Central Restaurant: More Than Just A Meal.

Saturday April 6th, 2019 – the second part of Brunyfire’s Peruvian adventure on day three was a ‘bucket list’ event – an evening meal booked months in advance from Brunyfire’s home in Tasmania at Central Restaurante. Central is a restaurant located in the Barranco District of Lima in Peru and is the flagship of Peruvian chef, Virgilio Martínez Véliz*. Born in Peru, Martinez is a celebrated figure in the international culinary world. One of the most prominent ambassadors for Peruvian cuisine, he has trekked throughout the country to discover native ingredients and has dedicated himself to educating consumers on Peru’s rich biodiversity through sourcing the country’s rarest ingredients.

While many chefs are driven by a ‘sense of place’, Martínez strives to offer his guests a sense of many places – entire ecosystems and elevations in fact, over the course of a tasting menu. This is a complex task – a highly academic idea – to attempt to educate the dining public in one sitting (the meal is degustataion style over a two hour period) requires a certain amount of dedication on the part of both chef and consumer.

Architect Rafael Freyre’s practice was commissioned to further this notion of elevation, diversity and variances of place within the building and the gardens, (outside and inside) and they did this by applying the use of indigenous materials and construction techniques.

The Building. The original building was known as Casa Tupac and was once a cultural centre whose activities reflected the Bohemian nature of the Barranco neighbourhood. Freyre was commissioned not only to recreate a new Central in Barranco (the old Central was situated in Miraflores) that reflected the reinvigorated direction and drive of the team, but the plan was also to include Pía León’s first restaurant, Kjolle, the Mayo bar, and the Mater Iniciativa, a center for biological and cultural studies of Peruvian biodiversity and culinary projects.

Freyre did this by turning to traditional building techniques, indigenous materials, artisanal workmanship, cultural practices and a healthy respect for nature.9819F6CC-3434-4D23-A435-89CBDDA17FEF

Freyre’s concept drawing (above) illustrates what materials were proposed, where in the design they were incorporated and their source of origin. The ideas for the new Central restaurant began with creating an experience of the Limean desert ecosystem and traditional Barranco gardening………


Diners thus wind their way through the garden, with its solar operated plant dehydrater, pacae, avocado and other tree species common to the coastal desert, to the sliding doors of the Central. These are constructed quincha** style by artisan Erick Malasquez from the clays of Chilca, Lima.

Dining at Central is a total experience and one not fully appreciated until one has seen more of the country itself – only then can the use of materials – their colours, textures and combinations – be understood. For example, going to the bathroom is to see the Incan irrigation system in a contemporary context….

………left of the picture is the water irrigation system at Machu Picchu and this is echoed in Central’s polished granite (from Quirio and Huaycán) hand basin in the loos. The huge granite bolder that sits in the centre of the dining area, with its beautifully carved out bowl forms polished to a reflective sheen, are also reminiscent of the star reflector pools at Machu Picchu.

The natural desert rocks and earth in the garden gradually become elements of the architecture, such as stairs, floors and wall claddings.


Visitors become aware of how the natural habitat transforms into urban spaces; the inner gardens articulating the space and providing natural light and ventilation to the interiors. The exotic marble table that we dined off……

..….contrasted with the rustic nature of some of the tableware commissioned from local potters, Taller Dos Ríos.

Even the water we drink which is filtered, ozonated and purified (using reverse osmosis), is bottled on site.

The ambience of the place is one of quiet, undisturbed reflection…….

……….the ultra polite waiters serve each dish with gentle murders of explanation before silently weaving back to the kitchen which, is by contrast, a hive of mute activity – no banging of pots here, or wild cursing from the chef!

The Food Philosophy. Peru is a megadiverse country, home to more than 70% of the planet’s biodiversity – from its cold seas and desert coastline to the Amazonian tropical rainforest to the Andes.

Aware of the changing environmental conditions of the world and particularly of his home country, Peru, Virgilio Martínez, his sister Malena, wife Pía León, and a team of researchers and chefs have been investigating the country’s diverse flora and fauna and how best to manage and interpret its gastronomic use in a sustainable fashion. To do this Martínez and his team have not only been investigating the traditional foodways of an ancient culture but also creating a whole new gastronomic language through the collection, collating, cataloguing and culinary uses of foraged wild foods as well as creating a continuum for the ancient cultivated ones still in production.

