and culinary resources rather than natural resources like timber and minerals. Yet distinct commonalties emerge between the process and results of traditional colonial extraction of natural resources and the effort to revalorize cultural and culinary resources. In the process of introducing them into the elite culinary landscape of Lima they are explicitly reframed as Peruvian food, leading to the reading of the revalorization of marginalized foodstuffs as “patrimonialization” (Matta 2011). This article, however, calls into question the benign reading of this dynamic as patrimony and highlights the complex power asymmetries animating claiming foods and ingredients as Peruvian.

  • 12 Here I invoke Anibal Quijano’s (1999) idea of the coloniality of power, which highlights the ways t (...)

18Critically, due to the rather extreme coloniality12 of the gastronomic field, chefs from “developing” countries have little choice but to cook the cuisine of their country of origin, and to construct this cuisine in such a way that highlights exotic ingredients (i.e. raw materials) while transforming them with French techniques. This dynamic effectively rescues “naturally” low-status native cuisines from their subordinate position and allows the cuisines and individual chefs to compete on the global culinary stage (Janer 2007). Thus, Peru’s top chefs are caught. They must perform the role of discoverer, innovator, and trend-maker in order to participate in the elite gastronomic world beyond Peru. The chefs are constrained by larger structural forces alongside the coloniality of the gastronomy such that they must invoke narratives of loss/discovery and reproduce the very coloniality the gastronomic revolution discourse purports to subvert.

19This reimagining of national territory as a repository of untapped culinary resources is quickly expanding outside of Peru. Peru’s model for developing a national cuisine through revalorizing traditional foods and ingredients is now recognized and imitated throughout Latin America. Bolivia, Panama, Brazil, and Chile, are working to follow suit – recovering native cuisines and ingredients to promote a national cuisine that brings tourism and promotes economic development.

The allure of lost/discovered foods

20A number of scholarly works have examined the ideas about authenticity, exoticism and Otherness that underpin the allure of lost/discovered foods to Western audiences, yet the narratives of lost/discovered foods themselves remain unexamined.

21Lisa Heldke’s (2003) Exotic Appetites develops the concept of “cultural food colonialism” to describe the power dynamics animating the consumption of non-Western foods by Westerners. Heldke is concerned with the appropriation that takes place when Western “food adventurers” cook and eat ethnic foods. Alluding to the fascination with the unknown and the Other, Heldke describes the food adventurer as a figure motivated by “an expedition in the unknown, a pursuit of the strange” (2003, xxi) who is interested in “cooking and eating ethnic foods – most frequently the foods of economically dominated or ‘third world’ cultures … and strongly motivated by an attitude with deep connections to Western colonialism”(2003, xv). Heldke argues that the unfamiliarity of food creates its value for the food adventurer. The economic and political power differentials associated with the consumption of exotic foods parallel and reinforce the historic power differentials between colonizer and colonized.

22Joseé Johnston and Shyon Bauman (2010) build on Heldke’s work to show how the ideas about authenticity and exoticism that underlie the food adventurer logic now motivate the ways a new kind of eater, the “foodie,” defines “good food.” Johnston and Baumann read the foodie in contrast to the gourmand of eras past. They see a shift from an elite food culture of snobbiness based on French haute cuisine in which rarity was the primary metric for determining “good food” towards more eclectic and complex criteria that include organic, local, artisanal, homemade, fair trade foods – a shift marked by the replacement of the gourmand with the foodie. They use the gourmet foodscape as a lens to explore the complexities and contradictions of elite cultural consumption, particularly as it evolves in a cultural context that endorses democratic ideas ("I’ll eat anything”) and rejects overt snobbery. Foodies, unlike gourmands, explicitly engage food politics, yet critically, these dimensions of food still take a backseat to priorities of deliciousness and adventure. The two main frames foodies use to distinguish foods as interesting and worthy are “authenticity” and “exoticism” – which are linked but not exactly the same. Thus, foodies identify good foods based on the contexts in which a food is produced and consumed, and foods deemed lost/discovered take on a special significance as paradigms of authenticity and exoticism.

23Critical theorist bell hooks examines the commodification of racial difference as a metaphorical process of “eating the Other” (hooks 1992). Using the consumption of exotic foods as a metaphor for the desires for the “primitive” and fantasies of the Other, bell hooks argues that “within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is white mainstream culture” (1992: 21). Desire for exotic foods, particularly those linked to cultural or racial Others, can be read through a lens of sexual fantasy, and simultaneously illuminates aspects of the West’s own crises of identity. For bell hooks then, the fascination with lost/discovered foods can be read as a Western fixation on the racial Other and power over it.

24Extant research provides insight into the desires and ideas that make lost/discovered foods valuable in the eyes of Western consumers and the power asymmetries underlying these dynamics. Yet the actual narratives of lost/discovered foods – their allure and the work they do – remain unexamined. Moreover, these works assume a firm division between Western and non-Western peoples and places, or the subjects and the objects of their desire in the case of bell hooks – binaries that prove less useful to analyze situations where the discoverer is not a foreigner from a distant land but instead a national, albeit from a different social class.

  • 13 Chenopodium quinoa, Lepidium meyenii, Nostoc commune, Oxalis tuberosa, respectively.
  • 14 See more about the kinds of ingredients being revalorized in Matta (2013; 2016).

