Cover Virgilio Martinez (left) and Maz head chef Santiago Fernandez

After much success with Central and MIL in Peru, this feted champion of Peruvian produce is crossing the Pacific for his next adventure

Like many of his peers, star chef Virgilio Martinez has a deeply rooted respect for nature. And, as a champion of indigenous Peruvian produce, he has with his feted success on the world stage helped put the spotlight on these unique and often little-known ingredients. But he is confident he can do more, which is one of the reasons he is opening a fine dining restaurant in Tokyo, his first in Japan that was slated to open before the Tokyo Olympics in July 2020.  This had to be put on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Martinez has recently reassured that his new restaurant Maz looks set to open this summer (potentially by July) in Tokyo’s Akasaka neighbourhood.

“I used to focus on Peruvian culture and food itself,” Martinez tells Tatler Dining during a private showcase of some of the dishes he will be serving when the restaurant opens. The preview was part of the Cook Japan Project, which showcased international chefs, organised by the Granada restaurant group.

Following the construction of Mater Iniciativa (the biological and cultural research centre behind his award-winning restaurant Central in Peru) in Cusco three years ago, and the vast amount of research he has done since, he says he now better understands just how universal this idea of celebrating nature’s bounty is.

This new restaurant, he reveals, will allow him to “connect” diners in Japan and from around the world with native Peruvian villagers and farmers, whose lives are intrinsically “deeply connected with the nature”.

He shares how different their mindset is from those living in cities. To native Peruvians, he explains, their lands are not privately owned. They believe the harvests are “gifts” from nature, so they share these with everyone.

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“The farmers don’t know the word ‘organic’ but (their farms and practices) truly are,” Martinez exclaims, adding that this is the beauty of the Andean people, which is why he would like to support them by buying ingredients from them.

“I’m also responsible to the farmers,” he continues. He shares how he works with more than 100 farmers but cannot use all that they harvest, despite having three restaurants—Central, Mil Centro and Kjolle (helmed by his wife, Pia)—in Peru.

His modern culinary approach also helps broaden the appeal and use of a lot of Peruvian produce but stops short of defining his cuisine style as Peruvian. “It is more universal, a cuisine that’s based on the respect for nature,” he clarifies, before pointing out how it is also his responsibility to spread this understanding, that lives are deeply connected to the land.

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The right influence

Restaurant Central is currently ranked No.6 on The Worlds’ 50 Best Restaurants list, and many people—diners and chefs alike—are eager to learn about what Martinez will be doing next. Few years ago, he started serving clay baked vegetables, which utilises a traditional method of cooking that’s almost lost. It has since become trendy with many chefs doing the same, bringing this tradition back to the Peruvian people’s tables.

“As such, if I could showcase these quality Peruvian ingredients in Tokyo, the world would know the true quality of ingredients like quinoa, root vegetables, and chocolate,” Martinez adds. “Also, if more people become interested in (consuming) these ingredients, it would (translate to greater) support for the Peruvian villagers’ organic, sustainable style of farming.”

If you’re wondering if Maz will be serving Nikkei cuisine or some version of a Peruvian-Japanese amalgamation, Martinez assures it will not. “I don’t have Japanese blood, and I wouldn’t call my cuisine Peruvian anymore; my cuisine is a cuisine that’s deeply connected with nature,” he asserts.

The name of the restaurant is derived from the Spanish phrase “afuera hay más” which means “outside there is more” in English; it is also the motto of his research centre. The team has been working on the project for over two and half years. Martinez had visited Japan four times in 2019 and was especially attracted by the quality of its seafood and vegetables. He explains that while Central is a restaurant that combines the ingredients of same altitude to showcase the bio diversity of Peruvian agriculture, offerings at the new restaurant will not be restricted to this.

Martinez does see similarities between his cuisine style and Japanese Kaiseki culture, where even humble ingredients such as vegetables are celebrated. “Japanese chefs study (each) ingredients deeply,” he notes. “This is similar to our philosophy.”

In December 2019, he also published a new book, titled Mater. It is not a cookbook but a catalogue of 30 beautifully unique Peruvian ingredients. “Economically, our country isn’t rich. But I’m proud of the quality of the ingredients, and how we are connected with nature. We’re very rich in that way,” he concludes.

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If this has you excited to visit when travel is more convenient, a spokesperson also confirmed plans for a new opening, dubbed Olluco, this year in Moscow. 

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