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Virgilio Martinez: "Everything Has to Move"

Virgilio Martinez: "Everything Has to Move"

We sit down for an interview with Virgilio Martinez as he explains his exciting plans for relocating his Central restaurant from Lima to Cusco.

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Virgilio Martinez and his team at the Central restaurant in Peru are riding high after once again claiming the title as Latin America’s Best Restaurant for 2015 - for a second time in a row.

Central, which is located at the heart of the Miraflores district in Lima, has been pushing the boundaries of biodiversity in Peru for years with tasty menus that transport diners across complex dishes that link with the different ingredients offered throughout the many altitudes of Peru’s rich Amazon and Andes regions.

In 2014 they claimed their first crown at the top of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list, following up just a few months later with a fourth place on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and as the project has developed, they have worked to refine their elevation experience, reducing seats once again this year from 69 to 45, and focusing on the important research trips that see the team finding new producers, visiting new altitudes and tasting exciting new ingredients.

With such critical acclaim and a booking system that fills 3 month block reservations in just a few days, it’s with some surprise that I sit to down to hear Martinez explain that Central as it’s known today will eventually be closing as part of one of the most ambitious restaurant relocations ever undertaken. This is because in around three years Martinez plans to move Central to a new location around 45 minutes from Cusco, a huge development that will place the restaurant at the heart of the land, techniques, people and ingredients that have helped inspire their success.

As Martinez Explains: 

“It’s going to be a restaurant, around four times bigger than Central, in turns of kitchen, Mater Iniciativa, a test kitchen and lots of contact with producing neighbours, the dining room itself is going to be very small. We have the site, we have the project, we have everything, after this I’m flying to Japan to meet the architect.

“It’s going to be huge. We’re going to be harvesting potatoes, vegetables and testing many different things, it’s not just a kitchen, there’s a big, big, big areas where we can grow. We’re going to have people working in the soil, working with people in the area to really understand what’s going on with the people there.

“We’ve had all this legacy of what we have, great food, flavour, taste, but there’s a lot more to rediscover and that’s our focus now”.

Feeding Curiosity

“Now in restaurants people have started to think. We’ve never had people that were just traveling to come to Central, that makes lots of expectations and it’s happening now. So it’s not just a thing of being in the kitchen and doing our research and bringing that to the dining room, it’s the whole idea that Central has to be magic, and it has to be magic in every single gesture, every single aspect, every single fabric, every piece of wood, everything has a meaning - we are working a lot on the meaning of things you see at Central.

“For me it’s too easy to go to the Andes or the Amazon and get ingredients that you’ve never seen before, I can put it to you and you’ll think “wow” but you won’t actually learn anything. My question is, would you like that or would you like yo be surprised and actually learn with some knowledge attached? Now we have our thing, we go to a few places and we get to see more of these places and understand more of these people but our customers are not travelling with us, they don’t have an idea of these things.

“Every time I go with somebody and show them ‘hey man, you want to see where I get this stuff from altitude number 8? These guys are always like ‘wow - what is this?’ They are so surprised, I can see it in their faces - we’ve been doing this for three years and in the last three years I’ve noticed that every time I bring someone to the place it means much more than a dish”.

Taking it Higher

“I think we’ve been innovative with the elevations system but we have to go more. I always say there is no way to raise the chair of the diner but we want to go something that will really touch your soul. What if when you go to the restaurant in Cusco you start to see the menu and the landscape, you start to see number 1, number two, number three - lots of interaction, no pressure about the time or the city, you’re in Cusco and once you’re there you’re there for many hours, I’m not talking about high end cuisine I’m talking about real experiences.

“How can you feel this story of biodiveristy in Miraflores? I love Miraflores but we’re planning all this time. What if when you go to the restaurant in Cusco you start to see the menu and the landscape, you start to see number 1, number two, number three.

“Central right now is just in front of the sea and our approach about biodiveristy is mostly about going to the Andes and the Amazon and we are far away from both these places. We are probably 500-meters above sea level and we cook with the altitudes of the Amazon and the Andes so being in Cusco is kind of being in the heart of where everything has started, I think it makes more sense to be there in terms of conceptualising, transport, food, traceability - the concept has to be a lot deeper than the way we do it now at Central. I understand that at Central, so far, we are doing good but I really want to achieve excellence. I really want to believe 100 percent in what we do in the future and we’ve got to move because there is so much effort nowadays to bring stuff from the Amazon and the Andes to the coast.

“Everything has to move. We have to be honest in this case”.

Giving Back

“Now we’re working on our own way of registering ingredients which is something new for us. Getting to see how many potatoes are growing at different altitudes, how many corns, cataloging everything.This is a world that as a chef that I’ve never done before, we’ve been doing it for two or three years and now we have the budget, which is important, to get some specialists to come to Peru for the first time to to work with us, to maintain the seeds which is the real essence of what is Peru.

“It’s not just moving there but working in a more anthropological way to see Peru’s biodiveristy, what’s biodiveristy for us and what it takes to develop that. We know so little but I think that’s the main message.

“Little by little the concept is getting more complex and I don’t want this bullshit that it is so conceptualised that it is ridiculous, in order to make this story truthful and in order to make people understand, it’s important to take them there”.

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