25The existing literature on lost/discovered foods assumes that these foods truly are lost and subsequently rediscovered. Yet in carefully examining the narratives of loss and discovery we see that many of the foods read through the lost/discovered food lens are those associated with poverty, that were never lost, forgotten, or in decline – they are simply unknown, unvalued, or neglected by elite food consumers. Quinoa, maca root, cushuro, and oca 13– all Peruvian products long denigrated as poverty foods that now grace fine dining establishments – were common foods among working class Peruvians prior to their refashioning as coveted ingredients central to the emerging Peruvian haute cuisine – and remain so.14 The mythology of the lost food is a marketing strategy that frames the food in such a way to appeal to a particular class of consumers interested in novelty, authenticity, and exoticness.

26Here, loss transitions to discovery. Stories of “lost” foods necessarily obscure the many peoples that have produced and consumed them for generations, often fighting to preserve their culinary traditions against outside incursions. By erasing these peoples, narratives of “discovery” can be reoriented around the figure of a different type of protagonist—almost exclusively white, male, Western-educated, and elite. This “discoverer” becomes a savior, bringing the tale full circle by “rescuing” the lost food and returning it to its rightful place as a celebrated part of the national cuisine.

27This Western (or Westernized), male subject traveling to distant, unknown lands to “discover” and lay claim upon natural resources is by no means a new character in the global imaginary. Depending on the particular historical moment, the adventurous white male traversing geographical and cultural frontiers in search of lucrative natural (and cultural) resources has been typified by sea-faring explorers, geographers, businessmen in search of gold, rubber, etc., anthropologists, botanists, and entrepreneurs and has been a central character in the enactment of Western colonialism across the globe. The daring chef in search of exotic ingredients and “traditional” recipes can be read as a modern embodiment of this staple personage. The same tropes of vision, travel, and masculinity that wove their way through heroic stories of Enlightenment thinkers and eighteenth-century travelers also define contemporary tales of Peruvian chefs seeking out novel ingredients. Themes of frontiers, value-making, resources, and “progress” that defined the work of explorers past continue to define the work of contemporary Peruvian chefs.

28Mary Terrall (2011) examines the narratives eighteenth century scientist-explorers tell about their travels and discoveries to reveal the highly patterned and gendered nature of these tales that she contends persists over centuries. Terrall locates the inception of this narrative format in the sixteenth century “fathers” of the Enlightenment such as Bacon and Galileo and then traces it through travel logs and public documents that tell the stories of later generations of European scientists and explorers. Terrall argues that metaphors of light and travel provide central tropes in heroic tales of discovery that frame tales of intrepid explorers of the time, and notes that these expedition tales are often framed in explicitly masculine terms: “The metaphor of light brought with it the language of vision and discovery was represented as a process of bringing the dark corners of the world out into the light of reason…Great men had the ability to show others how to see, by illuminating and displaying” (2011: 84). She shows how even while aspects of the discourse evolve to incorporate changing ideas about and forms of knowledge seeking, the same metaphors and tropes remain.

29I argue that these enduring narratives of discovery re-emerge in contemporary stories surrounding Peruvian celebrity chefs. The intrepid celebrity chef venturing into gastronomically uncharted territory to find novel ingredients is hardly a unique figure. Indeed, this concept must be situated within a long history of tales of heroic, masculinized explorers venturing beyond Latin America’s “civilized” capital cities to locate and document resources, and in the process bring civilization to the native “savages” who do not recognize the resource’s value. The tales these chefs tell about their work to find and revalorize Peru’s bounty follow parallel narrative patterns and include similar motifs to those of early adventurers and scientists from previous centuries, including themes of masculinity, adventure, value making, and heroism.

Lima and “authentic Peru”: core-periphery dynamics in chef narratives

  • 15 In Peru, class and race are inextricably intertwined such that being coded as white is synonymous w (...)

30Like earlier colonists and explorers who had to create an elsewhere to explore, contemporary Peruvian chefs also construct rhetorical and physical distances between the white, upper-class Lima they come from and “authentic Peru.” In order to understand Peru, chefs must travel out beyond the confines of upper-class Lima to find the authentic culture that inspires their cuisine, a dynamic that reinscribes binaries of modern/traditional and advanced/backward that characterize Peru’s spatialized racial hierarchy.15

  • 16 As previously mentioned, Acurio owns a number of restaurants in Peru and abroad, and has now opened (...)

31Though Acurio, Schiaffino, and Martínez all make trips throughout Peru in search of culinary resources, they are all based in Lima and their premier restaurants are located within the elite Miraflores and San Isidro neighborhoods of Lima (areas coded as “white”).16 By contrast, their trips to find new ingredients focus on the Andes and Amazonia, and to a lesser degree, coastal regions of Peru. It is implied that Peru outside its Europeanized capital is full of the authentic culture that provides raw materials for their cooking – yet lacking in the capital-C Culture necessary for a gastronomy. While the raw materials of authentic culture and culinary resources reside in Peru’s “periphery,” Lima has the expert chefs, restaurant infrastructure, and cultured consumers necessary to add value.

