The Daily Meal: Unbeknownst to most, you have actually been running the show at Astrid y Gaston since 2012. Does Gaston Acurio cast a long shadow, and is it challenging for you to be recognized for your work?
Chef Diego Muñoz: It is hard to erase that image and I think it is going to be pretty much impossible to change people's perception. Even customers who come to the restaurant here believe that Gaston is still cooking. Even those who heard the news of his retirement last year still don't believe it. The funny thing is when sometimes guests visit the kitchen they think I am Gaston!
They will notice a picture in the kitchen and ask how is your wife Astrid? So I just say, “Oh she is fine.” I think I am never going to come out of that shadow and it's going to stick with the name of the restaurant. Gaston did a promotion of my work here but it still didn't work. My own friends who know of my work here don't believe it either.
When chefs become well-known, usually their egos expand, their personalities change, and sometimes even their food changes. You are always very down to earth. How do you keep that in check and maintain your stability and focus?
Last year I was very sick and took some time off and had an opportunity to think about my position and how I work. I try to lead my team by example. I am very hands on at work and work a lot, but I am always discussing things and we all listen to each other and work as a team. Naturally, I am a really shy person and not prone to focusing attention on myself.
I don't feel very comfortable visiting every table or to walk around the tables in the restaurant and prefer to stay in the background. I love it when people come in the kitchen to say hello before the meal. We start the guest’s experience on the terrace and then they walk into the kitchen before being seated at the table. The director here at the restaurant actually takes care of the guests and I take of the kitchen. There are some chefs who like that attention and some like me who don't. Some like to do TV shows while other don't, and that’s the way I am. I am happier busy working than showing off!
Do you think that the idea of Peruvian cuisine as a contender in the world of gastronomy is something that has already happened or is it going to happen in the future?
I think it has already started happening and it is a huge opportunity for us here in Peru to take advantage of this and develop further. It is not only beneficial personally or for the restaurant industry but for our country. Peru is a country that has suffered a lot and with this attention we can give something back and motivate people to keep growing. The fact that Peru has three restaurants in the top 50 in the world is very significant. It is an opportunity for us to show off our culture and encourage people to come and visit our country so that restaurant and hospitality industries, even the taxi drivers or shop keepers and market vendors will benefit. The common man will get a piece of that action and feel responsible to work hard and keep the momentum. This attention is not going to last forever and we have to keep that in mind.