Food has taken over football as the number one pastime in Peru, and pro-skateboarder turned chef,  Virgilio Martinez, is showing the world what Peruvian cuisine has to offer at Central Restaurante in the capital Lima, and recently opened Lima London.  Key to his food philosophy is pachamama, "the land", and he gets down and dirty in Cusco, the seat of the Incan empire, to unearth a treasure of unique Andean ingredients.
By
Virgilio Martinez

25 Jan 2013 - 4:48 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Where
Cusco, an ancient city filled with Incan history.

Why go?
More and more, the people are starting to care for their green areas and their heritage, but in a very intelligent manner that combines modernity with world trends. The most exciting thing about visiting the land of the native Andeans is to see how respectfully they treat their land. Everything is wonderfully natural because of their commitment to care for the land. The source of natural ingredients there seems limitless and the time is ripe for Cusco to show the world its many ingredients, which heretofore have been unknown to outsiders. The cuisine is simple in the technical sense, but the truth is, what more can you ask of a great product but to serve it in its optimum state, and that is what happens in Cusco: fresh items and good products from the wild. The ancient Incas had a good understanding of the domestication of vegetables, and they created a centre that was said to be a place of research, where they were able to domesticate and determine at which altitude and in which microclimate certain vegetables and herbs best grew.

Must visits
A trip by car to visit local producers at their farms in the Andes, where you can see local mushrooms, lake algae, and wild vegetables. In Ccatcca (yes, this is the right spelling!), I met with Mariano, a local farmer, and Mariano’s wife. They collect the local mushroom called "Ccatcca cèpes", dry them and make a powder from them. The powder is used to flavour soups, stocks, etc. Mariano also prepares essential oils from many of the plants and trees of the area. The Urubamba market is worth visiting, too, to eat simple native potatoes.

Must eats
Eating in the markets is incredible - you can try local cow’s milk cheeses with giant corn. There are fun restaurants such as Limo, Chicha and Cicciolina. Or go on a trip to the Sacred Valley to eat brunch at the Rio Sagrado Hotel.

Best food souvenirs
Buy all types of Andean grains: amaranth, cañihua, and quinoa - they are all harvested in the wild. Best time to visit Avoid the rainy season and go in June, July or August when tourism is low.

How to get there
There are a number of daily flights from Lima.

Virgilio Martinez is involved in the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival presented by Bank of Melbourne 2013 program. See him at the Langham Melbourne MasterClass on 9 and 10 March.

Photographs Gustavo Vivanco.