Lima, the capital of Peru, is the gourmet capital of South America, where there are various types of restaurants. Among these restaurants, there is a very special one. From a distance, it looks like a residential house without even a signboard, but every meal time, there are many people queuing up here, waiting for the restaurant to open.
This restaurant is called Central Restaurante (Central Restaurant), entered the list of the world’s 50 restaurants in 2013, quickly climbed to No. 4 in the following year, and remained in the top five in 2017.
The restaurant is run by Virgilio Martínez, who is known as “the world’s first chef who uses local materials to the extreme”. Whether it is the edible spirulina harvested in the high-altitude wetlands, the vegetables harvested from the Andes, or the fresh fish caught in the Amazon River, the dishes here always present the freshest and natural delicacies on the table.
Traveling for a Year to Find Peru’s Overlooked Ingredients
It is inappropriate to evaluate dishes only by their delicacy, because even food lovers have different levels of needs, and the chef Virgilio Martinez of Central Restaurant just takes care of this.
Born in Lima, Virgilio Martínez liked to break the shackles of stereotypes since he was a child. He once dreamed of traveling around the world. By chance, he was introduced by a friend to work in a restaurant and started his food journey.
He went to London, New York, Bogota and Madrid successively. In these places, Virgilio gradually developed his specialty, from a helper to a chef, but he was also trapped by his specialty: making restaurants day after day Although the designated dishes have mastered more and more skills, they are farther and farther away from expressing themselves. Under such circumstances, Virgilio’s desire to create creative dishes became stronger and stronger, and eventually he decided to open a restaurant of his own.
In 2009, Virgilio returned to China and founded Central Restaurant, which is dedicated to presenting the most characteristic and natural Peruvian cuisine to diners. In the process of innovation, Virgilio is no longer limited to a horizontal perspective, but begins to see the world from a vertical perspective, opening up a new world of food from fishing grounds to deserts. In 2012, he updated all the menus, with “altitude” as the theme of all dishes.
In order to have a deep understanding of “altitude”, Virgilio spent a year traveling around Peru, looking for ingredients and natural scenery that were overlooked by people. He not only collects local natural ingredients for cooking, but also restores the natural scenes he has experienced on the dinner plate.
On the west coast, he casts his eyes on the reef below him, seeing star-spotted crabs weaving across the reef, over all kinds of algae and vegetation. Back at the restaurant, he combined edible seaweed and shellfish to present the landform by the sea on the dining table.
Among the primitive tribes on the mountain, the local people cook potatoes in a mud stove. They built clay into a kiln with a fire in the middle. When the temperature is up, break the soil and bake the potatoes directly with the residual heat. This unique method makes potatoes closer to the soil, and the taste is burnt and natural that modern cooking cannot achieve. In order to convey this taste experience to diners, Virgilio simply reproduced this cooking method and “opened a small stove” in the kitchen. He brought back herbs, soil, and potatoes of these varieties, and built his own mock-up of a kiln to roast the potatoes.
Virgilio also visited the Indians in the alpine jungles to collect various ancient varieties of corn and make fusion dishes. He walked from 200 meters under the sea to 4,100 meters above sea level, bringing ingredients and natural environments at different altitudes to the table, and all the dishes were integrated into drawings of various landforms.
At the beginning of the video “Chef’s Table”, there is a scene where Virgilio collects resin. As long as there are “ingredients” that can be tasted in the wild, Virgilio will try them himself. It can be said that Virgilio is a very “paranoid” artist in terms of creativity. It is precisely because of his persistence that 50% of the 180 ingredients used in the central restaurant are original, and only he can make them into delicacies on the table.
A tacit team and a transparent layout create an “ecological and cultural exhibition hall” in South America
Peru has an astonishing span of landforms: there are fishing grounds, most of the land covered by the Amazon rainforest, and a plateau area belonging to the Andes Mountains. Therefore, from below sea level to the mountains with an average altitude of 4,000 meters, Peru can take you to appreciate the most colorful natural scenery and biological characteristics, as well as the most spanning natural food from the bottom of the sea to the top of the mountain.
At the central restaurant, Chef Virgilio and his team have always traveled mountains and rivers to find the purest ingredients in Peru. Among them, the seaweed pellets are the most impressive.
Seaweed pellets grow in the shallow waters of the lake and are a transparent bright green in color. In order to find this ingredient, Virgilio and his team will go to Lake Pomakanchi at an altitude of 3,400 meters. The particles of this kind of algae are extremely small, and they hide in the barren land, and only a few pieces can be fished at a time. They collect it in jars and bring it back to the restaurant to cook it into a delicate and special Peruvian dish.
In addition to the kitchen elite led by Virgilio himself, two other people also provided him with important help. One is his sister Marina and the other is his wife Pia.
