São Paulo, Mexico City and Lima have something particularly enticing for sophisticated palates - four of the 50 best restaurants in the world as selected by the gourmets who write for the prestigious San Pellegrino guide.

The biggest food-producing region in the world with its vast biodiversity wants to make its name and be taken seriously not only in politics and the economy but also in the world of cuisine.

"This is a cry of independence - we've tried to tell people for some time that we have it in us to be free (of outside influences)," Peru's Gastón Acurio, creator and owner of Astrid & Gastón, which this year was listed for the first time in San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, told Efe. His eatery was ranked 42nd.

The Latin American restaurant that placed highest on the list compiled by Britain's Restaurant magazine and announced on April 18 was D.O.M. of São Paulo, in 7th place after climbing 11 places since last year.

Mexico City has two on the list: Biko in 31st place, 15 places higher than in 2010, and Pujol, new on the list and ranked 49th.

D.O.M. is known for enhancing with a contemporary touch flavors from the different schools of gastronomy found all around Brazil's enormous geography.

Chef Alex Atala, who trained in European schools and restaurants, told Efe that his restaurant's secret of succulence is focusing on Brazil's traditional ingredients and recipes without forgetting the influences of other countries like Portugal and Spain.

Atala doesn't hesitate to mention Spain's Ferran Adrià as someone he must thank for the international recognition his work has won and also for the boom in Latin American cuisine in general.

"He shone a light on me and on Latin America," he said.

In a statement to Efe, the Brazilian gastronomic critic Alvaro Cézar Galvão said that the new Brazilian cuisine's contribution to world gastronomy is based on a "huge quantity of entirely unknown products and aromas that people go wild about."

Chef Mikel Alonso, who directs the kitchen at Biko in Mexico City, does not hide his satisfaction at the fact that his restaurant has not only made the San Pellegrino list four years in a row but has also been higher on the list each year.

The reason could be that Biko now has an "array of dishes much more sensual and not so correct and pure," Alonso said.

"We're meticulous about details - service, smiles, lighting, music, dishes, glassware, the temperature of the wine and food - so that in the end people leave feeling much, much better than when they came in," said Alonso, who founded Biko with Oteiza in 2007.

For his colleague Enrique Olvera, the fact that Pujol made the list is an "honor, because it's the first time a restaurant serving Mexican food has been included," and because the San Pellegrino guide "doesn't necessarily include the most expensive or the most luxurious restaurants, but those that have made their mark by being a pleasure, for offering diners an unforgettable experience."

Pujol is very exacting about its menu having an unmistakeable Mexican identity, "but with a combination of flavors not yet known" and always subject to a "creative process" that adds excitement, Olvera said.

Gastón Acurio believes that being ranked among the 50 best restaurants in the world is "a great opportunity for Peru," because the San Pellegrino list "has a very important, very powerful influence on everything connected with gastronomy."

No doubt many of those who voted for this year's list are unacquainted with Peru and will now come and "discover that my restaurant isn't the only one, that in Lima there are at least a dozen restaurants that could have competed to make the list," he said.

Astrid & Gastón was founded by Acurio and his wife Astrid Gutsche in 1994 with the idea of having a French culinary corner in Lima, but it gradually evolved into a restaurant that today is the very symbol of the new Peruvian gastronomy.

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