Peru’s Culinary Heights

15 Jan 2015
2 min read
Virgilio Martínez has travelled the world, experienced a great deal and sampled countless ingredients. It took him a long time to return to his home country of Peru. But it was all worthwhile in the end, because that is where he found what he’d been searching for all along: his purpose in life, namely to elevate the cuisine of this Andean state to a whole new level.

Virgilio Martínez could easily have become a lawyer or a judge, for the native Peruvian initially decided to study law after leaving school. But although Martínez felt completely at ease with clauses and codes, he had a greater urge to break the rules and express his creative side. At the age of 21, he therefore decided to devote himself to the art cooking.

For 15 years, Martínez learnt his trade in countless kitchens and under some of the world’s most revered chefs. He worked at Lutèce in Manhattan, at Astrid y Gastón in Madrid, at Stage of Four Seasons in Singapore and at Can Fabes in Sant Celoni, while also enjoying stints in Ottawa, London and Bogotá. But in his search for culi- nary challenges and new experiences, there was one country he always avoided: Peru. But why look so far afield when the best can be found right on the doorstep? Martínez eventually took heed of this old pearl of wisdom and returned to his homeland in 2008. A good decision, for Peru’s countryside is a real Aladdin’s cave of original ingredients for ambitious chefs. And Martínez has a unique knack for refining them with modern and clever cooking techniques.

The cold water of the Humboldt Current along Peru’s 3000-kilometre-long coast is home to hundreds of fish, crab, lobster and oyster species. The Andean highlands, on the other hand, boast some unique fauna: countless varieties of cereal, herbs, roots and vegetables grow here – and more than 3000 types of potato alone!

Further back, in the Amazon lowlands, one can find freshwater fish, while the rain forest offers cassava, palm hearts, plantains and countless other unknown fruits. The wealth of potential ingredients in this country spans an altitude of thousands of metres – and Martínez has decided to rediscover this richness and transfer it to the plates of his guests.

Driven by an insatiable curiosity and a resolute determination to portray the complexity of the country, Martínez focuses almost radically on his homeland, turning its treasures into perfectly harmonised, ingeniously combined and extremely aesthetic dishes. As a result, he is now seen as an ambassador of the new generation of Peruvian cuisine.

Martínez’s guests can taste this diversity for themselves in dishes such as hot ceviche with langostinos, corvina, Yuca charcoal and sea lettuce, or his Amazonian arapaima with coshuro butter, vegetable char, palm hearts and yellow potato. Martínez also draws from Peru’s enormous pool of vegetables, such as in his ravioli made from confit of roots, smoked milk, crunchy cream and lemon verbena leaf.

But diversity is not just reflected in Virgilio Martínez’ pots and pans – the Peruvian chef is equally diverse, which is why he isn’t content with just one restaurant. Most of the time, Martínez can be found in his flagship restaurant, Central Restaurante in the Miraflores district of Lima, which was named Latin America’s best restaurant last year and has already made it onto The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list twice, where it currently occupies 15th place.

In 2012, Martínez also opened the Senzo restaurant in Cusco and the Lima Fitzrovia in London, which was awarded one star by the Michelin Guide. Having acquired a taste for it, Martínez then opened his second restaurant Lima Floral in England’s capital.

In January 2015, Virgilio Martínez will be gracing Hangar-7 ́s Restaurant Ikarus as a guest chef, taking diners on a culinary journey across an altitude of thousands of meters to show them the treasures of his native country Peru – all in a few courses from the comfort of their seats.