The concept behind the menu is thus an exploration of Peru’s biodiversity. Central takes diners on a journey through every altitude, from 20 metres below sea level to 4,100 metres above it, in 17+ courses.

The menu is driven by a sense of circular verticality, the cross section of which is based in honour of the ancient agricultural practices of the Incas whose farming methods utilised the mountainous terrain that was their domain.

Once again, it wasn’t until Brunyfire had seen more of this amazing country – seeing at first hand the tiered terraces of Pisac and Machu Picchu and how they functioned agriculturally – that Martinez’s menu made sense.

To discover that the Incans understood the temperature differences of the tiers they created in the mountainous landscape for their food production (for example, the temperature at the bottom of the tiers is 10-15% warmer than at the top) and grew crops according to each eco-system that these tiers provided, was revelationary.

Not only does the menu introduce diners to the rare and the exotic, but it also replicates ancient practices within a contemporary context. For example, clay forms an important ingredient in the diet of the inhabitants of the Altiplano area of Peru, who have been eating it since pre-Columbian times for its medicinal properties and it’s earthy taste. Clay, or chaco (in Quechua) is high in calcium, iron, zinc, and copper. We get to try chaco on the reed island of Uros in Lake Titicaca……

……. but at Central they create a desert, Green Mountain Range, comprising of white jellied cacao, or a jelly chocolate, with dried coca leaves and clay sprinkled over a kind of mousse.

Clay is also introduced in the form of a table top version of the huatia – an ancient method of cooking in a makeshift earth oven at the time of the potato harvest.


In Central’s version, the clay is mixed with salt and encases a couple of small fingerling type spuds in which they are cooked.

Central’s system of drying foodstuffs in their solar powered dehydrator out in the garden was also inspired by Incan traditions.

The Incas created a vast network of storage facilities to insure against times of drought and disaster by building qollqas; single-roomed stone buildings, either circular or rectangular, that were built on hillsides to take advantage of cool breezes.

(Qollqas near Ollantaytambo, which lies between Cuzco and Machu Picchu). These structures were built in the tens of thousands across the empire and typically arranged in neat rows near population centres, large estates and roadside stations. State officials kept careful accounts of their stocks using the quipu, a recording device of strings and knots.***

(Photo from Amano, Pre-Columbian Textile Museum, Miraflores, Lima).

Qollqas were designed to maximise the storage time of the perishable goods with which they were filled. They had drainage canals, gravel flooring, and ventilation in both the floor and roof in order to keep the interior as cool and dry as possible so that ordinary goods could be stored for up to two years and freeze-dried foodstuffs for up to four years. Archaeologists have ascertained that maize, potatoes, and quinoa were the most common foodstuffs stored in qollqa.’ ***

Finally, The Food! In committing to only using the natural foods of Peru, Martínez and his team intentionally omitted from the kitchen all non indigenous ingredients and sought to work only with what they could source from Peru itself. This meant leaving behind many of the familiar materials basic to running a kitchen.

Course #1 – Red Rocks.

This comprised of piure percebes or goose barnacles and razor clams served with dehydrated sea urchin crisps.

Course #2 – Desertic Coast.

Sweet potato whey crisps on purslane, cactus (prickly pear) clams with prickly pear cream and Yuyo seaweed.

Course #3 – High Altitude Farmlands.

From left to right: duck tartare with cured, dried and shaved duck egg yolk – and I’m not sure what the other elements are that accompanied this dish!!

Course #4 – Amazonian River.

Pacae ungurahui arapaima – left image of arapaima, a monster fish (on the point of extinction) from the Amazon on a base of beans with shrimps – the sushi like dish at top right is the pacae (an Andean native tree that produces long green pods) and the black broth is ungurahui a palm native to the Amazonian forest and used to make black dye.

Course #5 – High Jungle.

Copoazú (a rainforest fruit related to cacao), Dale-Dale, (a kind of arrowroot tuber), sachatomate (a kind of tree tomato). Two kinds of bread made from a ‘flour’ derived from copoazú and Dale-Dale that was served up with two flavoured butters made from the sachatomate and something else!

