FT Foodies: Virgilio Martinez

Virgilio Martinez is chef-patron of Central and previously was executive chef at Astrid y Gastón, both in Lima, Peru. This month he launches Lima, his first London restaurant.

Do you have a Proust’s Madeleine – a food that instantly brings back memories?

Ceviche with tiger’s milk and lime – I grew up with that dish every single day because I lived close to the beach in Lima. I wasn’t aware then that this type of dish could be a fine-dining experience – for me it was like having a McDonald’s.

How did you learn to cook?

When I was growing up in Lima, there were no cooking schools, so I started to cook abroad, working with chefs from many countries – Japanese, Vietnamese, French, Italian. I was very confused about my identity, I wasn’t sure that Peruvian cuisine was something to be proud of, as I am now. At the moment, I want to find new influences, I want to collect things as our natural historians used to do. I travel to find inspiration from the landscape of the Andes, and the Amazon river. To the restaurant in London I am bringing a potato grown 5,000m above sea level, which is unique.

How do Peruvians perceive their cuisine?

People [in Peru] feel an amazing passion about food. The whole city of Lima is growing up, and not just about food. We’ve been through a lot, and that’s part of our positivity now. Peruvian cuisine is fed by all kinds of cuisine – South American, Spanish, Italian – so we have to be open-minded.

Why are you opening in London?

I think we are starting to see Peruvian restaurants everywhere, but when I last went to London I found that, even though the whole gastronomic scene is amazing, there was very little contact in terms of food, arts or culture between Peruvians and Londoners. The food revolution in Lima is increasing and we need to make a noise about it. With this opportunity to do something new, I decided to stay for a while in London. My girlfriend is head chef at my restaurant in Lima, she will look after things …

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Cacao and coffee. We get raw cacao in the restaurant and I love having a piece of it neat. For me, a nice way to enjoy something is a bar of chocolate from the Amazon.

What do you consider bad manners at the table?

Not talking to people. I think we have to share a lot – to serve to your neighbour, from plate to plate – and I don’t like it when people don’t talk.

31 Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, London W1

020 3002 2640


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