AKA: Buscando a Gaston
Genre: Cooking Documentary
Year Released: 2014
Distributor: Film Movement
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Ants on a Shrimp, Noma: My Perfect Storm, Black Gold, Spinning Plates, Chef, A Matter of Taste, Theater of Life, Famous Nathan’s
-Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio has his own culinary TV show in his homeland called La Aventura Culinaria. He also has several restaurants across Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, America, and other nations.
-Director Julia Patricia Perez has also directed another cooking documentary called Mistura: The Power of Food.
I do have a penchant for reviewing documentaries of various subjects. I’ve tackled documentaries that have dealt with a wide varieties of topics such as filmmaking, music, religion, racism, even pro wrestling and other things in between. However, there is one particular subject that I was going to cover yet not as soon as I expected.
That would be culinary arts…cooking to be exact.
Before I begin reviewing, I will say that I wouldn’t recommend watching this film on an empty stomach. You’ve been warned.
Finding Gaston is about a celebrity chef named Gaston Acurio. He owns several restaurants, is very famous in his native Peru and even other culinary circles worldwide. His emphasis is using food and ingredients native to this South American country. However, Gaston has a passion for cooking that can be quite atypical compared to other celebrity chefs such as Rachel Ray, Gordon Ramsey, or Guy Fieri. He has a national emphasis on not just the culture of Peru, but he also prefers making ethnically made food as he frequently travels to lower-class fishing and farming towns where the producers can be paid a fair wage for their work. Not only that, but he owns a culinary arts school where some low-income students can get professional education for those that want to be chefs and restaurateurs.
I’ll be straight when I tell you that I’m not a foodie nor do I frequent places like Food Network or the Cooking Channel, but this documentary wasn’t bad at all. I thought it was great learning about the different dishes and ingredients from this Lima-based chef. The food itself looked appetizing and there were so many dishes that I had never heard of. If you think that Gaston being a Latino chef would provide tacos or burritos, then please slap yourself and actually learn about Peru’s local dishes. There are a diverse amount of dishes such as soups, quinoa, seafood, ceviche, sandwiches, and many more things. Not only that, but Gaston mentions in passing for being able to make Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian hybrid) and Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian hybrid) meals in addition to the more traditional Peruvian works and he’s aslo dabbled in French cuisine ever since he graduated from Le Cordon Bleu.
The production is quite good. There’s a mix of professional camera work done with the occasional smartphone video that doesn’t feel forced or cheapened. It reminded me of a higher budget Jafar Panahi film with some of the professional shots. The saturation is quite colorful without being cartoony and the lighting is just superb. The editing in some scenes can be a bit jumpy at times, but the whole movie is held together. Then there’s the food shots. Oh boy, there are some close-ups of various dishes on display and some scenes really get to food porn levels for anyone who’s into international cuisine. Like I said, don’t watch this movie if you’re hungry lest you Google the nearest restaurant that offers Peruvian food around you immediately after watching it.
Gaston Acurio is certainly making food and owning restaurants for the right reasons. I found his story to be fascinating as his dream job of being a chef is a rebellious thing from his politician father. He noticed that Peru has been looked down upon in the international scene and that’s saying nothing about the tragic events that have befallen that country when he was younger such as political corruption, terrorism, a major economic meltdown in the year 2000, and other things. Don’t worry, that country is much more stable now, but it did affect his worldview and how he wanted to change his compatriots’ “low self-esteem” by making food that Peruvians can be proud of and show that they can be just as good as the French, Germans, or Americans when it came to culinary acumen. I also applaud his desires to give fishermen, potential chefs, and indigenous farmers a fair shake at being in the food marketplace, so they won’t have to deal with middlemen or other factors that screw over these underclass workers trying to feed their families. Gaston does use his fame for good most of the time.
While Finding Gaston is a fine documentary, I did run into some problems. When I viewed the streaming version on Netflix, I noticed some subtitle typos and spacing errors. Since most of the film is in Spanish and with me not being great at that language, it did get annoying not seeing the correct wording and spacing during the dialog for most of the movie. It could be different in the actual DVD, but I’m not sure. I also thought that there was way too much focus on Gaston Acurio himself. Yes, his name is in the title, but I wanted to hear and see most of the other people around. A big one would be his German wife Astrid. She’s mentioned and is in some pictures, but you never see her talk or anything. You would think that would be important since the main restaurant chain that Gaston owns is called Astrid Y Gaston (Astrid and Gaston). I also thought the black and white interview scenes made this documentary look way more dramatic than it had to be. While I do appreciate Gaston’s goals and successes, there are times where he comes off as unintentionally arrogant or “humble bragging” about his life. One flaw is seen where he eats at the La Mar restaurant in Lima where he just critiques the crap out of a dish where he literally tells the cooks what to do and what not to do when preparing a seafood dish. He didn’t go into Gordon Ramsey levels of rage, but I’m surprised he wasn’t kicked out of the restaurant after being so critical.
Finding Gaston is a worthwhile documentary nonetheless. Gaston’s story and ideology on cooking was certainly fascinating despite having very little culinary experience or knowledge myself. The production was great for most of the time despite a few editing hiccups. The music was even fun with some native Peruvian scoring and some mambo thrown in here and there. I do wish that there was more emphasis on others around Gaston or learning about more of his students because the documentary does borderline on brown-nosing him from time to time. It was enjoyable seeing this movie and watching Gaston succeed as he lives his dream of becoming a chef willing to spread Peruvian cuisine around the world.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you’re a foodie
Subtract 1 point if you don’t like fluff pieces in film
-Great visual production
-Gaston’s reasons for being a chef
-Fun musical score
-Gaston’s ego and the film feeding into it
-Lack of emphasis on other people
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warning: There’s not a lot of offensive content in Finding Gaston. There are some slightly bloody fish at the market, but they rarely show up. Gaston goes talk about some of the issues that have plagued Peru in the past which are adult, but they are never shown onscreen. This is a safe documentary for families to watch especially if they really like food.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.