Finding Gastón

Charting the titular chef's championing of his national cuisine, this documentary feels like entrée rather than a main course.
Finding Gastón

Image: supplied

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

Sarah Ward

Monday 20 April, 2015

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay