The Mil restaurant is a miracle. Between a dream and a madness of its promoters, the Peruvian chefs Virgilio Martínez and his wife Pía León. Isn’t it unlikely that a haute cuisine restaurant located in the middle of nowhere, at 3,800 meters of altitude, in the Peruvian highlands, difficult to access through high mountain dirt roads, fills its tables daily? This is what happens in Mil (@milcentro on Instagram), two hours by car from the city of Cuzco, which has become a privileged destination to which gourmets from half the world make a pilgrimage.
Getting to Mil, a remote, experimental, magical place nestled in the Andean heights, is not easy. They advised us on an adaptation process and in the first stage of our route we went down from 3,200 meters in Cuzco to 2,900 at the Explora Valle Sagrado hotel. After a low-fat dinner, with a preponderance of carbohydrates over protein, we restarted the ascent to 3,800 meters reassured by the emergency oxygen cylinder that accompanied us. Exciting route in which we do not stop hydrating ourselves repeatedly. “To avoid altitude sickness we advise you to eat in moderation, walk slowly, drink plenty of water and breathe calmly”, they repeated to me more than once.
Arriving at our destination, the mountain range that surrounded us dwarfed the view of the restaurant, similar to a farmhouse on bare earth. Not far away, in the open air, some peasants were waiting with their polychromatic blankets full of Andean grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, roots, varieties of corn, dried beans, quinoa, dried potatoes, tubers and grasses. Suppliers of Mil, explained their role in the supply of ingredients before inviting us to drinks of girl (fermented corn) with which we toast under the auspices of their astral gods. All in the proximity of the archaeological ruins of Moray, agricultural experimentation center of the Incas with amazing ring terraces. Only at the end of that exciting tour, within the reach of all the diners who wish to, do we cross the door of the restaurant to go, previously, to his study and experimentation workshop.
“Mil is much more than a restaurant, it houses a research center, Mil Lab Cusco, housed inside. We are committed to the biodiversity of our environment and the Quechua families that inhabit it,” Malena Martínez, sister of Chef Virgilio, nutritionist, director of Mater Initiative, a center for learning, creativity, and intercultural communication, told us. “We carry out botanical routes, recover tubers and vegetables at risk of extinction and carry out genetic crosses to achieve more nutritious foods with which the kitchen team then works. We generate content for the restaurant. We are in a poor region, but incredibly rich in plant genetic resources.”
The menu, apparently short, lent consistency to the whole story. Throughout eight moments, roots, tubers, grasses, wild herbs, beef, llama and duck meat appeared. Each pass was fanned out with little garnishes. Plates and bowls with unprecedented textures appeared on our table. Flavors that challenged my palate with unknown registers. Plates of crackling colors with colors similar to Andean clothes and fabrics. Something like an anthropological menu with haute cuisine criteria.
Impossible to judge each pass with a conventional gaze. the corn, the chapel (traditional dough of the region), coca leaves, elderberry butter and two types of potatoes (chuño and moralla) put together the first service.
A duck cured with went backsweet root of the South American cactus, as well as cherimoya cream and sour of I can not waitof the quinoa family. We continue with stewed alpaca meat, cheese and cereals. When it was time for corn, tender varieties with wild grasses burst onto the scene. There were also allusions to the ancient Inca ritual of the end of the harvests that Mil has recovered and applies to tubers as a method of roasting. For the tasting we choose juices and fermented fruits with flavors as original as the rest.
The menu is priced at 260 euros per person, an amount that diners pay in advance via online at the time of formalizing the reservation. “Fortunately, it is a sustainable restaurant economically, we can maintain our dining room and kitchen teams and improve the living conditions of the families around us. We unite the past and the present through food. We are happy to reinterpret the agricultural work of the Incas in Moray”, Virgilio Martínez, currently the second best chef in the world on the podium of The World’s 50 Best 2022, told me.
We left the restaurant almost at the same time as the rest of the 22 diners who were in the dining room. On the way back to Cuzco, going down the uncomfortable dirt roads we had come through, we crossed towns scattered throughout the Sacred Valley. Something magical at sunset. Images of the geographical point that we had just left continued to parade over my memory. Perhaps a force field chosen by the Incas where the energy of the earth converged, as the anthropologist who collaborates with Mil had pointed out to me shortly before. A designated place in the heights where the kitchen takes on a different meaning. Much more than a gastronomic experience.
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