To try Virgilio’s food, book a table at Lima Fitzrovia or head to Harrods Food Halls. Visit limalondongroup.com
The Peruvian chef’s Lima Fitzrovia restaurant has held a Michelin star since 2013. He tells Imogen Lepere about making his first ceviche and where he goes to eat in his hometown
Where did you last go on holiday? - As a chef, it’s difficult to take time off. However, I recently spent two days in Hong Kong. In the markets, you pick out amazing seafood and vendors cook it in front of you with sautéed vegetables and rice. When it comes to fine dining there, I was impressed by Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The chef, Richard Ekkebus, has adapted classic French cooking techniques to Chinese cuisine. I had the best chocolate soufflé I’ve ever tasted.
How does your upbringing influence your food? - We livedby the sea in Lima and I met lots of fishermen. I used to walk along the beach and think they looked lonely standing by themselves so I’d help them bring in their nets and then we’d eat together. Those were the first ceviches I made. I’d gut the fish on the rocks and add a squeeze of lime juice. When I was older, I used to skateboard so I spent a lot of time on the streets, which led to my love of Peruvian street food.
What are your favourite South American flavours? - Dried potato stews like my grandmother used to make. The technique comes from the Andes. We harvest potatoes and leave them to dry for 30 days. By this point they’re rock-solid so we put them in water until they ferment and then stew them.
Where in Lima do you go to eat? - I love a neighbourhood called Barranco. The atmosphere is very cool and there are lots of cafés serving wild coffee and wild cacao. I like easy-going cevicherias such as El Mercado and La Mar, and I highly recommend a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant called Maido. For traditional Peruvian dishes, you can’t beat La Picantería.
Where’s the best place you’ve eaten recently? - Mugaritz in San Sebastián. The food is very conceptual and full of emotion, and makes you really think about what you’re eating. There isn’t a menu and the experience lasts a few hours. I really enjoyed a spoon made out of sugar, paper flowers and a totally reimagined version of turrón (a traditional Spanish sweet). Next on my list is Fäviken, Magnus Nilsson’s restaurant in Sweden.
Where do you find your inspiration? - Peru’s landscapes and its people. We’re one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Between the Andes and the Pacific Coast we have 30 climates and there are only 32 in the world, so we have an incredible range of ingredients to choose from. The cuisine is a fusion of cultures, including Spain, Italy, China and Japan.
What makes a great dish great? - Nowadays you have to go beyond the taste of a dish. Of course that’s important but a great dish has a message. It should tell you about exceptional producers and where the ingredients come from, represent who has cooked it and tell the story of the restaurant.
This article was published on 28th June 2016 so certain details may not be up to date.