Let’s face it. I’m no foodie. I’ve never had any fine dining experiences in my life. As a matter of fact, I have no standard for food – I’m happy with eating mash potato from a box (yes, one of those where you mix some sort of powder with milk, and ta-da, here comes the delicious mash potato!); or I’ll easily get satisfied from cooking myself a meal with weeks old ingredients – frozen or half rotten (just cut out the bad parts and treat them as fresh ingredients!).
Well, I know nothing about food. And then, I walked into Central (thanks to my friend being so insisted!), ranked as the 4th best restaurant of the world, and countless number of awards only to further proof its significance in the food world.
I tried to dress nicely. I showed my manner I cultivated throughout my years of life experiences. Visually, I fit into the picture. But deep down, I knew I might be a disgrace to this restaurant. My expectation for this fine dining experience was nothing but “it tastes so good, but I can’t tell the differences between Central and Milestone (sorry Milestone!)”
And then, the 17 courses tasting menu “Mater Elevations” completely rocked my world, gave me an incredible and a once-of-a-lifetime memorable experience I can never ask for. Mater Elevations is a masterpiece of art. It is poetic, it is dramatic, it is theatrical, it is emotional, it is expressive, it is well structured, and it is articulated.
The program of this food repertoire was so well planned that this food concert allows the audience to taste all parts of Peru – what it is like to live, or to experience each region or Peru; and to feel the emotional patriotic love Chef Virgilio Martinez has for his country. The menu was fulfilled with senses of surprises, comfort, excitement, threat, joy, doubts, and peace – all pieced together by the theme of altitude.
Chef Virgilio Martinez is not only a chef. He is an artist, a composer of food. He understands the ingredients and pays the highest respects to these ingredients by showcasing their best quality in a carefully and creatively structured food program.
Central is the mirror of Peru. It showcases Peru as an incredibly interesting and beautiful country. It is developing, with a bucket full of hope and optimism.
The moment the waiter put down this beautiful dish, I was confused to what is edible and what not. After he explained the ingredients in English (to me it sounds the same as Mars language), I started stabbing my fork into the orange bed, though why the heck it’s so hard to get a piece of that dish! Then the waiter walked toward me elegantly, whispered to my ear, “that’s decoration”… well here’s the beginning to my fine dining journey!
- Rock Molluscs – 10M
This dish brought a smile to my face! It’s so gentle, so sweet, so mild, and so comfy. The green chip tasted like seaweed, brings you right to the ocean. It’s the exact feeling of sitting at the beach in the evening, letting the waves gently brush against your naked feet. Relaxed, comfortable, calm.
- Desert Plants – 180 M
This is another sweet and heartwarming dish, with a hint of fruity taste. After all, the main part was made from a popular fruit of Peru that grew on cactus. It’s not overly sweet, nor overly sour. It’s a gentle balance of taste. Not too experimental. Just feeling comfortable and loving.
- Lofty Andes – 3500 M
I absolutely love this one! It’s a trio of potato. First, we start with a nest like finger food. It’s made from potato, and inside the mysterious nest comes a burst of flavor mixed with sweet and sour. It’s creamy, it’s colorful, it’s surprising. It literally brought a smile to my face when I was enjoying this delight.
Then we had the simple roasted potato, which you dip it into a sauce made with alpaca meat. The ingredient is so simple, yet it’s SO comforting. This completely reminded me the moment when I finally found comfort from recovering high altitude sickness or food poisoning! It’s homey, it’s warm, it’s comforting, especially when you’re in the unknown highland with strong cold wind constantly searching for comforts.
Lastly, we finish the trio with a piece of potato leaf. It’s so interesting how you can taste real taste of the unknown ingredient and the chef makes it so easy to understand.
- Thick Stems – 3500 M
I had no idea what I was eating other then feeling happy and joyful when I tasted the sweetness and sourness burst into my mouth, brought me to the top of the mountain, singing a harmonious song around my tongue! It’s full of energy, what a contrast from the last dish! It’s very Bartok, a song with folk tunes!
- River Scales – 680 M
Now we are back down to the Amazons, where the chef introduced seafood again after the first course. This one is so refreshing and sweet – you could taste the gentle sweetness of the river shrimp against the leafy taste of the leaf. It’s so refreshing and playful. It’s slightly less energetic than the last dish, simple and pure.
- Forest Cotton – 300 M
Again, this is another trio where you first start with tasting the fruit from the amazon. Within this fruit, the chef injected some sort of sweet cream to balance off the sourness of the fruit. It’s a perfect contrast of flavor and texture. It tastes so joyful that you feel like humming a simple tune with this course.
The 2nd of the trio is a piece of leaf wrapping around something. I didn’t remember much of this course. It didn’t give me much memorable footprint. Well, middle child syndrome?
But… the chef is smart. He knows the moment you start getting too comfortable with his food, you take things for granted. Now the chef wants you to drink some dark juice came right from the tree. It’s WORSE than Chinese herbal tea – so super sour! So uncomfortable to drink, and a sense of danger rushed into me immediately… What does Chef Virgilio want from me?!