Malianna is a scientist who knows very well about wild ingredients and often looks for edible ingredients for him. With her help, Virgilio was able to choose which ingredients to eat, how to cook them and how to make them comfortable for diners. His wife, Pia, manages and controls the operation of the restaurant in an orderly manner. She has managed the central kitchen for 10 years and made suggestions for Virgilio on food taste and ingredients.
In addition to the choice of ingredients, the location and layout of the central restaurant also reflect the chef’s intentions and respect for nature. In 2018, the central restaurant moved to the Barranco neighborhood (Barranco) near the sea in Lima, which used to be the old cultural center of Lima, where a group of local artists, gourmets, and designers gathered. Great cafes and world class restaurants.
The relocated central restaurant is located on the side of a bustling street. The gray and tight walls and serious security guards are like protecting a fortress, isolating its unique small world. The restaurant only receives customers at a fixed time every day, and there is a limit on the number of reception tables. The Zhongshi opens at 12:45 to welcome customers, and the evening market starts to welcome guests at 19:00. Most of the guests arrive at least one month in advance. If you have reserved a seat, if you suddenly want to go to eat, you need to have a customer who is late or misses the appointment.
Entering the gate of the restaurant, diners are greeted with a poetic and vibrant dining atmosphere. The dining area is reached after walking through a zen-like garden. On a display table made of original stone materials, various kinds of whole grains unique to Peru are presented. The rich colors and shapes make you look forward to the next trip on the tip of your tongue.
The central restaurant does not use dark lighting like traditional high-end restaurants, but directly uses comfortable and bright decoration. Many “one-person diners” like to pass the time between meals with novels or magazines. The bright and high floor-to-ceiling windows, together with the wine cabinet and open kitchen, make the texture and atmosphere of the restaurant very neat, and let the guests know the operation of the restaurant at a glance.
In addition, the tableware used in the restaurant is earthenware with incomplete beauty, which is simple yet exquisite. However, the furniture of the restaurant is made of marble, metal steel, glass and other materials, and with the bright lighting, it presents a modern luxury aesthetic feeling.
It can be said that the success of Central Restaurant is inseparable from the tacit understanding of the entire team in terms of ecological and operational concepts, the natural and concise overall style of the restaurant, and the chef’s dedication to grasping the taste of each dish. .
From the ocean to the mountains and jungles, presenting the freshest and natural food
When people mention Peru, they generally think of local barbecue, but Chef Virgilio broke this fixed thinking. Water, nature, and garden are his descriptions of the elements of the restaurant, which also represent the whole team’s exploration of nature and their ingenuity in cooking.
The dishes in the central restaurant are very rich, generally there are at least twelve courses, and these dishes are packed in earthenware bowls and plates, which are as exquisite as a painting, enough for diners to imagine the scenery of Peru on the tip of their tongues. What is pursued here is the most authentic taste of food, so all the local natural ingredients are used. They are collected from the coastal areas of Peru, the highlands of the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. For Duomi food, the altitude of the ingredients will be marked next to each dish.
Desert Coat (Desertic Coat) is a dish with super high value. The growth environment of the ingredients is 110 meters above sea level, and it comes from the unique landform of Peru – the desert coast. Cactus, clams and seaweed are used as ingredients, and the iced cactus part can let you taste the wonderful taste like dessert.
Upper Jungle embodies the concept of jungle highlands, using a unique cocoa as a dipping sauce, but the protagonist is two types of bread made from a plant called “Dale-dale”. The light-colored bread has a texture Like a sponge, the dark bread is firmer, and it is delicious with dipping sauce.
The medicinal plants come from an altitude of 3580 meters, and the raw material is a bacterial ball, commonly known as “Andean caviar”. A glistening green globule, roasted bark gel of the cattail tree, and rockhopper grass, the dish invites diners to enjoy the forest miniatures of the high altitudes.
The cocoa used in the dessert Green Mountains (Cordillera Verde) comes from Chiabamba, a city more than 1,000 meters above sea level in southern Peru, and is divided into three parts. The first part is the main body of the dessert, which looks like a rock, but when you tap it with a spoon, you will find that it is soft and filled with ice cream; the second part is filled with a transparent jelly made of cocoa pulp, which can be sucked directly like a lychee Sweet and sour. The third part is a chocolate sauce sprinkled with coca leaf powder. There will also be a transparent glass jar next to this dessert set to display the ingredients of this dish.
As for drinks, in addition to the fruit juices that match the desserts, diners can also order cocoa gum juice alone to experience the fresh and unfermented pulp flavor. Moreover, the central restaurant also has a self-produced orchard, and the ingredients on the table here will always be kept at the freshest level. After the meal, diners can visit the back kitchen, ingredients, ecological laboratory and office under the leadership of the manager.
Virgilio Martinez has cooked a series of nutritionally balanced dishes through in-depth research on ingredients. The menu of the central restaurant is his “heart of food philosophy”.