High al­ti­tude cui­sine.


The high­ly ac­clai­med Pe­ru­vian chef Vir­gi­lio Martí­nez has just ope­ned Mil, a res­tau­rant of a to­tal­ly new kind that’s lo­ca­ted 3,500 m above sea le­vel. It fea­tures a her­ba­rium in­fluen­ced de­cor, dishes ba­ked in a tra­di­tio­nal lo­cal oven made from earth and clay and a stun­ning view of In­ca ruins. Get rea­dy for a tas­ting me­nu that has had eve­ryone on the edge of their seats since the start of the year!

To find chef Vir­gi­lio Martí­nez’s new res­tau­rant Mil, you just “car­ry on up the moun­tain above the In­ca re­mains near Mo­ray

for about 500 metres”. And that’s the on­ly ad­dress you’ll get. Some two months af­ter it ope­ned (in Fe­brua­ry 2018) our dri­ver still has to ask for di­rec­tions, but I’m willing to bet that this gas­tro­no­mic gem hid­den in a wild na­tu­ral land­scape won’t stay a se­cret for much lon­ger. Why? Be­cause for­ty-year-old Vir­gi­lio is none other than the chef and ow­ner of the Cen­tral in Li­ma, an es­ta­blish­ment that was ran­ked the 5th best res­tau­rant in the world last year in the pres­ti­gious World’s 50 Best List. But I hear you ask: what is such a fa­mous chef doing out here in the middle of now­here?

A land­scape on a plate

To find out we have to go back in time some 9 years. At Cen­tral, the me­nu is ins­pi­red by and its in­gre­dients sour­ced from Pe­ru’s re­mote re­gions and it’s like no­thing you’ve ever tas­ted be­fore. The di­ning ex­pe­rience could al­most be des­cri­bed as geo­lo­gi­cal, which is hard­ly a sexy word, but once the dish is on the table, be­lieve me, eve­ryone is gai­ned by a sense of won­der. To give just one example of the dishes ser­ved at Cen­tral, there is a ve­ry or­ga­nic re­pro­duc­tion of a Pa­ci­fic cove eco­sys­tem with a rock and a crab, with on top the sea­weed that’s left be­hind as the tide goes out. For Vir­gi­lio, a dish = a land­scape and each plate of food is the op­por­tu­ni­ty to dis­co­ver an ever more re­mote re­gion of Pe­ru. And yet, des­pite cri­ti­cal suc­cess and a res­tau­rant that was ful­ly boo­ked six months in ad­vance, back in 2009 Vi­ri­lo wasn’t to­tal­ly sa­tis­fied. So­me­thing was mis­sing: mea­ning. So­me­thing to con­nect these de­sires, de­sires that had be­come a need to pay tri­bute to his country, to its ge­ne­ro­si­ty and his­to­ry. And so, Vir­gi­lio hea­ded for the Andes, en­ding up in Mo­ray with a fa­mi­ly of lo­cal fa­mers. While there, he vi­si­ted an ar­chaeo­lo­gi­cal site - ten per­fect­ly cir­cu­lar ter­races, where the In­cas sup­po­sed­ly ex­pe­ri­men­ted with dif­ferent agri­cul­tu­ral prac­tices. And that’s when it all cli­cked in­to place and he fi­nal­ly un­ders­tood why the in­ha­bi­tants of the Andes don’t see life ho­ri­zon­tal­ly, but ra­ther ver­ti­cal­ly, from top to bot­tom. In ad­di­tion to pre­pa­ring dishes like eco­sys­tems, Vir­gi­lio de­ci­ded to ima­gine a me­nu ba­sed on dif­ferent al­ti­tudes. Back in Li­ma he star­ted from scratch. “We lost a lot of cus­to­mers but I had to see my idea through”, he re­mem­bers. “For me it be­came the on­ly way to work”. And if it wasn’t long be­fore suc­cess re­tur­ned, by then the chef had al­rea­dy tur­ned his mind to ano­ther project: ope­ning a res­tau­rant in Mo­ray.

Mo­ments to sa­vour

Nine years la­ter, in 2018, Vir­gi­lio’s dream has fi­nal­ly come true. MIL, his 20-co­ver res­tau­rant that’s on­ly open for lunch, serves a tas­ting me­nu of 8 dishes that take you on a grand tour of high al­ti­tude eco­sys­tems. Af­ter sit­ting down near a win­dow over­loo­king the am­phi­theatre-like ruins, our first “mo­ment”— which is the name gi­ven to Mil’s dishes—was cal­led Pre­ser­va­tion in a nod to the lo­cal cus­tom of conser­ving po­ta­toes. "The tech­nique consists in ex­po­sing the po­ta­toes to a flow of

cold wa­ter and then put­ting them in the sun,

where they are freeze dried”, ex­plains Ma­le­na Martí­nez, the scien­tist of the group with whom Vir­gi­lio ope­ned the new res­tau­rant, in ad­di­tion to the ad­ja­cent Ma­ter Ini­cia­ti­va re­search centre. The centre works with the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ty to do­cu­ment the plants, fruit and ve­ge­tables that grow in the area. They have al­rea­dy re­fe­ren­ced 55 va­rie­ties of po­ta­to, 15 types of qui­noa and 15 spe­cies of corn. Among­st the fol­lo­wing “mo­ments” were the An­dean Fo­rest and Di­ver­si­ty of Corn that fea­tures th­ree dif­ferent types of corn and “whose com­bi­na­tion of crea­my and crun­chy tex­tures is re­mi­nis­cent of a great mues­li”, the chef tells us. The high­light was wi­thout a doubt Ex­treme Al­ti­tude, which was our first ex­pe­rience of cu­shu­ro, subt­ly fla­vou­red small, trans­lucent, blue-green al­gae-like spheres from the wa­ters of An­dean lakes The tas­ting me­nu is like a bird’s eye view—and taste—of the Andes. All that re­mains is to thank Vir­gi­lio Martí­nez for these won­der­ful “mo­ments” in his res­tau­rant.

P. 132

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