Mucho Gusto. I had just spent the first 2 weeks of February, 2020 travelling around Peru with a group and tour guides. This was my last night. This is a long post because I covered all 16 tasting menu items.
I dined at Central. Voted 4th best restaurant in the world for 2015, 2016 by the British magazine Restaurant.
Chef Virgilio Martinez and Central is featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, Season 3, last episode. Reservations for February, 2020 went online November 25, 2019. I managed to snag a table. I was not going all the way to Lima without dining at Central.
Chef Virgilio signed one of his Alta Mater menus.
Central’s garden entrance. It is located in the Barranco District – home to artists, actors, musicians adding a bohemian flavor to the neighbourhood. The original Central was in the Miraflores district where I was staying. But the location was zoned residential. The mayor would not change the zoning so they moved to Barranco and became famous.
I had booked a time when the restaurant just opened. I was given a little tour before my table was ready. This is the research center. items collected throughout Peru are catalogued here. My previous 2 weeks had included visiting a few of the areas where Chef Virgilio goes to forage his plants.
Both solid and liquids are collected and stored using scientific identification. Together with his sister Malena, they travel the different regions of Peru. The rich bio-diversity allows them great opportunity to explore new, potential ingredients. From below sea level, to the desert, Amazonian jungle to the Andes mountains, Virgilio introduced a new culinary adventure to the world.
Infusions and distillations are part of the process in the experimental kitchen. Ingredients are combined again and again before anything makes it to the menu.
The Experimental Kitchen is where the ingredients from research are put together to form textures, flavors and potential recipes. He meets with local, indigenous farmers to learn more about what has been foraged and cultivated over the years.
Tap water in Lima is not safe to drink. Central has an advanced water filtration system. The water is used for all the cooking and serving to customers.
After the tour I wait in the lounge until my table is ready. The cocktails at the bar are setup by altitude displaying both ingredients and alcohol producers from different region. I decided on the Boras but it was a little too sweet for my taste. Plus, I was getting a tasting menu of assorted spirits and distillations with my meal.
The idea of the Alura Mater menu came to Viriglio as he was pondering what direction to take his restaurant to. Exploring what was available to eat in the various altitudes was the result. It was also part of a worldwide movement where chefs like Danish chef Rene Redzei was foraging Denmark’s shores. This is the Altitude menu. It starts at number 1 at the top. Following along the spiral until #16 in the center.
The kitchen with Chef Virgilio on the left doing a final check. He left shortly after, leaving his team to carry out the orders. He was still around as he signed my menu at the end of my meal.
#1 – Red Rock razor clams. Altitude -10 M. You will see in the Chef’s Table documentary, Chef Virigilio was inspired by the eco system of the ocean shore. Each dish comes with a display to give you an idea of the environment the food comes from.
The clam display in the center with a little green starfish. To its upper left are crackers seated on rocks where the clams can be found. In the little dish to the far left are the clams along with flowers found near the shore.
The idea is to scoop up some clams with the rock spatula and place them on the cracker. I spilled clams all over the rocks so the waiter gave me another and I got the hang of it.
#2 – Desertic coast – Cactus clams. Altitude 110 M. The bottom center are the clams along with a spoon To the right is a soft, gelatin cracker made from yuyo seaweed. Top center is a frozen clam cake mixed with another seaweed.
#3 – High Altitude Farmlands – Mashwa. 3750 M. Mashwa is a tuber. The cracker on the right uses both the yellow flesh and the dark brown spots of the brown flesh. The center roll is a roasted puree surrounded by a mashwa phylo pastry. Note the black mashwa spots on the yellow mashwa film cracker on the right. The plate that it is on has a drawing of the mashwa plant.
Also note that the menu does not follow a pattern from lowest to highest. It alters the altitude based on what is needed for the menu.
The mashed mashwa with a form of salad.
#4 – Amazonia – Ungurahui. 110 M. The biggest fish in the Amazon river. Served raw, cooked in a pastry and broth. The fillet display is in the upper left.
Roe from the fish and marinated plant on a rock found in the Amazon.
Deep fried fish. The “plate” is a potato that is found in the region.
#5 – Upper Jungle – Copoazu. 890 M. A fruit prepared as a fritter and baked. Two dipping sauces. The fruit display is on the upper left. Not sure the one on the left. The right is made from the fruit sachatomate.
#6 – Sea Terrain – Squid and Sargassum. 15 M.
#7 – Avocado and Sea Urchin – 68 m.
#8 – Extreme Altitude – Four Corn. 4,350 m. 4 varieties of corn found at over 4,000 m.
#9 – Mil Moray – tubers. 3,600 m. We see this in the documentary. A clay oven is made and the potatoes are cooked in it. Chef recreates that tradition by using the clay from Moray in the kitchen. The display shows how it is setup.
#10 – Amazonian Lake – Piranha. 190 m. Okay, I burst out laughing when the put this display down. People turned to look so I showed them. In addition to the grilled skin and flesh, there was a mixture with coconut and yucca.
#11 – Marine Valley, -24 m. Scallops with pumpkin chips and sea lettuce.
#12 – Amazonian shrimp – 135 m. I forgot what the foam was made of. Should of took notes.
#13 – Andean Woods – lamb. 2,980 m. The white strings are dried sheep’s milk.
#14 – Amber Forest – Lemon, coffee and yacon. 240 m. Getting into desert now. The yacon tuber was the base for the cracker. The green was a mint mixture.
I had a drink pairing that consisted of South American drinks. However I didn’t make notes on the drinks. This was a fortified pisco – pisco is a grape brandy. Peru’s national drink is the Pisco Sour.
#15 – Green Mountain Range – Chocolate. 2,800 m. The display of the coca plant in the back.
Chocolate mousse with mint.
Chocolate ice cream set in a rock. The red and yellow is an edible clay they developed in the experimental kitchen.
Finally – medicinal herbs. A cracker baked with herbs that help with digestion along with an elixir. Nice that they end with this.
I was presented with this wonderful, hand made booklet. It features drawings of Peruvian plants they use in their cooking. The mache is made from wood from the Amazon.