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Virgilio Martinez on Why the Future of Peruvian Food is Produce

Virgilio Martinez

Virgilio Martinez

The rise in popularity of Peruvian food actually happened quite a while ago now, so has the idea of what Peruvian food is changed in the last decade?
It’s changing a lot. We are a bit concerned about this explosion of or national food because actually we’re really not ready for that much global attention. What is happening in Peru is that we have lots of different Peruvian cuisines, fresh produce, biodiversity, and seafood or food from the jungle and so on, and now after this initial over-exposure we are working on the foundation of what is our cuisine, and more on rethinking what is going to be the next Peruvian cuisine that’s going to appear in restaurants all over the world.

This is the end of one era. We have this explosion of restaurants and now the next Peruvian cuisine we’ll be exporting will be more related to Peruvian produce and producers.

There are 4,000 varieties of potato, but they don’t really travel, so we will make them so they can travel. The different seeds and Amazonian plants and all this knowledge, in the future you will see Peruvian food more in terms of products rather than in terms of dishes in restaurants.

Chia seeds, quinoa, maca roots and so on all helped put Peru on the culinary map, so what’s coming next?
Where I work in Peru we are working with medicinal plants and making spirits with bark and varieties of tuba, so all these ingredients will soon spread. Now people are growing quinoa everywhere in the world, but we have different varieties of quinoa and corn so they will soon be more well-known outside of the country. Everybody eats corn and tomatoes but these specials ones, those are going to be traveling.

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Virgilio MartinezYou’ve just starting cultivating and cataloging ingredients back in Peru, are we going to start seeing them in dishes on the menu at your restaurants in Dubai and London?
Yes, we’re working on that now. Ten days ago we opened a huge laboratory in the middle of the Andes and we’re working with around 300 families who work on the fields and we’re gathering different crops. There are lots of enthusiastic people who are cataloguing ingredients and soon they will be exported – the future of Peruvian cuisine is products that are currently unknown to most of the world.

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In the same way that your restaurant Central has dishes that represent different eco systems in the country, will those dishes be exported?
Maybe, but it will take time because Central is very intellectual and conceptual. Some people don’t like it and we feel more comfortable here having a casual restaurant. Fine dining is disappearing, sure there are places, before there were a lot more. Central is fine dining but I wouldn’t do another one, it would be nearly impossible. I’d feel much more comfortable doing a very good casual restaurant, and that can be as difficult as dong a fine dining place.

Virgilio MartinezAre the things in your restaurants outside of Peru representative of what people actually eat in Peru?
Oh yes, and every time in come here to Dubai or the restaurant in London I make sure that the taste is the same, because after a few months the chefs can lose their connection to the true Peruvian flavors. We have sent people who work in the restaurant to Peru just so they can learn the correct taste. Dubai is fine because it’s easier to process visas for Peruvians, so I can put Peruvian guys in positions at the restaurant to make sure that a ceviche tastes like a Peruvian ceviche and not more like a Mexican ceviche.

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You have eight Peruvian chefs working here in Dubai right?
Yes, and for them it’s a patriotic thing, they are here representing their country. Food in Peru is like a religion, and very important, so they feel that they are doing important work.

The food has become the ambassador for the country…
Sure, look at Gastón Acurio (who owns the restaurant Astrid y Gastón In Peru) and how people in the country were saying they would like him to be president – a huge number said they would vote for him if he stood for election. In Peru, if you are a well-known and respected chef you can end up running in the country.

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Your restaurant Central is ranked fifth-best in the world you appeared on Netflix and all this raises your profile, but does it put pressure on you to come up with new things?
It’s good and bad. It ruins expectations though. In Central we tell a story of exploration and biodiversity and with all the exposure and social media people are already aware and already know the story. We now have to create more and keep changing the menu but the pressure to keep changing is good. The accolades are the result of the work, but you celebrate for just one day, all the work to make that happen went in before that award and will continue the day after.

If you’re looking to try some of his dishes, then Lima at City Walk is as good a representation of his Peruvian food as you’ll find anywhere outside of Peru. 

Lomo steak huancaina.

Scallop ceviche.

Catch of the day.

Chicken breast Pachamanca.

Octopus anticucho.

San Martin chocolate dessert.

LIMA Dubai.

 

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