Gastón Acurio, Celebrity Peruvian Chef, to Take on United States

Portfolio profiles Gastón Acurio, the Peruvian celebrity chef. Hugely successful in South and Central America, his plan is take on the United States, with a restaurant already open in San Fransisco and plans for New York and Las Vegas in 2009:

He has more than a dozen high-end restaurants in Peru, with outposts in Mexico, Panama, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, and even Spain, plus a comfort-food chain, two fast-food franchises, a culinary school in Lima, a luxury eco-hotel opening next year, and a hit cooking show that plays constantly on Peruvian TV. Acurio's businesses reportedly made $65 million in 2007, and revenues are expected to nearly double to $120 million in 2008.

Over the last two decades, Peruvian cuisine has gone from being overlooked (even in Peru) to the hottest trend in South America, thanks in part to Acurio's evangelism. "Peruvian cuisine is a phenomenon," says Mayalen Elizondo, a society editor at the Mexico City daily Excelsior. "In Mexico, everyone wants to interview Gastón. He's considered one of the most important chefs in the world."

But Acurio admits that his biggest challenge is yet to come: making Peruvian the new Japanese in the U.S. His first beachhead: A La Mar outlet on San Francisco's Embarcadero that opened in early October and has been packed ever since. "Thirty years ago, there were no Japanese restaurants in the U.S.," Acurio says. "Then one day Americans started eating seaweed and raw fish. Now there's a sushi restaurant on every corner. Why can't we do the same with Peruvian cooking?"

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