The Spud Diaries – Entry 17 – The Talented Señor Martinez

The Spud Diaries – Entry 17 – The Talented Señor Martinez


Opinion
CELEBRATION: Some traditional Peruvian dancers helping celebrate National Potato Day in Cusco.

CELEBRATION: Some traditional Peruvian dancers helping celebrate National Potato Day in Cusco.

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Peru's top chef, Virgilio Martinez, drops by on National Potato Day. He takes his food very seriously.

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IT'S National Potato Day in Peru. Happy National Potato Day for then, considering you are reading this in the future.

The third day of the World Potato Congress is half a day of speaker sessions and the second half free for delegates to take in some of the National Potato Day festivities.

As it turns out, it's also the first day of Corpus Christi. If I thought a celebration of potatoes was big, this is something else.

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I decide to go for a wander and see what the fuss is about. Before I know it, I'm caught in a mass of people, swarming and moving and pushing and nudging their way along the Cusco streets.

It's part parade, part open air market and all very loud.

OPPORTUNITY: This photograph of a savvy businesswoman and her pomegranates cost one soles.

OPPORTUNITY: This photograph of a savvy businesswoman and her pomegranates cost one soles.

There are some pretty funky looking piles of food that I photograph but don't taste.

I snap a shot of a lady with a wheelbarrow full of beautiful pomegranates. She charges me one soles.

The locals are certainly attuned to a business opportunity, that's for sure.

Before all this though, at the Congress, I take my place amongst a crowded room to hear from Peruvian food celebrity and number four chef in the world, Virgilio Martinez.

He's young, good looking, Spanish and can cook. I really can't see the appeal but who am I to judge?

He's an unassuming-looking bloke in his simple (but probably expensive baby Alpaca wool) blue jumper and jeans. I assume he's about 19 years old. I discover he's actually 40.

The Spud Diaries - Video 11 - National Potato Day

Virgilio talks briefly about his journey, how he grew up in Peru and decided to become a chef so took off around the world to work in some top kitchens.

It wasn't until he returned home and was inspired to use ingredients native to his homeland that he really started to make his mark.

FOOD MAN: Number four chef in the world, Virgilio Martinez, speaks about his use of traditional Peruvian ingredients to create high end menu items.

FOOD MAN: Number four chef in the world, Virgilio Martinez, speaks about his use of traditional Peruvian ingredients to create high end menu items.

He takes treks into the Andes mountains and the Amazon to talk to the locals and suss out foods that have never been used in a modern restaurant.

He shows slickly made videos which involve a lot of slow motion, nature imagery and shots of him delicately placing very fine garnishes on top of expensive-looking dishes.

Along with some other chef guest speakers who are working in a similar realm, they all chorus the same message of the importance to connect the land to the food, via those who grow or harvest it.

Is anyone doing this in Australia? Is any chef making a name for herself/himself by working with the Aboriginal people to utilise their knowledge of bush tucker and putting it into swanky restaurants in the big cities?

I'm struggling to pinpoint anyone. Perhaps there's an opportunity there.

Virgilio disappears before the other speakers have even finished so I don't get a chance to get a really good photo and share with him my highly regarded melted cheese on toast recipe (the secret is Promite underneath the cheese).

He likes to use potatoes in his dishes but considering the wait time for a table is about three months, and only in timed intakes, I doubt I'll be tasting his Mil Moray (potato, tree tomato and muña mint) on this trip.

I do manage to try a mashed potato and tuna hors d'oeuvre thing at morning tea.

SWEET: A dessert featuring potato (left), plus some caramel, chocolate and toffee, for good measure.

SWEET: A dessert featuring potato (left), plus some caramel, chocolate and toffee, for good measure.

A celebratory National Potato Day lunch is held in a motel and has potato dishes to indulge in, including a potato-based dessert which is delicious.

Once more it amazes me how versatile the old spud is.​ 

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  • Ashley Walmsley travelled to Peru with assistance from the Crawford Fund and with financial support from DFAT Council on Australia Latin America Relations.​ 
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