Virgilio Martínez: Think Global but Act Local
The Peruvian chef talks local pride and cultural expression in gastronomy.
Culinary creativity isn’t solely built in the kitchen, but crafted through authentic connections with people and place — that’s according to Peruvian chef and restaurateur Virgilio Martínez, who encouraged Academy members to work with local communities and connect with nature, whilst speaking at the Grand Finale of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition 2019-21.
“Travel, explore, go deep into your identity, into your culture, so that you can understand where to go next,” he said during the first ever Brain Food forum, curated by Fine Dining Lovers. “Expand your knowledge and work with people from different disciplines to discover new ecosystems.”
Widely recognised as a flag bearer for Peruvian cuisine, Martínez is obsessed with the ingredients and flavours of his homeland. At his Central and Mil restaurants in Peru, as well as Lima in London – among others – modern cooking techniques are applied to indigenous Peruvian ingredients, but you won’t always find him in the kitchen.
“We understand that being in the kitchen is important but if you are really into innovation, and you’re trained to lead [a professional kitchen], working with different people from different backgrounds is very important,” he said later during an interview at the event in Milan. “That’s one of the reasons why you have to leave the kitchen sometimes.”
Of course, he speaks from experience, having launched Mater Iniciativa with researchers in 2013 to catalogue the indigenous ingredients of his home country and experiment with new gastronomic concepts. Peru is home to 84 microclimates, ranging from the Andean mountains to the Amazon rainforest, so understanding this diverse terroir, as well as the local communities who thrive off the land, has been central to Martínez’s culinary evolution — one he seeks to share with the next generation of young chefs.
“To appreciate what you have in your local community, you have to be proud,” he explained. “What you see, who you are, where you belong — it’s very important to work on these aspects. It’s difficult because it’s not a collective thing, it’s very individual, and a matter of understanding every single person.”
For Martínez, this means building layers of trust. “It’s important to listen to people and
respect what they do… There’s so much meaning if you do things with passion and love,” he told the audience at Brain Food. “We need people to be willing to work with us because [at Mater Iniciativa] we also want to learn from different cultures and understand what is happening in far-away places.”
Speaking passionately about the organisation’s multidisciplinary approach on stage, Martínez encouraged young chefs to participate in Mater Iniciativa’s cultural, culinary and academic projects, and revealed details of new restaurant openings in Moscow and Tokyo.
“[As chefs], we have to see the world in different ways. Through different people and different fields,” he said.
Clearly, Martínez is a man on the move, and when it comes to realising your dream, he shared this advice with young chefs: “Be honest with what you do and do what you love. We all have passions and dreams, but at the end of the day you need a strategy about where you want to go [and the role you wish to play].
“I used to be a young chef with lots of dreams, and it’s great when you feel like you have something to give back. That’s why platforms [like the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy] are fantastic for the world of gastronomy.”