When we think of culinary excellence, we tend to think of places like New York, Barcelona, London, San Sebastian or Lyon. Countries like France, Spain and Italy have been — with much justification it must be said — lauded for centuries as representing the epitome of culinary art. In more recent years however, the centre of gravity has begun to move away from these traditional gastronomic capitals as tastes change; new processes have come into vogue and as the cult of the celebrity chef has gained hold. For the past few years, Noma in Copenhagen has held court as the world’s best restaurant, showcasing the Nordic view of what modern cuisine should be all about. Not surprisingly, Japan has also been rising in the rankings in recent years as the finesse, aesthetic look and healthy benefits of sushi have begun to appeal to an ever widening audience. The real surprise however has been the emergence of Peru as a culinary powerhouse which — when you think about it — shouldn’t really be a surprise at all since it was the Incas who introduced both the potato and Indian maize to the world and where you can still enjoy a choice of literally hundreds (if not thousands) of varieties of both!
I had the pleasure of spending a memorable two weeks in Peru about eight years ago. One week was spent on a river boat navigating its way down the Amazon and some of its major tributaries whilst the second week was spent marvelling at the sophisticated society and technology that the Incas enjoyed over five hundred years ago. One of the highlights for me though was the food. Whether it was eating giant catfish, yellow tomato juice (beautiful) or piranha (awful) from the Amazon or being introduced to the delights of Pisco Sours and Ceviche in the very middle class suburbs of Miraflores in Lima, both the quality and diversity of the cuisine in Peru was a revelation to me and indeed one of the reasons why I want to go back. The point being that we all (to a greater or lesser degree) harbour misconceptions of the world in terms of where we perceive to be safe, worthwhile visiting, having a lot to offer in terms of history, culture, cuisine and so on and the fact of the matter is that such perceptions and expectations need to be regularly re-calibrated as otherwise we do both ourselves and some amazing destinations around the world, a great disservice. Not one but three Peruvian restaurants (all in Lima) now inhabit the rarefied listing of the top 100 best restaurants in the world and the best placed of those three is called Central which now currently sits at number 4 in the world rankings. Their cuisine, which is sourced from the coasts, deserts, mountains and rain forests of Peru are all segregated based on the respective altitudes at which they have been foraged for, ranging from -25 metres to + 4,000 metres.