Virgilio Martinez, chef of acclaimed restaurant Central, in Lima, Peru has been leading a team of researchers travelling 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 13000 feet above sea level on a snow-covered mountain top. He believes that the diversity of the country demands this type of expedition.
That sense of expedition has led to worldwide fame. Today, Virgilio sees Mater Iniciativa, the non-profit organisation he set up as a crucial part of his work to the extent that he tells me that Central Restaurante, the acclaimed restaurant would not exist without the non-profit organisation Mater Iniciativa, the biological and cultural research centre that he set up.
“We are working with ingredients that we have not seen before and the first thing we have to ascertain is whether they are edible or not,” Virgilio Martinez tells Food and Wine Gazette when we caught up with him in Neufeulden, Upper Austria for the GELINAZ! Does Upper Austria event.
The project is now entering a new phase. For the past years, his research team led by his sister Malena have been working from Cuzco to learn more about ingredients, to help local communities in Peru and also to test growing vegetables.
In the coming months, the project will take a new meaning as a laboratory will also include a restaurant of 60 covers aimed at telling stories about the vast produce the country has to offer.
The laboratory brings together people with different skills to study all types of produce from potatoes to root vegetables and other herbs. The aim is to open to lab to welcome chefs, designers, scientists and to create this exchange in an open scape that will lead to something meaningful. “I am giving this project my full attention,” Virgilio said.
While Mater Iniciativa will grow vegetables it will be more about testing than about replacing producer. “We are not aiming to replace our communities of producers but rather to work with them because they have the tradition and also a respect for mother earth,” he said.
We discuss the current state of fine dining and he tells me it will never die. “I believe fine dining is not a good term to describe our world. The problem is that the word fine changes your perspective. People want to put labels and we are losing the possibility to create great experiences,” he said.
Virgilio said that what is important for him is not to look at the numbers but rather to focus on happiness and to create experiences that make people change and make people think,” He tells me that with his work he can show gratitude and promote the work of the producers that grow the diverse range of ingredients that he uses.
“What is important is to be humble and hardworking but nowadays we are in a position to be able to be creative and create experiences,” he said.