Maybe Central to be the flagship of its gastronomy, but Virgil Martinez (Lima, 1977) feeds his inspiration and creativity in the research carried out in the different regions of his diverse country. From this tireless agitation was born a restaurant in Cuzco at 3,800 meters above sea level, THOUSANDand an interdisciplinary project aimed at preserving agrobiodiversity, Mater Initiative. All this personal journey was collected in a documentary presented in the last edition of the section Culinary Zinema from Feast of San Sebastian. The screening of the film directed by alfred oliver and titled Virgilwas completed with a thematic dinner that synthesized the Peruvian ecosystem and captured the professional growth of a skater who reinvented himself as a cook.
– How does it end? skater locked between stoves?
– Although the skate It takes place in the open air and the kitchen, in an enclosed space, has one element in common. The skate it involves discipline: it’s you with the skateboard looking to do a trick perfectly. You don’t stop until you get there, like an athlete. In fact, it is already an Olympic sport. It trained me to compete, to be fit and to be independent. He’s got his rebellious stuff, because you go against your father’s ambitions for you. So there is insurrection, but at the same time, a lot of discipline; It’s individual work, but also collective, because when we skated we formed teams. Unfortunately, I broke both collarbones. My parents asked me to be more serious and I left for the world. And during this trip, I became a cook. Curiously, at home they did not understand it either, because although Peru was rich for its pantry, there were no cooking schools.
– And is freedom also shared by the two disciplines?
– Yes, because even though I spend a lot of time in a kitchen, when I go out to do research, I find a lot of freedom and inspiration in people. I feel privileged because I do not only see a kitchen, since I am in a territory that is not limited to the city of Lima, which encompasses the sea and loves seafood and fish, but I turn towards the Andes and find myself with a different world, and beyond, I find all of Amazonia. In the skate also happens, you have to get out of your machine. And this artistic work linked to gastronomy and endowed with a commercial and entrepreneurial component, ultimately, is located outside there is no more.
– Among the 100 most important chefs in the world, there are three Peruvians, Jaime Pesaque, your wife, Pia León, and you. What personal pride gives you this recognition of the gastronomy of your country?
– We all three manage restaurants that seek transcendence. Through our kitchens, the modern world has noticed the powerful relationship that Peruvians have with our food and with our agriculture. I therefore do not feel this positioning as an individual achievement, because in this distinction there is a recognition of our history. Peruvians must be protagonists in the world, never the best, but we must be there.
– You mentioned that your parents thought there was no future in the kitchen. Paradoxically, you are now a reference for the children of your country. Do you think about your heritage?
– I feel that I have a responsibility and that I must maintain consistency in my life. In my work with my wife, who is a cook, and with my sister, who is a researcher, I show a family in harmony, where there is no dysfunction. The message hides the importance of the emotional in the kitchen. I am the first to lead by example in my community, being consistent with what I say and what I do to inspire people who write to me and ask me for advice. A lot of guys ask me very basic questions, where it turns out that they don’t have a destination, they don’t know where they’re going… It’s sad, because they suffer with that. And I say to myself, my God, if this boy verbalized his doubts, he even wrote a journal where he could express what he felt and reflect…
– Do you have a gastronomic agenda?
– I had it and I wrote down everything I watched, but the truth is that I don’t have time anymore and I don’t trust what I remember anymore, even if I’m very distracted. Luckily, a while ago someone pointed out to me that in my work I pull things that I don’t know where I’ve seen them, but I’ve absorbed, and that’s another way to have memory. It gave me confidence not to have to write everything down. But when you’re young and you don’t have a path, it’s important. It helped me a lot.
– What childhood dish would you reinvent?
– I had a very dear grandmother. In my family there were no great gastronomic references, but when I came to do skate, I would stop by my grandma, who lived near where we skaters used to meet, and she knew the only way to make me happy was to cook me carapulcra, which is a good stew. known in Peru. It’s a dish that stuck with me, because it’s made from dehydrated potatoes, which are dried in the Andes when there’s an excess of potatoes. Potatoes look like pebbles, so you have to hydrate them and cook them with cocoa, onion, garlic… Although I couldn’t include it in Central as such , there are always touches of it in my kitchen.
– The screening of the documentary in San Sebastián ended with a dinner at the Basque Culinary Center. How did you summarize your gastronomy in a menu?
– We make a cuisine that talks about ecosystems. All this brainstorming of sustainability ideas that have become labels and start to lose meaning when we talk about them a lot, expressions like Zero waste Yes farm to table, are precisely what we do because of the proximity we maintain with the territory. That’s why every time I dine at the restaurant, nearly 70% of the raw material comes from Peru. On the one hand we pack all these ingredients in a suitcase and on the other we play with the local product. In San Sebastián, for example, we order seafood. We always do a dish of extreme height which is the mountain, a dish which refers to the Amazon and another which is from the coast and the sea. The goal is to represent the megadiversity of Peru, we invite diners to take a journey.