- High Jungle – 2800 M
Intermission. You taste pallets get a break from enjoying a simple loaf of warm and soft bread, with the world’s most flavorful butter and bread dip, complimentary with a fluffy snack made of potato. Finally finish the intermission with a crunchy chip made with a specific Peruvian potato that grows on tree – air potato. They even gave you a specimen of air potato (again, the waiter reminded me it’s for decoration only…) – take notes everyone, this is biology class.
- Marine Soil – 0 M
After intermission, comes a visually colorful dish. It’s sea urchin! I’ve never had urchin in my life, and it’s my honor to have my first urchin in such a refined restaurant! There’s an unexplainable type of freshness and sweetness with that urchin, together with the fruity taste of everything else, this dish splashes the color orange and yellow in my mind. Just like the colour of this dish.
- Tree Skins – 1200 M
If course 8 is a child joyfully splashing orange and yellow paint on the wall with silly laughter, this course is like a forgiving mother sitting on the side, patiently letting her child finish his silly creative business, watching her child with nothing but love. I believe the prima donna of this dish is fish skin, I could taste the saltiness from the ocean. But I’m not too sure, I have my doubts… this course gives me the feeling of uncertainty. Oh the purple quinoa tasted so crunchy, totally unexpected!
- Land of Corn – 2010 M
This is the most easily understand course out of all. It’s a dish made of three different types of corn. I tasted the American corn dog in this dish… it’s very easy to understand, and I wasn’t wowed by this course. The taste was expected. I found the sauce too salty. This course didn’t spark my imagination. I must’ve missed something. Well, I know nothing about food, who am I to judge?
- Colors of Amazonia – 450 M
This is definitely is the most memorable dish. It’s so colorful! All the bright color is presented in one single dish – yellow, orange, green, red, and black. BLACK?! When I saw the black dots on this dish, I freaked out. Is this it the same black juice Chef Virgilio made us drink in course 6?! Is this the dangerous, sour, and uncomfortable dish? The colour of this course is beautiful, but usually beautiful things are dangerous and toxic! Am I going to die from this course? Yet, the beauty of this course fills me with excitement and anticipation, I couldn’t wait to try the first bite! I’ll be safe – I’ll try the red first. Maybe it’s radish. Yes, I know the taste of radish. I’ll be safe. NOPE! Not radish!! It’s some seafood, so sweet and tasty!! I’m safe! As I dig deeper into the dish, I felt nothing but happiness and joy. My tongue was swimming in the ocean, just like being in Disney’s little mermaid. This is the amazon, it’s beautiful, it’s dangerous, it’s fun!
- Coastal Harvest – 20 M
My friend, who grew up in a place with minimal seafood, started to notice the taste of sea gets strong as we move on. I grew up in Macao, where it’s surrounded by the ocean, I feel more at home as the taste of ocean gets stronger in each upcoming course. The yellow sauce has the taste of ocean, and the scallop hiding underneath the seaweed taste chip brings out the grandness of the ocean. This dish presents the grandness of the ocean waves, and the unbeatable Mother Nature.
- Sea Coral – -10 M
As a contrast from the last course, which presents the grand picture of the ocean, this course presents a microscopic version of the ocean – a crab on a rock. The ocean flavor foam is just like the foam coming out from the crab, lying on a bed of green liquid – another flavor with a different taste of the ocean. Then, on top lies three pieces of crunchy stuff – a taste of crab and seafood. So amazing, absolutely mind blowing. Chef Virgilio literally put the entire micro-ecosystem in a dish, all edible!
At this point, I was starting to feel sad because we are starting to entre the finale of this food concert.
- Low Andes Mountain – 1800 M
This course marks the final coda of this movement. Underneath the bed of flowers hide the most tender and flavorful piece of meat. I cannot tell what kind of meat it is, but it doesn’t matter. It’s so good that it merges well with all the other flavors presented on the dish. This dish plays a beautiful chord in a major key, marking a happy ending to this movement, and that’s it for the main course.
15/16/17 – Humid Green (3700M)/Amazonian White (400M)/ Medicinal and Plant Dyes (3050M)
The final three courses were all deserts – so articulated and well presented, just like a virtuoso pianist playing a flashy cadenza from the Mozart piano concerto, impressing the crowd with his technique, yet presenting the musical and artistic idea in such a delicate and sophisticated manner. The three deserts were well programed together – each has its own characteristic and personality, colour and texture.
This 17 courses tasting menu is like attending an unforgettable concert – the flow of the program (menu) was so well planned; the orchestra contains nothing but the top-notch world class musicians (the chef crew); Maestro conductor (Chef Virgilio) leads the orchestra with such in an depth sophistication, musicianship and leadership, playing this concert in a concert hall (the restaurant environment and the rest of the crew) with such amazing acoustic.
I never thought music and food could be so closely related. I guess, after all, this is what art really is.
PS. Chef Virgilio is so young and sweet and charming! Once we finished the last desert, he magically showed up behind us and asked gently “how was the food?” and started a very down-to-earth conversation with us. OMG I thought I was dreaming! Yea… I ended up being the stupid little girl not knowing what to say other than spilling gibberish in front of him!