Interior of Yakumanka restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Geneva

At the table with Gastón Acurio

The ceviche restaurant Yakumanka at Mandarin Oriental, Geneva is part of an ongoing mission for chef Gastón Acurio – to make the world fall in love with Peruvian cuisine. We sat down with him in Geneva to hear about his venture

Exterior of Mandarin Oriental, Geneva at sunset

Who is Gastón Acurio?

Born in Lima, Peru, in 1967, Acurio discovered cooking at a young age, teaching himself from recipe books. He enrolled in law school in Madrid, where he was so inspired by Spanish food that he switched to cookery school – without, at first, telling his parents. He trained further at institutions including Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where he met his future wife, German pastry chef Astrid Gutsche. He returned to Lima, where the couple opened their first restaurant, Astrid y Gastón, in 1994. Since then he has opened restaurants all over the world – including La Mar by Gastón Accurio at Mandarin Oriental, Miami – and has become a figurehead for Peruvian gastronomy through his cookbooks and television shows.

Pisco bar interior of Yakumanka restaurant, Geneva

A new restaurant for Geneva

“Several years ago we started a beautiful journey to bring Peruvian cuisine to other countries, and one of the countries that we were keeping in mind all that time was Switzerland. In recent years, hundreds of Peruvian restaurants have opened in Spain and in Paris, for example, but not here. Fortunately, we had this exciting opportunity with Mandarin Oriental, Geneva. We already have a wonderful relationship with Mandarin Oriental, Miami and Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona. It’s a very successful restaurant, so I think people are liking it. It’s a very warm, colourful place, with great music.”

Seafood dish at Yakumanka

The chefs who influenced me

“It was a chef in San Sebastián, Juan Mari Arzak, who gave me the strength to leave law school and start my cooking career. Later, when I was living in France, Alain Ducasse was an inspiration. And Ferran Adrià in Spain taught a lot of chefs, including me, to have a sense of freedom, and to be a rebel. Also, in Peru there is a chef called Cucho la Rosa, who was doing what I would go on to do, but at times nobody understood where he was coming from.”

Food that tells a story

“Every dish in Peru is a story of a family of different people who joined together: maybe the father is Italian and the mother is Japanese; or the father is Spanish and the mother is Inca. They joined together and tried to put both cultures into one dish, and the result of that was something beautiful.”

Squid dish at Yakumanka restraurant, Geneva

Flying the flag  

“A restaurant is an embassy of food culture. If we do a good job here at Yakumanka, a lot of people who have never tasted Peruvian cuisine before will love it and will maybe try the small Peruvian restaurant near their home that they didn’t think to go to before. As a kid I was learning how to do raclette and fondue at home in Peru, and now I’m coming to Geneva with a dream that maybe one day people here will want to make ceviche at home.”

The dining room of Yakumanka restaurant and pisco bar, Geneva

What it means to be a chef

“If you kill that passion of a small kid who dreamt of being a chef because he loved to see the people in front of him looking happy, then you lose everything. I always say, even if we open 1,000 restaurants we need to give them the same spirit as the first one. The most important thing for me as a chef is the same as it was when I was a kid, to make people happy. That’s the essence of being a chef, whether you have two, three, 50 or 80 restaurants.”

Interview by Caroline Bishop

Mandarin Oriental Geneva
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