A unique, exploratory trip through the impressive Peruvian biodiversity
Claim to fame: Chef’s Table star Virgilio Martínez shows the unlimited possibilities of Peruvian gastronomy
Reason to go: Every visit is a new discovery of both produce and techniques
To look out for: Non-alcoholic pairing are always enticing; the vegetarian tasting menu is as good--and sometimes even more surprising than the regular one
Everything changed for Virgilio Martínez and his team when they discovered Cusco and its surroundings. Upon opening in 2009, Central was an elegant and well regarded restaurant. One of Peru’s best, led by one of the country’s most talented young chefs. But as he iterated many times, Martinez cooked “European cuisine with a Peruvian touch”. It wasn’t until three years later that the kitchen pinpointed its audacious style.
Everything changed when Martínez and his team started traveling regularly to Cusco. Close to the Inca’s capital city, Chef Martinez realized how rich and stimulating the Peruvian biodiversity is. It was back when he fell in love with the famous Moray ruins (an archaeological complex of circular, terraced depressions that experts believe was used for agricultural experimentation by the Incas) and discovered how the ancient Peruvians saw their own territory. It was there that Martínez learned to see his country in “alturas” (altitudes).
Today Central’s tasting menu is organized in altitudes, every course a beautiful and delicious representation of a particular ecosystem, each dish made with a limited number of ingredients that can be found in that unique altura. For instance: Land of corn (2010 meters above sea level), a creation devoted entirely to one item, corn. It presents four different varieties––kculli, purple, chulpi and piscorunto––cooked in three different ways: deep-fried pudding balls, corn leaves demi-glace and dehydrated crisps. Another famous dish is Waters of Nanay (450 m.a.s.l.), which includes piranha, cocona fruit, achiote, and huampo bark.
Every visit to Central feels like an adventure trip where even native regulars are amazed by new ingredients or preparations. Virgilio Martínez’s unique take on Peruvian food includes using, among other indigenous ingredients, cushuro, an edible cyanobacteria harvested in the Andean wetlands, and frozen potato, an ancient conservation method that brings out unexpected flavors from this most famous Peruvian crop. The results are elegant yet down to earth dishes that surprise and leave a lasting memory.
In 2013, Martínez, along with his wife and Head Chef Pia León, and his sister Malena Martínez, created Mater Iniciativa, an interdisciplinary research group that travels across Peru looking for new ingredients and techniques to incorporate into Central’s kitchen. In March 2018, Martinez and his team opened a second restaurant, MIL, next to the Moray ruins in Cusco, where his now famous Peruvian exploration began.