Central – Lima

I’ll start with a confession: I often spend more time deciding where to go for dinner than enjoying the meal itself. Unlike my parents’ generation, whose decision was simply whether to have steak or gammon at the Berni Inn, the wealth of dining options today are as diverse as the people offering opinions on them. Time Out, Zagart, Urbanspoon, Trip Advisor, Top Table, Chowhound…? By the time I’ve waded through such guides in search of mid to low range French bistros, I’ve probably changed my mind altogether and decided I’d rather have Lebanese.

My arrival in Peru coincided with a launch of yet another guide, Latin America’s Top 50 Restaurants. As with the above guides, I am a real sucker for these kind of lists – especially when I can state with pride that my home for the week, Virgilio Martinez’s Central, appears at No. 4. ‘The list‘, as it is known in Peru, is especially significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, its birth is illustrative of the the emerging fine dining revolution sweeping across Latin America. Secondly, unlike Europe, USA & Japan, Latin America does not use Michelin stars. Finally, as one local told me, Peru does not have many cultural icons, and so the listed chefs are the closest the country has to the Beckhams and Gagas of the world. Perhaps this explains why I saw Virgilio in the street every morning before I had even arrived at the kitchen.

Virgilio Martínez & Pia Leon - Central

Virgilio Martínez with wife & fellow chef Pia Leon.

Peru, the ‘land of abundance’, boasts an incredibly rich diversity of climates, geography and ecosystems. For Central, this means an opportunity to showcase a variety of unusual ingredients at the heart of the creative culinary process. Their taster menu pays tribute to pacha mama (‘mother nature’ in Quechua) by taking diners on a journey across Peru. From the sea to the water of the lower Andes, the menu progresses through the red jungle and into the Andean mountain range and forest. One need only to step into Virgilio’s office to realise here is a chef-cum-explorer – there must have been 100 different salts alone. Even with the aid of google translate I was still flummoxed by some of the ingredients I saw in the kitchen.

Virgilio Martinez Central

Virgilio in action.

Take for example the first course, tom de mar (snapshot of the sea). This dish serves up an unusual take on the national dish ceviche. Raw scallops rolled in kanihua, a cereal typical of the andes similar to quinoa. The ceviche’s leche de tigre (the marinade known as tiger milk) contains Tumbo, a banana passionfruit that beautifully compliments the sweetness of the fresh scallops. The last twist of this dish is given by borage, a flower that alarmingly tastes like oysters. If you’re fascinated reading of these ingredients imagine tasting them (it looks pretty kick-ass too)!

Foodish Boy Makes Peruvian Cuisine

Snapshot of the sea…

Another curiosity was Virgilio’s use of frozen potato – not exactly something you would expect to see on a fine dining menu (cue flashbacks to lumpy mash served for school dinners). However, this particular ‘frozen potato’ was the chuño, a frost resistant potato grown at high altitudes which is repeatedly frozen at night and thawed in the daytime sun. In case this wasn’t interesting enough, Virgilio tops the mash with cushuro, a round algae that grows on lakes at altitudes of 4000m. Finally the dish was completed with mullaca root and taperiba (ok I’m sorry, I haven’t got a clue what these two are).

Chuno Central

Mash and algae anyone?

With so many fascinating ingredients around, you can forgive me for not going into detail about my role at Central. I can assure you it wasn’t all that fascinating. With the ongoing Mistura food festival and the Top 50 awards, half the world’s food critics were in town and they weren’t going to let a gringo like me slow the pace of progress. My job…? Peeling the hearts of palm into spaghetti like strands. For four days. Non stop. By the time the week ended I never wanted to see a palm heart again. Nonetheless, I was quite content to stand, peel, observe and taste the many fascinating dishes Virgilio, his wife Pia and the rest of the team sent out of their beautiful open kitchen.

On my last night Virgilio and Pia brought the chefs together for a toast to a week that had seen the restaurant internationally recognised as one of the best in Latin America. I felt incredibly privileged to share this moment with them, and witness some of the hard work and dedication that went into achieving this. Their food is unique; nowhere else in the world can you experience food like this. Next time you’re in Lima, do yourself a favour… don’t waste any time, put down those guide books and head straight to Central.

Foodish Boy in the Central Kitchen

Like the above? You may also enjoy…

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Central – Lima

  1. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you so much, However I am going through troubles with your RSS.

    I don’t understand the reason why I cannot join it. Is there anybody else having
    the same RSS problems? Anyone who knows the solution can you kindly respond?
    Thanx!!

  2. What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this
    I have found It absolutely helpful and it has aided me out
    loads. I’m hoping to contribute & aid other users like its aided me.

    Great job.

  3. You’re so awesome! I don’t suppose I have read a single thing like that
    before. So nice to find somebody with some original thoughts
    on this issue. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up.

    This website is something that’s needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s