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Hangover Observations: Latin America's 50 Best Restaurant Awards 2014

Live from Lima, Peru, here is Allie Lazar with a report from last night's Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants ceremony and after parties.

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[Photos by Allie Lazar unless otherwise noted.]

Live from Lima, Peru, here is Allie Lazar with a report from last night's Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants ceremony and after parties.

Last night the biggest names in the Latin American restaurant industry assembled at the Country Club Lima Hotel in Lima, Peru for the second annual Latin America's 50 Best Restaurant awards. Nominees, chefs, restaurateurs, and press headed to the gastro-studded event in the early evening for the much-anticipated announcement of this year's top 50 restaurant rankings. There was heated debate as to who would take the top position, which many speculated would be a battle between Peru (Virgilio Martínez and Pía León, Central), Brazil (Alex Atala, D.O.M.), and Mexico (Enrique Olvera, Pujol).

The night was filled with cheek kisses, champagne, and an unexpected top 10 positioning, with Central ultimately taking home the title as Latin America's Best Restaurant. The action got much sloppier at the after party, which went well beyond the early hours of the morning, and truly warrants this pisco-drowning — written with a severe case of the ceviche spins — title of Hangover Observations:

1) Latin America's most admired chefs fell upon Lima early in the week and flocked to the city's best restaurants and street cevicherías to experience firsthand why Peru really is the world's latest culinary powerhouse. Twitter and Instagram feeds blew up showing food porn from hot ticket spots like Central, Maido, Astrid & Gastón, and Osso.

2) Special events, lunches, and dinners were held all week long in honor of the festivities, including the Roca brother's culminating stop on their pop up dinner Roca and Roll World Tour 2014. Another major chef/journalist highlight included the epic meatopic visit to Peru's most talked about chef's table, Renzo Garibaldi's Osso.

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Major social media action at Osso.

3) There was much enthusiasm in the air for Mistura, the biggest food festival in Latin America, which starts on Friday. Lima locals and out-of-town chefs meticulously started planning food hit lists of the must-eats at the fair.

4) The awards event started with hours of mingling in the hotel garden, champagne, bro-hugs, rum, a huge spread of hors d'oeuvres, chef fanboy selfies, lots of laughing, and even more Pisco Sours. Unlike last year, which saw an international crowd of chefs and journalists, the second annual Latin American awards remained familiar with a more regional crowd.

5) The announcer breezed through the first half of the awards, and only individual winners made their way to the stage to accept an award, with speeches cut to a select few. The actual ceremony itself was quite laid back, most people standing with a drink in hand.

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6) It's no surprise Peru's own Gastón Acurio won the Chefs' Choice Award. This comes after Acurio's recent announcement that he would step down from his flagship restaurant, Astrid & Gastón (#2) to focus on his new project, Peru 2015, an exploration of small villages throughout the country in search of the country's top products and producers.

7) Individual awards given out during the night included the Lifetime Achievement Award to Alex Atala (D.O.M. in São Paulo) and Best Female Chef awarded to Elena Reygadas (Rosetta, Mexico City). Argentine pastry chef Osvaldo Gross was honored with receiving the award for Latin America's Best Pastry Chef, the newest category in the Awards.

8) Newcomer on the list Carolina Bazán Bañados from Ambrosía in Santiago, Chile, who placed at #37, enthusiastically jumped on the stage to accept the One To Watch Award. In Argentina, Fernando Rivarola and Gabriela Lafuente of El Baqueano shot up on the list from #39 to #18 and received the Highest Climber Award while Tarquino's Dante Liporace entered for the first time at #16 to grant him the Highest New Entry Award.

9) Argentina proudly dominated as the country with the most restaurants making the list. Tegui (#9) came in as Best in Argentina for the second year in a row while Aramburu wasn't far behind jumping 17 spots since last year and finishing at #14. Chila's (#21) Soledad Nardelli couldn't have been more excited during the entire evening, and said she felt very proud to be the only female chef to represent Argentina.

10) Best Restaurant Awards by country were given to: Peru, Central; Brazil, D.O.M.; Chile, Boragó; Mexico, Pujol; Argentina, Tegui; Uruguay, Parador La Huella; Venezuela, Alto; Bolivia, Gustu; Colombia, Criterion.

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Mitsuharu Tsumura and Alex Atala.

11) The biggest surprise in the night came when the Best Restaurant Award in Mexico (Pujol) was announced at the 6th spot, falling 3 since last year. But despite that initial gasp of shock that waved through the audience, the crowd hooted and hollered as Enrique Olvera took the stage.

12) But of course there was controversy and heated tempers. Some industry insiders criticized the politics behind the list since two anticipated front-runners, D.O.M. and Pujol, dropped, while Peru conquered the top spot for the second year in a row.

13) Right after Astrid & Gastón was named the #2 spot, the crowd erupted and swarmed Virgilio Martínez and Pía León, the husband-wife team behind Central. A security guard had to escort them through a mob of cell phone lights up to the stage where Virgilio gave a short but emotional speech.

14) Despite the minor hoopla surrounding the Peruvian-Mexican-Brazilian rivalry, there still was an overwhelming general consensus that the Central team well-deserved the first place title.

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Central staff.

15) After the awards, the guests congregated back in the garden for the first after party which featured Peruvian specialties, like a killer ceviche bar and an impressive spread showing off local Peruvian ingredients: Andean potatoes, quinoa, chocolate, Amazonian fruits, and ají peppers.

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16) During their press conference, Virgilio Martínez and Pía León said that the essence of Central is to "connect with the earth," and told reporters about their most recent initiative, Mater, which sets off to link the restaurant's culinary experience with cultural and biological diversity in Peru. "This project is the heart of the restaurant," Virgilio said. He talked about how cooks need to work even harder to strive for excellence and the great importance of Latin American unity to bring together the region as a "culinary family."

17) Once the guests began to fizzle out of Country Club Lima Hotel, hardcore fiesta-goers headed straight to the after party and flooded La Picantería for a legendary bash. Owner Héctor "All-Smiles" Solís, who just had two of his restaurants make the 50 Best list, shut down the whole block outside his spot and brought in some of the city's best street food vendors slinging delicacies like anticuchos (skewered beef hearts) and chicharrón pork sandwiches, while inside bartenders seemed to be preparing dozens of 20-ounce chilcanos by the minute.

18) Music blasted until the early hours of the morning to a jam-packed dance floor. Some of the best moves spotted? The Celler de Can Roca gang getting down to classics like "Macarena" and "Mambo No. 5" and Joan Roca impressively twerking out with a hypnotic jig. And while Gastón Acurio may be known to most as Peru's most beloved figure and the leader of the country's modern culinary movement, last night his commanding presence lead a conga line around the room.

—Allie Lazar

· Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants for 2014 Revealed [-E-]
· All Hangover Observations Coverage on Eater [-E-]


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