32Chefs are tasked with transgressing cultural, racial, and geographical boundaries in order to locate the authentic Peru that harbors recipes and ingredients unknown to upper-class limeños. Their trips outside Lima implicitly locate upper-class Lima outside of “authentic Peru,” creating a division between the space of authentic Peru and their native white, upper-class Lima. As Schiaffino explains in the bio page on his restaurant’s website: “I never understood how limeños could live so close to one of the best repositories on the planet nor how international cuisine still hadn’t integrated all the ingredients with exquisite flavors and incredible nutritional value into their menus.” The repository is not Peru as a whole but Peru-outside-Lima. Martínez echoes this idea in his chef origin story: “When I was kid, every single region of Peru was a tiny bubble. And I was living in this tiny bubble of Lima. We had no idea about the Andes. We had no idea about the Amazonia…and I felt trapped, I was always thinking about how to get out” (Chef’s Table 2016). This longing for adventure beyond the confines of Lima leads Martínez first to Europe to cook and then study cooking, and ultimately to the Amazon and Andes in his own backyard where he finds the adventure and mystery to satiate his curiosity.

33The restaurant description on Malabar’s website highlights this idea of an authentic Peru as residing outside of Lima:

34“When we lit the Malabar stove for the first time in 2004, we did not just set out to make a great restaurant. We wanted to know this immense, beautiful and diverse country called Peru better; and that our food is a testimony of this learning. We travel through all of Peru’s regions. We entered the Amazon rainforest and fell in love with its beautiful and unknown products. We have traveled through the Andes and strengthened ties with its industrious communities. We have visited the innumerable valleys of the coastal desert and we also gone deep into its marvelous sea. These trips have taught, inspired, and allowed us to create a spontaneous and diverse cuisine, where the products are the real surprise. Our kitchen is a sample of the best of this country. We love the artisanal. We work with seasonal products. Farmers, cooperatives, indigenous communities, fishermen and artisans from all regions supply us every day with fresh, healthy and tasty products. Now we want to share this magic with you.”

35The trips outside of Lima are underscored as the restaurant’s claim to authenticity.

36Reiterating this division, the slogan for Martínez’s research team, called Mater Initiative, is “Afuera hay mas” or “Outside, there’s more” as a slogan that drapes their website (see Figure 1). Outside being outside of upper-class Lima where the team must go to find novel ingredients for Martínez’s kitchen.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Central’s Mater Initiative website welcome page

37Acurio’s television program highlights the transgressions chefs must make in pursuit of novel ingredients and dishes, framing this work through idioms of adventure. In Aventura Culinaria, Acurio travels to the outskirts of Lima, through jungle towns, and across highland villages in search of Peru’s “best.” He seeks out huariques, or “holes in the wall,” to try out new dishes and flavors from the kitchens of everyday Peruvian cooks. These restaurants and food stalls are often located in poor neighborhoods or regions of the country where tourists and upper-class limeños like Acurio rarely venture, adding a decidedly daring flair to the show. As he enters unknown neighborhoods and towns in search of the ultimate anticucho or kankacho, Acurio crosses racial and class lines, while reframing whatever dish or ingredient he finds as representing Peru and the Peruvian spirit. While the chefs’ trips to the Amazon and Andes may locate “authentic Peru” as geographically distant from Lima, the class and race connotations of “outside” or “authentic Peru” become clear when chefs survey for inspiration within Lima. In an episode on “guisos,” or stews, Acurio ventures to Polvos Celestes, a working-class open-air market in Lima with numerous food stalls to try Doña Mary’s chanfainita, a cow lung and hominy stew generally attributed to African slave cooking and that in recent years has served as a symbolically laden working-class staple thats consumption marks one as poor. As Acurio takes his first bites of the stew, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, he remarks: “They’ve told me, not sure if it’s true, but they’ve told me – [swallows first mouthful] ah, and it is true – that this is one of the best chanfainitas in all of Peru.” Acurio then asks how much the bowl of chanfainita costs. Doña Mary’s replies that it costs 3.50 soles, or about $1, leading Acurio to feign surprise: “Ah?! Three-fifty for this chanfainita? How cheap, no? We’re in a restaurant!” He jokes, gesturing towards the small wooden stools customers sit at while eating on Doña Mary’s countertop. This is a rather typical episode, with Acurio leading us into a humble working-class establishment to discover the extraordinary food they serve and then declare it priced far below the price point its warrants. Acurio, with his trained palate, has the ability to turn a basic food stall into a highly sought-after specialty food, instantly increasing the value of the food (as measured in price). In the comments section of the YouTube version of this episode, someone called Jorge Daniel complains: “This child of money is surprised that a chanfainita costs 3.50. This is why this man shouldn’t visit any more food joints. He makes things more expensive while the essence remains the same” (La Aventura de los Guisos n.d.). In deeming an establishment and their food as excellent and authentic, Acurio’s praise – as an upper-class chef representing Lima’s elite – often results in sudden popularity for the locale, and corresponding high prices.

  • 17 See García (2010) on this issue of hygiene as it relates to race in the gastronomic revolution disc (...)
  • 18Regiones” and “en provincia,” translated directly as “regions” and “in province” refers to areas o (...)

