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‘Pachacútec,’ the story of a legendary Peruvian cooking school, premieres at the San Sebastián Film Festival | Culture

A student at the Pachacútec Institute of Culinary Arts, in an image from the documentary ‘Pachacútec, the Improbable School’ (2023).Cortesía

For the past 16 years, a warehouse —located in a desert overlooking the sea, in a shantytown on the outskirts of Lima, Peru— has been converted into a kitchen, where several of the most promising Peruvian chefs of recent generations have gotten their start.

The Pachacútec Institute of Culinary Arts is —in the words of Joan Roca, the founder of El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, Spain— an “oasis of culinary knowledge.” For the gastronomic critic Ignacio Medina, it’s “a laboratory.” And, for the famous Barcelona-based chef Albert Adriá, it’s “a great opportunity for hundreds of young people without resources.”

All of the aforementioned food experts have visited the school on the sandy beaches of Ventanilla, in the Peruvian province of Callao, getting the opportunity to tour the institute that was founded in 2007 by Gastón Acurio, the global ambassador of Peruvian cuisine.

Acurio, 55, had been thinking about bringing Pachacútec’s stories to the big screen for some time. But it wasn’t easy for the chef and restaurateur to choose someone who had the creative genius to direct and produce the project. It was only after watching an episode of the third season of the series Street Food: USA, in mid-2022, that he made up his mind. The director —the man behind the Miami episode— would be Mariano Carranza, a Peruvian living in the United States. He has significant experience in putting together diverse documentaries, dealing with wide-ranging subject matter, from a brain bank at Harvard University to the construction of a hand-woven rope bridge in the Andes.

While taking a look at a school where more than 400 chefs have been trained —who now work across the Americas, Europe and the Middle East —Carranza’s challenge was to summarize the spirit of Pachacútec in three representative cases. He interviewed more than 30 chefs and, after a couple of months of deliberation, he settled on Jhosmery Cáceres —the master pastry chef at La Mar, in San Francisco— Gerson Atalaya, head chef at Kay, a modernist restaurant that has revolutionized Luxembourg – and Alan Larrea, the owner of Percado, a ceviche bar that has refreshed the Lima scene.

Gastronomy students outside the school.Cortesía

The result is a 38-minute-long movie, filmed in four countries, which premiered at Spain’s San Sebastián Film Festival on Wednesday. It’s titled Pachacútec, the Improbable School. While it’s in the Culinary Cinema category, it’s not in competition for the award, due to its short duration. “In a country that prides itself so much on its gastronomy as a unifier, it’s necessary to put the lens on the people who have had an uphill climb. It should be noted that this school has been able to create opportunities for young people, who didn’t have the money to study cooking,” Carranza explains. The school —which receives more than 350 applications every six months— is only able to admit 25 people per semester.

Alan Larrea received one of those prized spots back in 2008. Living among ladles, knives and cutting boards wasn’t exactly his first choice: in fact, he had a sexist view of the matter, thinking that cooking was for women. He thought that they were the ones who had to shed tears while chopping garlic and red onion —key ingredients in Peruvian cuisine— and have the food hot and ready for when the man came home.

This mindset was shaken up when he was 17. His mother died of leukemia and his father lost his job. While looking for ways to help out at home, his first work experience came to him on a platter: washing dishes in his aunt’s modest restaurant. A spark was lit. In one year, Larrea went from being a dishwasher to kitchen assistant. His voracious curiosity didn’t stop —he began devouring second-hand cookbooks and watching cooking shows on TV.

Years later —after caring for the elderly, walking dogs and collecting fares on public transportation— he learned about the Pachacútec school, while flipping through a magazine in a barbershop. Being admitted, he recalls, was like getting out of a hole and finally seeing a less bleak horizon.

Different dishes prepared by Gerson Atalaya, a graduate of the Pachacútec Institute of Culinary Arts, at the Kay restaurant in Luxembourg.Cortesía

“They taught me the techniques and language of cooking. But, in Pachacútec, above all, they taught me how to be a person. To be supportive, honest and responsible,” Alan Larrea tells EL PAÍS, before taking his flight to Spain. He attended the documentary’s premier at the San Sebastián Film Festival, along with Jhosmery Cáceres and Gerson Atalaya. The three protagonists also faced a challenge following the filming: cooking dinner for 80 guests at the Basque Culinary Center, the prestigious institution dedicated to research and innovation in gastronomy. “It’s a dream to be able to cook on the same stage as [the Argentine] Narda Lepes, one of my greatest references,” Larriera smiles. He’s come a long way from paying his tuition by spending his early mornings working as a gardener at the Pachacútec Institute. Today, at 42, he runs his own restaurant.

