Virgilio Martinez – Showcasing Peru to the World

Chef Virgilio Martinez of Central, No.5 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017, is one unconventional chef. To start with, the menu at his restaurant does not feature names of dishes, rather they are described by altitudes, climates and biodiversity. To enjoy a degustation at Central is like travelling all through the South American country through the eyes of Chef Martinez.

Here he shares with Aspire Lifestyles, his journey to being a world renowned Chef, in his own way and in unchartered territory for Peruvian cuisine; in Lima and across the world.

Aspire Lifestyles: Chef Martinez, you spent a decade in restaurants around the world, what made you eventually decide to return to your hometown, Peru and start your own restaurant?

Chef Martinez: I did actually spend a decade in restaurants around the world, which I think was necessary for me. Honestly, I didn’t want to stay in Peru, because I wanted to learn more about what was happening across the world. When I returned to Peru 10 years later, I felt that there was still so much more to learn.

Coming back to your home country is something everyone needs. I was very impressed with the diversity, natural ingredients and food I was not able to get anywhere else in the world. And so, I decided to stay in Peru because I had this need to understand and feel proud again of my culture. I needed to get my story back, the connection to my people, and in order to work with those ingredients, it was pretty obvious that I had to start my own restaurant.

Aspire Lifestyles: Who is your biggest inspiration in your career so far?

Chef Martinez: I actually have a lot of people who inspired me. Looking back, I think my family has been very important. Whenever I can, I visit my parents – that is something we need. It is important for me to have this sense of “home”, even though it doesn’t happen often, but whenever I can, we would spend long hours in the kitchen and travelling together.

Each time that family time happens; it provides me with the energy to continue and is almost like a new start. When I speak about family, apart from my parents, I am also referring to my wife and son – they are a tremendous motivation whenever they are next to me.

Aspire Lifestyles: How would you describe Peruvian cuisine to someone who has never tried it before?

Chef Martinez: Peruvian cuisine is vast and derived from a mixture of different factors – immigration, a strong cultural connection and the natural environment – somehow it is like a “beautiful chaos”. In my case, I see Peru as a great example to showcase biodiversity, get great inspiration and ingredients.

It is obvious that we have been exporting our dishes, our style of cooking, our ideas and ingredients, but if we look beyond that, it is all about having the best produce, new ingredients and getting all the knowledge of what’s new and happening in areas that we have not understood fully about.

Aspire Lifestyles: You’re a great traveller and forager of the grounds in Peru and around the world, can you tell us what are your top 3 recommended places to visit in Peru and why?

Chef Martinez: Going to Arequipa is at the top of my list because of the picanterias. The tradition you see and how we see food is so integral to our culture, so you appreciate what is tradition and Peruvian cuisine in the Andes, where women are cooking for hundreds of people in casual environments. I also love to go to Urubamba, the Sacred Valley, because of the great variety of ingredients we can get there – it is a good starting point to understand Andean food. I have to mention Tambopata as well, which is in the Peruvian Amazon.

Aspire Lifestyles: Congratulations on your latest restaurant opening in Dubai. What are you future plans for your restaurant group and do you plan to expand further in which regions?

Chef Martinez: We are happy to open LIMA in Dubai, which is a concept that travels very well with ideas and creativity in a casual environment. I remember opening LIMA in London as if it was just yesterday. We have achieved very good results and our people are working very happily, which is important to me. We are definitely planning to do more and it is just a matter of time since the team is ready to take on more.

Aspire Lifestyles: If you could visit a place anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Chef Martinez: I want to go again and again and again to Tokyo. It is impossible to cover the whole city where food is so important to a culture. I think this simplicity and how people are 100% committed to tradition is very different to what I see and how I work.

I always get this feeling of being challenged in terms of how the Japanese organize their restaurants and work, so I always enjoy my learnings there and bring precious lessons back to Central and for myself.