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Peruvian chef and restaurateur Virgilio Martínez’s Lima restaurant, Central, took the number one slot on The World’s 50 Best Restaurant list in 2023 after debuting at number 50 ten years prior. The recognition is well deserved, as Martínez has not only brought global attention to the often-overlooked South American culinary scene, he has done it by highlighting the vast and diverse ingredients indigenous to Peru.
His creative approach embodies the aphorism,“what grows together goes together,” each dish representing an entire ecosystem within Peru’s many distinct regions.
Martínez’s 2016 book, titled after the restaurant, similarly mirrors the progression of Central’s courses through the country’s altitudes from the mangrove wetlands, scaling up into the high Andes, and back down into the tropical Amazon, covering nine distinct microclimates.
Representing the arid desert, adjacent to the sea, for example, the dish conchas de desierto marries prickly pear and cactus crisps with algae and raw scallops. Or from the mountains: a dish composed of sweetened llama’s milk, dehydrated into airy wafers, served with a fruit and quinoa leaf gelee—the gelatin drawn from llama shin bones—and topped with wild oxalis flowers.
Martínez’s embrace of the breadth of flora and fauna available, while not always accessible outside of Peru, will undoubtedly encourage the world’s chefs to look to their own native lands’ bounty for inspiration.