38While Peru-outside-upper-class-Lima is framed as authentic, it is also framed as lacking in development, hygiene,17 and infrastructure for its own culinary culture. This “authentic Peru” has the raw materials for chefs to use and find inspiration in, but ultimately lacks the expertise, vision, and infrastructure these chefs have. “I’ve been in the regiones.18 They are increasingly valuing their regional food more but if you look for professionally done food or a professional restaurant, you’re not going to find much.” While these areas provide recipes and ingredients, ultimately value must be made in Lima. Schiaffino’s Ámaz restaurant features only a handful of dishes any Amazonian will recognize though Schiaffino travels to the Amazon in search of inspiration a reported 8-10 times per year.

Making the frontier: potentiality/the unknown

39This bifurcation of Peru into Lima and “authentic Peru” is closely related to the conceptualization of a culinary resources frontier. This construction of core/periphery helps simultaneously create frontier spaces that are then available for exploration and exploitation, as per both historical narratives of conquest and interpretations of how capitalism functions. For chefs, Peru is conceptualized as a culinary frontier, full of limitless “unknown” culinary resources.

40Research on the role of frontiers and wilderness imaginaries in the functioning of capitalism can help us see the important work chefs’ understandings of unknown Peru does. As geographer Jason Moore argues, frontiers are central to the functioning of capitalism, and the history of capitalism can be read as a story of searching and probing ever more frontiers: “Capitalism must commodify life/work but depends upon the “free ride” of uncommodified life/work to do so. Hence, the centrality of the frontier” (Moore 2014:22). Paradoxically, without unclaimed and thus appropriable resources, capital cannot be made.

41Anthropologist Anna Tsing calls our attention to the centrality of the concept of wilderness to frontier-making: “Built from historical models of European conquest, frontiers create wildness so that some — and not others — may reap its rewards. Frontiers are unregulated because they arise in the interstitial places made by collaborations among legitimate and illegitimate partners: armies and bandits; gangsters and corporations; builders and despoilers. They confuse the boundaries of law and theft, governance and violence, use and destruction” (Tsing 2006:27). She goes on to explain that “[the frontier imaginary] must continually erase old residents’ rights to create wild and empty spaces where discovering resources, not stealing them is possible” (Tsing 2006:68).

42While Tsing is referring to natural resource frontiers, the metaphor can extend to the imaginary of Peru as a land of culinary wonder, and specifically Peru outside of Lima, as a culinary frontier. The chefs’ talk about unknown or lost foods erases the work of those who do produce and consume these foods, and critically expunges their claims to ownership and knowledge rights.

43Martínez’s Chef’s Table episode illuminates the limited role people with prior knowledge of these culinary resources play in the gastronomic imaginary, highlighting Tsing’s conviction that frontiers are based in an erasure of people and their claims to resources. Throughout the hour-long episode, the camera toggles between highly aestheticized footage of Martínez traversing Andean peaks and slogging through jungle swamps with close-up shots of him in a double-breasted white chef coat carefully plating delicate dishes at Central with tweezers. With expansive unpeopled landscapes in the background, Martínez and his team are free to seek out new ingredients for their kitchen. While occasionally native peoples enter the shots, they appear as props for the discovery work of Martínez and his team – walking alongside Martínez in full festival garb and helping prepare a traditional huatia dirt oven with magnanimous smiles, but never talking on camera. With Peru’s natural landscapes highlighted and the people who produced and/or consumed the ingredients Martínez searches for folklorized and silenced, a wilderness for Martínez to explore is created.

44This wilderness-making is closely tied to a mythology of the “unknown” prominent in chefs’ descriptions of Peru and their roles. Framing Peru as a land of culinary unknowns disconnects culinary resources from prior knowledge claims, thereby creating unclaimed resources ripe for accumulation. This “unknown” that chefs claim drives their curiosity can be made knowable by the vision and expertise of this group of uniquely equipped limeño chefs.

45The biography section of Martínez’s Facebook page echoes this idea of Peru as a land of the unknown and culinary adventure: “[Martínez is] currently focused on transmitting the complexity of his territory. [Peru’s] global development promotes an inexhaustible curiosity. The goal is to unmask undocumented and hidden ingredients, through investigating landscapes. Marine, low Andes, extreme altitude, and high and low jungles. Finding landscapes that invite different disciplines to participate in a collective adventure” (Virgilio Martínez Véliz n.d.). He reiterates the centrality seeking out “unknown” ingredients from Peruvian ecosystems and publicizing this effort in Chef’s Table: “We use 150 ingredients, and probably half of them are unknown,” Martínez explains.

46Further, the idea of the unknown offers an attractive marketing strategy that feeds into the novelty and adventure consumers desire. We see this dynamic in the marketing of tasting menus and discussions of the consumer experience of these chef’s work. As Nicholas Gill, director of the New Worlder culinary guide, explains in an opening scene of the Chef’s Table episode: “To understand what Virgilio is doing is to understand what exactly is Peru.” He later adds: “Virgilio’s menu makes you feel, it makes you think, to makes you discover in areas you thought you already discovered everything” (Chef’s Table 2016). In Central, guests are welcomed to admire a glass case full of Martínez’s finds, as the Mater Initiative website explains: “Conveying the wonder of the discovery of new products in their natural habitat is impossible. However, at Central, thanks to Mater's foraging, it is possible to exhibit the wild beauty of roots, seeds, fruits, vines, tubers, and aromatic flowers that we gather along the way. And so, to satisfy the curiosity of restaurant visitors, we have the Mater Box, a type of glass case in which we display the discoveries of our journeys. We now have more than 150 products on exhibition, and we are convinced that the biodiversity of Peru will never leave us without new protagonists” (Research 2016).

