Peru­vian cui­sine seals spot on global foodie map as Latin food rises

The China Post - - LIFE - BY MARIE SANZ

With its cos­mopoli­tan fla­vors and rich pal­ette of in­gre­di­ents, Peru­vian cui­sine has surged onto the global food scene in re­cent years, con­se­crated this week with Lima restau­rant Cen­tral’s break­through into the world top five.

The cre­ation of chef Vir­gilio Martinez, the restau­rant took fourth place Mon­day in the World’s 50 Best Restau­rant awards in Lon­don, the high­est rank­ing ever for a Peru­vian estab­lish­ment.

It was a big night for Latin Amer­i­can restau­rants in gen­eral, which have been turn­ing heads on the global food scene in re­cent years.

Nine re­gional restau­rants made the pres­ti­gious list: three from Peru, three from Mex­ico, two from Brazil and one from Chile.

Martinez, 37, is a poster boy for the new gen­er­a­tion of Latin Amer­i­can chefs.

He opened Cen­tral five years ago on a quiet street in the res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood of Mi­raflo­res.

It quickly be­come a mag­net for food­ies from around the world with a menu that cel­e­brates Peru’s rich bio­di­ver­sity, drawing in­gre­di­ents from en­vi­ron­ments rang­ing from the Ama­zon rain­for­est to the An­des moun­tains.

Like his men­tor Gas­ton Acu­rio, the chef at Astrid y Gas­ton — num­ber 14 on this year’s 50 Best list — Martinez is a cook with a cause, seek­ing to build close re­la­tion­ships with farm­ers, fish­er­men and sup­pli­ers to source the best lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and put them in the global spot­light.

His tast­ing menus list his cre­ations along­side the altitude where the main in­gre­di­ents orig­i­nate.

They range from 20 me­ters (65 feet) be­low sea level — ra­zor clams with pepino melon and sweet lemon — to 3,900 me­ters above — tunta (a kind of sun­dried potato) with black herbs.

To­gether with his wife and part­ner, Pia, he goes to ex­tremes to serve the finest in­gre­di­ents. The restau­rant fil­ters, ozonates, and pu­ri­fies its own wa­ter, and stores its or­ganic choco­late in a wooden cup­board cus­tom- made to pro­vide the

right tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity.

Hot Ta­ble

Peru is known for its orig­i­nal in­gre­di­ents, in­clud­ing quinoa, al­paca, guinea pig and aji pep­pers, and dishes like ce­viche (raw fish marinated in lime) and lomo saltado (a beef stir fry).

It has been called fu­sion cui­sine, with in­flu­ences from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Amer­i­cas.

“It’s a very di­verse cui­sine, a mix of cul­tures and fam­ily tra­di­tions. It’s a great joy to see Peru­vian restau­rants des­ig­nated among the best in the world. We would never have imag­ined that 20 years ago,” said food his­to­rian Rosario Olivas of the Univer­si­dad San Martin de Por­res in Lima.

Lo­cal food critic Nora Su­gob­ono said Cen­tral’s menu is an artist’s take on Peru­vian tra­di­tions.

“What Vir­gilio does is au­teur cui­sine, 100 per­cent,” she told AFP.

“His cooking is a per­sonal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Peru­vian in­gre­di­ents. His cre­ations rep­re­sent his per­sonal vi­sion of Peru­vian cui­sine.”

Martinez started out as a law stu­dent be­fore drop­ping out and en­rolling in a French culi­nary school in Canada. He worked in kitchens in Sin­ga­pore, New York and Bangkok, even­tu­ally com­ing un­der the tute­lage of Acu­rio, the chef be­hind Astrid y Gas­ton.

Acu­rio’s restau­rants have been a driv­ing force be­hind the world recog­ni­tion of Peru­vian cui­sine for the past 20 years. He has opened lo­ca­tions around the world, in­clud­ing in Madrid and Bogota, where Martinez headed the kitchens.

Martinez opened Cen­tral in 2009 and has since fol­lowed in Acu­rio’s foot­steps, open­ing a fran­chise in Lon­don and plan­ning an­other in Dubai for De­cem­ber.

Break­ing into the top five world restau­rants is an honor but also “a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said Karime Lopez, who is in charge of cre­at­ing Cen­tral’s menus and trav­els around Peru to re­search the best in­gre­di­ents.

“We’re very happy, but we’re stay­ing alert, we know we can’t drop our guard,” she said, keep­ing a watch­ful eye on the kitchen through the large glass win­dow that sep­a­rates it from the sober wood- and- stone restau­rant, where clients re­serve ta­bles months in ad­vance.

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