Miami, FL – September 26, 2023
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In a surprising turn of events following the release of the Miami episode of Netflix’s popular series, “Street Food: USA,” director Mariano Carranza found himself embarking on an unexpected journey. Carranza, known for his Emmy-nominated work, received an Instagram message that initially seemed like a prank. To his astonishment, it was none other than Peru’s renowned chef-restaurateur, Gastón Acurio, of Astrid & Gastón fame, reaching out to him with a unique request – to tell the inspiring story of his culinary school, Pachacútec.
Thus began a remarkable collaboration that has resulted in the creation of an emotionally stirring documentary titled “Pachacútec, the Improbable School.” This documentary delves into the lives of three former Pachacútec students and their extraordinary journeys.
The exclusive unveiling of the documentary’s trailer in Variety provides a glimpse into the remarkable story. It opens with a group of select students walking along a sandy path towards what celebrated Catalan Chef Joan Roca of three-Michelin-Star El Celler de Can Roca describes as “an oasis of culinary knowledge in the middle of a desert.”
Indeed, the school is literally situated in the heart of a desert, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. Founded by Gastón Acurio approximately 15 years ago, Pachacútec was established with the noble mission of providing underprivileged youth the opportunity to realize their dreams of becoming chefs. To date, the school has seen over 400 students graduate, with many of them making their mark in Peru’s culinary scene and beyond. Some have even gone on to work at world-renowned establishments such as Lima-based Central, Astrid & Gastón, and El Celler De Can Roca in Girona, Spain.
“Pachacútec, the Improbable School” is set to screen as part of San Sebastian’s prestigious Culinary Zinema showcase on September 27. The documentary profiles and closely follows the lives of three school alumni: one based in Lima, another in San Francisco, California, and a third in Luxembourg.
The documentary also features notable figures in the culinary world, including Chef Albert Adrià, the brother of Ferrán Adrià, renowned for the now-closed El Bulli, and the owner of the acclaimed Enigma in Barcelona. Additionally, food writer Ignacio Medina, Karina Montes Bravo, the head of the culinary school, and Chef Joan Roca share their insights and perspectives on Pachacútec.
“[These students] are convinced that their lives don’t have to be the same as the ones they have had so far,” noted Chef Albert Adrià, highlighting the transformative power of culinary education.
Director Mariano Carranza explained the selection process for the documentary subjects, saying, “We interviewed around 30 former students and settled on these three who represented a good cross-section of the school’s alumni.”
One of the alumni, Jhosmery Caceres, now a pastry chef at La Mar in San Francisco, shared her poignant journey from grinding poverty in the Lima district of San Martin de Porres, where her family survived on just $6 a day. Another alumnus, Gerson Atalaya, serves as the chef de cuisine at the award-winning Kay Restaurant in Luxembourg, where his El Bulli and Central-inspired dishes have breathed new life into the local food scene. He credits cooking with saving his life and overcoming adversity.
“I would not have been able to do this if someone had not extended a hand,” Caceres said of her culinary education, a sentiment echoed by Alan Larrea, who runs a thriving Ceviche restaurant in Lima. Larrea had to borrow from his grandmother to pay the nominal tuition of some $30 a month, demonstrating the determination of these aspiring chefs.
“What started as an experiment has truly flourished,” Carranza remarked about Pachacútec. When asked about the unique appeal of Peruvian cuisine that draws people from around the world, Carranza pointed to the diverse cultural influences, including Spanish, African, Chinese, and Japanese, on indigenous Peruvian cuisine. He also emphasized the exceptional quality of Peru’s ingredients and the abundance of seafood that make its cuisine truly special.
This mid-length documentary is a product of Carranza’s Amigo Studio in collaboration with Acurio Restaurantes and Pachacútec itself. “Pachacútec, the Improbable School” promises to be an enlightening and heartwarming exploration of culinary dreams and the power of education.
For those passionate about the culinary world, this documentary is a must-watch, offering a glimpse into the extraordinary stories that unfold within the walls of Pachacútec.