Similarly, Jhosmery Cáceres’s first experience in the kitchen didn’t involve caramelizing fruit or preparing a fondant to decorate a cake. It was, rather, supporting a family enterprise: an on-the-go ceviche cart. Like her companions from Pachacútec, life wasn’t kind to her. Jhosmery’s mother managed to cover the family’s three meals a day with just 25 soles ($7). She always says that Pachacutec not only changed her life, but also her mother’s. “It was my lifeboat. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am if they hadn’t extended their hand to me,” Cáceres sighs in the film. This girl —with straight black hair and thick glasses— ended up leaning towards pastry-making, given her talent for accuracy. “If you follow the rules, everything will be fine. Salty food is more unpredictable.”

Gerson Atalaya —who will celebrate five years in Luxembourg this December— sees cooking as an act of love, but also as a chance to break the rules. He found that gastronomy in the European country of fairy tales wasn’t magical enough —it was rather stuffy and classic. Atalaya —who, before putting on his apron, sings a hip hop song— feels that his Kay restaurant is a way of getting out of the box. “It’s like freestyle. You can express your feelings on a plate [without limits]. Cooking with love is important, but it’s more important to cook with personality,” he affirms.

Co-produced by Gastón Acurio and Irzio Pinasco, Pachacútec, the Improbable School aims to continue its journey through festivals and movie theaters. San Sebastián is just the first stop. Showing the school in the desert of Ventanilla is a must. Let the pots and pans ring.

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Welcome back, Samuel Beckett | Culture

The 20th century brought us Stalin, Mao, two world wars, the Holocaust, atomic bombs and a couple more carnages that I would rather not recall. Several million people died as a result, according to the most conservative calculations. Logically, the soul of Europeans was shaken, and it is admirable that we have survived as a species. A Martian would have expected us to commit suicide once and for all with a big nuclear bash.

The battered world conscience led to several new outcomes in terms of human representation. Living with the constant threat of extinction affected artists, who are the ones that truly represent us and not politicians. So the artists began to represent us as they saw us: strange, deformed, shapeless, anomalous, invisible, crippled, stuttering, or simply mute.

We have been more temperate for several years now, and it seems that we are now able to analyze that past, which was called “the avant-garde,” with some calm. Not everywhere, of course, but it is possible in a West that is fading, but which is no longer massacring its slaves. And the effect that this awareness of destruction had on literature was the emergence of a group of immense writers who could no longer represent humans in a luminous and heroic way, so to speak. However, it would be a very bad idea to leave them for dead. Joyce, Proust, Kafka, Faulkner, Bernhard, Manganelli, Benet, Rulfo — throughout the West, a literature took shape during the 20th century in which only the bare form remained with a capacity to simply be. And one of its main writers was Samuel Beckett.

It is a source of joy that this difficult, harsh, dark, but wise literature’s ability to fascinate, moralize and illuminate us has not run dry. And reading these artists is a very convenient way to understand that everything could go dark at any moment. I am currently celebrating the release of a new Spanish translation of Watt, Beckett’s last novel in English, by an affordable publishing house that can reach many students (Cátedra).

The story behind this novel is another novel in itself, well told by the translator José Francisco Fernández in his extensive foreword to the new Spanish version. Beckett wrote it while fleeing from one hideout to another as a member of the Resistance, pursued by the Nazis who were occupying France. In those absurd conditions, Beckett carried his notebooks, in which he was writing and annotating what would finally become the novel Watt, which is the name of the main character, who is as non-existent as Godot, the most famous of Beckett’s characters. Watt has a partner, Mr. Knott, whom he serves in a parody of the old novels of masters and servants that have been immortalized thanks to television series like Upstairs, Downstairs.

Rejected by the publishing world

Although he finished it in 1945, Watt was not published until 1953 after being rejected by almost all English and American publishers, who were very reluctant to recognize that this convulsive and sarcastic prose was a faithful portrait of 20th-century civilization. And once it was published it barely made an impact. It was not until 1968 (what a year!), when it was published in French by the Minuit publishing house, in the author’s version and with the help of the Janvier couple, that enthusiasm for the novel would begin to get some traction. The French powers-that-be recognized themselves in the portrait of the warped, disintegrated human race, described with a lacerating irony that the Irishman created out of nothing.