47Similarly, Schiaffino explains the key to the success of Amazonian food is marketing novelty: “One of the many reasons that we do Amazonian cuisine is to let people know what we have in the Amazon. There are new things, new ingredients, new flavors, new territory, new climate” (Munchies 2014). It is precisely this unknown-ess, and thus discoverability (or in Schiaffino’s case, the Amazon in particular) that makes it so marketable to foreign and elite Peruvian consumers.

48Similarly, in the two-and-a-half-page introduction to Acurio’s most recent cookbook, titled Peru, the term discover is used four times to explain the role of the cookbook and in an interview about the release of the cookbook he explains it as an adventure for consumers: “[Peru: the cookbook] is a trip through Peru, through its history, its ingredient [sic], its moment [sic] through dishes. Trying to travel through the environment, the flavors, and the soul of Peru through dishes.” Explaining the way he designs a menu in an interview with a Spanish reporter, Acurio frames his creative process through a trope of adventure: “Try to imagine a trip – it’s what we do in the restaurant. We travel through history, through feelings, through territories, through landscapes, through immigration. And from there we try to create a gastronomic experience” (Gastro Radio 2014). This framing of Peru as a land of boundless potential is not new. It harkens back to colonial-era ideas around territory and resource extraction – ideas of colonies as frontier spaces awaiting exploitation, where fortunes could be made. In this case, however, Peru is being sold not to budding miners or pharmaceutical giants, but instead to diners in search of the boundless novelty, authenticity, and exoticness Peru is said to offer.

49The idioms of the unknown fold into a language of potentiality, ideas that also undergird the nineteenth century explorer narratives Terrall describes and capitalist political economy more generally. Martínez’s sister, Malena, who heads Mater Initiative explains their investigative work in Chef’s Table: “We [Mater Initiative] are the research arm of Central... This would be like the first filter. So the stuff that we see [that has] potential, we then bring to experiment in the kitchen of Central.” While the goal is to find ingredients with culinary (read: economic) potential, the crude capitalist sentiment is made palatable by the exciting language of (culinary) discovery and possibility. The culinary resources the team finds are treated as just that, raw materials. In order for them to become important ingredients, the chef must work his magic and transform them into expensive prix-fixe meal dishes. The raw material is the ingredient (from the provinces) and value is added in (Lima) restaurants where limeño chefs transform them into $30 “small plates.”

Chefs and Discovery: claiming the unclaimed

50This creation of wilderness through the concept of the unknown in turn creates an environment apt for discovery and appropriation. Chefs are considered uniquely equipped to transgress the center/periphery boundary by venturing into the frontier spaces that are full of the “unknown” and “potential” which, thanks to their special abilities and training, is metamorphosed into “discovery.” The metaphors of the unknown and wilderness can be read as a darkness, in contrast to a metaphor of light, which manifests in Peruvian chefs’ adventure tales quite explicitly. While the areas they travel to have long been ignored by the culinary world, and by limeño culture in general, it is implied that these chefs have the uniquely trained eyes to see value in these landscapes and culinary cultures where others, including the people who live in these regions, do not. Where others see empty expanses and strange and backward diets. In contrast to this lack of vision, these chefs can identify treasure troves of novel ingredients awaiting revalorization and rich dishes with potential to be repurposed for five-star restaurant audiences.

51Like the early travel and discovery accounts that employed a language of vision, Peruvian celebrity chefs are also portrayed as having the unique ability to see value in what was previously “value-less.” In the opening scene of Chef’s Table, Gill explains Martínez’s special capacity to see culinary value in Peru’s untouched wilderness: “What Virgilio is doing – is he goes into these remote places – he’s seeing all these ingredients that were within that ecosystem and he figures out a way to put them onto a plate together” (Chef’s Table 2016).

52While all three chefs document culinary finds on Instagram and Facebook, Martínez and his Mater Initiative team are particularly diligent about narrating their discoveries on social media. As Figure 1 and Figure 2 show, Martínez systematically posts about their trips through Peru. These culinary resource finds are interspersed with photos of delicate plates that include these products – the raw materials transformed into highly refined end products. His magic transforms something value-less into something valuable.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Instagram Post by @virgiliocentral about a new medicinal plant sample. Caption reads : “Medicinal Plants at 3,420 m.a.s.l Culen”

Figure 3

Figure 3

Instagram Post by @virgiliocentral about tasting an aquatic insect in Puno. Caption reads: “First experience with an aquatic bug ….#corixidae yummmm, spicy :)”

Figure 4

Figure 4

Instagram Post by @virgiliocentral with new Central dish. Caption reads: “Avocado Andean grains and algae … natural dye”.

  • 19 Interviews conducted by the author are denoted with italics in quotation marks.

53Schiaffino’s explains his interest in cooking as revolving around his curiosity for discovering the undiscovered: “I went into all this out of pure curiosity, basically. Twelve years ago my curiosity was either greater or equal to how it is now – I decided to use products that nobody used, and so I got involved.”19 Ultimately, it is this drive to discover the undiscovered that chefs claim as their motivating idea.

