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Peru Food Guru To Open Astrid & Gaston In BA

February 26th, 2009 | 08:08 PM



Ceviche – Courtesy of Sipan

By Fiorella Donayre

Peruvian food visionary and leading Latin American chef Gaston Acurio will open his flagship restaurant Astrid & Gaston in Buenos Aires on March 6, joining a growing pool of top chefs bringing a slice of the foodie heaven that is Lima to the Argentine capital.

Charismatic and passionate, Gaston Acurio has a clear objective for his restaurant in Buenos Aires and his role in a process that goes beyond mere cooking.

“Our job is to bring Peruvian food to the most important cities in the world; it’s a way to promote our culture, what Peruvians know how to do best,” Acurio told The Argentine Post by telephone from Lima.

(Click here to see the full interview)

Peruvian cuisine is a mixture of cultures, much like Peru itself, with influences from Japan, China, Spain, as well as the Arab world and Africa. For Acurio this process is still evolving, that’s why the menu at Astrid & Gaston is a mix of tradition and fusion. “We continue to explore new ideas, new flavors that can help to enrich Peruvian food,” he said.

In this search, Acurio and his team traveled throughout Argentina, convinced that all good food must use quality fresh local produce, in this case Argentine meats from the Pampas and Patagonia, Andean vegetables from the northwest and seafood from the south.

With this local produce, his recipes and Peruvian “aji amarillo” – the yellow hot chili pepper is the only ingredient Acurio believes must be imported from his home country – the chef has devised the menu for Buenos Aires. It’s a formula that’s met with success in Bogota, Caracas, Madrid, Mexico City, Santiago and Quito.

Lomo Saltado Nikkei

Lomo Saltado Nikkei – Courtesy of Sipan

The Argentine Post visited Astrid & Gaston Buenos Aires a few weeks before its opening to get acquainted with the space and the menu.



INTERVIEW: Gaston Acurio Exports Peruvian Culture Through Its Cuisine

February 26th, 2009 | 08:06 PM


(Click here for more on Acurio’s new place and a full review of Peruvian restaurants in Buenos Aires.)

By Fiorella Donayre

Gaston Acurio seeks to create a new image for Peru on the world stage and he’s convinced that globalizing Peruvian cuisine is one of the best ways to do that. He and a new generation of Peruvian chefs are dedicated to the task.

The Argentine Post interviewed Acurio by telephone from Lima last month. Here’s an excerpt of the conversation. Gaston Acurio

TAP: Having successfully opened various Astrid & Gaston restaurants in Latin America and beyond, how do you maintain the level of quality that you offer. Are you worried about overextending yourself? 

GA: Of course I have this concern, but my biggest worry would be to stop a process that the chefs of my generation consider to be a task that we’ve been given – to globalize Peruvian food as a way to build a new image of our country in the world. We are trying to export our culture. There is a need to promote a new value for what Peru produces and to improve Peru’s standing in the world. Food can serve as instrument to that end and that’s our mission and our responsibility as chefs.

There are some risks that you can’t control quality. What we try to do is build a simple philosophy based on principles such as the absolute respect for fresh ingredients, for the customer. We try to form a family within each restaurant based on these principles, to always focus on the result of the plate that ends up on the table and not about the restaurant’s bank account.



CIA 'Meddling' Sparks (mini) Firestorm In Argentina

February 26th, 2009 | 07:45 PM



Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana, a man who seems congenitally incapable of smiling, was not happy Thursday. The reason: Obama's new CIA director, Leon Panetta, gave a press conference Wednesday in which he talked about the agency's first Economic Intelligence Briefing.

In an article about the presser, the Washington Post reported, among other things, that:

“The addition of economic news to the daily roundup of terrorist attacks and surveillance reports appears to reflect a growing belief among intelligence officials that the economic meltdown is now preeminent among security threats facing the United States.”

The Post then offered this paragraph, attributing it to Panetta:

“The spy agency is following worrisome trends in many corners of the globe, from East Asia to Latin America. In private meetings yesterday, Latin American intelligence officials warned their U.S. counterparts of a crisis spreading throughout the hemisphere, particularly in Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela….”



Rouvier Poll Puts Cristina’s Approval Rating At 54%

February 26th, 2009 | 06:03 PM



loop-webA new poll published Thursday put President Cristina Fernández’s approval rating at 53.6%. That’s much higher than a survey published Wednesday that put the figure at just 29%.

The new survey, carried out by Ricardo Rouvier & Asociados, the president’s approval rating up 15 points since July, when a bitter conflict with farmers hurt the her ratings.

