MFWF 2013 – Langham Melbourne Masterclass – Virgilio Martinez
Virgilio Martinez – From the Amazon to the Andes
Each Masterclass has been so amazing – but I really loved this one by Virgilio Martinez, formerly a pro-skateboarder, and now head chef and owner of Central Restaurant in Peru, and Lima Restaurant in London. A chef who is passionate about terroir – I’d go as far as to say he is Peru’s version of Ben Shewry, or Rene Redzipi. He tells stories about how he creates dishes by taking day long treks through the Andes – where he forages and tastes, and on one occasion even poisoned himself!
Virgilio told us that Peruvian’s don’t talk about maps – they talk about elevation. The country rises from sea level to 13,000 feet, or 4,000 metres! Up that high – the environment is very different, there is little oxygen, and things grow differently. This amazing landscape profile provides his restaurant with an incredible diversity of produce that is only ever 3 hours away.
Virgilio proudly told of one field trip where he found bacteria that looks like spherified algae, which then inspired a whole dish at Central. You can learn more about this particular excursion at the website of Mater Iniciativa, where Virgilio and his group of researchers tell the stories of their field trip, and the evolution from forest to plate, far better than I ever could.
Eco Dry Potato, Cacao Amazonia, Red Amaranth
The first dish that Virgilio demonstrated focused on the eco dry potato. Peru is big on potatoes – and a common method of preserving them is to freeze dry them at high altitudes (no eletricity required). They are then reconstituted as a type of ragu – and traditionally served with rice. Virgilio was the first to admit that this was quite a heavy dish – so they certainly don’t serve that in the restaurant. In this modernised version of the dish the ragu is served with red amaranth, mushrooms, grated Amazonian almonds (very similar to Brazil nuts) and dried corn.
Our tasting dish was a slightly different version with quinoa instead of amaranth. The potatoes were really interesting – denser than normal potatoes, they were really pleasant, and definitely the star of the dish. The quinoa was beautiful too – with just the right amount of crunch to it.
For our second dish, given Peru is home to the ceviche – it was a no brainer that we were going to be seeing an innovative version of this beautiful cured fish dish.
Arapaima, Chia Seed, Sacha Inchi Oil, Amazon Fruit
Arapaima is a firm white fleshed fish – and the base of this amazing dish. The fish was first placed across the dish. Hint for anyone making this at home: Make sure your plate is cold! One of the most visually arresting components of this dish was the chia seed which has been reconstituted with fresh passionfruit juice which had been diluted with a little water. As you can see – the dish was visually stunning and its easy to see how Virgilia has become “one to watch” on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Our tasting version of the arapaima was a little simpler, but no less gorgeous. The creamy component was called tiger’s milk – which consists of blitzed and strained onions, celery, garlic, and ginger, to which lime juice and yellow chilli paste is added, and then infused with chilli and coriander . This dressing effectively cures the meat so quickly – you don’t have to leave it for 10-15 minutes, it works in a matter of minutes. It was mellow yet acidic at the same time. Delicious.
Virgilio was definitely an entertaining and passionate speaker – from telling us about the animals that climb up trees to collect the seeds, plant them for later, and then forget them so the trees actually grow – through to explaining how customs wouldn’t let him bring through certain ingredients, he clearly demonstrated a real affinity with the earth and all it provides, and particularly finding and using both traditional and obscure local ingredients. One thing I learned… to look out for a particular Peruvian ingredient – Maca Root – apparently an aphrodisiac and an energiser!! Let me know if you find any!