Course #6 – Sea Terrain.

Squid, huarango (the pods of this tree are sweetened into molasses) and sargassum – a seaweed.

Course #7 – Waters of the Desert.

Avocado, sea urchin and loche – a kind of bright orange squash (linked directly to the Mochica culture) and in this dish made into a purée with crustaceans.

Course #8 – Extreme Altitude.

Kculli – a purple corn most commonly used in the drink chicha moradokiwicha is a kind of mini quinoa and known for its dense nutritional value. Kiwicha has been farmed in Peru and other areas of South America for over 4,000 years. Choclo corn also referred to as Peruvian corn or Cuzco corn (after the capital city of the Inca empire), is a large-kernel variety of field corn from the Andes.

Course #9 – Mil Moray.

Tubers, Clay llipta (llipta is a mixture of lime and/or ash typically from kiwicha or quinoa which improves the extraction of coca alkaloids). Mil Moray is the name of Martinez’s restaurant just outside Cuzco and this is where the potatoes of this dish are grown. The tubers come encased in clay (having been cooked in the clay) from the same high altitude area to reflect the seasonal celebration of the harvesting of the potatoes with a huatia, cooking spuds in a traditional clay sod oven.

Course #10 – Amazonian Lake.

Piranha, cocona fruit, yucca root – Frozen piranha heads (which you don’t eat by the way) provide the dramatic base for this dish. The yellow crisp is made from yucca root, and the fried skin of the piranha sits on top dotted with coconut flavoured fish emulsion.

Course #11Marine Valley.

Scallops, macre pumpkin, sea lettuce.

Course #12 – Plain Forest.

A kind of frothy soup made from Amazonian shrimps, cecina, dry smoked pork and bellaco a kind of mushed up plantain.

Course #13 – Andean Woods.

Lamb, olluco, sheep’s milk – olluco (top left) are a colourful range of tubers from the Andes similar to the potato – a lamb broth is drizzled onto the dish by the waiter and is sprinkled with the dried and grated goats milk.

Course #14 – Amber Forest.

Yacón, rugoso, lemon coffee – A desert made from yacón a species of perennial daisy traditionally grown in the northern and central Andes and known for its crisp, sweet-tasting, tuberous roots. Another name for yacón is ‘Peruvian ground apple’, possibly from the French name of potato, pomme de terre (ground apple). Flavours of coffee, coconut and lemon – served on rainbow plates by Taller dos Rios, local Lima potters.

Course #15 – Green Mountain Range.

Cacao chaco Clay, coca leaves – cacao chaco clay is a mousse with fine clay with a gelatinous white cacao on the side, accompanied by a medley of cacao and müna (kind of a high altitude mint) leaves as a dried crumble.

Course #16 – Medicinal Plants.

Congona leaves, huampo gel, kjolle flowers – Congona are the aromatic leaves from a herb grown in the humid tropical rain forests of the Andes and are used traditionally as a cleansing agent. Am guessing that the green algae ‘caviar’ are the same as those seen in the Netflix movie of Martinez retrieving these from Laguna de Pomacanchi in the Andes.

The evening at Central was rounded off by a tour of the building which included a glimpse of the Kjolle restaurant and the Mayo bar…..

……..where the cocktail menu comprises of trays of dried ingredients, all gathered from around Peru, that are infused into alcoholic drinks.

Mater Iniciativa, meaning ‘mother’ or the soul of something – was established as the cultural and biological research hub behind Central. Martínez, his sister and his team venture into the expansive landscape of their country to build relationships with and learn ancient techniques from, the native population and to bring back new ingredients and knowledge to the restaurant.

As a closing gesture, each guest is presented with a small folio of hand made paper that embodies the seeds, flowers and barks of some of the foraged ingredients……


One of the most interesting dining experiences to date……

*Check out David Gelb’s Netflix documentary series ‘The Chef’s Table’ that features Martínez – one amongst many of the world’s current top chefs.

**Quincha (a Spanish term borrowed from the Andean Quechua language meaning ‘fence, wall, enclosure’. Quincha is a traditional Peruvian construction technique consisting of a timber frame infilled with a weave of canes and mud – a kind of wattle and daub.

***Check out online article by by Mark Cartwright, published February 2015.


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