Sliced raw lapas (clams) and bright orange galletas (a type of cookie) are placed atop seaweed, sea rocks, and shells before being garnished with chancaca-painted yuyo tips (herbs brushed with a type of sweet sauce). Arañas de Roca, translating to “Spiders of the Rock,” is not a naturalist art sculpture, but rather something much more palatable. The abstract dish takes up a page in Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez’s Central, a cookbook of edible concepts that blur the line between food and art, with harmony in flavors and sustainability advocacy.
“These dishes are very hard to fake or replicate because you really have to be in Peru [to make them],” Martinez tells me over wine at Café Standard when asked if he wants people to cook from this book, which calls for hyper-local Peruvian “ingredients” like sargassum algae, barquillos (mollusks), and huarango tree wood chips. “Even for us, it’s hard to follow these ‘recipes’ because ingredients change.”
Which is essentially his answer: Because every single dish in the book (and at his Lima restaurant of the same name) is solely composed of ingredients grown in one specific locale and altitude, and represents one Peruvian ecosystem, Martinez isn’t expecting readers to attempt to recreate Arañas de Roca or “Leaves of the Andean Valley” in their kitchen. Instead, the book is a document of what drives the 39-year-old chef: his dedication to the preservation of natural ecosystems, which is something that can be replicated around the world.