Keepers of the past and storytellers of the present: Malena Martinez presents her 'regulated disobedience'

The Peruvian scientist, on stage at Identità Milano 2024, explained the work inspiring the research and development of ingredients in the Mater Iniciativa and Mil Centre projects

Malena Martinez, scientist, co-director of Mater I

Malena Martinez, scientist, co-director of Mater Iniciativa, an interdisciplinary, gastronomic and cultural organisation dedicated to investigating, preserving and sharing Peru's enormous biodiversity
(All photos are by Brambilla / Serrani)

Malena Martinez, on the occasion of Identità Milano 2024, gave to the audience of the Auditorium a solemn lecture, moved by a visceral enthusiasm and passion for her work

‘In the extreme richness and beauty of our country, which is dense with multiculturalism - we have over 55 ethnic groups - what is often not understood is its complexity. We appreciate its immensity and biodiversity but being able to convey its grandeur and degree of complexity is a real challenge. For us, it has become a mission, not only of work, but of life in the true sense of the word.’

After graduating in medicine in Lima, Malena Martinez started working as a general practitioner and was lucky enough to do her internship in Iquitos, in the middle of the Amazon. This experience was crucial, so much so that when her brother Virgilio, three years after opening Central, asked her to work in the research and development of Peruvian ingredients, she soon made the decision.

Mater Iniciativa was born, a research laboratory, an interdisciplinary organisation and a place where they study, preserve, catalogue and communicate the various cultural interpretations and expressions of Peru. ‘We wanted to make visible something that already exists, that already belongs to us but that not everyone can appreciate. Hence the scientific approach behind each ingredient and process, with the idea of having no boundaries in research, spanning geological, cultural, social, etc. contexts,' she says.

Through the work at Mater, Pía León and Virgilio Martinez receive all the necessary information and functional ingredients to work with creativity and technique. This results in the MIL Centre (not a restaurant) experience. This is the space within the same building where the entire Peruvian civilisation and gastronomic culture is brought to the table.

‘We are at 3600 metres above sea level and when people visit us we think of a truly immersive experience, embracing all the activities we carry out and showing them a different part of the world they live in [...] Mil is a timeless project, where we somehow act as keepers of the past but extremely connected to the present.’ Malena, Virgilio, Pia, have somehow decided to disobey what had been done until then in the gastronomic field by setting themselves precise rules, objectives, common values, in order to carry out a choral work that over time has involved a team of motivated, passionate, determined people.

One of the first choices was to abandon the classic white tablecloths, the fine dining glassware and anything that could belong to an international restaurant code but without really being in tune with the context. Every material, every piece of furniture, every piece of cutlery or plate, every functional element of the experience is consistent with the territory, the culture, the history of Peru. There is therefore a common thread running through all the group's restaurants, a great consistency and a deep sense of attachment to their identity.

Malena Martinez with Gabriele Zanatta, who presented her on stage

Malena Martinez with Gabriele Zanatta, who presented her on stage

Hence the decision to act as storytellers, harnessing the power of Mater and MIL as platforms to give visibility and convey the message, in the hope that it can be grasped, understood, internalised. ‘We think this can be the starting point for our own, new idea of fine dining that would like to be more connected to the meaning of our actions. We must think of ourselves as makers of our future and not just mere servants.’

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

IG2024: the disobedience


Chiara Buzzi

a true Piedmontese, born in 1986 and a degree in Culture and Arts Economics, after years working in Milanese bars, she’s now the general manager at Rita’s Tiki Room, a spin-off of Rita, Milan. She travels out of passion, works out of passion, eats passionately 

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