Virgilio Martinez celebrates traditions and innovations across his restaurants

Virgilio Martinez pictured with a cacao, photo provided by Visit Peru
Virgilio Martinez pictured with a cacao, photo provided by Visit Peru /

Whether it is top ranked World’s 50 Best Restaurant Central in Peru or it is Estero at La Casa de La Playa in Mexico, Virgilio Martinez has a clear vision about how he wants to present food. Each plate is a celebration of impeccable flavor and presentation. More importantly, it is an invitation to a conversation beyond the table, a willingness to understand the locale, culture, and history that nurtured the food which has arrived to be enjoyed.

Anyone who has had the pleasure to eat at one of Virgilio Martinez’s restaurants understands that sitting at the table is a total experience. While impeccable food featuring local ingredients will fill the plate, it is a culinary journey. Each dish is a chapter in that story. Whether it is local produce, a discussion of history, or a nod to tradition, the impact on the diner is appreciated long after they have left the table.

Speaking about fine dining, Martinez believes the experience not about the luxury in the moment. It can be about going deep into traditions, into people’s roots. He believes that the chef has a responsibility to do the research about the community, the history, the locale. With that knowledge, the restaurant can create a menu that reflects the past, present, and future with flavors and ingredients that will linger in guests’ minds.

For Chef Martinez, it is not necessarily about the label, it is about the learning experience. As a chef, he is constantly seeking knowledge, knowledge about his restaurant’s locale, ingredients, history and culture. He is able to create stories that have meaning, both for him personally and professionally, but also for the people who sit at his table. Hopefully, everyone leaves not only satisfied and inspired to learn more.

Estero restaurant at La Casa de la Playa by Virgilio Martinez
Estero, Chef Virgilio Martinez restaurant at La Casa de La Playa, photo by Cristine Struble /

Whether it is his restaurant in Peru or Estero at La Casa de La Playa in Mexico, Martinez believes that he needs to speak to people about the food before it can evolve into the restaurant’s menu. He feels that there is some responsibility as a chef to bring authentic ingredients and flavors to the table. From locally sourced corn and tomatoes in Mexico to potatoes in Peru, the whole conversation is vital to creating a memorable experience.

At all his restaurants, the chef has learned to balance tradition with contemporary. While he tried to block out some of the noise, there is a sense of creating art on a plate. As he experiences the world around him, that knowledge transforms to the food on the plate. It is not just a stunning visual or a captivating image that impresses to someone watching on the screen, it is opening a conversation that can make a connection with others.

Virgilio Martínez at Estero La Casa de La Playa
Tuna with ant eggs at Estero, photo by Cristine Struble /

When Virgilio Martinez opened Estero, he commented on what he hoped guests would appreciate from the dining experience. Chef Martinez likened coming to the table to going to a museum. He hoped that diners would experience emotions, be pressed to think about the food on the plate, how it came to the table, and let it affect you. The chef’s inspiration is only one part of the conversation. The diner needs to interpret the moment for themselves. Just like people respond differently to works of art, a dining journey is unique to each person.

Specifically, Chef Martinez said that he wants “a restaurant that make people think.” He believes that “the power of gastronomy is strong, it is and will be one of the best ways to communicate with people and build a community.”

While the 50 Best List has awarded Central its number one ranking and Estero has impressed guests at La Casa de La Playa, Virgilio Martinez sets the table not only with impeccable dishes, but he invites a conversation with his food that will continue long after the final plate is cleared.