Peruvian Mil, from the owners of the award-winning Central, only cooks with ingredients from the high-altitude ecosystem


From the edge of the Peruvian restaurant Mil, in the Andean Sacred Valley, you can see a unique archaeological park, similar to a coliseum. Moray is a complex built by pre-Inca civilizations, on the outskirts of Cusco, at an altitude of 3,500 meters.

The space was consolidated as an old agricultural experimentation center due to its thermal amplitude, in circular terraces, and serves as an inspiration for Mil, led by the world-renowned couple of chefs, Pía Léon and Virgilio Martínez.

They are also ahead, along with doctor Malena Martínez, of Central — number one in Latin America and second best in the world according to the 50 Best Restaurants ranking — and Kjolle.

At Mil, a high-rise, ultra-local kitchen is under construction. Their dishes make use of herbs, tubers and meats unique to the region.

With this, with each dish and each drink, the restaurant excavates an ancestral history of the ingredients and their respective relationships with old neighboring communities — the team lives with them and establishes a participatory, mutually beneficial relationship.

The idea of ​​interpreting the past in the present and, at the same time, conceiving a vision of the future, especially about the local communities involved in the project, is rooted in Mil.

This is the first regional base outside Lima da Mater, the nerve center for all the restaurants in Pía and Virgilio. The place works as an interdisciplinary research institute, where biologists, agronomists, neuroscientists, linguists, cooks coexist, and which catalogs botanical species from Peru’s life zones, in an attempt to map the country’s grandeur.

Mil itself, a unique place in the world, far from urban centers, works as a center for research, interpretation and development.

“It’s a project that started with many illusions and fear. We didn’t know what we were going to find”, says Pía, about the undertaking that brought her into contact with unknown ingredients and the richness of the Andean biodiversity.

In the kitchen, all inputs belong to the high ecosystem and are discovered from the relationship with local communities – and from the wisdom of their ancient uses. Innovation, paradoxically, is born related to land, agriculture and origins.

On the restaurant’s grounds, whose architecture makes the house blend in with nature, some organic products are grown, such as quinoas, herbs and potatoes, which are exposed to the sun to concentrate the sugars.

Limestone soil is complex to manage—nutrients are difficult to absorb, and water, on the other hand, is sucked up very quickly.

“Here, we do two very important things: one is to introduce products that are not from the area, and to test what grows. The other is to reintroduce products that have been lost over time”, explains Maria Fernanda Viviano, responsible for the botanical immersion made with tourists around the farm.

They are plantations made in conjunction with local communities, who have the knowledge, from which the harvests are divided fifty-fifty.

“We try to replicate this consumption in the communities so that they can improve their diet”, says the agronomist at Mil, Cristian Granda.

The tendency is to opt for non-native varieties, grafted in the laboratory, because they produce more and are larger. With the money from the sale, it is common to exchange for ultra-processed food.

Manuel Contreras, son and grandson of botanists and responsible for all of Mil’s liquid experiments, believes that ancestral knowledge, when taken to the laboratory, is attested.

With respect to this repertoire, he does an alchemy at the bar. They are fermented, distilled, infused drinks that carry leaves, herbs, wild flowers and roots, which give them an immense sensory variety.

The same ingredient can be interpreted differently in a dish. There are recipes like the different potatoes, with amazing colors and textures —purple, pink, yellow — served on handcrafted crockery, or on carved stones to be shared at the center of the table, as a community experience.

“There are many experts around an experience in Mil, field tests and in our relationships. Every day we challenge ourselves to look closely at our territory”, says Malena Martínez.

“Obviously Peru has many tourist destinations, such as Machu Picchu and archaeological centers, but the gastronomy is very strong”, says Virgilio Martínez. “It’s our biggest way of relating to tourists, it’s our biggest cultural expression.”

The journalist traveled at the invitation of the Kjolle restaurant.

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