Country : Peru
Restaurant : Central
A cuisine with its feet on the ground
Everything changed for Central and for Virgilio Martinez’s cooking when he began to look down at the ground. This took place in late 2012, when his culinary Project in Cuzco, the new restaurant Senzo, was in the phase of consolidation, having been built on the foundation of the values that underlie Andean cuisine. A luxurious space within a luxury hotel, with cooking that grabbed at the roots, and with a menu made into the point of departure for a new, advanced and distinct approach that stops at every way-station in the culinary universe of Virgilio Martínez and his partner Pía León; married in civil life, they are a working team in the kitchen. Their purview extends from Lima (Central) to London (Lima – London), passing through Cuzco (Senzo), in a voyage that speaks of heights, territories, systems, lands and origins.
In the Virgilio Martínez’s new professional direction, everything revolves around a brand called Mater Iniciativa. A reality that has brought a definitive turnaround in his career. The starting point for his own culinary discourse. Also, the starting point for pathways that his cooking is now beginning to explore, while announcing new routes and byways not yet traversed by haute Andean cuisine.
The future begins, in fact, at Mater Iniciativa. The name refers to the work of an interdisciplinary group – chefs, botanists, researchers – that is exploring the geography of Peru and gathering stories of produce. It is about making contact with the hidden food ingredients of the country, searching for some of the secrets of the Peruvian pantry and transferring them to the universe of gastronomy. It is also the launching pad for a land-based culinary approach that makes its way through a country that has it all: two thousand kilometres of coastline, the omnipresent figure of the Andean mountain range and hundreds of square kilometres of Amazon rainforest. Here is where Virgilio Martinez’s cooking is born, and here a process of recovering and rediscovering the value of some forgotten foods begins. These include Roots of Mullaca, Huampo crust, Suillus and other Andean fungi, or the wild custard apple of Yunga or the Buhuaja nut. The foodstuffs are shown on a website, and some of their culinary uses are explained.
That happens to be the organising principle of the latest tasting menu of the Central. Unquestionably a well-rounded, complete and meaningful cuisine, unaffected by any hestitation or past debts to culinary convention. It can all be summed up by the idea of having one’s feet firmly on the ground: tubers, roots, algae, herbs and crusts are the core of a discourse that is coherent, sound and often brilliantly expounded, as is the case with the shrimp tails that are served raw, with Sacha Inchi milk and a slush of Andean herbs. A dish that shows their commitment to seeking out the distinctive features of a cuisine of the future. Their work takes shape in another good dish: a frozen potato cream (harvested after the frost season) dashed with Cushuro and Mullaca, an Andean root that is a real discovery.
Everything is a discovery in their voyage throughout the country. From the coast to the low rainforest, with stops in the summits of the Andes, and the Andean valleys – which are found at incredible heights, and which overturn all the laws of nature, with micro-climates that allow for growing crops that would be impossible at other latitudes – or the upper rainforest, which links the Andes with the Amazon region.
An entire universe concentrated in barely 1.25 million square kilometres; the basis for a cuisine that has everything at its disposal: absolute ground zero. From olive oil to coffee to cacao.
1 Michelin Stars
Latin America's 50 Best Restaurant