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Interview with Chef Diego Munoz Velasquez of Astrid y Gaston from Lima, Peru

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Diego is a young Peruvian chef at the helm of Gaston Acurio's flagship restaurant that was recently named as the top restaurant in Latin America. This chefs career since 1999 has included stages and training at acclaimed restaurants in Europe, Australia and Canada and working with chefs like Ferran Adria, Andoni Aduriz, Pascal Barbot, Massimo Bottura, Tony Bilson, Gaston Acurio and other culinary geniuses.

Diego's passion, dexterity and skilled brilliance is on display on the plates that come out of his kitchen. In the midst of the gastronomic boom in Peru and emergence of numerous other young talents he cannot be compared to others in his genre as he has created a cuisine with a sensibility that is his own. His international acclaim is evidenced by the invitations to numerous chef conferences and collaborations with other renowned chefs.

Last year as he will again again this month he wowed audiences at Madrid Fusion, Mistura, Star Chefs and Gastronomika. In 2012 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Alain Ducasse's restaurant LeLouis XV in Monaco he joined 14 other big names in the culinary field from around he world to offer a tasting using using typical ingredients from the Cote d'Azur.

His philosophy of food is better understood after tasting his food, watching his cooking demos at events and in conversations about his passion for his profession.

Chef Diego Munoz answers some questions:

Is this fascination with organic produce in Peru part of the international trend?

Not really since in our developing economy in Peru there is a two pronged effort to encourage social gastronomy and organic ethics. With the new gastronomic impetus we went back to our farmers to find that they had been growing organic all along from the time of the Inca's and we are ensuring that it stays that way.

What brought you back to Peru after working at some of the most iconic restaurants abroad?

The emerging gastronomic culture, the human connections and values and the revival of products like quinoa, corn and potatoes by indigenous growers in remote areas like Ayacucho were all instrumental in drawing me back home. I also have the chance to train and inspire people to cook and learn in my kitchen and we have stagiares from Peru as well as all over the world.

Do you feel a social responsibility to use local ingredients?

Yes, it is very important to me. With the gastronomic boom we have even ventured into potato farming with small farmers to build a network between chefs and producers. This helps us ensure consistency and save the diversity of produce.

What is your favorite product to work with?

Potatoes, of which we have over 3000 varieties and so many possibilities to create with them. We are slowly bringing back forgotten and wild varieties. Every year we bring back four varieties into use.

What inspires you on a daily basis?

I don't look for inspiration; it comes to me when I am engrossed in work or from nature, particularly the ocean. I like to swim everyday if I can and you know I love to surf.

How important is technology and research in the kitchen?

It is important to concentrate in your own discipline but at the same time it is imperative to keep up with the advances to keep the line moving. Contrast is good because it brings in some freshness. Technology is fun and necessary at times to bring some creations to the plate but I have had some really bad meals when it is used for effect and destroys the integrity of the product. I believe in more cultural research than technical.

Which other cuisine interests you?

For me Italian is my favorite, especially simple Italian food from northern Italy. My favorite meal is simple spaghetti with Parmesan. I like Massimo Bottura's food as well as his intelligence and creativity not to forget the most incredible music equipment in his kitchen.

Who do you admire the most in the food world?

For me at the top of the list is Ferran Adria because I got to know him and learn a lot from him when I worked at El Bulli. If he believes in something, it does not matter how impossible it is he persists till he achieves it. My time there opened my mind to possibilities and taught me the value of produce.

What are your thoughts about casual service replacing fine dining for example at Barbot's L'Astrance in Paris?

After El Bulli I worked with Pascal Barbot and I think it may be the way to go and interesting to observe but then in 2006 I dined at Alain Ducasse's Louis XV and loved the formal experience. I like both kinds of service and its great when perfection and performance both come together.

Where have you traveled recently and where are you heading next?

I was in Mendoza, Argentina, Chile, next week with Chef Sache in Germany, and then in New York for Star Chef and then Gastronomika in Spain where I am cooked at Mugaritz one night besides presenting at the conference and then Madrid Fusion.

Do you like being away from your kitchen so much?

Actually I want to be like Ferran Adria who kept the Bulli in El Bulli and had people come in from outside besides having a shorter season that allowed the team to travel. Hopefully we will stop and stay at home soon.

When was your last vacation?

Two years ago I took my then fiance to visit my parents in Coral Springs, Florida for three days but it was a stressful trip as you can imagine.

Do you cook at home?

I don't have much time off but I cook at home on Sundays for my wife.

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