On the 20th of June 2023, Central made history by becoming the first venue in South America to take the ultimate culinary crown and be named The World’s Best Restaurant, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna. As the news sinks in for husband-and-wife team Virgilio Martínez and Pía León, they share their hot take on what the accolade means not only to them and their team, but also to all of Peru
On a day that will be remembered by Peruvian cooks and food fans all over the world, a dining experience completely focused on the country’s ecosystems and their diverse flavours has been voted by a panel of 1,080 global gastronomic experts as the world’s best. Central, in the Peruvian capital of Lima, has long been an obligatory site of pilgrimage for foodies, but marks several firsts on taking home the top honours at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023, becoming both the first South American venue to take the No.1 spot as well as the first co-run by a female chef.
Pía León joined future husband Virgilio Martínez’s restaurant Central in its first year of opening nearly 15 years ago, and since then, the power couple have elevated Peruvian gastronomic culture to the very highest level on the global stage. Central’s world-famous menu sees the chefs take inspiration from the country’s biodiverse ecosystems, with each dish representing a specific area of the country – from 15 metres under the Pacific Ocean to 4,200 metres up in the Andes.
Central's dish 'Mundo Mater' (image: Ken Motohasi)
“Thanks to everyone here: peers, colleagues and mentors; thanks to Valencia, this beautiful city, and to 50 Best,” said an emotional Martínez at the culmination of a glamorous awards ceremony held in Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences. “This is not about being No.1, this is not about competition or being the best, it’s about doing what we love every day, keeping on achieving our beautiful goals and just looking for the truth.”
On stage, León put emphasis on the importance of working as a team, adding: “To the whole team, thank you for joining this adventure that is Central, and thank you Virgilio for your perseverance – you are a unique example of what it means to work so hard to follow your path.”
Central’s win follows their return to the No.1 spot in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants in November 2022, which they also occupied from 2014 to 2016, further cementing its status as the most influential and important Latin American restaurant of its generation – and possibly of all time.
Central's minimalist interior in Barranco, Lima (image: Gustavo Vivanco)
The restaurant was among the first fine dining places in the Latin American continent to break off from relying on French, European or Western techniques and instead craft an individual experience that spoke of its country. After a difficult first few years, it progressively gained influence, setting off a revolution that inspired several other South American countries to better value their own culinary cultures, leading to global appreciation for Colombian, Argentinian, Brazilian – and many more – gastronomies rising at the international level, helped along by other seminar eateries such as Mexico’s Pujol, Brazil’s D.O.M. and Chile’s Boragó.
Malena Martínez, the chef’s sister who runs the restaurant’s research arm, Mater Iniciativa – whose work forms the foundation of Central’s award-winning menus – took the chance to explain the restaurant’s philosophy. “In Mater, we follow some steps: think before you plan, plan before you do, think about every step you take forward, and also look back. It would be naïve to think that you cannot change the status quo if you continuously keep moving forward. Thank you so much for putting us in the spotlight tonight.”
Central’s win truly marks a watershed moment – a before and after in the history of gastronomy when the global culinary crown was bestowed not on a traditional fine dining institution, but on a family-owned, independent restaurant located in a small, underrated nation straddling the Andes and the Pacific Ocean.
Representatives of The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2023 were reunited in Valencia
Central is followed in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 ranking by three Spanish venues: Barcelona’s Disfrutar at No.2, run by chefs Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas; Madrid’s Diverxo at No.3, the creation of chef Dabiz Muñoz; and Asador Etxebarri in the Basque Country at No.4, Bittor Arguinzoniz’s temple to grilled produce. The top five is complemented by Copenhagen’s Alchemist, which also takes home the Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award.
Other remarkable moments of the emotional awards ceremony included French chef Julien Royer of Odette in Singapore receiving the Estrella Damm Chefs’ Choice Award; Korean counter spot Atomix in New York taking home The Best Restaurant in North America title and Fyn in Cape Town earning the Flor de Caña Sustainable Restaurant Award 2023.
The list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2023, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, was announced on Tuesday 20th June at a live awards ceremony in Valencia. To stay up to date with the latest news, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.