The Daily Meal: You are surrounded by women in your operation at Central with you wife, Pia; your sister; mother; and chef Karime Lopez Moreno Tagle. Why do you think women get short shrift on the “Best of” lists?
Virgilio Martínez Véliz: I always ask that question of myself, not only on the list but everywhere else in our industry. Interestingly, now that I am working with the university, I see that the culinary program has more women than men. All these women just need to stay on course and not get distracted and not be so discreet and own their talents. In my personal opinion, the best decision I made was to choose to work with women at Central. They are amazing and so quick sometimes when I suggest something I find it has already been taken care of. They do the best work and push me to be the protagonist for it.
You think Peru will be the breakthrough country to have a female chef at the forefront?
I hope so, and in my personal opinion they can work as well and sometimes better than men. Even at Central you don't hear much about Pia, Karime, and Malena because they stay on the sidelines by their own choice and don't ask for this attention. Pia works on the execution, Karime on the menus, Malena on the research, and my mother on the design of the restaurant. Now I want to push them to be part of the picture since they are probably better at their work than me!
Chefs such as yourself in Peru are reintroducing or introducing products from the Amazon or Andes in their restaurants. While you are compiling information and discovering these products and ancient cooking techniques with your Mater Iniciativa, are you also looking at possible health benefits of these ingredients?
Yes sure, since now we are working with people who care about what was once important and its health benefits. Mostly we focus on the impact of the ingredient in a particular ecosystem, so I am making these trips into different regions and their eco systems and truly it is still a work in progress. These days we are working with the university in Peru so I have access to their lab in order to do research but it is going to be a process. We just started as a restaurant collecting ingredients for our use and now we have found that our discovery of that ingredient has an impact on that region. These local communities and producers in the remote areas have now become our suppliers. Since we have accumulated so much information we needed another structure for our work because we are very responsible about what we use.
Are other chefs involved in your Mater Iniciativa?
Mater Iniciativa is a foundation based in our Central restaurant and our office is here in the second floor of the restaurant. In reality Mater is the heart of Central since it is from here that we do exploration trips and all our investigative work. We are not working with anthropologists or sociologists but directly with people but of course we share and discuss with others. We invite other chefs to join us or even specialists from other fields to speak about issues. What I was doing earlier with Gaston Acurio and Mitsuharu Tsumura was working on Leche de Tigra and traveling to cook and talk about ceviches and it was very useful and fun to promote our cuisine but now my focus with Mater is entirely different we work to register new products and their related social issues.
We work to find the best products, for example here is some cacao [he opens a parcel from a huge pile of packages that has just arrived]. Every single day I get products from all over to test and taste so this afternoon we will test it and possibly use it in our menu here at Central. First we will find out who is growing it and where and how we can help the growers of this cacao.