The groundbreaking chef taking Peruvian food to new heights
While Lima’s reputation has steadily grown to see it become one of the world’s greatest dining cities, so too has that of the chef leading a new generation of Peruvian cooks. Virgilio Martínez has helped propel Peru’s status as a foodie destination to new heights with constant research and improvement at his flagship restaurant, Central, the three-time No.1 in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants.
With a restless approach to development, Martínez is one of the most active chefs on the planet. Though he is based in Lima, he makes regular trips to the Andes and the Peruvian Amazon in search of new ingredients for his 17-course tasting menu, which presents the nation’s produce at every altitude from 20 metres below sea level to 4,100 metres above it.
His travels tie in with Mater Iniciativa, a research project run by his sister Malena that explores local ingredients and uncovers the stories and traditions behind different products. Together with a small group of chefs, anthropologists and entrepreneurs, including Martínez’s wife and head chef, Pía León, they have helped educate a national and international audience about Peruvian produce, recently launching Momento, a three-day annual gathering to discuss gastronomy, culture and sustainability.
Martínez has also made his mark outside his home country, opening Lima in London in 2012 and following it with Lima Floral, also in the UK capital, in 2014. One of the first to open a Peruvian restaurant in London, he piqued the interest of locals, sparking curiosity that led to a wave of Peruvian restaurants and a newfound love of quinoa, ceviche and purple potatoes.
Martínez’s menu at Central goes far beyond the Peruvian products that are known around the world. His Mater Elevations menu covers untranslatable ingredients from chulpi, a type of corn, to cushuro, a bacteria, making for a true exploration of his country’s biodiversity. He also spends time travelling the world for collaborations with fellow chefs, helping to spread knowledge of Peruvian dishes to far-flung countries.
Martínez didn’t set out to be a chef – he was once a professional skateboarder, turning to cooking only after injury ruled him out of the sport. But it’s clear he found his calling, with Central consistently voted top of the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list and now in its third year in the top ten of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The chef has been thought of for some time as an ambassador for Peruvian food, but now he wins the ultimate accolade – the recognition of his fellow chefs at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, with the Chefs’ Choice Award, sponsored by Estrella Damm.
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Images: Cesar del Rio