I had a pretty busy feeding schedule this past January, going out for 13 big dinners during the month in the days leading up to a gourmet trip to Tokyo - including being out 5 nights in a row during a particular week. So when I found out about the pop-up dinner at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental with Chef Diego Muñoz from Astrid y Gastón in Lima, I really struggled between wanting to try something totally new and foreign to me, and my strong desire to keep my calorie intake in check. In the end I passed up the opportunity, and looking back I kinda wish I hadn't.
As usual, we gathered at the Amber Bar for cocktails and canapés. Virgilio was on hand to prepare one of the canapés while the rest would come out from the kitchen in rounds.
Tonight's dishes are taken from two of Central's tasting menus: Mater Elevations, featuring ingredients found at specific altitudes; and Mater Ecosystems, featuring ingredients coming from a specific regional ecosystem within Peru. One must admit that the concepts are very interesting.
According to Virgilio, there are 7 people at Central who don't do any cooking, whose jobs are to travel to different parts of Peru - up the mountains, for example - in search of ingredients. He gives us a couple of statistics to illustrate the biodiversity of his homeland: there are over 4,000 different kinds of potatoes and over 170 different types of corn. He stresses that they don't do "seasonal cuisine" because of the wide variation in climates across different regions of Peru. Their cuisine also isn't "local" as they come from all corners of the country, although each dish is contained within a specific ecosystem.
I also tried out two cocktails...
The milk was infused with herbs which were collected from an altitude of more than 4,000 meters, and left for at least an hour to deliver a slightly nutty flavor. There was also a piece of dried milk crisp along with some amaranth.
The Great One said that this was the most delicious quinoa she's ever had. I would have to agree with her.
However, as I reflected on the meal later, I could just as easily level the same type of criticism I used for my meal at Noma Tokyo: most of the dishes were cold (only two out of seven dishes were served above room temperature), and there was plenty of acidity in my food (three of the seven dishes had very noticeable acidity). So I was a little torn about how much I really enjoyed the taste of the food, given my general dislike for food with a strong acidic profile. In the end, though, I was still a happy camper for having had my eyes opened.
I don't think I'll make a trek all the way to Lima just to dine at Central any time soon, but maybe it's time to plan that long-awaited trip to Machu Picchu... and drop in to visit Virgilio along the way...