Peru is a hugely biologically diverse country with coasts, desert, 6000-metre mountains and the Amazon jungle culminating in a huge variety of climates and ecosystems which provide a vast array of conditions for different organisms to grow and develop. This opens the doors to an array of food options that have nurtured the civilisations of the region over the millennia. Corn, Guinea-Pig and Ceviche are typical Peruvian foods and to give you an idea of Peruvian cuisine, a traditional three-course meal might be:
Starter - Ceviche
Slice some fresh trout, toss with lime juice, chillis, salt and pepper, garlic and ginger and some ice cubes to keep it from cooking too fast and it is ready. Known as Ceviche this dish is very quick and easy and is the national dish of Peru.
Main - Alpaca
Roll an Alpaca fillet in bacon with a few sage leaves, salt and pepper and pop it in the oven. Traditionally in Peru this is served with quinotto which is quinoa (Peruvian grain) with sauteed onions and bacon, wine, butter and cream and served with some liquidised yellow chilli paste.
Fresh tropical fruit salad.
Doing something a little different on the Peruvian gastronomic scene are chef pair and husband and wife Virgilio Martinez and Pia Leon. They have opened four unique and exceptional restaurants throughout Peru. Central was the first restaurant opened by Martinez in Lima and since then they have opened MIL which has a very unique location in the Sacred Valley in the Andes. Pia opened Kjolle last year which is a little more affordable in comparison to Central and the chef pair also own Mayo which is a food and cocktail bar. The beating heart and core to all four restaurants is ‘Mater Iniciativa’.
Mater Iniciativa Organisation
Mater Iniciativa is the research arm core to this group of restaurants and is run by Virgilio’s sister, Malena Martinez. Organised and guided by Virgilio Martinez, once a month a team of researchers travel across Peru collecting ingredients that grow on the banks of a river in the Amazon jungle, in the middle of the frozen Puna grasslands or at more than 13,000 feet above sea level on a snow-covered mountain top. The chefs in the kitchen then learn how to use these ingredients and incorporate them into dishes and create new fresh, innovative recipes and drinks from the ingredients foraged. This biological and cultural research builds the foundations of the four restaurants and the philosophy that the tradition of the ingredients in a plate of food will always remain the most important factor.
On each journey the researchers embark on, the local communities introduce them to new species and show them how to use them, be it creating flavour infusions or herbal remedies to soothe aching muscles. Back in Lima, the samples the group returned with are studied and botany experts help to find any information there may be on them. Often they can not find any information on the ingredients they have found as there are still thousands of wild plants and species that are yet to be identified in Peru.
Now onto the restaurants..
Central is the first restaurant the pair opened, the month-long wait for reservations speaks for itself - Central is hugely popular and has been awarded a top spot on Latin America’s 50 Best List. Boasting an 18-course tasting menu with ‘Mater Inciativa’ as it’s beating heart it is a truly unique and magical foodie experience.
Once a month Central is turned into a study centre. Professionals in their field offer talks about diverse subjects, for example, organic cultivation, native legumes and Amazonian palm trees to give you a taster. Experts help to unravel the magnitude of the ingredients findings. All ingredients found and sourced are recorded in the plant register. In order to display the wonder of the new products discovered the “Mater Box” on display in Central exhibits the wild beauty of roots, seeds, fruits, vines, tubers and aromatic flowers that are gathered on the monthly journeys.
This philosophy and process helps to preserve the ingredients, some of which are in danger of disappearing. Increasing the demand for and knowledge about these ingredients gives local communities financial motivation to protect their ecosystems.
Kjolle opened in August last year by chef Pia Leon former chef at Central and is becoming the new must-try place for foodies in Lima. ‘Kjolle’ is a tree that grows at extreme altitudes, harking back to the core ethos of these restaurants - Mater Iniciativa. In Kjolle, ingredients from all sorts of different ecosystems are combined creating mouthwatering results, this is the main difference between Kjolle and Central. In Central, dishes are prepared and created according to a particular ecosystem. You can enjoy Kjolle tasting menu for just over $100 per person or you can share a la carte plates if you can’t quite face an entire tasting menu. You will find great service and a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere at Kjolle.
Kjolle is half the price of Central and Pia was voted best female chef in Latin America in 2018 - the accolade speaks for itself, when she opened Kjolle many of her staff from Central moved with her, she really is a culinary genius.
Opened in February 2018 MIL restaurant is situated next to the ruins of Moray in the Sacred Valley at over 11,000 feet supporting the local farmers and community. They offer an 8-course tasting menu and each course reflects one of the eight ecosystems found at the high altitude (3,600m/11,800 ft) the restaurant is located. Eating at MIL is not limited to simply a dining experience, you also have the opportunity to visit the on-site food labs where the chefs learn about the ingredients, traditions and farming work required by the local communities. Virgilio has worked hard to make close connections with the locals and invested in an irrigation system to clean the water used on the crops and in return they provide crops for the restaurant and thanks to the clean water system are able to sell their crops at a higher price at the local markets.
Another fascinating dimension to this unique high altitude restaurant is the chocolate production workshop. The cocoa is sourced from Quillabamba, a region of Peru and the restaurant are in collaboration with local cocoa producers who they support by incorporating their product into food and also selling the chocolate at the restaurant.
The final dimension to this restaurant is the production of regional herb-infused liquors, this is run by Virgilio’s sister and a group of biologists and anthropologists. As well as the production of liquors, they also research the quality of the produce in the region to improve the flavour in dishes.
The more informal of the pairs restaurant repertoire is MAYO - an informal food and cocktail bar located in Lima. You will be taken on a sensory journey of cocktails and food inspired by the geographical diversity of Peru - the sea, coast, Andes and Amazon. Relax and enjoy bespoke cocktails and ferments and try from a number of tasting dishes created by Virgilio and team.
Traditional Peruvian cuisine infused with the creativity and innovation of Virgilio Martinez and Pia Leon has created a new twist to Peruvian cuisine which is simply sensational. As well as helping local communities and making the most of Peru’s natural ingredients and preserving the land you will be taken on a journey of taste like no other.
To find out more about how you can enjoy Peruvian cuisine and all this impressive country has to offer, call one of our travel consultants on 020 8246 5300 or enquire online.