I try to visit Singapore as often as I can, not least for the chicken-rice, which I love. Last time I was there, a friend took me to One Kueh at a Time and I was particularly impressed by the gu chai (chive dumplings), which were made in front of me. It was such a contrast to my cooking, which requires so much preparation and draws on many different elements. I’d go back for those dumplings – and for the fragrant aroma of Cantonese cuisine which takes me back to happy memories of childhood Sunday brunches at Chifa restaurants, a fusion of Cantonese and Peruvian cuisine which was created in the late 19th century by Chinese immigrants to Peru.
Although my kitchen at Central is all about creating new ways of using our indigenous ingredients, I love traditional Peruvian food and my favourite place to eat it is Taberna Peruana in Isolina (above). The chef there, José del Castillo, grew up helping his mother in the family restaurant and his dishes pay homage to home cooking. It is packed, fun and the portions are made for sharing. I love the tortilla of sweetbreads and the arroz con pato (duck with rice), but my favourite is the ceviche made from the catch of the day. You can taste the sea on the fish, which is bathing in tiger’s milk (the leftover marinade), onion and aji limo chillies and seasoned in a way that takes me back to how ceviche used to be made. With it we drink traditionally fermented maize like chicha morada, made from purple corn.
This is the only time I get to be with my baby son Cristóbal, and my wife Pia, who works with me at Central. Our fridge at home is always empty so we drink tea while Cristóbal has a purée that we have brought home from Central. Pia and I drink lots of different teas; it may be coca-leaf tea, mixed with mint or camomile one day, and wild lemon verbena from the Andes the next. When I put on my apron to return to work, Cristóbal jumps up and down and wants to come with me. I love it that he already senses the excitement of the kitchen.
Dinner would have to be in Tokyo, an inspirational city for me. I admire the tradition of its cuisine, its respect for ingredients and the way chefs don’t let commercial distractions get between them and their kitchens. I have been only once to Sugita Sushi, but I had a dish I will never forget. It was a nigiri of shrimp, exquisitely balanced between sweet and sour. I went to the fish market in the morning with Chef Takaaki Sugita and watched him select each shrimp. Having witnessed this dedication added to the overwhelming feeling of perfection that evening. I try to go to my local market, Surquillo, most days. When I choose a particular ingredient with a customer in mind, cook it in my restaurant and serve it, I feel I am giving away a piece of my heart. With that shrimp, I was on the receiving end of his.
Virgilio Martínez was talking to Mary Lussiana