How Central Has Elevated The Peruvian Culinary Scene

If world recognition lends credence to a restaurant's indigenous authenticity, then Central Restaurante in Lima, Peru is about as real as it gets. In a 2019 interview with Central's owner and chef Virgilio Martínez, Michelin Guide called him "a star on the South American gastronomy scene," noting his penchant for roaming the Amazon and collecting both wisdom and indigenous ingredients.

The World's 50 Best list has given Central its top-spot listing for Latin America's 50 best restaurants on at least four occasions, calling it an ode to Peru. It also crowns Central "The Greatest Restaurant in Latin America 2013-2021." That's a pretty comprehensive honor for Lima, a place CNN Travel calls a contender for the world's greatest gourmet city.

Accolades aside, restaurants generally stand out for a particular dining style, type of cuisine, a famous chef, or an excellent location. With Central Restaurante, the secret is undeniably its deep connection to Andean biodiversity — and the owner's relentless blending of contemporary and ancient culinary traditions.

Biodiversity on a plate

It's no wonder the allure of Central Restaurante comes from its expanded surroundings. As part of the five designated Andean States, Peru is extraordinarily biodiverse, spanning coastal, jungle, and highland regions, including the Amazon Basin and Amazon River, per World Atlas. Chef Virgilio Martínez, a native of the High Andes, is well known for incorporating ingredients from regions high and low. He even revives the old barter-and-exchange system to obtain obtuse vegetables, roots, herbs, and peppers from diverse natural pantries (via CNN Travel). According to Michelin Guide, Martínez then uses those indigenous edibles to weave a culinary story, translating nature through palette pleasures.

Embodying this concept on restaurant plates is more straightforward than it seems. Rather than guests ordering single items, they get to sample it all. Martínez and his wife Pía León unroll a panoply of morsels through a 20-course meal featuring dishes from each geographic region of Peru. A gastronomic journey through the menu includes ecosystem names such as Jungle Highlands, Coastal Foothills, Andean Slopes, and Ocean Floor, per CNN. To dig into Peruvian cuisine with another shovel, Michelin Guide reveals that Martínez founded the Mater Iniciativa research center to document the country's bountiful earth offerings and incorporate them into the national culinary and cultural conversation.