The Ambassador

For globetrotting Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, Lima is a world in a city — one with plenty of pisco

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Photographs by Andrés Marroquín Winkelmann for TIME

1. Peppers from Mercado de Productores; 2. The pisco sour at El Bolivariano; 3. Antigua Taberna Queirolo at night; 4. Preparing ham and pork sandwiches (butifarras) at Antigua Taberna Queirolo; 5. Acurio in his private kitchen in the Barranco neighborhood of Lima; 6. El Bolivariano restaurant

Gastón Acurio is master of a 34-restaurant universe that’s revolutionizing Peruvian cuisine, from Lima (his birthplace) to Madrid to New York City, with new outposts of his franchise La Mar Cebicheria opening this year in Los Angeles and Miami. Son of a Peruvian Senator, Acurio has become Peru’s de facto cultural ambassador for his ingenious riffs on his country’s food traditions. “Peru has 10,000 years of human history and culture,” he says. “We have huge biodiversity and Japanese, Chinese, African, Arabic and Spanish flavors. It’s a world of foods you won’t find in other countries.” That world encompasses the robust, chili-spiked soups and stews of the Andes, the delicate seafood concoctions of the coast, anticuchos (grilled skewered fish or meats, often innards like beef heart) and countless varieties of grains, potatoes and exotic fruits. Not to mention Acurio’s tipple of choice: pisco, the grape brandy native to Peru.

The globetrotting chef still calls Lima home. “It’s so multicultural, completely different from any other city in Latin America,” he says. Acurio owns a dozen restaurants in Lima, but he kindly shared a few local food-and-drink recommendations that fall outside his empire.

Antigua Taberna Queirolo
At this cozy, wood-lined tavern run by the pisco-making Queirolo company, Acurio endorses the Peruvian ham sandwich. “Then walk a few blocks and go to the Queirolo family’s cellar to buy pisco. They do all the bottling there.” (Av. San Martin 1090, Pueblo Libre; antiguatabernaqueirolo.com)

El Bolivariano
Locals and out-of-towners flock to this classic creole restaurant, located in a 19th century colonial house. “You should have the papa rellenas [stuffed potatoes], ceviche and anticuchos,” Acurio advises, “and stay for a pisco sour.” (Pasaje Santa Rosa 291, Pueblo Libre)

Mercado de Productores
Acurio seeks out the fruit vendor at this busy market in the San Isidro district. “He gives the fruits to you to taste one by one. There’s one called camu-camu that grows in the Amazon. It’s very acidic, but when you mix it in a dessert or smoothie, it turns pink and has a flavor you never tasted before.” (Av. Ejercito, near Costa Verde Rd. access, San Isidro)

Ayahuasca
Acurio recommends landing at this spacious bar — set in an old mansion with grand, curving wooden stairways — after a long walk around the Barranco area. “Barranco is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Lima,” Acurio says, “where all the writers, painters and antique collectors live.” (Av. San Martin 130, Barranco)

Museo Amano
This private collection houses brightly colored, centuries-old woven cotton textiles in a Peruvian style called Chancay. “If you are nice to the son of the owner,” Acurio says, “he will take a bottle of pisco and give you a tour. Museums can be really boring, but when you are drinking pisco, they are amazing.” (Retiro St. 160, Miraflores; tours by reservation only, 51 1 441-2909)

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