If you had asked me last year to guess where the next great destination restaurant would pop up, my answer would not have been La Paz, Bolivia. The second-largest city in one of South America's poorest countries, La Paz is not on the tourism circuit. Getting there from New York City required a journey of close to 20 hours, and once I arrived, it took a few days to acclimate to the altitude. At 12,000 feet above sea level, the air there is so thin that, for my first 24 hours, I felt as if an invisible vise had been secured to my temples and was being slowly, mercilessly tightened.
And yet, La Paz is the city that Claus Meyer, the visionary co-owner of Noma in Copenhagen, chose as the setting for his next and perhaps most ambitious project: Gustu. Like Noma, Gustu is a cutting-edge restaurant that uses avant-garde technique in the service of extreme locavorism. But in Bolivia, Meyer is facing an added degree of difficulty. Here, he doesn't just want to engineer a world-class restaurant. He wants to "combat poverty with deliciousness."
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Meyer didn't pick La Paz at random: In collaboration with the Danish nongovernmental organization Ibis, he funded a two-year-long investigation to find the location. The process examined countries around the world in five categories: low crime, high poverty, political stability, biological diversity and a cuisine that didn't effectively showcase the country's incredible ingredients.