A Q&A with Ella Asbún, General Manager of Gustu
30 Jun, 2020 | Bx team
Ella Asbún Ormachea is Bolivian, a lover of her country and passionate about gastronomy and sports. She started her university studies with a golf scholarship at Vanderbilt University and obtained a Bachelor's degree in Communication with a specialty in Advertising from Purdue University. She began her professional career working in marketing until she ventured in the world of food. After receiving professional training at the Argentine Institute of Gastronomy in Buenos Aires, she took up an internship at the Martín Berasategui restaurant, holder of 3 Michelin stars in Spain. Armed with that experience and the dream of contributing to the culinary scene of her country, she returned to Bolivia in 2012 and has since furthered her career in project management and the food industry. In October 2017, she accepted the biggest challenge of her professional career, and took the position of general management at Gustu. In the process she would challenge the preconceptions held by the world in regards to Bolivian food.
What is the source of inspiration for your projects?
The identity and mission of Gustu. Our key aims are to contribute and enrich the community that surrounds us and to put Bolivian gastronomy at the forefront, it’s an engine of national socio-economic development.
Several projects have been built on these values, including Sabores Silvestres, Festival Ñam Bolivia, and now ASB, Solidarity Food for Bolivia, which seeks to feed the staff of health centers that are on the front line fighting the pandemic.
How do your projects protect the produce that Bolivia has and how should that be cared for?
The Sabores Silvestres project was born with the purpose of giving greater impetus to the work we were doing in regards to revaluing national food heritage and opening markets for producers. This project promotes the conservation of biodiversity and the preservation of Bolivian food heritage and gastronomic culture. We do this through the work of an interdisciplinary group of professionals in conjunction with WCS, the Wildlife Conservation Society. Together we are committed to research, understanding, conservation and transformation of products in the various ecosystems on Bolivian soil. Sabores Silvestres participates in exploration trips to different ecosystems, in which we go through a process of research and product development. Those products are presented on Gustu plates for restaurant guests and the research is listed for an interactive platform.
How has the Bolivian market and gastronomy changed since you started?
I have had a career in gastronomy for more than 10 years. Gustu gave Bolivian gastronomy more prominence on the world stage. The levels of execution and the number of good proposals have risen. I have also seen a dichotomy due to the growing appreciation of what Bolivia produces, there are more ventures that offer alternatives that distance us from that wealth of food culture that offer fried chicken. We have to continue promoting cultural wealth and biodiversity with quality proposals at all levels.
What relationship do you have in your projects in terms of production in view of customer experience and care for the environment?
There are two different factors that one has to deal with, one is service and the other identity. We lookout for where we can reduce waste and improve how we can contribute to caring for the environment. In relation to the experience with clients, we seek that their experience is unique and that they feel at home. Everything we do, we do with love.
What is your vision for the future?
Due to the pandemic, there are adjustments to be made. However, we believe that respect for the producer and the product should be paramount. We have great biodiversity and cultural wealth that we must not only preserve but also appreciate. This implies creating experiences for commensals who communicate those values and also respect the production process and the nature that provides us with that produce.
How has the pandemic affected the service industry? Has it changed or will it change gastronomy in Bolivia?
It has had an effect, especially in gastronomy. We have developed a new proposal specifically for the situation we are going through. We understand that we must always evolve keeping our principles in the process.
We have not only developed a new proposal that is suitable for home consumption for the local market, we are also with the Solidarity Food initiative for Bolivia. Through the support of various institutions and people we are providing nutritious food to staff in health centres so they can have a strengthened immune system during the pandemic.
What does the future hold for the gastronomy of Bolivia?
The future is open, despite the fact that we are going through a difficult stage. If we unite and collaborate between different initiatives we can carry out the best that Bolivia has to offer and plate food that respects its culture, biodiversity and all the backroom staff that participate in the production chain.
How is gastronomy defining the national identity of Bolivia?
Through the tireless work of the various spokesmen that Bolivian gastronomy has in the different regions, Bolivian gastronomy, and therefore Bolivia, is taking center stage. Not only internationally but also nationally.
This enhancement of pride allows the cultural wealth and biodiversity that Bolivia offers to be valued more. This leads to the preservation of Bolivian food heritage and is a source of income for many Bolivians.
Why is it important to find locally sourced products rather than imported products?
By consuming or working with the local product, you also improve the living conditions of the local producer. Likewise, you reduce the impact on the environment the distance required to purchase the product and if you consume the product in season you will consume it in its best conditions.