The top restaurant in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list and fourth on the global list, Central Restaurante in Lima, Peru is led by chef Virgilio Martinez, a native of the city who is taking his country’s cuisine to a new level with his contemporary approach to cooking and an academic curiosity towards new ingredients. The Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef worked at Lutèce in New York and Astrid y Gaston in Peru before launching Central Restaurante in 2010.
Besides his flagship venue and two branches of the restaurant Lima in London, he is also founder of the Mater Iniciativa project, a research arm devoted to discovering and cataloguing new and unusual ingredients. He stopped in Hong Kong for a three-evening pop-up at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong earlier this month. Sold out, naturally.
Your cuisine elevates Peruvian food to the next level – what do you see are the basic facets of Peruvian cuisine?
Health, authenticity and really, passion for every single detail related to food.
Which are some of the dishes that your customers love best?
Vegetables with a little bit of seafood.
You've visited Asia a few times now and you've experienced Chinese food quite intimately throughout your life. How has the culture and cuisine influenced your cooking?
A lot! Over here in Asia you have probably the most amazing traditions that have inspired me. The craft, the focus on details that for me are difficult to undestand – there’s a lot to learn from China always.
Your Central Restaurante debuted on the World's 50 Best list two years ago at number 50 and within two years has jumped to number 4 – how do you account for the rapid rise?
It is always a result of the work we have done in the past years, and we are happy for it, but we cannot stop being focused on whatever makes Central what it is now.
Do you think the presence of the Asia and Latin America-only 50 Best lists have improved the profiles of restaurants in those regions?
I really don't know about that impact – of course it gives you visibility in our regions, but after that I don't know.
Tell us about your Mater Iniciativa research project. What are some of the ingredients you have discovered in your research?
There are many products, but what is more important is that we are building trust with producers and people that live in this remotes areas. That communication is really important, so as we register various ingredients we also maintain great relationships with people that we haven’t met before, and who truly are the protagonists of this world.
You're known for your use of unusual ingredients – what is the most unusual thing you've cooked with or tasted?
Wild herbs that grow at 4,000 metres above sea level.