There were two critical things that were high on my to-do list for Bolivia. The first was to ride the World’s Most Dangerous Road on mountain bikes and the second was to dine at Gustu, arguably the best restaurant in La Paz.
Gustu opened in 2012 and is founded on the philosophy that food can help change the world. It isn’t just a great restaurant but it is also a cooking school with most of the students coming from under privileged areas of Bolivia. The head chef, Kamilla Seidler, is originally from Copenhagen, and moved to La Paz to work with Claus Meyer on his innovative project to improve the world through food education and training. She was recently named Best Female Chef by Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants.
We hadn’t eaten much by the time we arrived at Gustu. The high altitude and low oxygen levels were wreaking havoc with our bodies. The altitude sickness medicine really wasn’t helpful for us – or if it was, I’d hate to see how bad it would be without the meds! I wasn’t really hungry, but I hadn’t eaten but a few bites for a couple days now. We forced ourselves up and out – we weren’t going to miss out on this great opportunity. I really just wanted to sit in bed and count the minutes until we left La Paz and returned to sea-level Lima.
The interior of the restaurant reminded me of many other restaurant spaces we’ve visited. Not all that avant garde or exciting, but it was indeed a change from where we’d been dining up to this point.
We were the only ones in the restaurant when we arrived for our 19h00 reservations and by the time we left at 21h00 there were only three tables occupied. Perhaps it was a slow night, or a people were just choosing to dine really late.
We were given several menus, including the drink list, an appetizer listing and one for the main meal. We knew that we’d be doing the tasting menu – which would allow us to experience the best the restaurant had to offer. Unlike most tasting menus we enjoy, we chose not to add on the wine / cocktails pairing. I wasn’t at all sure that my system could handle all the food and booze. I opted for the non-alcoholic pairing.
Once we made our high level menu selection, the restaurant kicked into gear. It sure wasn’t like it was an autopilot, but everything moved so perfect and smooth. The servers didn’t do a great job of properly explaining each course – mostly a function of a language barrier. My Spanish skills are limited as was our server’s English. At a couple points, our main server didn’t deliver the course, and her replacement server seemed very nervous and unsure of himself. Our server stayed back near the kitchen and watched him deliver and provide service. It was clear she was observing and coaching his service – it would have been nice if she had ensured all the details were relayed to us.
Our meal was very good. We were happy to have flavorful food in our bellies. The tomatoes were by far my favorite course. Tomatoes are my favorite fruit, in general, but these were remarkably flavorful and left me wanting much more.
Gustu was a really great experience not only for the food, but to support such an amazing mission. Helping people pull themselves out of poverty by offering a proper training program and support so they can thrive in the restaurant industry is truly a noble cause. Several of this program’s alumni have moved on and started their own restaurants in and around La Paz. Such a great program.
Have you eaten at Gustu? What was your favorite course? Did you struggle with the lack of oxygen like we did too?