Virgilio Martinez: 285 ingredients of pure Peru

During his lesson at Identità New York, the chef from Lima presented the large research behind his menu at Central

03-10-2018

Virgilio Martinez, born in 1977, chef at Central in Lima and forerunner of the Peruvian renaissance (photo Brambilla/Serrani)

«Italy like Peru: it has the sea and the high mountains. But in our country, chefs who are in the mountains, don’t cook seafood and vice versa. This is why we strongly admire Virgilio Martinez: he has a unique and complete vision of every altitude in his country».

Paolo Marchi introduces the protagonist of the second lesson at Identità York, the Limeño at work so that the world can discover they very rich biodiversity of his country. A welcome return for the chef from Central at Eataly’s Scuola, after last year’s lesson with Bobo Cerea.

Scallops and grain diversity

Scallops and grain diversity

Raw duck escabeche, sea urchins and oca 

Raw duck escabeche, sea urchins and oca 

The screen shows the scenic images of the Inca terraces in Moray, an archaeological site «an hour’s flight from Lima, plus about one hour’s drive from Cuzco», on the Andes. For some time now,Virgilio and the interdisciplinary staff at Mater Iniciativa – cooks, anthropologists, biologists and sociologists – have been working to map every corner of this agricultural centre: «On average, we go once a week. We started silently as explorers, and local people were diffident. Now we work with 60 families».

This big team is essential to make the Altitudes menu at Central, the restaurant that very recently moved to a new location, opening in the bright neighbourhood of Barranco. A tasting menu that today includes 285 ingredients, a kaleidoscope of the different ecosystems of Peru. 

«We constantly catalogue new vegetal species for medical reasons. We catalogue plants, ideas, traditions. We’re rediscovering species people stopped cultivating, from the Andes to the Amazon. At the restaurant I see people are touched. For us it’s very important to create awareness, it’s our primary mission».

Two sample dishes recreated in New York. The first, some delicious small scallops enriched with grain diversity, from the above-mentioned areas: there’s chilcaextract, kiwichawheat and natto (fermented beans), plus coral emulsified with olive oil.

Second dish: Raw duck escabeche, sea urchins and oca (a tuber from the Andes, its scientific name being oxalis tuberosa). Both dishes are rich and come with a reflection: «At first it was difficult for us to understand that Peruvian food could have become what it is today. But we’re only at the beginning of the journey».

A few weeks ago Central, the showcase for the project, moved to a new, much larger location than the previous one. Now the old one is replaced by Kjolle, the twin restaurant run by his wife Pia Leon: «People often speak of gender equality, it was time she also became a chef», Virgilio jokes. Two restaurants and the same message put into practice: «In the age of fake news and information flooding, to whom should we listen? To the producers who keep our roots».