54This metaphor of light was accompanied by a metaphor of travel, a trope that also emerges in chef stories. Early accounts focused on an “exploration of nature that combined physical effort and daring with mathematical and instrumental prowess. Their firsthand stories were then incorporated into a heroic account of the scientific adventure and discovery that fed into grand narratives of the progress that follows from courageous battles against ignorance,” argues Terrall (2011, 85). This same trope of the expedition that yields discovery and ultimately a triumph of reason over ignorance inflects the chefs’ accounts of finding ingredients and reshaping perceptions of them. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, risking life and health on such perilous voyages came to be regarded as a criterion for the high quality of the scientific achievements that resulted. The heroic masculinity of the risk-taking explorer who survives perilous trips into the unknown to discover nature’s secrets ensured that at home scientists would be esteemed and acclaimed on the same level as great explorers and military leaders. The written and visual accounts of chef’s expeditions often emphasize the physical exertion entailed in these adventures – chefs are often pictured catching fish with their bare hands or hiking Andean peaks. As recent social media post of Martínez’s emphasizes the difficulty of these trips: “It would be easy to cook with things we know. The difficult thing is when you go and get things that are difficult to find...there’s always a reason why these things are not getting to the city.” The idea is that by enduring the difficulties of these treks, chefs will reveal the cultural and biological richness of Peru beyond Lima and break down the prejudice defining limeños’ relation with people from these areas.     

  • 20 Cavia porcellus, Oxalis tuberosa, Tagetes minuta, respectively.

55This dynamic of commodification and appropriation of culinary resources and knowledge brings up questions of authorship, a dynamic on display in these chef’s white-tablecloth restaurants. Acurio’s trips around Peru that documented on his television program provide the raw materials for dishes that, ultimately, he gets credit for on Astrid y Gaston’s menu. Here, marginalized ingredients and dishes are transformed into platos del autor, which translates as “dishes with an author” or “signature dish.” Dishes like “the cuy and the tubers” include ingredients commonly found together in Andean cooking such as guinea pig, oca, and huacatay20, but Acurio’s magic touch along with a highly aestheticized plating style turn common Andean food into signature dishes in which the creative genius of the chef is highlighted. Even while waiters may offer a brief explanation about the history of the dish or ingredient prior to Acurio’s revalorization, ultimately Acurio is considered the author. This idea that the chef has the ability to “see” ingredients for all their economic and culinary potential tracks the metaphor of light Terrall describes. Even while many of the dishes Astrid y Gaston serve are explicitly inspired by “traditional” Peruvian dishes and ingredients, it is the creative genius and special vision of the chef that renders them valuable, such that diners will pay twenty times what a similar dish served in a food stall might cost. This ties back in with Tsing claim that frontiers are characterized by a lack of governance and regulation in which property rights are unclear and up for grabs. Intellectual property rights for the culinary resources chefs find are unclear and claims to signature dishes are also informal.

Conclusion: Thinking In Frontiers

56The concept of the frontier developed in this article pushes debates regarding the “who” of appropriation to questions of the “how” of appropriation. By shifting the conversation from who can rightfully claim a particular culinary resource to developing a theory of the actual mechanisms employed to render certain foods appropriable by outsiders, the frontier concept offers new directions for research on cultural food colonialism that take seriously how capitalism works and how value is made. The frontier concept sheds light on how “valueless” foods are made (economically) valuable – a problematic that culinary “revalorization” projects necessarily bring to the fore.

57Tracing Peruvian celebrity chef narratives of lost/discovered foods reveals how the culinary frontier is created in this particular context: first, through bifurcating “modern” and “authentic” Peru and, second, by obscuring the people who produce and eat these foods and their claims to them. The symbolic creation of a wilderness in turn creates an environment apt for ingredient “discovery” enacted by the celebrity chefs. Poverty foods are transformed into delicacies through the chef’s magic – or more precisely the amalgamation of a particular set of culinary skills linked to European training combined with the class status the chefs possess.

58While lost-discovered food narratives have played a particularly central role in the development and export of Peruvian cuisine, this concept has manifold applications beyond Peru and should be further developed in different contexts at diverse scales. First, haute cuisine markets rely upon the constant production of novelty – a dynamic fed in part by the construction of culinary frontiers and the new ingredients they yield. The frontier can provide insight into the process by which new ingredients come to circulate in diverse haute cuisine settings and more research is needed on the different forms this process takes on. Second, as the development and export of national cuisines is increasingly touted as an economic development strategy for post-colonial nations across the globe, the creation of national culinary frontiers will necessarily accompany these projects. Critical scholarship that examines how this frontier-making process articulates with diverse racial hierarchies and national histories can help clarify the patterned ways new culinary resources are produced and divergences in the ways uneven power relations intervenes in these processes.

Top of page


ABBOTS, E.J. 2015. “The Intimacies of Industry”. Food, Culture & Society 18(2): 223–243.

ACURIO, G. 2016. Sazón En Acción. Lima: Mitin.

APPADURAI, A. 1988. “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India”. Comparative Studies in Society and History 30(1): 3–24.

BELL HOOKS 1992. Black Looks. Boston: South End Press.

