By turning to the ingredients and the culinary culture of his native country, Virgílio Martínez not only helped to shape a movement that has taken the Peruvian cuisine around the world, but also established himself as one of the most recognized chefs of our times.
As the head chef of Central, a restaurant that he runs alongside his wife, Pia León, he has elevated the Peruvian gastronomy to a new level. The restaurant has left its original location in Lima’s Miraflores district for a new building in the hip Barranco neighborhood.
The investigations and the search for indigenous ingredients led Martínez to delve deeper into the geography of his country, pushing products that come from different regions - a journey through different altitudes, from the sea level to more than 4,000 meters above it, encompassing all of its richness. With his explorations, he can serve unique ingredients such as colorful potatoes grown at 5,000 meters above sea level and wild varieties of kiwicha and quinoa. He also taps his territory in search for different types of salt: he has more than 100 varieties in his pantry.
Through his cuisine, Martinez showcases Peruvian biodiversity and also the importance of the social and ecological environments through the creation of his very unique food concepts.
The passion for discovery is what led Virgílio (who was born in Lima in 1977) into the culinary world. He thought that being a cook would allow him to travel the world, while appease his curiosity for experiencing different cultures. In his gastronomic journey, he worked in countries so diverse as Singapore and England (where he graduated at London’s Le Cordon Bleu in 1998), until deciding, in 2009, to return to Lima and open his own restaurant, Central - which has been considered No. 5 in the world, according to the World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards 2018.He worked at acclaimed restaurants such as Can Fabes and Astrid & Gastón.
The desire to deepen studies on native ingredients has led him to establish a partnership with his sister, Malena Martinez, in order to create the NGO Mater Initiative, a research, interpretation and experimentation center focused on Peruvian ingredients and their origin. The NGO works with anthropologists, neurologists, ceramists, biologists, fashion designers, and other different professionals to propose a new way of seeing and understanding nature and the local diverse social environments.
Today, the interdisciplinary team aims to manage knowledge of food and culture, while making their findings available to everyone. Through the work with Mater, Martinez also decided to invest in new projects, such as MIL, a restaurant located in the Sacred Valley, 3,500 meters above sea level, amidst the archaeological ruins of Moray, in the city of Cuzco. The restaurant seeks to highlight the Andean cuisine, by focusing on ingredients and culinary techniques from that region - also giving prominence to the producers and farmers who work there, positively impacting the socio-economic development of local rural communities.
Among his signature recipes in partnership with León, dishes such as the “Land of Corn”, their homage to the maze, and “Close Fishing”, octopus served with yuyo, barquillo and squid stand out. Other hit dish is “Waters of Nanay”, in which a piranha fish is served in piranha heads with sharp teeth.
Martinez also runs businesses outside Peru: Lima and Lima Floral are his international brands for contemporary Peruvian cuisine, with branches in London and Dubai. His next step is to open a restaurant in the Peruvian Amazon, to explore all the richness of the world’s most primary rainforest.