January 08, 2024
If you've ever wondered, 'Who is the chef of the best restaurant in the world?' Join me to learn more about Virgilio Martínez, a chef who has transcended borders, positioning himself as one of the main exponents of Peruvian haute cuisine and an undisputed reference in the global culinary scene.
Virgilio Martínez, originally from Peru, is known for taking gastronomy to the next level. His cuisine is much more than food preparation; it's a tireless journey towards exploring unknown culinary territories, a constant quest to understand and honor his country's biodiversity. His culinary philosophy delves into the intimate connection between ingredients, ecosystems, and the people who cultivate them. It's a fusion of creativity, respect for ancestral traditions, and a pioneering outlook that challenges the limits of conventionality.
His approach is holistic; he considers ingredients not merely as isolated elements in a recipe but as fundamental parts of a whole, where respect for the land, local communities, and the preservation of biodiversity play a crucial role.
With this focus, his projects Central, Mil, Mater, and Estero have gained great recognition and acceptance worldwide, which I'll detail for you next.
¿Qué son los Aluxes y los Chaneques? Antes de responderte esta pregunta te voy a contar sobre nuestro bestiario de animales fantásticos y críptidos mexicanos.
To better understand the concept, let's start here. The project, founded by Virgilio in 2012 with headquarters in Cusco and Lima, Peru, represents an intrepid and passionate exploration of the culinary diversity that the country holds.
The main objective of Mater Initiative is to discover, research, and preserve the biodiversity of Peruvian ingredients, with a special emphasis on those less known in conventional cuisine. In this project, Virgilio and his team embark on expeditions throughout the Peruvian territory, from the coast to the jungle and the heights of the Andes, seeking native ingredients, ancient crop varieties, and unique species that are part of the country's culinary heritage.
This initiative goes beyond mere ingredient collection. Mater Iniciativa involves a deep commitment to researching traditional cultivation techniques, cultural history, and traditions associated with each discovered ingredient. To grasp the importance and magnitude of this project, anthropologists, biologists, archaeologists, architects, botanists, artists, linguists, and specialists from other disciplines have been integrated into the research field, collectively leaving a significant legacy for the country.
Well, all the discoveries from these expeditions and studies are reflected in the menus of Virgilio's flagship restaurants, especially in Central, Mil, and Kjolle, a project led by Pía León, his wife, who directed the kitchen at Central for 10 years.
Virgilio Martínez's commitment to Mater Iniciativa not only highlights his culinary excellence but also his dedication to sustainability, cultural preservation, and support for local communities through the recognition and promotion of their food traditions.
This project opened in 2018 and is a restaurant located in Moray, near the city of Cusco, Peru. It's an experience that focuses on exploring ingredients and flavors from the Andean heights, specifically from the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which Virgilio himself defines as an interpretive center that brings together art, science, and cuisine.
MIL akes its name from the Quechua word "mil," which means "terraced cultivation." Positioned at a considerable altitude, this restaurant sits amidst historic Inca agricultural terraces used for experimenting with crops in different microclimates.
The restaurant aims to revalue traditional agricultural techniques, promote sustainability, and offer a unique gastronomic experience with uncommon ingredients directly connected to the land. It's a knowledge journey inviting you to immerse in a complete experience comprising six stops:
First Stop - Moray Guide: Enjoy panoramic views of the Moray archaeological site with its circular terraces and Inca-era agricultural system.
Second Stop - Cultivation Fields: Learn about the work of farmers from Mullaka's Misminay and Kacllaraccay communities.
Third Stop - Botanical Route: Take a hike through the hills near Mil to learn about the variety of plants that communities have used since ancient times for food and medicinal purposes.
Fourth Stop - Mater Projects: Visit the space showcasing outcomes from collaborations with artists, gatherers, producers, and artisans, such as local clay ceramic work, chocolate from native Cusco cacao, and a collection of high-altitude crop seeds.
Fifth Stop - Ferments and Distillates: Taste beverages prepared with ingredients that narrate the stories of their origins and customs.
