Virgilio's photograph of Moray, July 2017. Image courtesy of the chef's Instagram

Virgilio Martinez is building a restaurant beside this Inca ruin

The chef’s 60-seat establishment and food lab references the region’s pre-Columbian place within the Inca Empire

A couple of hundred years ago the outskirts of Cusco, high in the Peruvian Andes, would have been an ideal spot for a new hospitality venture. Cusco was once the capital of the Inca Empire, a huge pre-Columbian civilisation which dominated this part of the world from the early 1200s until the Spanish arrived in the late 16th century.

Today, Cusco is a more difficult place to pick up passing trade. At over 11,000 feet above sea level, this sparse, altitudinous spot is popular with tourists, but a long way from the metropolitan bustle of Lima.

Nevertheless, the Peruvian chef and Phaidon author Virgilio Martinez is intent on setting up a restaurant near this ancient site. His new place, Mil, will be a food research laboratory and sixty-cover restaurant, which will enable diners to eat beside an earlier site of gastronomic wonder.


Virgilio Martinez at the Moray ruins. Photo by Daniel Silva from Central
Virgilio Martinez at the Moray ruins. Photo by Daniel Silva from Central

Mil will be just a few kilometres outisde Cusco, right by Moray, an ancient ruin whose concentric, stepped terraces may have served as a kind of agricultural lab.

“The temperature in the largest, thirty-meter-deep structure can fluctuate as much as fifteen degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) from the top to the bottom, giving each terrace its own microclimate where different types of plants are grown,” the chef explains in his book Central. “Each level is its own ecosystem. It is Peru inverted. It inspired us.”

Martinez has made his name “cooking ecosystems”, drawing obscure, and little-used ingredients from a variety of altitudes within Peru, from local seafish, to an algae-like bacteria that grows high in the lakes and streams of his country.

These might sound like an utterly contemporary way to cook; however Mil’s spot, next to these Incan steps, suggest the technique might be as old as the hills. For more on Martinez’s life, work and cookery get his book Central here.