What do a great soccer player and a master chef have in common? Not that long ago they were relative unknowns. Indeed, success has not come to these Peruvians quickly. Indeed, they seem to have come out of nowhere to rise to the top.
But both have actually worked hard and long to reach their relative positions.
Jefferson Farfan, nickname Foca (Seal), is a Peruvian professional footballer who mainly plays for a Russian Premier League as a forward or winger for Lokomotiv Moscow. He is also an important player for the Peruvian national team, yet if you ask most people who follow South American soccer, they might not know his name.
The same can be said of Virgilio Martinez, who worked in obscurity perfecting his innovative culinary ideas. He formerly worked at restaurants such as Lutèce in New York City, and served as executive chef at the renowned Astrid & Gastón in both Bogotá and Madrid.
Today, Martinez runs Central Restaurante in the Miraflores District of Lima. Martinez and his wife, Central’s head chef Pia Leon, have won a slew of awards in the last few years including, the best restaurant in Latin America for four consecutive years – 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017; and was ranked the fourth best restaurant in the world in 2015 and 2016.
However, like Farfan, if you ask most foodies about Martinez, they would likely not recognize his name either.
That is changing. Why? What makes Martinez stand out in the crowded culinary world? He is passionate about investigating and incorporating indigenous ingredients into his menus to bring greater diversity to local cuisine. Essentially, he does not only search horizontally, but vertically as well, much like pre-Hispanic cultures did – looking to the oceans as well as the high Andes, the deserts and the low jungles to discover diverse local ingredients found at every altitude. Examples include ingredients such as kushuru (cushuro), an edible cyanobacteria harvested in high-altitude wetlands; arracacha, a root vegetable from the Andes; and arapaima, a freshwater fish found in the Amazon River.
Martinez and his team’s approach to ingredients is fascinating as they take an almost biological and anthropological view of foods. They work with local communities throughout Peru to identify new ‘finds.’
Martinez was quoted explaining his approach. “We have been going beyond what Central guests are expecting, and our focus has been Peru, the people, and connecting to our communities, trying to make Peru nice and our country happier. I think that’s our goal, and not just the restaurant.”
Come explore some of the many fascinating ‘unknowns’ of Peru. Join us on our newest President’s Picks: Peru Sky High & River Deep.