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The S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 finalist for Germany and Austria, Falko Weiß, was in Lima for a work experience at Gastón Acurio’s restaurant Astrid y Gaston. Here is his diary about being an intern at one of the best restaurants in the world.
From Germany to Peru
What does it mean to work in one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants? S.Pellegrino gave me the unique opportunity to complete a three-day internship at Astrid y Gastón, in Lima (Peru). I was over the moon when I found out: it was the first time that I had worked outside my home. I was particularly excited about the typical national products that we don’t have in Europe. Gastón Acurio’s restaurant is number 33 among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 and number 7 among Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017. I could hardly believe that I would soon be standing in the kitchen there!
Welcome to Astrid y Gastón!
On the first of my three working days, I received a very friendly greeting from the restaurant organiser and was shown around Astrid y Gastón. What impressed me most was how many seats the restaurant has: 220. Almost impossible by German standards. The last stop on the restaurant tour was the cold kitchen – this is where my internship began.
In total, I was able to familiarise myself with three posts at Astrid y Gastón: cold kitchen, production and hot kitchen. I gradually got to know the whole team while working at the various posts. I thus quickly felt at home in this unfamiliar environment. 45 chefs work at Astrid y Gastón. I had never been in a kitchen with so many chefs before. But no matter at which station I worked, every team member always welcomed me warmly and showed me everything – even though they were often pressed for time.
To make sure everything ran smoothly with so many chefs and even more guests, there was a briefing with head chef Juan David Ocampo [top right in the image above] every morning at the start of work to prepare us for the day. He explained what in particular each department had to do and what attention should be paid to on that day. Then, it was straight into the kitchen to the cooker.
In the heart of the action
It was unbelievably impressive how focused and quickly my team colleagues worked. Completely different ingredients are used in cooking in Peru compared to in Germany. I noticed this particularly on my second working day when I was in production. All of the precision work, such as fillings for ravioli, is done at this post. Soups and sauces are also prepared here. This station was a great highlight for me because I was able to try everything out. It was really fun to discover all of the unfamiliar ingredients, aromas and flavours.
At this post, I prepared the famous Tiger’s Milk for the ceviche for the first time with the kitchen manager. What I would never have imagined: there are plenty of chillies in this dressing that grow in the Peruvian jungle – and raw fish. This was also the day when I prepared a sea urchin for the first time. Sea urchins are about as large as a handball and are very spiky. You have to break them open with a knife – almost like a coconut. These are scraped out with a spoon and marinated raw. A great cold starter – and very tasty!
Challenges: Piecework right down to the last detail
I had actually thought that the working process at Astrid y Gastón would be a little different to what I am used to in Germany. But I noticed right at the start that many things are very similar – just much, much faster! Everything was as fast as lightning, every move was just right. In such a perfectly orchestrated team, it was not so easy to find my feet at the start. Everything in the kitchen is organised so meticulously. Everyone knows exactly when something is to be done after which working step. With so many chefs in one place, everything simply has to be organised clearly – and everyone must abide by the rules.
A further challenge for me was the language. There was naturally a great deal of Spanish spoken. Even the briefing in the morning was completely in Spanish as well as the instructions from head chef Ocampo. What was new for me: each time that the chef says something, the entire team responds in chorus with “Oído” (“heard”), to confirm that everyone has understood the instructions.
Outside the kitchen
Although I was primarily in Lima for my internship, I also absolutely wanted to get to know the country and culture. I thus used the time before my first working day to take a tour of the city. Lima is a great, vibrant, pulsating metropolis. A trip to two typical markets was an absolute must. I will never forget the Mercado de Suquillo. A huge food market that cannot be compared with anything that I had seen before. So many new products and flavours. The vegetables had such an intense flavour – you can hardly find this in Germany.
I found cherimoyas, also called custard apple or annona, particularly exciting. I had never seen or tried them. What I liked best: a drink made from quinoa and cocoa, very refreshing and particularly satisfying. All of the ingredients at the market were extremely fresh and delicious. This gets my chef’s pulse racing. The meat stalls were somewhat unusual. The meat here is hung up unrefrigerated. Between lungs, rumen and chicken with their heads on, you can also eat the food straight away. Not for delicate stomachs!
The final in sight
What did I, as a chef, take away from my time at Astrid y Gastón? Meticulous work is essential: the better everything is planned, the more easily all of the work can be performed. This starts with a thorough preparation of the working area.
Speaking of stress: During my internship, I learned to prepare myself better for stressful situations. The team never panicked, no matter what happened. And here, too, the secret lay in the preparation. Everyone performed their working processes step by step and did not let themselves get flustered. This meant that nothing could be forgotten, even when pressed for time. I took this as an example and drew up a grid so as to always have an overview of stressful situations. A strategy that will surely help me in the final of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018!
In the creations that end up on the plate at Astrid y Gastón, I once again noticed that the “five golden rules” (ingredients, skills, genius, beauty and message) of S.Pellegrino Young Chef are also very important in the everyday life of a top chef. With all of the insights to draw on, the ideas for new dishes are sure to flow all by themselves. After all, I have learned one more thing as a chef: be brave and trust yourself to break new ground. And so my next aim is already set: the title of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018.