Today, Virgilio Martínez is the genius behind the globalisation of Peruvian cuisine. The restaurant Central, located in Lima, the capital of Peru, made The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2012 and came in 4th place on the list in 2015. Finally, Martínez’s Central took the grand prize and ranked 1st in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2023. In addition to reinterpreting the local flavours of Peru, Martinez is a chef who enriches Peruvian cuisine by researching various plants in the Andes Mountains.
The kitchen where discovery becomes a passion
Always full of curiosity and a sense of discovery, Chef Martínez grew up in Lima, the capital of Peru. He describes growing up in Peru in the 80s as ‘living in a closed box’. Martínez’s love for cooking has become a passion that has deepened day by day since he first stepped into the kitchen. Realising at an early age that becoming a chef was a good outlet for his passion for discovery, the talented name defines this new path in his life as “an excuse turned into a passion”.
Later, he had the opportunity to work as a chef in many famous restaurants in New York and Europe. The turning point in his career came when he returned to Peru to visit his family and had the chance to cook with local ingredients. After spending many years learning about world cuisine, the fact that he had no idea about Peruvian cuisine was a revelation for him.
Following a wake-up call, Virgilio Martínez starts working in a restaurant run by the famous Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio. After he started to progress in the kitchen, Acurio brought Martínez as the head chef of the restaurant he opened in Madrid. Martínez takes the baby steps of his experimental style in the kitchen here. This process leads him to leave Spain and open his own restaurant in Peru.
“I had to grow up in my own country, with my own dreams”
The revolutionary change he initiated in Peruvian cuisine begins with an enthusiastic inner voice in Martínez. “I had to grow up in my own country, with my own dreams,” he says, sparking the discovery process of Peruvian cuisine. Central, which has been offering innovative styles to Peruvian cuisine since the day it opened, has been criticised for offering European touches rather than an original taste, although it received full marks from taste lovers at first. Martínez, who never gave up developing in his journey full of movement, came to the conclusion that what he lacked was identity. Reasserting his spirit of discovery, the chef takes a few steps back to start exploring different regions of Peru. On his journey from the Andes Mountains to the ancient Inca agricultural terraces in Moray, he comes up with the idea of cooking according to altitudes and ecosystems. As a result of his research and search for local ingredients, he uncovers colourful potatoes, kiwicha, quinoa varieties and more than 100 different kinds of regional salts grown at different altitudes.
Where Peruvian cuisine spreads around the world: Central
A world-renowned restaurant, Central is much more than just a refined kitchen serving the local flavours of Peru. Currently, Martínez runs the restaurant with his wife Pía León, who is also a successful chef. At Central, he and León have developed the concept of “altitude-based menu”.
With Chef Martínez’s sister Malena Martínez, a scientist, they set up a research team to explore different terrains in Peru to find the ingredients they could use in the restaurant. Of the 180 local ingredients used at Central, half were newly discovered. While the Central research team is searching for local Peruvian products to be used in the dishes, they are also documenting their findings for the sake of science. Among the chef’s famous tablov-like dishes are “Egyptian Land” inspired by the pyramids and “Nanay’s Waters”, piranha fish served in sharp-toothed piranha heads. In the documentary programme ‘Chef’s Table’ on Netflix, Martínez tells the inspiring story of Martínez, who has made Peruvian cuisine a worldwide trend.: 50 best • chef • gastronomy • restaurant