BRONDIZIO, E.S. 2004. From Staple to Fashion Food: Shifting Cycles and Shifting Opportunities in the Development of the Açaí Palm Fruit Economy in the Amazon Estuary. Working Forest in the Neotropics. In D.J. Zarin, J.R.R. Alavalapati, F.E. Putz, & M. Schmink, (eds.): 339-365. New York: Columbia University Press.

BRONDIZIO, E.S. 2008. The Amazonian Caboclo and the Açaí Palm: Forest Farmers in the Global Market. New York: New York Botanical Garden Press.

BUSH, L. 2017. Slow Food and Fast Flows: Chefs, Cuisine, and Convergence. PhD. Indiana University.

COX HALL, A. forthcoming. “Cooking up Heritage: Culinary Adventures of Peru’s Past”. Bulletin of Spanish Studies.

DE LA CADENA, M. 2000. Indigenous Mestizos. Durham: Duke University Press.

CANEPA, G.E. 2013. “Nation Branding: The Re-Foundation of Community, Citizenship and the State in the Context of Neoliberalism in Perú”. Medien Journal 3: 7–18.

CHEF’S TABLE 2017. Chef’s Table Season 3. Netflix.

CLAY, X. 2014. “Gaston Acurio: The Man Opening Our Eyes to Peruvian Food”. Telegraph, October 5, accessed 28 December 2017:

FUENTES, C. 2007. “Gastón Acurio: Perú Es La Nueva Despensa Europea”. ABC Español. 20 January 2007, accessed 28 December 2017:

GARCIA, M. E. 2010. “Super Guinea Pigs?” Anthropology Now 2(2): 22–32.

GARCIA, M. E. 2013. “The Taste of Conquest: Colonialism, Cosmopolitics, and the Dark Side of Peru’s Gastronomic Boom”. Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 18(3): 505–524.

GARCIA, M. E. (in press). “Devouring the Nation: Theorizing Consumption and Success in Peru”. Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies.

RPP NOTICIAS 2011. “Gastón Acurio Asegura Que Gastronomía Contribuye Al Desarrollo de Perú”, 2 December, accessed December 28, 2017:

GASTRO RADIO 2014.” Gaston Acurio Explica Cómo Descubrir La Cocina Peruana”.
Accessed 28 December 2011:

HELDKE, L. 2003. Exotic Appetites: Ruminations of a Food Adventurer. New York: Routledge.

HOBSBAWN, E. & RANGER, T. 1983. The Invention of Tradition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

JANER, Z. (2007). “(In)Edible Nature: New World Food and Coloniality”. Cultural Studies 21(2/3): 385–405.

JOHNSTON, J. & BAUMANN, S. 2010. Foodies. New York: Routledge.

JOHNSTON, J. & GOODMAN, M.K. 2015. “Spectacular Foodscapes”. Food, Culture & Society 18(2): 205–222.

KOPPEL, J. 2017. “The Imperial Rationality within BioTrade: A Contribution to the Neoextractivist Debate”. Alternautas, 4(2).

LAUER, M. & LAUER, V. 2006. La Revolución Gastronómica Peruana. Lima: USMP, Lima.

LEPSELTER, S. 2012. “The Resonance of Captivity Aliens and Conquest”. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2(2): 84–104.

LOPEZ CANALES, J. 2019. “Peru on a Plate: Coloniality and modernity in Peru’s high-end cuisine”. Anthropology of food [En ligne], 14 | 2019, mis en ligne le 06 juin 2019, consulté le 06 juin 2019. URL :

MARKOWITZ, L. 2012. “Highland Haute Cuisine: The Transformation of Alpaca Meat”. In E. Finnis, ed., Reimagining Marginalized Foods: Global Processes, Local Places: 34-48. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press.

MATTA, R. 2011. “Posibilidades y Límites Del Desarrollo En El Patrimonio Inmaterial. El Caso de La Cocina Peruana”. Apuntes. Revista de Estudios Sobre Patrimonio Cultural 24(2): 196–207.

MATTA, R. 2013. “Valuing Native Eating: The Modern Roots of Peruvian Food Heritage”. Anthropology of Food S8:

MATTA, R. 2016. “Recipes for Crossing Boundaries: Peruvian Fusion”. In Steffan Igor Ayora-Diaz, Ed., Cooking Technology Transformations in Culinary Practice in Mexico and Latin America: 139-152. London: Bloomsbury.

MCDONELL, E. 2015. “Miracle Foods: Quinoa, Curative Metaphors, and the Depoliticization of Global Hunger Politics”. Gastronomica 15(4): 70–85.

MOORE, J. 2014. “The Capitalocene, Part I: On the Nature and Origins of Our Ecological Crisis”. Unpublished Paper. Binghamton University: Fernand Braudel Center.

MORAN, I. 2016. “Gastón Acurio: “Todos Hacemos Política, y Yo La Hago Desde La Cocina.”” 20 Minutos. 2 September 2016, accessed 6 April 2017:

MUNCHIES. 2014. “Being Frank: Peru, Part 2”. Munchies. Accessed 15 January 2018.

QUIJANO, A. 1999. “Colonialidad Del Poder, Cultura, y Conocimiento En América Latina”. Dispositio 24(51): 137–148.

MATER INITIATIVA. 2016. “Introduction”. Accessed 16 January 2018:

TERRALL, M. 2011. “Heroic Narratives of Quest and Discovery” in Sandra G. Harding, (Ed.). Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader. Durham: Duke University Press.

