Virgilio Martinez’s secrets

Remember that Virgilio Martinez’s interview we promised you? Here it is!

Is this the first time you’ve taken part in an event as big as Terra Madre?
This big, yes. But this year I was also at Festa a Vico, an Italian gastronomy festival organized by Gennaro Esposito. Brilliant!

Your philosophy is very close to that of Slow Food. Have you been familiar with our association and the Terra Madre network for a while?
Let’s say that being Peruvian really helped. Our connection to the land is still very strong and industrialization arrived later than in other places, so we dealt with the change with more awareness and information. I’ve known about Slow Food and Terra Madre for some time thanks to the many friends I have around the world. I took part in the first Terra Madre event two years ago, invited by a farmer friend: There were 20 of us, we prepared a dinner and read the manifesto.

How do you think that your work can help small-scale food producers?
It helps them when I can publicize their products and their story and give continuity to their work. Much of what I do depends on the activity of the producers and the level of communication that we manage to establish. I try to do my best to help them, I’m always available and open to every possibility. For me, it’s essential to know and understand their needs, so not only can I communicate what and how they produce, but also pass on a certain pride to those who choose those products. I also like teaching and showing the different ways in which they can be transformed and their various uses in the kitchen. When we discover some little-known product, we always try to find a way to present it that encourages people to try it. To do that takes a good measure of creativity and especially team work.

You’re one of the best-known chefs in Peru and among those most famous abroad. How can you distinguish yourself in this world where everyone is talking about tradition, local ingredients, seasonality, innovative techniques…
I think it’s important not to pay too much attention to what people say. I identify myself a lot with what I do and it’s very gratifying. There is also a profound connection with my collaborators and we all try to give our best. The recognitions come, but they’re not our objective, which remains the same: to try to work as best as possible, to do something important, always, whether at home, in the restaurant, in the fields or wherever. If we realize that we are only following a cliché, a fashion, a trend, we have to be honest with ourselves and realize that fame, if based on these premises, is an ephemeral value, which has nothing to do with our work. What counts are not the epithets or the spangles—they’re certainly fascinating and alluring, but they’re not a fundamental element, just a starting point. It is above all honesty and authenticity that make clear who we are and what we do. All the rest comes as a consequence.

Lima, Cuzco and now London: What are the differences and what do they have in common?
Lima is home, where we can allow ourselves a few more experiments, where we spend more time and where we create the things that can then travel further away. In Cuzco we have a space that brings us close to the land, to our tradition and to nature, giving us a lot of inspiration. It’s really a source of knowledge. Cuzco gives us a different geography, another context, another point of view. In London, as in Lima, we want to transmit the spirit of what we do. It’s very exciting because we have the chance to promote our land and get a good response to our work.

What is your first gastronomic memory?
Living near the sea influenced me a lot. As a child, when I played or did sport on the beach, I would always go see the fishermen, all people who lived in a very tranquil way. My most vivid memory is of a fisherman who was obsessed with counting the fish he caught. I and my group of friends enjoyed asking him the same question every day, “How many?”, and he would always give us a very precise number, which changed every day. The same fisherman sold his catch to the little kiosk where we would then have lunch!

By Elisa Virgillito
[email protected]

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