The title of Best Restaurant in the World has for three out of the past four years been bestowed upon Copenhagen’s famed Noma. The restaurant and owner Claus Meyer along with Rene Redzepi have been credited with arousing the popular foraging food trend as well as putting Copenhagen and Scandinavia on the culinary tourism map. Meyer’s latest venture Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia hopes to recapture some of what the team was able to do in Copenhagen and with Danish cuisine.
Having recently spent three months in the South American capital, I had the pleasure of dining at Gustu quite a bit. Though I think Bolivia in general is a ways away from becoming the next great gastronomic destination, I do think how Meyer and his team have been able transform traditional Bolivian gastronomy is nothing short of remarkable, and that this metamorphosis will play a crucial part in the development of food tourism in Bolivia and throughout the continent.
Located in the ritzy Calacoto neighborhood of Zona Sur, Gustu is unlike many other restaurants in La Paz or the country. Four members of Gustu’s head staff- including manager and sommelier Jonas, barista Ely and chefs Michelangelo and Kamilla- are the only imports at the restaurant. With the goal of literally changing the world through the power of food, Gustu intentionally highlights all things Bolivia from the decretive interior space to the rich bites and unusual cocktails.
One of the main reasons behind Meyer’s choice of Bolivia for his next venture is availability of a wide range of diverse indigenous ingredients, the flavors of which are brought to life vibrantly on the plate by the chefs and kitchen staff. And while being 100% local in product and ingredients, the restaurant is not afraid to redefine the flavors and boundaries of traditional Bolivian cuisine.
Popular anticuchos, typically made from beef heart, are refined through the use of more subtle chicken hearts and paired with tart green tomatoes for a hit of acidic bite to balance out the rich flavor of the meat. Similarly the often uncompromising flavor of the dried and rehydrated potato known as a chuño is softened through caramelization and paired with delicate lama loin.
Like the food at Gustu, all the beverages at the restaurant including wines and spirits are solely of Bolivian origin. The version of a mocochinchi whipped up behind the bar is a delightful blend of crisp champagne and refreshing yerba buena, a local minty herb. For those looking for a Coca Cola Light, you’re out of luck; even the soda served is 100% Bolivian.
The intricate flavor pairings and use of unique ingredients prepared at Gustu transform Bolivian cuisine from its humble roots to the level of high gastronomy more typically associated with Europe and the Western world.
However what is perhaps the most remarkable aspect about Claus Meyer’s work in Bolivia is the restaurants focus on bettering the lives of infringed local youth through training and outreach programs. Through raising the value of indigenous ingredients, promoting Bolivian cuisine and create jobs and education for local youth, Gustu aims to create positive change in Bolivia through the medium of food.
Food is an integral part of the travel experience. Whereas some people may chose to visit a church, participate in a festival, trek through the mountains or not on their journey, everyone must eat. As the world becomes familiar and rightfully enamored with the local flavors impeccably showcased at Gustu, it seems that Claus Meyer will successfully repeat the “Noma Effect” and put Bolivian gastronomy on the culinary tourism map.
Gustu, Calle 10 no. 300, Calacoto, La Paz, Bolivia, +591 (2) 2117491, firstname.lastname@example.org , Tues- Sat 12- 3PM & 7-11PM