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Paul Coste: Commando Chef

To say that young chef Paul Coste’s entry into the culinary world was unorthodox is an understatement. His adventure from his homeland of Peru to the kitchens of France and then to the paradise of St. Barth’s is the stuff of a culinary action film.

Born in Lima and raised on the coast of Arequipa, Coste’s father was the executive chef and owner of a small beach hotel. “He was not just a cook,” Coste says. “He was an artisanal chef. He cultivated his own fruits and vegetables. He even dug his own wine cellar into the ground and stored the fruits and vegetables there. It was then that I first learned the concept of ‘confit.’”

The area was such a remote stretch of beach that when parental supervision was not available, Coste’s father locked him in the hotel kitchen. “He would lock me there so that I wouldn’t run off and get lost. And it was always the pastry part of the kitchen, because there was nothing too hot and dangerous there,” he remembers. “Even though I was locked in, I loved it there. And because of that experience my cooking always has a touch of sugar”…which is completely evident in signature dishes such as candied tomato tarte tatin or dorado fish filet with passion fruit sauce at La Plage restaurant.

When Coste was 13, his father closed the hotel and moved to the US. The rest of the family, including Paul, relocated to the jungles of Chanchamayo. That’s where Coste’s life changed dramatically (again, an understatement), and improbably opened the doors to a life in the culinary arts. “One day, when I was 16, I was walking down the street and I was kidnapped by the army.” Coste was forced to serve for two years, becoming a “black beret"--a special forces commando, the highest grade of soldier. He finished his two years of service in 1998 at the age of 18. At a loss for what to do when he was out, he decided to move to France to join the French Foreign Legion. “They accepted me right away because of my commando training,” Coste says. It was there that he met a particular colonel, Yvan Lebeau, who happened to own a few Michelin-starred restaurants. “He noticed that I liked being in the kitchen,” Coste says. Lebeau could tell that Coste was not a soldier at heart, and after a year and a half, discharged him with the orders that he study the culinary arts instead.

Coste went off to culinary school in Toulouse while working in one of Lebeau’s Michelin-starred restaurants, La Garonne. But after 5 years there, Coste was pulled back to his homeland. He enrolled in the hotel management and restaurant school at D’Gallia in Lima, one of the best trade schools in the nation. While he earned his degree as a master chef, he also won a competition in a contest organized by the National Museum of Peru in 2008. “Out of 2000 contestants, I won Best Peruvian Dish,” he says, modestly. “They gave me a medal, but I never wear it.”

Next, new adventures for Coste...

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