[Note: This post is a little out of order. It took me a while to write, but it should have been the first one from Peru.]
In most Masters programs, students write a thesis. In my Business School program, we do an international consulting project instead. After hundreds of hours of meetings and research, five of my colleagues and I flew to Lima this week to present our recommendations to our client. Afterwards we celebrated with the most memorable meal of my life at Central Restaurante.
You might not have heard of it, but in the food world, Central is famous. This year it was ranked 5th in the world (#1 in Latin America) and it was also featured in an episode of the Netflix series, Chef’s Table. We enjoyed the famous Mater Elevations menu, which features 17 courses representing different elevations from around Peru.
Before I dive into the first course, I’ll give you a little background. Chef Virgilio Martinez Veliz and his sister, who has a science background, source their ingredients from all over the country. From the Netflix episode, I remember him saying that they use about 150 ingredients from around Peru but only half of them are known food items. This means that some of the courses are a bit weird, making the meal an adventure. Each course came with an explanation, and we required instructions on what to eat (and how…. and in some cases, in which order). In addition to unique ingredients and creative preparation, the presentation was bar none. The food, and the dishes they were served on, were unlike anything else I’ve ever seen before.
It was a bit dark, so apologies for the photo quality, but I think you’ll be able to appreciate the effort and precision that went into the presentation of each bite.
I’ll spare you in-depth coverage of each course, and just cover my favorites instead. We started off strong with Rock Mullucs – Elevation: -10. The menu describes it as “Sea snail, Mussel, Sargassum, and Limpet”. This is one of the ones where we needed instruction most. The wooden sticks on the barnacle (barnacle for decoration only) were intended to be used as spoons so that we could scoop the dark jam-textured concoction onto a puffed algae crisp. The flavors and the mouth feel were both incredible, leaving us in anxious anticipation of the next course.
This eager anticipation was part of the defining experience of this meal. I always look forward to dessert, but this meal was so much more than food. The second course was one of the weirder ones. This is a crisp leaf covered in some kind of green powder. It wasn’t delicious, but it wasn’t bad either. The little red bite at the top were one of my favorites from the evening. They were cold and melted on the tongue.
Another stand-out course was the piranha. The course consisted of two different things using different parts of the fish. One was crispy slivers of the skin, served atop a plate made of the aggressive fish’s dismembered head.
Perhaps my favorite course was the sea urchin. I tried sea urchin a couple of years ago at a sushi restaurant in San Diego. At the time, I wasn’t crazy about it. Both the texture and the flavor turned me off so I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much this time around. The flavors of the sea urchin (the orange part of the picture above) paired perfectly with the thin slices of melon.
This beautiful dish was also one of the most delicious. It’s a massive river fish that we enjoyed prepared several different ways while in Lima. They called it, Colors of Amazonia and described it as “Paiche, Yacon, Bellaco, and Lemongrass”.
Below, you’ll see other courses including pork belly, scallops, and a colorful dish made almost entirely of different corns.
Above: Low Andes Mountains, Elevation: 1800 M. Menu described it as “Pork, Black Mashwa, Panca Chili Pepper, and Kiwicha”.
Above: Land of Corn. Menu described it as “Kculli, Purple, Chuli, Piscorunto”.
Part way through the meal, the Chef stopped by to say hello and see how we were enjoying everything. Of course, we couldn’t resist asking for a photo. He’s a young guy, 30ish, and surprisingly soft-spoken and humble for someone so highly lauded. And no, Mom, he’s not single.
Course 14 brought us to desserts. The first was very popular among my friends – frozen algae and a refreshing green sorbet.
Below was my favorite of the desserts (the only one with chocolate).
The meal took three hours, but with good company and the epicurean adventure, it passed quickly.
If you are going to be in Lima, I highly recommend a visit. It books up fast, but reservations are made easily online. I made mine several months in advance, and I’d recommend doing the same. There are great restaurants all over Lima, but this one is truly a stand-out.