Culinary maestro, Gaston Acurio has made efforts to leverage Perus gastronomical delights to produce a more equitable society. His 3-year old cooking school at the Pachacutec vocational institute has been making the news lately for offering world-class culinary school to ordinary Peruvians. Acurio believes chefs like himself who cater to wealthy palates have a moral duty to raise the living standards in countries like Peru where nearly 2 in 5 live on less than $2 a day. Well-to-do Peruvians pay upwards of $700 per month to attend renowned culinary schools, but Pachacutec costs just $30 per month for an education every bit as demanding. The surrounding desert of Pachacutec is home to over 100,000 people, many who are extremely poor and have malnutrition.
Acurio has garnered attention for Peruvian cuisine throughout the world. He owns nearly 30 restaurants both in Peru and abroad. For the cooking school, Acurio has enlisted top chefs including Catalan, Ferran Adria, as well as other chefs from Acurios restaurants. The schools library, housed in a metal shipping container, has over 2,500 cookbooks that were sent from Spain by famous chefs. Limas municipal water company donates water by trucking it in and filling the schools five 185-gallon wells. Each student is responsible for the care of two plants and cooking ingredients are donated by restaurant suppliers. The Roman Catholic Church also provides funding.
As part of their school, hardworking second-year students at Pachacutec are given a part-time job at Acurios restaurants around Lima. Students of Pachacutec will have a better chance to get a good job. Cooking wont eliminate poverty, but it helps to create, small, integrated economies between farmers, restaurants, fisherman, taxis and hotels. A study by the Peruvian Gastronomy Society found that most of the nations chefs earn about $500 a month. The first class graduated nine students in 2009 and all have jobs. The two-year program at Pachacutec receives about 500 applications a year, but only accepts 40 students.
Peruvian cuisine fuses native traditions with European, African, and Asian influences using an abundance of fresh ingredients including local seafood and potatoes. The son of a former prime minister, Acurio graduated from Cordon Bleu in Paris and returned home to open his first restaurant, Astrid & Gaston, in 1994. He is still passionate about promoting Peruvian cuisine, and often endorses Pachacutec and culinary schools open to all classes.