Meet the Peruvian skateboarding chef

When his dreams of being a pro skateboarder died, Virgilio Martinez got to work and instead became one of the best chefs in the world.

April 25, 2017

In the list of the world’s top 50 restaurants, Virgilio Martinez sits at number four. No doubt some chefs would be heartbroken at missing out on the top three and hurl a pan in frustration, but after meeting the humble Peruvian chef, EDGAR got the feeling accolades and adulation are way down on his list of priorities. He’s probably far more concerned about sourcing fresh avocados. 

Martinez spoke to EDGAR in Dubai for the launch of Lima, his fourth restaurant. He runs Central in Lima the Peruvian capital, and has two London restaurants, one of which, Lima Fitzrovia is the first Peruvian spot to have a Michelin star. 

He’s 39, but looks 20, perhaps because of the fresh air he breathes during journeys to the Peruvian wilderness to seek out ingredients and ideas for new dishes. 

“We bring anthropologists, botanists and biologists on these trips and we meet a new Peru that we were not aware existed. We thought Peru was Lima, but that’s a bubble. There are the Andes mountains and the jungle. We discovered new cultures, dishes and ingredients. I love how the people we met have a deep communication with nature and Mother Earth, not like us city people.” 

The day before meeting Martinez, EDGAR spoke to Marina Social’s star chef Jason Atherton who praised his Peruvian counterpart: “Virgilio is a fantastic chef. Everyone in Dubai is in for a wake up call about what Peruvian food really should be.” When we quote Atherton back to Martinez, he blushes. “Oh, that’s nice.”

Is Atherton right? “I don’t want to compete with other restaurants,” says Martinez quickly before setting out his credentials. “The food at Lima is authentic and down to earth. This food is what I see and eat when I go out in Peru – there are no special effects.”

He adds, “I have a strong proximity to Peruvian people, its cuisine and its ingredients. I have been making ceviche since I was three years old and I’ve been cooking since I was 14.” 

When he wasn’t in the kitchen as a teenager, Martinez was pursuing his dream to be a pro skateboarder. “I entered a competition in California when I was 18 to see if I could compete with the pro skateboarders, but I broke my shoulder. A month later I broke the other shoulder so that was the end.” Does he still skateboard today? He nods and smiles, “Yes, but just for fun – I don’t want to hurt myself.”