THE WORLD’S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS 2017. 2017 World’s Best. Accessed 30 August 2017.

TSING, A. 2006. Friction. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

MARTINEZ VELIZ, VIRGILIO N.D. Facebook Profile. Accessed January 11, 2018:

WADE, P. 1997. Race and Ethnicity in Latin America. London: Pluto Press.

WILK, R. 2006. Home Cooking in the Global Village. New York: Berg.

WORLD TRAVEL AWARDS. 2017. 2017 World Travel Awards List. Accessed 6 December 2019:

Top of page


1 Poverty foods refer to foods linked to poor people. While claiming these foods are consumed out of necessity would be an overstatement, their low price makes them accessible to those with few economic resources. Critically, these foods are often also stigmatizing, marking consumers as poor and are thus avoided by upper classes.

2 An exception is Gastón Acurio, whom many farmers were aware of, and whose work linking food to politics and national development have made one of the most recognizable and loved contemporary public figures in Peru.

3 Limeño refers to a resident of Lima, Peru’s capital city and commercial hub. Lima is considered the heart of Europeanized Peru that is commonly seen as the locus of modernity, progress, and development and is contrasted to the “backward,” “traditional,” “underdeveloped” Andean highlands and Amazon.

4 Here I invoke Susan Lepselter’s (2012) ideas about “narrative resonance.”

5 Chenopodium Quinoa, Oxalis tuberosa, Ullucus tuberosus, respectively.

6 The author has carried out all the Spanish-English translations.

7 These chefs’ travels abroad to acquire European lenses of various kinds that ultimately allow them to rediscover something “authentically Peruvian” have a long history in Peru outside the culinary sector. For example, Cesar Vallejo discovered surrealism in Europe and then made it Peruvian. José María Arguedas went to Spain to study peasants and then returned to Peru to write some of the most important analyses of Peruvian peasants.

8 Sacha inchi’s scientific name is Plukenetia volubilis.

9 The concepts of “marginalized foods,” “traditional foods,” “native foods,” and “indigenous foods” are closely related, particularly in Peru and much of Latin America where foods linked to native people are commonly degraded as remnants of a bygone era, and in turn linked to poverty. In this article, I use “marginalized foods” and “traditional foods” interchangeably because they tend to refer to the same foods, albeit emphasizing different characteristics of them. I recognize that in other parts of the world the close relation between these concepts may not hold.

10 It’s worth noting that María Elena García (2013) and Jorge Lopez Canales (2019) draw attention to other aspects of Peru’s food boom’s coloniality.

11 Some forthcoming work elaborates my point about extractivism. See forthcoming work by Amy Cox Hall and María Elena García, cited in bibliography.

12 Here I invoke Anibal Quijano’s (1999) idea of the coloniality of power, which highlights the ways the legacies of European colonialism persist in contemporary in social orders and forms of knowledge.

13 Chenopodium quinoa, Lepidium meyenii, Nostoc commune, Oxalis tuberosa, respectively.

14 See more about the kinds of ingredients being revalorized in Matta (2013; 2016).

15 In Peru, class and race are inextricably intertwined such that being coded as white is synonymous with being upper-class. For more on how race works in Peru, see de la Cadena (2000), and Latin America more broadly, see Wade (1997). For more on the complex ways class/race interpenetration occurs in culinary worlds of Latin America, see Abbots (2015).

16 As previously mentioned, Acurio owns a number of restaurants in Peru and abroad, and has now opened locales of his Chicha restaurant brand in the tourist-centric cities of Cusco and Arequipa. Martínez just this year opened a highly exclusive restaurant in Peru’s Sacred Valley outside between Cusco and Machu Picchu, an area with extremely heavy tourist traffic that is aimed at tourists traveling to Machu Picchu.

17 See García (2010) on this issue of hygiene as it relates to race in the gastronomic revolution discourse.

18Regiones” and “en provincia,” translated directly as “regions” and “in province” refers to areas of Peru outside of Lima.

19 Interviews conducted by the author are denoted with italics in quotation marks.

20 Cavia porcellus, Oxalis tuberosa, Tagetes minuta, respectively.

Top of page

List of illustrations

Title Figure 1
Caption Central’s Mater Initiative website welcome page
File image/png, 1.7M
Title Figure 2
Caption Instagram Post by @virgiliocentral about a new medicinal plant sample. Caption reads : “Medicinal Plants at 3,420 m.a.s.l Culen”
File image/png, 1.1M
Title Figure 3
Caption Instagram Post by @virgiliocentral about tasting an aquatic insect in Puno. Caption reads: “First experience with an aquatic bug ….#corixidae yummmm, spicy :)”
File image/png, 1.1M
Title Figure 4
Caption Instagram Post by @virgiliocentral with new Central dish. Caption reads: “Avocado Andean grains and algae … natural dye”.
File image/png, 913k
Top of page


Electronic reference

Emma McDonell, « Creating the culinary frontier : A critical examination of Peruvian chefs’ narratives of lost/discovered foods  », Anthropology of food [Online], 14 | 2019, Online since 17 June 2019, connection on 15 July 2020. URL : ; DOI :

Top of page

About the author

Emma McDonell

Department of Anthropology, Indiana University,

Top of page


Licence Creative Commons
Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Top of page