Sixth Stop - Gastronomic Experience: A tasting menu featuring eight high-altitude ecosystems like the high jungle and steppe mountain range.
This restaurant has become an emblematic place where diners can have one of the finest culinary experiences. Proof of this is its recent accolade as the "World's Best Fine Dining Experience 2023" awarded at the "World Culinary Awards."
Virgilio and his wife, Pía León, founded their first project in 2009, a restaurant that has been a pioneering force in the global culinary scene. Located in Lima, Peru, Central was recently named the best restaurant in the world in 2023, securing the top position on "The World’s 50 Best Restaurants" list. This marks a milestone as, for the first time in history, the best restaurant in the world is in Latin America.
It's worth mentioning that Central had been consistently ranking high on the "Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants" list for several years and currently holds the number one position.
What makes Central so unique is its revolutionary approach to Peruvian gastronomy. Virgilio and Pía León devised a concept based on exploring and showcasing the diversity of Peruvian ecosystems through their menu. Their philosophy focuses on using unconventional ingredients from different altitudes, from the coast to the jungle and the Andes, to create a culinary experience that reflects the richness of the country's biodiversity.
Central's menu is in constant evolution, mirroring the season and Virgilio's recent discoveries with Mater Iniciativa. It currently offers four types of experiences:
Mater World Experience: explores 14 ecosystems from the Mater world.
Uneven World Experience: embarks on a new journey with daily ingredients through 14 altitudes.
Mater Heights Experience: a journey through 12 ecosystems of the Peruvian territory.
Daily Creativity Experience: The day's journey through 12 altitudes.
Beyond being just a restaurant, Central is a gastronomic laboratory where each dish tells a story, a connection with the land and the local communities cultivating these ingredients. Diners can expect an artistic presentation and a culinary narrative that transports them through a sensory journey across the diverse regions and altitudes of Peru. It's due to the concept and the meticulous work behind each dish that Central has been honored with multiple awards and distinctions for its innovative approach and culinary excellence, solidifying its position as one of the most prominent icons in global gastronomy.
With the opening of the boutique hotel La Casa de la Playa in Riviera Maya in December 2021, Virgilio Martínez's most recent and daring project, Estero, comes to life.
Situated within the luxurious hotel as part of the elevated culinary offerings for guests, Estero restaurant is a hub of culinary fusion that invites exploration of flavors from Mexico and Peru in an environment that embraces the diversity of the Caribbean coasts, the unexplored Amazon jungle, and the grandeur of the Andes Mountain range.
Nature, air, sea, gaze, breath, well-being, creativity, cultures, authenticity, connection, and dialogue are components of Estero's concept, an ode to innovation. Here, Virgilio applies modern cooking techniques to indigenous ingredients from these diverse regions, challenging the boundaries of tradition and culinary creativity.
The menu presents an array of flavor combinations with carefully selected ingredients, including pumpkin and spices evoking the essence of the jungle, tuna paired with ant larvae awakening curiosity, octopus harmonizing with agave, celebrating the region's tradition, and wagyu alongside caviar offering a sublime experience.
The tasting menu is open to the public and accepts dinner reservations through Open Table.
In addition to participating in various international gastronomic and educational projects, speaking at conferences and events promoting sustainable gastronomy and cultural exchange through food, Virgilio has taken center stage in a Netflix documentary titled "Chef's Table." This documentary series, highly popular among gastronomy enthusiasts, dedicates each episode to prominent chefs worldwide, showcasing their lives, restaurants, and culinary philosophies.
Recently, in 2022, Netflix released the documentary "Virgilio," directed by Alred Olivieri, offering a more intimate look into his life. It portrays how his passion for ingredient exploration, supported by his wife Pía, fueled by his son's motivation, and backed by a dedicated team, has elevated his cuisine to new heights and showcased innovative culinary approaches to the world.
Undoubtedly, Virgilio Martínez has become a leading div and a role model in contemporary cuisine around the globe.
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