By Patrick Hieger

[Gustu / Luis Fernandez]

[Gustu / Luis Fernandez]

With a huge year that started by presenting at Madrid Fusión, a new culinary school in La Paz, and who knows what else in the works, we thought we should take a minute to catch up with Kamilla Seidler and Michelangelo Cestari, the driving force behind La Paz’s Gustu, the modern Bolivian restaurant that’s now in its second year.  Because both chefs are basically always on the move, opening schools, or knee-deep in training loads of new cooks, we gave them an e-interview just to get an idea of what’s going on.  In the next four weeks, they’ll be in Bogotá, Panama, Lima, and then back home in La Paz for the TAMBO symposium that’s happening in September.  Even amidst all that, they still found time to answer our questions.  Enjoy. 

How are things going at Gustu in year two? 
KS: GOOD!  Busy, growing and happier than ever!
MC: Slightly more mature and stable

Some changes have happened within the restaurant, like the Gustu Bar.  Can you tell us more? 
KS: The bar has expanded to a 27-kind cocktail card representing 3 cocktails from each of Bolivia’s 9 regions and with 20+ artisan beers. Gin La República, made with Andean ingredients, by Joan Carbo, is very popular.  Besides that, we expanded with a bar menu of small dishes and old school/new school snacks all based on or inspired by Bolivian street food.

MC: Thanks to the amazing group, Gustu can evolve and grow slow and steady.  The bar is an example of the mix of many free opinions and personalities together with a comfortable and motivating working environment.

Your original sommelier and manager Jonas left.  How has that affected things?
KS: Jonas Madsen has done an excellent job in Gustu and has now left his post to Darren Armstrong, sommelier in beers as well as wine and with great experience from the North American dining and hotel scene.  It has been a great new friendship from the beginning and we are moving forward as a team.

MC: Endings are good.  Fulfilling tasks and goals is very important to keep living heathy, for both companies and people.

You recently inaugurated the first in a new line of schools, Manq’a.  How has the reception been?  Will you be getting students from there to come work at Gustu?
KS: The Manq’a food school/canteen program has come off to a good start and we are looking forward to open 13 more this and next year. It has been a lot of hard work that we now can see the first positive results from! Michelangelo was getting bald putting this project together!
There will be 10 Manq’a spots in GUSTU this year and the heat is on. We have them on for two weeks and out of the 80 students, the 10 most applied and interested will continue their studies/experience in the restaurant.

MC: Manq’a is a great experience for us.  We are learning and growing day a day.  There are a lot of people involved and everyone should be proud.

With training more students, is there another restaurant in the works that we should know about?
KS: There are no current plans to open another restaurant but the Melting Pot Foundation is always moving on with new projects, and the more people are trained, the faster we will see a change.

MC: The service industry is a very tiring and slowly profitable sector.  Commitment is highly required, and time will tell.

It’s been a huge year for you already, kicking off at Madrid Fusion.  How has the travel / recognition / “fame” affected both the restaurant, and you personally?
KS: It has been extremely helpful since we are a little bit the odd ones out on a mountain in a developing country, but we see more and more gastro-tourists and locals appreciating our existence.  It is a great boost for the students and others involved to see the pride on their faces when Bolivia is mentioned in international media. Personally, it has come as a surprise the speed with which we have grown and we are very proud to work with such a great team.

MC: I’m very happy and shocked, and we hope to somehow keep the speed.

What are the next travel plans?  What can we expect from you at Mistura?  Lots of video, or live cooking?
KS: We will be in Bogotá next for Alimentarte, Panamá and Mistura.  We will give a presentation from both Michelangelo and myself on all that’s going on, both on the projects side and the gastronomic development, and then we are happy to be the ones presenting our colleagues at TAMBO 2014 on the 16th-18th of September.

MC: It’s great to have friends in the neighboring countries, even better to have the opportunity of visiting them, often.

You’ve been in Bolivia for something like 2 years now, right? 
KS: Has it been two years? WAUW! It’s all good!

MC: It’s perhaps one of the most profitable periods of my life.  Time flies.

Are there any up and coming projects / restaurants in La Paz or Santa Cruz that we should know about (from you or anyone else)?
KS: Don’t know really, but there’s always something going on.

MC: Not really.

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