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Pía León and Virgilio Martínez Are Opening Another Serious Destination Restaurant

The Central duo have their sights set on the Amazon

Virgilio Martínez and Pía León
Virgilio Martínez and Pía León
Courtesy of Central

Peru’s power restaurant couple has a new project in the works, and it’s bound to be a serious destination. Pía León and Virgilio Martínez are working on a restaurant in the Amazon rainforest, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants reports. “[The Amazon] makes up 60 percent of Peru, but as Peruvians, we don’t know much about it,” Martínez tells the World’s 50 Best Restaurants blog. “We always think about Lima and the coast, about ceviche and the melting pot of Japan and China, but we don’t know the Amazon.”

The chefs earned global acclaim with Central, the Lima tasting menu restaurant they opened in 2012. Since then, Central has moved to bigger digs and the pair have grown their empire to include León’s restaurant Kjolle; Mil, which focuses on Andean food and culture; Hong Kong restaurant Ichu; and the research arm of their operation Mater Iniciativa, led by Malena Martínez, Virgilio’s sister.

Like Mil, located near the Inca ruins of Moray, it won’t be easy to get to the chefs’ new project in Tambopata, Madre de Dios. According to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, visitors must fly from Lima to Puerto Maldonado and then take a boat to the restaurant, which is only open for lunch because the river is potentially dangerous at night.

The area in the southern Amazon is largely undeveloped. Mater Iniciativa’s anthropologists have been working with the indigenous communities to learn about local foods and techniques. “That’s the Mater method, to adapt to a new ecosystem,” Martínez says. “We have been cooking in the Andes and bringing products from the Andes and the Amazon, but we weren’t leaving anything there — only taking things away.”

Although construction on the new restaurant has yet to begin, the chefs already plan to pick their own coffee and fruit and serve the distilled spirits made in the region. León is also getting practice working with Amazonian ingredients at Kjolle in dishes like “scallops and seeds,” a plate of scallops and Amazonian pacae legume. The couple tapped Luis Valderrama, who currently works at Mil, to be head chef.

Unlike recent projects Kjolle and Ichu, the new restaurant will be equal parts Martinez and León, although León notes that when it comes to choosing between the mountains and the rainforest, she’d pick the Amazon, saying, “I feel alive there. I’ve always preferred hot weather and sunshine over cloud.”

The unnamed rainforest restaurant is tentatively slated for late 2019. Stay tuned.

Into the Amazon: Virgilio Martínez and Pía León on their most ambitious restaurant project ever [World’s 50 Best]

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