There were other effects that fascinated those who dominated literary opinion at the time. One of them was the obvious caricature of Descartes, a philosopher whom Beckett always counted among his favorites, and the reference to whom was immediately picked up by the masters of structuralism and deconstruction.

Welcome back, then, to our Beckett, a precise portraitist of terrifying years that could return at any moment.

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The Hat Worn By Napoleon Bonaparte Sold For $2.1 Million At The Auction

A faded felt bicorne hat worn by Napoleon Bonaparte sold for $2.1 million at an auction on of the French emperor’s belongings.

Yes, that’s $2.1 million!!

The signature broad, black hat, one of a handful still in existence that Napoleon wore when he ruled 19th-century France and waged war in Europe, was initially valued at 600,000 to 800,000 euros ($650,000-870,000). It was the centerpiece of Sunday’s auction collected by a French industrialist who died last year.

The Hat Worn By Napoleon Bonaparte Sold For $2.1 Million At The Auction

But the bidding quickly jumped higher and higher until Jean Pierre Osenat, president of the Osenat auction house, designated the winner.

‘’We are at 1.5 million (Euros) for Napoleon’s hat … for this major symbol of the Napoleonic epoch,” he said, as applause rang out in the auction hall. The buyer, whose identity was not released, must pay 28.8% in commissions according to Osenat, bringing the overall cost to 1.9 million euros ($2.1 million).

While other officers customarily wore their bicorne hats with the wings facing front to back, Napoleon wore his with the ends pointing toward his shoulders. The style, known as “en bataille,” or in battle, made it easier for his troops to spot their leader in combat.

The hat on sale was first recovered by Col. Pierre Baillon, a quartermaster under Napoleon, according to the auctioneers. The hat then passed through many hands before industrialist Jean-Louis Noisiez acquired it.

The entrepreneur spent more than a half-century assembling his collection of Napoleonic memorabilia, firearms, swords and coins before his death in 2022.

The sale came days before the release of Ridley Scott’s film Napoleon with Joaquin Phoenix, which is rekindling interest in the controversial French ruler.

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The Call for AI Regulation in Creative Industries

THE VOICE OF EU | Widespread concerns have surged among artists and creatives in various domains – country singers, authors, television showrunners, and musicians – voicing apprehension about the disruptive impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on their professions.

These worries have prompted an urgent plea to the U.S. government for regulatory action to protect their livelihoods from the encroaching threat posed by AI technology.

The Artists’ Plea

A notable rise in appeals to regulate AI has emerged, drawing attention to the potential risks AI poses to creative industries.

Thousands of letters, including those from renowned personalities like Justine Bateman and Lilla Zuckerman, underscore the peril AI models represent to the traditional structure of entertainment businesses.

The alarm extends to the music industry, expressed by acclaimed songwriter Marc Beeson, highlighting AI’s potential to both enhance and jeopardize an essential facet of American artistry.

The Call for AI Regulation in Creative Industries

Copyright Infringement Concerns

The primary contention arises from the unsanctioned use of copyrighted human works as fodder to train AI systems. The concerns about AI ingesting content from the internet without permission or compensation have sparked significant distress among artists and their representative entities.

While copyright laws explicitly protect works of human authorship, the influx of AI-generated content questions the boundaries of human contribution and authorship in an AI-influenced creative process.

The Fair Use Debate

Leading technology entities like Google, Microsoft, and Meta Platforms argue that their utilization of copyrighted materials in AI training aligns with the “fair use” doctrine—a limited use of copyrighted material for transformative purposes.

They claim that AI training isn’t aimed at reproducing individual works but rather discerning patterns across a vast corpus of content, citing precedents like Google’s legal victories in the digitization of books.

The Conflict and Seeking Resolution

Despite court rulings favoring tech companies in interpreting copyright laws regarding AI, voices like Heidi Bond, a former law professor and author, critique this comparison, emphasizing that AI developers often obtain content through unauthorized means.

Shira Perlmutter, the U.S. Register of Copyrights, acknowledges the Copyright Office’s pivotal role in navigating this complex landscape and determining the legitimacy of the fair use defense in the AI context.

The Road Ahead

The outpouring of concern from creative professionals and industry stakeholders emphasizes the urgency for regulatory frameworks to safeguard creative works while acknowledging the evolving role of AI in content creation.

The Copyright Office’s meticulous review of over 9,700 public comments seeks to strike a balance between innovation and the protection of creative rights in an AI-driven era. As the discussion continues, the convergence of legal precedents and ethical considerations remains a focal point for shaping the future landscape of AI in creative industries.

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— By Darren Wilson, Team

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