The poll was conducted on 1,200 people and has a margin of error of 2.8%. The difference between the two results is too big to be reasonable. One shows the president with less than a third of the country backing her; the other with a majority behind her.

Something is obviously amuck. Either Wednesday’s poll, carried out by Polarquía Consultores, or today’s poll is inaccurate. (Alternatively, both could be inaccurate.) But both polls cannot logically be within their margins of error and both be true. So which is right?

Honestly, I’m not sure, and I’m no statistical wizard like Nate Silver. Polarquía has an excellent reputation among academics and my hunch is that it’s a more reliable survey, but I couldn’t back that up with statistical evidence of my own. I have interviewed both Rouvier and analysts from Polarquía. But I haven’t had a chance to ask either firm about these polls. I will do so, however, and post the results at a later date.


Ambassador Timerman Defends INDEC

February 26th, 2009 | 05:53 AM


hector-timermanHéctor Timerman, Argentina’s ambassador to the U.S., removed his diplomatic hat this week and stepped into the political fray surrounding INDEC, the controversial national statistics institute.

INDEC data are considered unreliable by virtually all independent economists, business leaders, academics, foreign diplomats and statisticians. Nobody trusts the data, even employees of the institute say the data is cooked.

Even members of Cristina Fernández’s own cabinet and officials within the Economy Ministry say off the record that the data are unreliable. A federal court in Argentina even issued a ruling demanding that the government be more transparent about the way it calculates data and arrives at its statistical conclusions.

So why would an otherwise respected diplomat step into the fray and tarnish his reputation and credibility by defending the data? It’s hard to know for sure. But Timerman didn’t merely defend the data, he questioned the motives of those who question it, further muddying the political ground in Argentina. Earlier this week Timerman said it was “irresponsible” to criticize INDEC. 

Timerman said INDEC data are a “matter of science” and shouldn’t be subject to political bickering. That’s ironic coming from someone whose boss has approved of the firing of actual scientists at INDEC and replaced them with political appointees.

UPDATE: I went to INDEC today (Thursday) for the second time this week as part of an effort to better understand changes at the agency. Earlier in the week I met with INDEC staff who are vociferously opposed to changes that have taken place there in recent years. Among others, I meet with Cynthia Pok, who until July 2007 was director of the Permanent Survey of Homes (or EPA as it is known locally). The survey helps measure, among other things, poverty and unemployment. Pok was fired after she said methodological changes at the agency made it impossible to accurately measure poverty. Pok told me that INDEC’s data are “not at all reliable” now. 

Today, however, I met with Nelly Turlione, an INDEC veteran who defended INDEC’s new practices. She said changes at the agency were necessary to end years of corruption at INDEC. She said former INDEC employees are an example of such corruption. Many of these employees, she said, abused their power by selling INDEC data to private consulting firms before it was officially released to the public. (I asked for proof that this happened, but she wouldn’t be able to prove it in court and so couldn’t provide any.) “These people are have one objective, and that is to overthrow the government,” she said, adding that journalists and economists who question INDEC data do so because they represent vested interests. She said Clarín, La Nación, and the television channel TN fall into this category.

You be the judge.


Cristina’s Approval Rating Holds Steady At 29%

February 26th, 2009 | 05:20 AM



President Cristina Fernandez’s approval rating held steady at 29% in February, according to a survey published Wednesday by the consulting firm Poliarquía Consultores. This is still up from her 20% low in June, but down from her 54% high right after being elected. Some 41% of the population views the president negatively, up from 39% a month ago. Fernandez is most popular among the least educated Argentines and least popular among the most educated.


February, The Month The Ship Started Sinking

February 24th, 2009 | 10:15 PM


big-letter-webN A CONTROVERSIAL COLUMN in the Financial Times earlier this month, economist Martin Wolf asked if the Obama administration has already failed:

“In normal times, this would be a ludicrous question. But these are not normal times. They are times of great danger. Today, the new U.S. administration can disown responsibility for its inheritance; tomorrow, it will own it. Today, it can offer solutions; tomorrow it will have become the problem. Today, it is in control of events; tomorrow, events will take control of it.”

sinking-ship-web-smallCould we ask a similar question today about the fate of Argentine President Cristina Fernández? To do so, just a year after the her inauguration, seems to smack of heresy. As Wolf said, in normal times, even asking such a question would be preposterous.

But these are not normal times. And, unlike the U.S., this is not a normal country.

In Argentina's case, a failed presidency could mean one that ends before its term is up.

So the question becomes: Will Fernández make it to the end of her term?

I don't mean to do be disparaging when I say Argentina isn't normal. This isn't a normative statement; it's not a value judgement. Abnormal is simply an adjectival recognition of Argentina's comparatively atypical institutional history.

