At Central, Chef Virgilio Martínez takes diners on a gastronomical journey through Peru. And what an phenomenal journey this is.
Central has consistently been named in the World's 50 Best restaurant list and continues to top the Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants. Martínez is daring with ingredients, meticulous in keeping with the Andean tradition, yet inventive in countless ways.
The menu reads like a topographical index: each course features a different elevation from the undulating Andean terrain and showcases the flora and fauna that thrive at this elevation. Martínez calls this "vertical ecological monitoring". This methodology, used by the Andeans for generations, hinges on the idea that ecological conditions intrinsically shape the flavors of harvest. What makes Central's experience truly extraordinary is Martínez's deep understanding of the biodiversity of Peru and his ability to aptly capture the essence of each terrain.
He recreates the desert flora with the "Desert Plants" dish. Whole piranha heads make an appearance in the "Waters of Nanay." Green cushuro algae, foraged from the swamps at 3700M above sea level, are dotted over the "Humid Green" dessert. Within a span of five hours, diners are transported from the coast, to the desert, to the Andean mountains.
MARTÍNEZ PLATING THE "SEA CORAL"
MARTÍNEZ's DISCOVERY LAB
The journey begins at -10M below sea level, with Barnacles. A flurry of plates come our way, and at first sight, its almost impossible to distinguish which parts are edible and which are simply supporting props. The barnacle ceviche is acidic and complex. And the cracker is the perfect vessel for it.
-10M | ROCK MOLLUSKS | Sea Snail, Barnacle, Sargassum, Limpet
As soon as the amuse bouche is completed, the second wave of props are already on their way. We are whisked away to 180M, to the Andean desert, with desert rocks, leaves, and an apertive. What do desert rocks taste like? Like cheesy buttery morsels from heaven.
180M | DESERT PLANTS | Huarango, Cactus, Sweet Potato Leaf, Loche
3900M | LOFTY ANDES | Potato, Tree Tomato, Alpaca, Muna Mint
3400M | THICK STEMS | Olluco, Chinco, Onion, Field Mustard
450M | WATERS OF NANAY | Piranhas, Cocona, Achiote, Huampo Bark
It is apparent that uniqueness in plating is as much a part of the elevation experience as the uniqueness of the ingredients. What better way to present crispy piranha skin than on a bed of piranha heads. Amazing.
300M | FOREST COTTON | River Shrimp, Llanten, Huito, Pacae
1900M | HIGH JUNGLE | Macambo, Cassava, Copoazu, Air Potato
0M | MARINE SOIL | Sea Urchin, Pepino Melon, Razor Clam, Seaweed
1200M | TREE POINTS | Avocado, Kiwicha, Arracacha, Lake Algae
2010M | LAND OF CORN | Kculli, Purple Chulpi, Piscorunto
600M | AMAZONIAN PLAIN | Churo, Cecina, Black Chili Pepper, Bellaco
20M | COASTAL HARVEST | Scallops, Yellow Chili Pepper, Milk, Tumbo
-10M | SEA CORAL | Octopus, Crab, Squid, Sea Lettuce
4100M | HIGH ANDES MOUNTAIN | Pork, Black Mashwa, Macre, Kaniwa
3700M | HUMID GREEN | Caigua, Cushuro, Sweet Lemon, Chaco Clay
400M | AMAZONIAN WHITE | Cacao, Chirimoya, Bahuaja Nut, Taperiba
3050M | MEDICINALS AND PLANT DYES | Congona, Matico, Malva, Pilipil
Croissants and Caviar's TL;DR:
Central and the 17-course Elevations Experience is truly an unforgettable experience and every bit deserving of its countless accolades. Starting from -10m below sea level with mollusks, to 450m with piranhas, to 2010m with textures of corn, to 3900m with alpaca, to 3700m with algae for dessert, Martínez gives diners a glimpse into the bounty of the Andean terrain. The cherry on top is watching him plate the dishes right before you.