Photography by Emma Krasov
“Don’t eat the piranha heads,” said our brusque server, clad in a dark blue shirt and black vest. From a black ceramic bowl he put on the table in front of us piranhas’ sharp bared teeth and dead eyes stared at us and glared. Another server, dressed in the same uniform, and equally curt, put a bowl of gray stones and prickly annatto fruit with exposed seeds next to the piranha heads in one brisk movement.
A few minutes earlier, both of them promptly rid our group of female diners of all our possessions – purses, jackets, scarves, iPhones, and lipsticks – all went into a special hiding place away from the table. Nothing next to our plates, nothing on the backs of our chairs. All attention to the food presentation and degustation. We were at el número uno restaurant in Latin America, after all, and number four on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. We were dining at Central in Lima, Peru.
Some of the prominent San Francisco Bay Area chefs who happen to follow my news on Instagram reacted with envious comments to my piranha heads photo…
Yey! I guess… I’m not an envious person, and never aspire to be an object of envy, but hey, with this exceptional culinary event I was lucky to experience thanks to Bold Food Tours, I just took it.
In fact, the piranha heads were a whimsical yet fitting decoration for a dish, called Waters of Nanay, and the gray stones and spiky annattos – for the Forest Cotton wrapped in mashwa leaves.
Virgilio Martinez, the chef/owner of Central, focuses with high precision on Peruvian products and their producers in his culinary quest. He and his team travel all over the country to discover and utilize new ingredients while supporting local farmers and foragers. In his well-illustrated book, titled after the restaurant, the celebrity chef details the amazing diversity of Peruvian flora and fauna – an endless source for his inspiration and his diners’ fascination.
The tasting menu at Central is called Elevations. It follows the varied topography of Peru from below the sea level to the peaks of the Andes, and consists of 17 courses, all equally enticing in their utterly surprising nature, exquisite preparation, and unorthodox plating.
Bold Food Tours, started just last year by a former Genentech global supply chain executive, Muffie Fulton, stemmed from her original 2-year-old Bold Food company that she created to teach the science of cooking in her culinary classes and to provide in-depth consultations on all things food. Born in Colorado to a restaurant-owner family, and educated at Brown and Stanford, Muffie found her true calling in researching local cuisines wherever her business and leisure travels took her. When she realized how similar the restaurant chefs’ pursuits were to her own scientific background, Muffie followed her calling, and finally created an array of “trips for food obsessives,” as she puts it.
“I like to organize everything – high-end accommodations, a wide spectrum of food experiences, including eating at one-of-a-kind restaurants, cooking, shopping at local markets, learning about artisanal products – and to make it stress-free, while allowing for a comfortable level of flexibility,” says Muffie. Her tour activities for a group of about 12 are 80% food related, and 20% site-seeing, while regular tourist groups pursue the opposite proportion. She works months in advance securing reservations to not just fine dining, Michelin-star, or local cuisine restaurants, but to those of the highest ranking, critical acclaim, and led by celebrity chefs, ensuring a slew of unique experiences all packed in one eventful trip.
She encourages her potential group participants to call her with any questions, discuss personal preferences and requirements, and seek consultations. By developing personal relationships with the best private local tour guides on the ground she assures smooth sailing through any strange land.
Not that many lands are strange to Muffie. “I visited the majority of places before because I love to travel for food, and I travel all the time,” she says. “I don’t want to take people to a restaurant I’ve never been to. Everything is tried and true. I’m very precise, and I think of every detail of the tour. Control freaks trust me.”
The nascent tour company already conducted several successful food tours to various international and domestic destinations, and is planning to go on a few more this year, and 10 more tours in 2018. Among those – Singapore and Malaysia, Japan and Thailand, Barcelona, Mexico City, Chicago, Portland, Seattle – the list goes on.
On our Lima trip, Central was not the only outstanding restaurant visited by our group. Maido, the second-ranked restaurant in Latin America and number eight in the world, serves upscale Nikkei cuisine – the melding of Japanese and Peruvian food, developed by the substantial Japanese diaspora historically residing on the Peruvian land. Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura, who grew up in Peru and learned his craft in Japan, combines local ingredients with Japanese technologies to spectacular effects. His witty culinary hybrids, like Aji Negro Chawanmushi, Sansei Cebiche, and Asado de Tira Nitsuke are sure to stay in his patrons’ gustatory memory!
Another unforgettable experience was delivered by the TV personality chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino at his artfully decorated (with the paintings of a popular Colombian artist, Heriberto Cogollo) restaurant Malabar.
Gregarious and friendly, and in possession of fluent English, the chef personally cooked our dinner, and provided an evening of ultimate comfort food, useful information, high energy, witty comments and bursts of laughter in his spacious and spotless kitchen on Malabar’s upper floor, where we’ve learned how a fresh heart of palm salad, prepared simply yet perfectly looks, smells and tastes (light, refreshing, with subtle fruity flavor); tasted the best fish preparation in [this reporter’s] life, and even tried a piece of delicate little cuy – fried to golden brown, and tenderly fatty.
Besides luxuriating in wonderful restaurants of world-wide fame, and staying in Casa Andina Private Collection Hotel in the hip and lively neighborhood of Miraflores, our group dined on all imaginable cuts of highest quality meats at a true-blue butcher shop Osso; visited two city markets – Mercado de San Isidro and Mercado de Magdalena; went on Lima Gourmet Tour, during which we prepared our own ceviche and pisco sour at the international celebrity Chef Gaston Acurio’s restaurant Embarcadero 41; had an amazing Historical Tour of Lima and Pachacamac Ruins Tour with a highly professional guide, discovered and hired by Muffie; visited Larco Museum of Peruvian antiquities, Dedalo Art Shop of contemporary crafts, Huaca Pucllana archeological site, and a number of other sites, all within rich in the glorious city of Lima.
To summarize a Bold Food Tours experience – it’s so incredibly rich, so refreshingly well-organized, and so thoughtfully filled with first-class entertainment that there’s really nothing quite like it. It easily might be the best food tour ever! Please look for more information at: www.Boldfoodco.com.