Chef Diego Muñoz: Running the Show at Astrid y Gaston, Part 1
An ideal day for chef Diego Muñoz begins on the beach in his hometown of Lima, Peru as he prepares to ride his surfboard over the sparkling waves of the Pacific Ocean. These days, more often than not, his surfing passion takes a backseat to his ever increasing responsibilities of running the kitchens of Astrid y Gaston, the shining star of the Lima restaurant scene. After stints at gastronomic temples such as Le Grand Véfour in France, El Bulli and Mugaritz in Spain, and Bilson's and the Palazzo Versace in Australia, he came home to Peru when chef Gaston Acurio handed over the reins of his Astrid y Gaston kitchen to new head chef Velasquez in 2012.
Rapidly after Muñoz's arrival, Astrid rose from the 42nd position on the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2011 to #14 in 2013, and in the same year it placed at the top of the first 50 Best Restaurants of Latin America list. In 2015 it is still at #14 on the World's 50 Best restaurants list and #2 in Latin America in the annual game of musical chairs played by these popular lists. The next Latin American 50 Best restaurants will be announced on September 23 in Mexico City and Astrid is expected to be in the top ten.
Interestingly, in 2011 when Bilson's lost its third chef hat award (Australia's top recognition for restaurants), his former boss turned to Diego, who helped reclaim it for the restaurant which has since closed. Even though Acurio has not been at the pass in the kitchen since 2012, it is only recently since he announced his retirement that Diego Muñoz, the face and name behind the food at Astrid, is beginning to emerge. It is not an easy task for Muñoz to gain the spotlight as Gaston Acurio's rockstar status in Peru casts an immense shadow.
Muñoz's exquisite cuisine at Astrid is flawlessly executed with a complex layering of flavors and attention to detail. In the exceptional gastronomic climate of Lima where many other chefs have emerged with all the international attention the region has received, Muñoz's cuisine with its own unique sensibility stands alone. According to Muñoz, besides the opportunity to work in a great restaurant it was the new gastronomic impetus in his country where social gastronomy and organic ethics existent since the time of the Incas drew him back. He recognizes that his experience and success will inspire other culinary professionals striving to make a name in this developing region where new restaurants seem to pop up every day. Peru has a unique multi-cultural and multi-ethnic identity because of migrants from Japan, South Asia, China, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Arab states, South Korea, and many other parts of the world. In this crucible a very unique food culture has taken shape which is original to Peru.
The palpable energy of the gastronomic revolution in Lima is visible during the morning rush hours in Lima when you can spot young men and women in professional whites making their way either to work or to culinary schools that abound. Lima is a busy bustling city where the old mixes in with the new and skyscrapers exist next to historic structures, even ancient adobe pyramids where the wild “Pulpo Fiction” Gelinaz event took place two years ago.
Formerly located in a rambling colonial building in the upscale Miraflores area of Lima the restaurant moved last year to Casa Moreyra, a 300-year-old hacienda that now houses the restaurant, terrace, taller, and its Garden of Eden. The stunning restaurant is where the chef and his team serve a tantalizing menu that may include charred octopus in infused broth, guinea pig folded in delicate crepes, or other exotic tastes that tend to linger on the palate.