Wrapping San Sebastian’s Culinary Zinema sidebar Sept. 23, Alfred Oliveri’s “Virgilio” tracks chef Virgilio Martinez, the genius behind one of the world’s top restaurants, Central, in Lima.
Doc traces how the 45-year-old chef decides to embark on an expedition through the length and breadth of his native Peru to investigate the origins of its ingredients in the context of its culture, its history and the richness of its lands.
This experience changes him and his view of gastronomy. He replaces Central’s traditional menu with its now acclaimed tasting menu which transports the diner through a multiple-dish culinary experience that begins with ingredients found below sea level to Peru’s Amazon, its coastal foothills, its high valleys and Andean peaks.
More than a culinary experience, it’s a journey through Peru, its varied altitudes and terrains.
“I’ve set out to make films not just about gastronomy but about the land, the culture, the politics and the identity that shapes a chef and his cuisine,” said Oliveri whose production company, House of Chef, has produced a handful of similarly themed docs, two of which have premiered at San Sebastian.
Together with his scientist sister, Martínez also founded Mater Iniciativa, a research center tasked with documenting and experimenting with the indigenous plants, root vegetables and seaweed that Martinez collects during his expeditions and ultimately, to extract its culinary bounty. His wife Pia Leon has worked alongside him from the start and was named the best female chef in the world last year. She also runs her own lauded restaurant, Kjolle.
The documentary was filmed partly during the pandemic and chronicles the hardships they faced as they transitioned Central to a delivery service in order to keep the lights on. Their restaurant in the sacred valley of Cuzco, Mil, was closed down for two years.
“Virgilio” culminates in the emotional reopening of Mil, exactly two years to the day that the Peruvian government forced many establishments to shutter. There Martinez reflects on the journey that led him to found the number two restaurant in the world, Central. “His is a story of passion, creativity, intensity and a touch of craziness, too,” said Leon.