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Virgilio Martinez: It's Time for Peruvian Fine Dining in London

Virgilio Martinez: It's Time for Peruvian Fine Dining in London

Meet the young Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez, a young culinary ambassador who is planning to open London's first fine dining Peruvian restaurant.

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Back in 2011 we spoke about the rise of the Peruvian dish ceviche, we sat down with the Peruvian Chef Gaston Acurio who told us how he was using food to help spread the identity of his home country around the world and we heard how around 80,000 Peruvians were currently pursuing a culinary education - a figure that's yet to diminish.

Two years later and Ferran and Albert Adria have just opened a Peruvian inspired restaurant in Barcelona, the first ever Latin America's 50 Best Restaurant Awards will take place in Peru's capital of Lima this September, and from New York to Milan - London to Madrid - Peruvian restaurants are opening at a rapid rate.

This is much in part due to the work of Acurio but also to the droves of young Peruvian chefs who have trained in colleges, schools, restaurants and home kitchens across the country. Chefs like Virgilio Martinez who at just 36 runs a Peruvian restaurant in Lima and London and plans to open a third, also in London, in October 2014.

A young chef with a lots of energy, ideas and a passion for Peruvian cuisine. The exact generation of chefs that Gaston predicted would help take Peruvian cuisine to the next level, something Martinez is already doing with success. His Central restaurant in Lima ranked at number 50 at The World's 50 Best Restaurants for 2013 and the chef has appeared at festivals and food congresses around the world.

It's a big responsibility and one that he says he fully appreciates: "For us this is a huge commitment, people are asking us lots about Peru and Peruvian culture so we need to be informed. We need to be connected, we need to read a lot, we need to listen and we need to know a lot of things."

It's this dedication to truly represent Peruvian cuisine that Martinez has focused on his London restaurant Lima, now a popular spot in the city. He will also focus it on his latest project, a new venue which, although undecided, may be called Callao. The name of an important port that immigrants to Peru would at first  - a way the chef says of signifying the current way in which Peruvians are now transporting their food around the world.

Speaking about the new venture, Martinez is full of energy:  "We've been looking around London for a good neighbourhood for a while now. We decided on Shoreditch which we think is a very nice location.

"The vibe will be a little bit more casual than Lima. We will have this very casual dining room..around a 100 seats...and then we are looking to create a space which is more fine dining for around 15 seats.

"Is a big challenge to achieve a Peruvian fine dining experience in London. Because of the produce, because of the understanding, because of the people, it's just all so new.

"With Lima we've achieved a little bit of the Peruvian dining experience but of course it's not fine dining, it's very casual."

It's a process the chef says takes time. The first job is to educate people about Peruvian cuisine, excite them with flavours and new ingredients and only then are they ready to be introduced to the true fine dining experience on offer at places such as Astrid y Gaston and his own Central restaurant.

Although the process takes time, the chef thinks London is the perfect location: "We had this feeling when we first opened our new restaurant that no one really knew about Peruvian cuisine, now we're seeing people want more.

"I have the impression that here in London people get the idea very quickly and know about cuisine. They are very aware about what is going on in the world and this is a lot easier for us. You know, being Peruvians's been quite difficult, anywhere we go we have to bring a very clear message and start from scratch, but here I think that we can go a little bit further than the basics."

Stage two of a Peruvian plan? A slow shift away from the classic staple dishes such as ceviche to more refined plates, a steady increase that he thinks should happen 'step by step.'

Martinez is just one of many chefs flying the culinary colours of Peru. The new restaurant in London will be operated by another young Peruvian, Roberto Grau, himself a protégée of Gaston, part of the same generation as Martinez.

His first site visit to the new restaurant was only the second time he had visited London - another person full of energy and vigor, someone obviously motivated by his new role: "It's exciting, I like the idea a lot and when Virgilio told me the idea I was super excited - We've been achieving this fine dining experience in Peru and we really want to bring that across to England."

It's the perfectly executed plan, an idea that originated at the very top of the culinary ladder with Chef Acurio years ago and one that is now trickling down throughout Peruvian culture, slowly coming back full circle to have a lasting implication on the country.

As Martinez explains: "It's been wild. In the last five years tourism has been increasing a lot - People are coming just to visit restaurants, just to eat. They're asking for, well ceviche is no longer the dish, they're asking for other local plates now. When people show up to my restaurant - they have a list of other restaurants and they say, 'I don't know if I'm going to museums or the beaches but I will be visiting these restaurants.'

This is just a snapshot of the full vision of spreading a Peruvian identity and culture through food. A way to slowly increase the awareness of an entire society, in turn boosting tourism through teams of self appointed educators and culinary ambassadors around the world.

A way of working that is sure to extend for generations to come, at least if Martinez has anything to do with it: "What's really important is that in London we will be joined by a other, younger chefs - Around five chefs who are just 20-years-old. It will be the first time they have come to London and for some the first time they will leave Peru, this is great," he says with a big smile, "We need to open doors for these guys."

If Virgilio Martinez is one of the original Acurio protégées, it's certain he won't be the last... "Every single day I get five guys waiting outside my restaurant to become staiges, every single day. These guys really have the passion and they're really hard workers....what we need now is for these people to travel the world but retain a Peruvian identity."

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