Central Restaurante: A gastronomic exploration of altitude and Peru’s ecosystem by Chef Virgilio Martinez


Central Restaurant
Portrait photo of Virgilio Martinez by Daniel Silva © Central Restaurante.
Central Restaurante. Calle Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores, Lima, Peru / centralrestaurante.com.pe

Central takes guests on a culinary expedition through Peru’s ecosystem, from the Amazon to Pacific coast. Chef Virgílio Martínez and his team forage in the jungle, desert, mountains and sea to discover diverse local ingredients found at every altitude. Central’s tasting menu starts from 20 metres below sea level and travels up to 4,100 metres, highlighting the Peruvian ingredients that grow at various elevations. On a recent trip to Aija in the Andes, Martínez harvested wild oca and Andean yams and met a man fermenting ocas in river water, cooking the tuber below the ground on hot stones, inspiring the dish ‘Tallos extremos’. Central has ranked among the top ten restaurants in the The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list from San Pellegrino, currently holding the 4th position.

It is true, smells and flavours cover the biggest percentage of memory. Would you share with us, a unique, still vivid moment in life?

Yes, I definitely believe there are many moments that have had an impact on me. There are many memories that I recall when I taste or smell something, and I can tell you when I’m walking through my kitchen and pass the area where they are cleaning fish and shellfish, this smell brings back memories of when I was a very young boy. Maybe because of this it makes me happy. I remember the best times when we were on vacation, when we did nothing, only walking along the beach where the fishermen were eating ceviche and raw fish. I believe it was those moments when I enjoyed most the act of cooking, sharing and eating.

Green Highlands – Alturas Verdes © Central Restaurante.

What inspired you to get into this business? Share some of your mentors and how they have helped you.

Well, I have to be inspired every day. To be in this business you have to be inspired because it’s definitely a job that requires much of your time, concentration and also takes you away from many things you’d like to do. Sometimes, we put off doing many things. That’s when I look for inspiration. I’m always thankful for the inspiration I get from being in Peru and being close to nature and the producers and their marvelous products. For me they are infallible. I also feel an obligation to make them feel infallible or maintain them over time. I believe it’s a good obligation and entertaining. It makes me a better cook and a better person.

Chef Virgílio Martínez says “I remember the best times when we were on vacation, when we did nothing, only walking along the beach where the fishermen were eating ceviche and raw fish. I believe it was those moments when I enjoyed most the act of cooking, sharing and eating.”

Every life takes its own direction, influenced by a unique pattern of decisions and circumstances. Yet, we are driven by many different kinds of motives, some self-serving and some aimed at purposes beyond the self. What moves you to make the important choices that shape your behavior and, ultimately, the directions of your life?

I relate it to something that forms me, which is living in Peru. The fact is that it’s a country where many inequalities or contradictions exist. I work in a restaurant where I feel we have an obligation to the team, to the people, to our products, to Andean and Amazonian communities, and to our own reality which motivates me to be a more coherent and mature person. I understand that I’m the leader of a small group, which is the restaurant, and I must serve as a model of conduct. This makes me realize that I help form the younger generation who look at what I’m doing or the decisions I’m making. I think being consistent with everything one says or does is most important and is what impresses me as a person.

Portrait photo of Virgilio Martinez by Helge Kirchberger Photography © Central Restaurante.

Peruvian Chef Gaston Acurio believes that the Chefs are the ambassadors of their cuisine in the world. What is your opinion?

I believe exactly what Gaston Acurio says. We are ambassadors because everything we do, what we represent in and outside our restaurants, is definitely a subtle and delicate way of promoting what is innovation, coherency, and the realities of today’s Peru.

At some point of our younger lives, we imagined ourselves setting goals, for a better tomorrow. Have you fulfilled your dreams?

I believe I’ve achieved some dreams or goals I’ve had as a chef, but in reality as a cook many doors have opened, and I’m still curious about many things and have many tasks left on my bucket list. Being a cook in a place so diverse where so many opportunities exist to make beautiful things and help others and help oneself. I believe it makes you feel that you have to do much more, so this is something clear to me. And regarding personal things, to be a father, to have a seven month old son, has changed my life because now I have another reality and another way to experience life, as well as another way to cook. I believe I don’t see all my objectives with complete clarity, and this doesn’t mean I’m lost, rather that I’m always looking for a better future. You never take things for granted, and that’s good.

Suppose you were hosting this coming Saturday night. And you could invite anyone you wanted. Dead or alive.

Which four would you invite to come over and why?

Well, I’d always invite my wife because we work together, and we always work together Saturday nights. One day for the two of us to be together alone would be the best date in the world for me.