From Albert Adria’s 50 day residency at Hotel Cafe Royal right here in London, across to Fäviken in the remote northern reaches of Sweden and over to noma in Copenhagen, my Food Adventures of 2016 gave me a lot to think about. A lot to think about, indeed.
For one, I am increasingly questioning what it is that makes a meal enjoyable for me. Something memorable, something with impact…something to really hold onto.
Sure, the food itself is important…and service is paramount to the overall experience. But what about the setting? Ambiance? Company? Sense of place? Preconceptions? More and more I have discovered that each of these have largely played into what I take away from even the simplest of dinners.
As I continue to build my memory bank of restaurant encounters, there is one that stands out in particular. One that I have referenced frequently and think about often. One that has served as a benchmark for many successive dinners…and will continue to serve as a benchmark for many more to come. One that, to this day, remains to be one of my most favoured dining experiences. Ever. Central.
Through its food, Central gifted me with the opportunity to explore the incredibly diverse territories of Peru. Over seventeen courses, I was taken on a country-wide journey, from the Pacific Coast, up into the highest reaches of the Andes, across the altiplano and down into the Amazon Basin. By the end of it all, I had been introduced to new ingredients, new tastes, new textures…and a new appreciation.
To be presented with such a vast array of produce that I had neither seen nor heard of, let alone tasted, was a hell of a lot to get my head around. But over and above everything, it was delicious. All of it. I left knowing I had experienced something unique, progressive…and very, very special.
So imagine how excited I was when I stumbled across a file in my hard drive the other day and remembered I had taken a complete picture record of the entire meal. Central is finally a fond memory that I can share!
So here it is…a little photo journey of the restaurant that played a very big part in changing my perspective on food and what a meal can be.
Located in Lima’s Miraflores, Central Restaurant is owned and operated by husband and wife team, Virgilio Martinez and Pia Leon. Their aim is to champion Peruvian cuisine and integrate a dizzying array of native ingredients that majority of Peruvians didn’t even know existed.
I visited in 2014…one day after the restaurant shot up the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, from 50 to 15. It has since continued to climb, proudly grabbing the number 4 position in both 2015 and 2016. Furthermore, Central has maintained the number 1 position on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants List since 2014. An impressive feat!
…But it’s not hard to see why. Chef Martinez and his team are constantly on the search for new products. They forage in the jungle, desert, mountains and sea to discover diverse local ingredients. On my particular sitting, the menu started at 5 metres below sea level and travelled up to 4,100 metres, highlighting Peruvian produce that grows at various elevations. Every bite was fantastic…every dish told a story.
The Sixty-Mile Fish: Squid – Huarango – Clam. [-5m]
Orchard of Mala: Ecologic Radish – Sacha Inchi Milk. [290m]
Dry Andes: Chaco Clay – Citrus Flower. [3,200m]
Four Month Tuber: ‘Sweet’ Potato – Chamomile Petal. [120m]
Diversity of Corn: Choclo – Chulpi – Kculli – San Gerónimo. [1,800m]
Moraya of Paucartambo: Wild Muña – Veal Heart. [3,900m]
High Jungle: Yacon – Egg Yolk – Coffee. [1,250m]
Tree Root and Leaf: Pijuayo Hearts of Palm – Macambo. [450m]
Harvest of Scallops: Kañihua – Tumbo – Starflower. [0m]
Red Amazon: Arapaima – Huito – Airampo. [148m]
Valley Between the Andes: Avocado – Tree Tomato – Kiwicha. [2,750m]
Coastal Proximity: Octopus – Purple Corn, Limo Chilli. [0m]
Extreme Altitude: Frozen Potato – Cushuro – Mullaca. [4,100m]
Altiplano and Lakes: Lamb – Wild Mustard – Black Quinoa. [3,900m]
Untamed Jungle: Bahuaja Nut – Camu Camu – Huampo. [145m]
Coca Forest: Chirimoya – Coca Leaf – Theobromas – Coffee. [845m]
Cacao Solar Infusion: Stevia – Culen – Sisal. [450m]
These photographs came as a firm reminder of what made me fall for Central in the first place. It truly was one of the most memorable meals of my life…and for so many reasons. Beyond the food, it was a journey, an education and an absolutely fantastic experience.
…Then once it is all over, you are still in Lima. And the world is your oyster. Eat everything