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Gustu, La Paz (Bolivia)

When a couple of chefs from the worlds best restaurant decide to move to the other side of the world to open a new restaurant purely because the local produce is so different, then we should definitely take notice. Gustu is just such a place. It’s found in a La Paz (Bolivia) and the chefs are from Noma (should need no explanation) as well as several front of house staff. These guys and gal’s have started the same food movement that they kicked off in their Nordic homeland. The concept is to use produce found only locally and prepared keeping traditions alive, and what is blatantly obvious is that this concept works so very well.

I know it’s not rocket science and to be honest most of us try our hardest to follow the same simple rules, but without the financial backing and pure grit and determination it’s a lot harder to achieve then first thought. Gustu are not only pushing the food integrity they have also set up a training school to educate locals on all aspects of 5 star cuisine and all of its many careers. They have gone into the poorest neighborhoods and areas, and then given numerous amazing individuals an opportunity to achieve goals that were before out of reach.

For this I salute them from the bottom of my heart, it makes me proud to be part of an industry that is evolving, as the world is starting to look more with reverence at the creators of food, the leading champions of the food to face industry are stepping up and performing acts that are worthy of such an honour. You could see the pride that the young Bolivian staff had during our experience at Gustu, without being condescending in any way it was beautiful to see individuals grateful for a chance and embrace it with gusto (see what I did there?).

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Now with all that aside you still need banging dishes to be leaving the kitchen if you want anyone to take you seriously, and with an extremely modern and shiny open kitchen with all the bells and whistles us spoilt chefs like… even with all that expectation Gustu still really do deliver. The food was original yet traditional, it was creative without be ridiculous and it considered flavour above all else and in my opinion that is what makes a quality restaurant.

With dishes like ‘freeze-dried Q-ahti potato with duck skin’ & ‘homemade bacon with chankaka, cacao and lime’ starting the proceedings we knew were onto a good thing…. The cocktail menu was no secondary thought either, with tobacco cocktails and basil and coconut beverages arriving at our table, we were happy little campers.

As the more sizable dishes which were matched with beverages started to arrive, I was pleased to see that the simple motive had been continued as bowls filled with flavour but exempt from confusion started to flow… these were matched with wines and on occasion lovely little numbers like a local quinoa beer which was matched with a ‘Native potatoes cooked in salar salt, elderflower, capers and flowers’ one of the best matches of the day.

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Before I forget I must take a second to mention the bread and butter, three breads and three butters arrived early in the piece… I love anything a bit different and gluten free bread, served with the gluten that had been removed then fried crispy much like pork crackle is effing superb in my world, this was accompanied by another sour dough roll and the butters. One of butters was not for me and strange as it reminded me of eating straight mull butter but with none of the benefits or side effects depending on how you look at it. It was coca butter, so dried coca leaves churned in butter. Another butter was organic butter with salt flakes and we all know that’s delicious. The final butter of sorts was possible the greatest triumph of the night… it was a quinoa tofu and it was exquisite, I would of quite comfortably eating the crispy gluten smothered with quinoa tofu until the proverbial cows came home, but alas it was just a bread course and it came to an end far to quickly.

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A couple of stand out dishes are par for the course (pun intended) and this nights winners were a uber rich in texture and flavour Chicken Fricassee, which G-money was so close to ordering a full dish off. It sat on a buttery crouton and was bathed in a pristine jus, which was finished with so much butter it shone like a black star. Butter was most definitely ever present in their cookery, they used burnt butter a little too much as its so strong and should be used with a little more subtlety but that’s just me nit picking. The fricassee was so rich I don’t think much more than the 1-2 inch block would have been needed, which is just another reason that I love the dego style of eating, lots of dishes that leave you wanting.

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Lauren and I both loved the same dish, it was ‘Palm marrow, dried Alpaca and poached egg yolk’ it was served much like a Bolivian take on carbonara, strands of palm marrow, a cured alpaca that held a meaty punch, poached egg yolk and a drizzle of beurre noisette, in this particular case the butter was well at home and made this one of the most interesting I’ve eaten in a while. Four simple ingredients treated with respect, and once together and set free from the confines of the prep section become best mates on your palate ready to live the rest of their life’s out in your belly. My god I want to eat it again now, but I will have to wait until I recreate it myself once I’m home, a prospect that excites me no end, as what I will create will be a homage to said dish, but will inevitably change or evolve into something new… food is without a doubt the best shit ever.

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The entire evening was seamless with everyone from the sommelier to the food runner playing his or her part in this well orchestrated performance. We were all well full and ready to be rolled home, but then the coffee course came along and took me by surprise… I didn’t expect any thing to be done with my coffee, how wrong I was, it had theatrics, it used many senses and it delivered in the taste department. They brought out a local wood (I forget the name) and set it on fire only to put out and place under a glass as for the smoke to fill said glass. Then a pre brewed strong coffee, that had been shaken over ice once brewed and brought to the table in a science beaker, then poured into the smoky glass. It was delicious and went really well with the chocolate ganache tart it was served with.

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Sounds like a great way to finish this evening… yes it would have been but we had spotted a bacon and onion cocktail on the menu and we thought
“We must try that, how can it not be tasty?”

What we were served next was the worst tasting liquid to pass my lips, it tasted like liquid bad breath and didn’t possess any of the great characteristics of either bacon or onion. If it had the sweetness of the onion with any one of bacon’s magical flavour properties then it would have been a victory for food cocktails worldwide, instead sadly it was a swing and a miss.

But we didn’t leave with a bad taste in our mouth, in fact it was smiles all the way back to our hotel, Gustu is a shining light in the world of restaurants and I feel we will be hearing a lot more about them in the next few years.