Historically speaking, political and institutional stability hasn't been the norm in Argentina. Have any of you forgotten the three-week period in 2001-2002 when Argentina had five presidents? In 2001 Argentine President Fernando de la Rua fled power by helicopter two years before his term was set to end. In 1989, President Raúl Alfonsín left office six months early. And this is only recent history.

“The money has run out and the rats are starting to abandon the ship,” says an astute political analyst with close links to many in Argentina's political establishment.



Institutional Instability Rocks BA Province Police

February 24th, 2009 | 09:52 PM


Policeman - Full Body IsolatedThe most dangerous place in Argentina is the province of Buenos Aires. That’s where you face the greatest risk of getting robbed, kidnapped or shot. It’s also the place where the country’s largest police force is largely out of control. That’s not to say that every police official in the province is corrupt or unethical.

This is emphatically not the case. The province has many honorable men and women in uniform who would give – and who have given – their lives to keep you safe. Last year at least seven provincial policemen were killed in the line of duty.

And yet the province’s police force has been plagued by institutional instability for decades. This has severely hindered the force’s ability to mature and become both more efficient and more reliable. Since the return of democracy in 1983, La Policía Bonaerense has had 25 different police chiefs, according to a new study by the Nueva Mayoría think tank.

The force has gotten a new chief roughly every year since president Raúl Alfonsín helped restore democracy. Since the Kirchners took power in 2003, the force has had six chiefs. The last one was appointed this month.


Starbucks To Open Three More Stores In March, April

February 24th, 2009 | 08:01 PM



Starbucks is grinding away again at its expansion plans in Buenos Aires. The Seattle-based giant plans to open a sixth store on calle Florida in the first week of March.

The store will be located at the corner of Florida and Rivadavia downtown (catty corner from a big Burger King).

The company also plans to open two stores in the new “Dot” shopping (yes, hideous as it is, that really is the mall's name), which is set to open April 21.

how to increase vertical jump=”text-align: left;”>The larger store will be housed in the mall's food court. The mall itself and a new 10-screen Hoyts movie theater will be located on the northern outskirts of the city in the Saavedra neighborhood.

The shopping center promises to be full of light and designed with large, attractive glass atriums. As far as shopping malls go, it will be a nice improvement over the architectural cesspool that is the smokey, always-overcrowded Unicenter in Martínez.

For previous Starbucks stories, click here and here.


The Kirchners Compare Themselves To Obama

February 21st, 2009 | 01:34 PM



Argentine President Cristina Fernández is enamored with U.S. President Barack Obama. So, it seems, are a number of people in her administration. Several people in the government have been eager to show that Fernández is high up on Obama's priority list. When Obama called Fernández after he was elected, she immediately told TV reporters traveling with her about the call. (To see my post about her giddy response, click here.) But, since that November call, there has been little contact and Fernández, by all accounts, has been antsy for a more public display of affection. 

Argentine media reported widely about a second round of calls Obama made to regional leaders like Colombian President Uribe, Chilean President Bachelet and Brazil's ultra-popular President Lula. But Fernández, as local papers seemed to gleefully report, didn't get a second call.

When opposition leader and fierce Fernández foe Elisa Carrió traveled to the U.S. earlier this month to attend a prayer breakfast with Obama, Clarín made it appear that Fernández was appalled at the idea that Carrió might be the first Argentine pol to get a photo-op with Obama. All of this seemed a bit like more high school politics than a serious matter of state.



Argentina Expels Holocaust Denying Catholic Bishop

February 19th, 2009 | 05:45 PM

YouTube Preview Image

Argentina announced late Thursday that it will expel Richard Nelson Williamson, a controversial, ultra conservative Catholic Bishop from the country. Williamson became infamous recently for claiming in a TV interview that there is “huge” historical evidence indicating that not a single Jew was gassed to death by the Nazis during WWII.

“I believe there were no gas chambers,” Williamson said in the interview.

The comments by the bishop, who reportedly has been working in a church in Argentina since 2003, set off a firestorm after a video of his holocaust denials entered the public domain.



Tourism Falls For Third Straight Month

February 16th, 2009 | 04:53 PM



Tourism fell for the third straight month in December, the national statistics agency, INDEC, reported Monday. 

The number of visitors dipped 8.1% from the previous year to 190,318. The amount of money they spent while here also fell, declining 8.5% to $314 million.

The average tourist spent $76 a day in December. Brazilians and Chilean spent the most, $107 and $104, respectively, while Americans and Canadians spent around $98. Europeans spent about $91 a day. So much for that euro being all mighty. All told, tourists spent $3.3 billion in Argentina last year, INDEC said.  


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