On Tuesday, world-acclaimed chef Gaston Acurio was joined by his leche de tigre gang and they continued their ceviche tour with a stop in one of the chef's outpost -- La Mar -- where Miami chefs and industry folks gathered for the chance to be in the presence of the culinary mastermind.
The Astrid & Gaston chef and owner recently announced that he'd be retiring from his beloved restaurant that was just named number two in Latin America after 20 years. We presume to do more stuff like traveling the world sharing the secrets of Peruvian cuisine, as he did Tuesday.
In an emotional Facebook post, the chef announced he'd be stepping down from his acclaimed outpost to do an expedition through Peru in 2015 through every town in search of history to then continue to share Peruvian culture and gastronomy with the world. This is in fact the unifying theme for Acurio.
"Trying to share with you guys one of the most loved dishes in Peru which is Leche de Tigre and ceviche is what today is about. As chefs, we celebrate food and we don't compete. We learn together and eat together. We expect a Miami gang will do this in the future with the cuisine and culture from here and they will come to Peru," said the chef as part of his speech.
His gang, which consists of Hector Solis (Fiesta), Virgilio Martinez (Central), and Micha Tsumura (Maido) joined Acurio as they all used traditional Peruvian ingredients to make a handful of dishes and feed a hungry room that was craving ceviche.
Fish was the theme of the night, and although it smelled fishy when walking in thanks to all the freshly displayed sea creatures every dish we had was clean, flavorful and ultra-fresh.
Hector Solis cooked up some hot leche de tigre, both in temperature and taste. The spicy soup had aji amarillo, habanero, mussels, crab and other deliciousness.
Just one of the many ceviche's that we sampled. It was hard to keep track of what was in each, but the unifying agent in all is of course the leche de tigre, or "tiger's milk." It has nothing to do with milk, or tigers for that matter. Instead, this irresistible and slurp-worthy juice that ceviche marinates in. The more milk consistency the texture, the better the ceviche is said to be.
Oh just Virgilio Martinez, chef and owner of Restaurant Central, which is number 16 on the world's Top 50 Restaurant list and recently named the best restaurant in all of Latin America. Astrid & Gaston is number two. On a recent visit to Peru, I had the opportunity to dine at Central and I can safely say it was the best meal I've had in my entire life. And yes, that's a bold statement.
Chefs and industry folks all enjoyed their ceviche, maybe a little too much. Todd Erickson (EDGE Steak & Bar) and Aaron Brooks (HaVen) were going back and forth on who would eat more with the impending end to the Fit to Fight challenge both chefs are participating in. Aniece Meinhold from The Federal and Christine Guzman from HaVen on the other hand, were lady and the tramping it over a piece of succulent lobster.
Diego Oka, executive chef of La Mar has been with Acurio a long time. "He is our leader here," said Acurio.
After the leche de tigre gang rode out, a James Beard Friends Benefit dinner inhabited the restaurant in which 75 attendants shared laughs over a Peruvian family style meal filled with pisco sour, ceviche, nikkei and some of La Mar's most popular dishes, such as the chaufa aeropuerto.
Fried whole fish with a Peruvian sweet and sour sauce and bok choy can feed plenty. We shared ours witha couple celebrating their 50-year anniversary. When we asked the gentlemen what the secret to long-lasting love is, his response was "to do whatever she says." Right on.
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Chicha morada dessert was the sweet ending to a meal.
As was a Gaston Acurio signed menu, which was gifted to all James Beard Benefit attendants.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha