After topping the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list three times from 2014 to 2016, it seemed like Central restaurant couldn’t get any better. But chef-owners Virgilio Martínez and Pía León were working on a grand plan to move the restaurant to a new location in Lima’s Barranco neighbourhood, where it now shares a site with León’s restaurant, Kjolle, cocktail bar Mayo, the Mater Iniciativa research arm and even the chef couple’s family home. By streamlining their Lima projects, they were able to make Central the most sustainable of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, and indeed the highest-scoring ever, with a 98% mark in the 2019 assessment by Food Made Good Global.
For Central, sustainability starts and ends in Peru. From piranha fish to pumpkin, cacao to choclo corn, every single ingredient comes from a different part of the country, and it has long been part of the team’s ethos to travel in search of new produce. The goal is to expose diversity through food, showcasing different altitudes, landscapes, ecosystems and ethnic groups by way of an all-encompassing tasting menu. That might be through a dish of medicinal plants such as congona leaves and kjolle flowers from a high altitude; scallops and sea lettuce from the marine valley or Amazonian shrimp.
But showcasing Peru’s diversity doesn’t end with simply taking the product from origin to plate. Central is dedicated to giving back to the land and its producers so, in partnership with Mater Iniciativa, the team considers the effect of all ingredients on the natural and social systems from which they originate. When they decided to set up their ambitious Mil project at 3,500 metres above sea level near the Moray archaeological ruins, they spent years developing friendships and relationships with the locals. They sent anthropologists to assess the social problems, before employing and supporting locals through their work. Mil now produces all chocolate for Central, and the company helps locals to face the challenges of producing cacao and coffee in difficult-to-access areas.
Staff at Central are cared for with the same dedication and respect that is extended to local communities and producers. They work six days a week, with two balanced and healthy meals per day and a dedicated area for mealtimes and rest. Central partially covers the cost of English lessons for employees, as well as all costs for educational and research trips to different regions.
Since it was first voted The Best Restaurant in Latin America in 2014, Central has become a bucket-list destination, drawing visitors from all over the world. But a meal here is as much about a balanced, nutritious experience as it is about Martínez and León’s colourful, photogenic and delicious 16-course degustation. The menu is designed to reflect the natural equilibrium that occurs in nature, so seafood and meat are not main players, and the restaurant serves underused marine species such as paiche or pyura. If a dish contains colours, shapes and textures, it is because it is packed with nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and protein – and Central’s menu is the most colourful and texturally diverse in the world.
It goes without saying that all the cornerstones of sustainability are covered here too – flaxseed, chia and other nut oils are used instead of palm oil; organic waste is converted to animal feed for pigs and the restaurant has its own water filtering system. And as the Central team expands with its final project, a restaurant in the Amazon jungle, it is clear that sustainability will continue at the heart of everything it does.
The Sustainable Restaurant Award is given to the restaurant with the highest environmental and social responsibility rating, as ranked by audit partner Food Made Good Global. All restaurants on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list are invited to enter the award via self-nomination and each is assessed across three main pillars: sourcing, society and environment.