It’s T-time

Tarquino's Dante Liporace
Tarquino’s Dante Liporace
And so the top prize at the second edition of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants went to Lima’s Central.

Held on Wednesday night at the Country Club Lima, the top three could have gone in any direction: although Central, fellow Lima-based restaurant Astrid & Gastón and Sao Paulo’s DOM were all contenders, and it also seemed Brazilian Alex Atala would snap up the top spot and a lifetime achievement award in one fell swoop. But Central’s Virgilio Martínez and Pía León were anointed the best in Latin America.

Just over a year ago, kindly Argentine chef Antonio Soriano from Astor hooked me up with two colleagues in Lima. Those contacts were Gastón Acurio, godfather of Peru’s cuisine, who I’ve christened Gastonomy in a tribute to his efforts in Peruvian gastronomy, and Virgilio Martínez.

Each replied to me, Virgilio giving me his phone number so we could have a chat, Gastón suggesting I get in touch via his PA. I met them both.

Martínez’s obsession with unearthing relatively unknown ingredients unique to Peru — certain potatoes that grow at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres or his innovative use of cacti — and turning them into Peruvian haute cuisine with the Mater Uno menu captivated me a year ago. And obviously a decade honing skills and racking up experience in restaurants around the world has helped.

So when he popped up to cook at the Cocina Sin Fronteras dinner at San Telmo’s El Baqueano several months ago (this year’s highest climber in the LatAm 50 Best soaring 21 places to rank 18), I was there like a bullet.

Then, last weekend, after I’d wandered around the Barranco neighbourhood in Lima, I posted some of the day’s images on Instagram. Having seen that I was in town, Virgilio then commented on one photo, inviting me to back to Central. That dinner was on Monday and by Wednesday, Virgilio’s restaurant was confirmed as Latin America’s number one.

Central’s Virgilio Martínez and Pía León
Central’s Virgilio Martínez and Pía León
The world of Dante
But the big news for Argentina is that Recoleta’s Tarquino helmed by Dante Liporace — surprisingly shunned in the 2013 list, especially considering that La Cabrera steakhouse chain made the top 20 — was this year’s highest new entry. Whipping straight in at an extremely respectable 16, the restaurant based at the ultra-swish Hub Porteño hotel deals in 21st-century Argentine fare, in which molecular gastronomy rears its head in many of El Bulli-trained Liporace’s dishes.

One of his most memorable meals is the “Sequence of the Cow,” a tribute to Catalan chef Ferran Adrià’s Hare Sequence. This top-to-toe eating extravaganza takes beef to a brand-new level, with foams and spheres changing the way you imbibe cow forever.

In other LatAm 50 Best news, Tegui stayed top of the Argentine pile to rank nine, while Aramburu also soared to place at 14.

Don’t forget that Gonzalo Aramburu recently opened Bis, a more accessible bistro if the full monty of tasting and pairing menus is too costly. (But go anyway, if you can.)

Places 21, 22 and 23 went respectively to Chila, La Cabrera and Tomo 1, 29 to Oviedo, 40 to the only non-BA restaurant Francis Mallmann 1884 in Mendoza, Sucre and Elena at 47 and 48 and Pura Tierra taking the final spot.

Few changes on last year — 12 Argentines instead of 15 with Paraje Arevalo, Hernán Gipponi Restaurant (now closed), Casa Umare and Unik not making the cut — but it does reiterate that Argentina’s restaurants remain a dominant regional force, still occupying the most number of places in the rankings.

Talking to other journalists this week, many expressed apathy or even dislike of awards in general. All I can say is, food wise, there is so much to experience in this rich continental larder than anything that helps to open it up is welcome in my book.

Buenos Aires Herald, September 7, 2014
Ph: Hub Porteño and Latin America 50 Best.

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