It should come as no surprise that South America’s best restaurant is in Peru, as revealed at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards celebrated in Melbourne at the beginning of April. The award, granted to Central in Lima, was not the only top recognition the restaurant received that night: Virgilio Martínez, Central’s chef and founder, was granted the Chef’s Choice Award, a title that makes him the best chef on the planet.
“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,” reads a review on the organization’s website. “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.”
Martínez, 39, is known for being an active researcher chef with the heart of an anthropologist. He often travels to Peru’s three geographical regions (coast, mountains, jungle) searching for unknown ingredients to include in his dishes. At Central, you can try a special list of dishes cooked with 180 ingredients cultivated in different latitudes and altitudes. One of the menus is called Mater Elevations, and it’s a list of 17 dishes cooked with truly exotic ingredients like Air Potato, a potato grown above ground, Paiche, the biggest fish found in the Amazon, or Chaco Clay, a medicinal and edible clay from the Peruvian-Bolivian highlands. Central has also mastered the art form of presenting dishes, showing that harmony in taste should also be reflected in the decoration.
Martínez’s big break came while working for Gastón Acurio, Peru’s famed chef known for being the driving force behind Peru’s gastronomic boom. Martínez was in charge of Acurio’s Astrid & Gastón restaurant in Madrid where he cooked traditional Peruvian cuisine but in his own style, which was highly influenced by European cuisine. In 2008, Martínez parted ways with Acurio and opened Central in Lima, which he now runs with his wife Pia León. But Martínez knew his restaurant was not showcasing the complexity of Peruvian cuisine like he wanted to. He knew fieldwork would help him get in touch many cultures within his country, so he went on a tour around Peru to study indigenous ingredients grown in different ecosystems, as well as traditional dishes from Peru’s three geographical regions. A product of his travels is his latest book “Central” (Phaidos 2017), a monograph on Peruvian ingredients according to the elevations they can be found in, and essays on his food preparation process.
As Martínez honors his country by representing Peruvian cuisine around the world, his work continues to show his passion for highlighting Peru’s biodiversity. Not only is his food shaping a new generation of chefs and palates: he’s also teaching the world that Peru has infinite resources, both cultural and natural, and that it’s just a matter of going out – or back to – indigenous roots to search for new options. At this rate, it seems Martínez’s creations will end up being considered traditional Peruvian cuisine in the future.
Learn more about Virgilio Martínez and Central by watching Netflix’s Chef’s Table episode on him.
Central, Calle Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores, Lima, Peru, +51 1 2428515
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