“To understand diversity is to understand flavours” – Malena Martínez

Giulia Sgarbi - 26/11/2017

When her brother Virgilio, chef-owner of Central, No.5 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, asked Malena Martínez for help collecting new Peruvian products, she never imagined it would develop into a research project that now sits at the heart of the Lima restaurant.

Martínez spoke eloquently about the Mater Iniciativa initiative and its evolution at “#50BestTalks Latin America: united by food” in Bogotá. Read some of the highlights from her presentation and watch the full video below.

Mater [Iniciativa] is the soul of Central
and of everything that we’ve been working on at the restaurant.

We decided to create a research project that registers Peruvian ingredients in their place of origin. We wanted to travel and understand the nature of different places, collecting information about products that could eventually enter a restaurant's menu.

Over time, we realised that it wasn’t enough. It was necessary to highlight the power and strength of these products, colours, textures and elements – not just ingredients – and how they are part of the local culture of a place, part of our identity.

We started in Cuzco. Here we understood that we should look at the world vertically, not horizontally. That was a turning point for us.

The dry forests, the palm savannahs, the high and low Amazons, the extreme altitudes; all have been enriching trips. The ingredients are different, but you don’t only collect ingredients, you collect knowledge.

We call it seeing the world in altitudes because we went up and down and collected everything at different heights. We introduced the altitudes tasting menu at Central, the first “Mater menu”, which takes you around Peru through different heights.

People came to eat at the restaurant and that's how new conversations began. They felt that we really wanted to understand more and they started to join the project: ethnobotanists, biologists, botanists, anthropologists, sociologists, linguists… People who want to share what they know and who hadn’t thought about the existence of this interface between food and their own field.

We are in contact with educational entities to write studies and start initiatives that can have a positive impact on the communities where the research is carried out.

What we’re most excited about is the Mil project located next to the ruins of Moray in Cuzco. These circumferences and circular terraces are thought to have been an agricultural research centre in the Inca period.

We like to feel that with our work, by highlighting all these things that shouldn’t be lost, we are also betting on them to be preserved.

Mil will be an interpretation centre where art, science, culture and cuisine will coexist and will add to the natural and social ecosystem of the site.

For us to understand diversity is to understand flavours, mysticism, tradition, innovation, colours, textures, culture, sustainability, nature, health, traceability, ecology, the history behind each ingredient, and above all, our identity.

Watch Martínez’s full speech at #50BestTalks:


Watch Michelangelo Cestari’s speech at #50BestTalks Latin America: united by food and stay tuned for the video from Villanos en Bermudas’ chefs Sergio Meza and Nicolás López.

Now watch the highlights from Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017:

Discover the full list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna. For more videos and photos, subscribe to the 50 Best YouTube channel, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.