Charting the titular chef's championing of his national cuisine, this documentary feels like entrée rather than a main course.
It is far from accidental that Peruvian cuisine is enjoying a period of renaissance. Within the country's borders, the general populace and fine dining establishments alike have switched their mindsets towards thinking and eating local, from the types of meals prepared to the ingredients sourced. Such reverie has not only mobilised the nation's masses, but also begun to ripple around the globe, enticing tourists courtesy of a high-profile champion. That would be the awarded and applauded chef and restaurateur Gastón Acurio, a ready-made cheerleader for the gastronomic delights of his homeland, and a figure who has clearly laboured for his cause.
In Finding Gastón (Buscando a Gastón), it is with an adoring, wholly uncritical eye that first-time filmmaker Patricia Perez tells his tale in the manner of most heroic narratives, one of modest beginnings furnished by big dreams, and then of hard work leading to considerable successes. Indeed, that the documentary is designed to showcase and perpetuate his rock-star status is plainly apparent, the film's frames looking as lovingly at the man credited with putting Peru back on the culinary map as it does at the preparation of the delectable-looking dishes that adorn his menus.
When Acurio opened his first eatery in Lima two decades ago with his wife Astrid, his French training influenced his concoctions; however his attention has honed in closer to home over the course of his career. Now, he is lauded for his ambassadorial role, revealing the splendour of Peruvian food to the world, and instilling a sense of national pride as a result. Finding Gastón travels through his restaurants, surveys his initiatives to nurture new talent, and spends ample time on his journeys around the country chatting with ordinary folks. Alas, as intercut with talking heads – both Acurio's and his avid fans – the feature is content with compiling a standard chronicle of his activities.
Indeed, this may be a film rather than a television cooking show; however Finding Gastón is driven by the cult of personality to the point of repetition. The titular figure is certainly a knowledgeable and charismatic person to spend time with, and driven by noble, genuine aims, but his fame and acclaim can only carry such a cursory feature so far. Lingering shots of food largely provide the counterpoint to the idolatry, though they're similarly routine as taken from the reality TV playbook, including attempted interjections of tension as the chef tastes the wares cooked up in his and other kitchens. There's no questioning Acurio's many merits, nor the high esteem in which he is held in; it's just that the film doesn't delve any deeper or deviate from its congratulatory message.
Perez demonstrates an obvious passion for her subject, channelling Acurio's infectious fervour for his native foods and everyone else's fondness for the documentary's point of focus, as well as technical proficiency in the montage-heavy assemblage of colourful dishes. What her film lacks isn't just cohesion in the way it flits from one chapter of the chef's actions and philosophies to another, but also complexity. It may bubble over with enthusiasm; however in terms of getting to the heart of his efforts, Finding Gastón doesn't feel like a main course, only an entrée.
Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Finding Gastón (Buscando a Gastón)
Director: Patricia Perez
Peru, 2014, 80 mins
Spanish Film Festival
Sydney: 21 April – 10 May
Melbourne: 22 April – 10 May
Canberra: 23 April – 6 May
Perth: 23 April – 6 May
Brisbane: 29 April – 13 May
Byron Bay: 30 April – 7 May
Adelaide: 6 – 20 May
Hobart: 7 – 13 May