Chef Virgilio Martínez: Creating Food that Screams “Welcome to Peru!”

Called “the new messenger of the Latin American [food] scene,” Chef Virgilio Martínez will travel 14,000 feet above sea level in [Cusco, Peru] to find local products to bring back to his flagship restaurant, Central, located in Lima, Peru. Martínez has made a name applying modern cooking techniques to indigenous Peruvian ingredients. He is known for incorporating unusual items into his cooking, such as a potato grown 5,000 feet above sea level, edible clay or the boiled bark of Huampo trees.

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Martínez studied at Le Cordon Bleu in London and Ottawa, and then cooked his way around the world for over a decade, in restaurants such as Lutéce in New York, Can Fabes in Barcelona and Lima’s Astrid y Gastón. In 2009, Martínez opened Central in the upscale Miraflores district of Lima. Focused on avant-garde Peruvian cuisine, Central introduces diners to ancient ingredients such as cushuro, a caviar-like bacterium found in the mountains after a rainstorm, and tunta, a white freezer-dried tuber dating back to Incan times.

Central’s identity is shaped primarily by Martínez’ research group, Mater Initiativa, which the chef founded in 2012. Members of the research group travel frequently across Peru at various altitudes to uncover local ingredients that shape the recipes and ideology at Central.

Cooking with medicinal herbs from Cusco is not uncommon for Martínez, nor is  rock octopus cooked on a coal, avocado quenelle or sweet and sour seaweed. In 2013, Centra ranked #50 on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. In 2014, the restaurant jumped 35 places to #15, winning the “Highest Climber” award, and later that year it made the top of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list. In 2015, Central remained in the top 10 of The World’s Best Restaurants at No. 4.

.Elevated view over Cuzco and Plaza de Armas, Cuzco, Peru.

On a mission to introduce  authentic Peruvian cuisine [“it’s so much more than ceviche on the beach,”] to the world, in June 2012 Martínez opened Senzo in the Belmond Palacio Nazarenes Hotel in Cusco. A month later, Martinez opened Lima in London’s Fitzrovia neighborhood. Lima Fitzrovia earned a Michelin star in 2014, in addition to winning numerous other awards. In July 2014, Martínez opened Lima Floral in the Covent Garden district of London, with the aim of showcasing Peru’s culinary diversity.

As Chef Martínez says in the video below, “Diversity in Peru is huge!”

Here are 5 things you may not know about the Peruvian chef and restaurateur:

1. Martínez dislikes it when patrons say that Central makes it feel like they are in Paris or New York. As a chef who is passionate about sharing his latest native culinary findings with the world, Martínez prefers that his dishes scream “Welcome to Peru!

2. Sundays are sacred for Martínez. He and fellow chef and wife Pia León spend 80% of their time at Central, yet on weekends they frequently travel to Cusco or the Amazon to explore nature and relax. The couple often travels with members of Mater Initiativa to look for new products for Central’s menu.

3. Martínez was planning his wedding with Pia when he received a letter informing him that Central had made it onto The World’s Best Restaurants list. The couple traveled to London for the ceremony and got married four days later. This whirlwind of travel and activity has become commonplace for the now married couple, who manage four restaurants in Lima, London and Cusco.

4. If Martínez was not a chef, he’d be an architect. Martinez’ mother is a painter and artist, and he has always been interested in the connection between mind, body and hands. He’s always been passionate about travel as well, and is grateful that he can go anywhere in the world and make a living as a chef without even knowing the language. As Chef Martínez has said, “It’s important to learn how to develop well [as a chef] and translate the passion.”

5. Lima Fitzrovia is the first Peruvian restaurant in Europe to be awarded a Michelin star. Martínez opened the restaurant in 2012, in partnership with Gabriel and Jose Luis Gonzalez.