Central, a culinary gem in Lima, Peru, has recently clinched the top spot at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, breaking the long-held dominance of European and American establishments in the culinary world. This achievement by Central is not just a testament to its excellence but also an acknowledgment of its role as a standard-bearer of Peruvian cuisine, agriculture, and artisanal heritage.
Established in 2008, Central, under the stewardship of chef duo Virgilio Martinez and Pia León, offers its patrons a unique dining adventure, traversing through Peru’s diverse ecosystems and altitudes. The menu at Central is a testament to the country’s natural bounty, with dishes such as “Warm Sea Current,” featuring an array of seafood from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, or “Extreme Altitude,” which showcases high-altitude crops like corn and sweet potato leaves.
However, securing a reservation at Central has become a challenging task, especially after its recent accolade. For those unable to dine at Central, an alternative exists in Mil, another brainchild of Martinez. Located at the enigmatic Moray archaeological site, Mil stands at an impressive 3,500 meters above sea level, surrounded by the majestic Andes. The site, known for its large circular terraces, is believed to have been an Incan agricultural laboratory or ceremonial center, making it an ideal location for Martinez’s vision.
Mil, which opened its doors in 2018, is a blend of a social enterprise, research facility, and fine-dining establishment. It operates under Mater, a research and cultural center that serves as the ideation hub for both Central and Mil. While Central’s focus spans across Peru, Mil zooms in on the Andean ecosystem.
The journey to Mil is as much a part of the experience as the destination itself, with a scenic drive from Cusco or Machu Picchu. Upon arrival, guests can choose to partake in the “Mil Immersion” experience before lunch, which includes an informative walk led by forestry expert Jan Brack and local farmer Efrain Yucra. This excursion offers insights into native plants and their traditional uses, the impact of climate change on agriculture, and local customs such as drinking chicha, a traditional fermented corn drink.
Lunch at Mil is an immersive experience, with the dining room offering stunning views of the landscape. Guests are treated to tasting menus that represent various ecosystems, featuring dishes like cured alpaca, quinoa salad, and potato-based courses inspired by the huatia ceremony. The meal concludes with delightful cacao-based desserts.
Mil’s success is rooted in its collaborative approach with local communities, embracing the Andean philosophy of “Ayni,” which emphasizes mutual support and reciprocity. This venture has not only provided economic benefits to local farmers and artisans but also preserved indigenous traditions and culture.
With Central’s recent recognition, Martinez feels a greater responsibility to represent Peru and Latin America on the global stage. As he puts it, “We are not even halfway where we want to be,” indicating an ongoing commitment to growth, innovation, and the celebration of Peru’s rich cultural and culinary heritage.