A Peruvian Chef Who Conquered the World Scales Higher Heights

The dining room at (and a view from) Mil, which sits 11,706 feet above sea level in the Peruvian Andes.

Taking destination dining to new heights, a celebrated Peruvian chef has just hung out his shingle 11,706 feet above sea level, where the entirety of his street address is “ascending 500 meters from the Archaeological Complex of Moray.” Yet despite the enigmatic coordinates, and the fact that the nearest villages are all but concealed from the outside world, every taxista within a 100-mile radius will soon know these back roads by heart.

There is, after all, no concealing the resident chef: Virgilio Martinez, who also runs Central, the nine-year-old Lima institution that currently ranks fifth on the closely watched World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. While he’s unassuming in the extreme, the 40-year-old has already left a distinct footprint with his new Andean outpost, Mil, which opened at the end of February.

Having formed a co-op of sorts with the tiny nearby farming communities of Kacllaraccay and Mullaka’s-Misminay he’s aiming to chronicle and revive ancient local ingredients and food practices that might otherwise be lost to time. Among others in his merry band of preservationists are his wife Pía León, an acclaimed chef in her own right; his sister Malena Martinez, head of the group’s native ingredient-cataloging operation; and Francesco D’Angelo Piaggio, the staff anthropologist and community outreach consigliere who has the best backstory of the bunch: When he was still working on his thesis in a nearby rural community, his mother saw the Virgilio Martinez episode of “Chef’s Table” on Netflix and insisted her son do the same, given the gentlemen’s eerily simpatico sensibilities. A series of emails and a job at Mil soon followed.

The result of the group’s efforts is unlike anything else in my restaurant-going experience: Lunch (there is no dinner service as of yet) consisted of eight courses, a gustatory grand tour of altitudinous ecosystems, each stop an opportunity to use age-old ingredients and techniques to arrestingly modern effect.

Our first “moment” (as they call courses at Mil) was entitled Preservation, a nod to the local practice of preserving potatoes during the harvest. “The technique involves exposing potatoes to cold water flow, then sunlight, to freeze-dry them,” Malena Martinez explained. But rather than serve the resulting traditional chuño as is, her brother grates, rehydrates, cooks — and once again dehydrates it — until an amazingly airy, diaphanous chip emerges. And once that crisp meets the accompanying uchucuta — a heady blend of herbs, chili and corn — you’ll be ruined for all other chips and dips.

Other standout moments included Andean Forest, with its Hogwarts-evoking “lupinous legumes” in an extra-bright (flavor- and color-wise) leche de tigre; Diversity of Corn, the alternately creamy and crunchy components of which add up to something “like a muesli,” according to Mr. Martinez; and Extreme Altitude, our intro to cushuro, or, as one young server proudly proclaimed, “colonies of bacterias” — palate-pleasing, blue-green spheres plucked from Andean lake water.

The drink pairings were equally and deliciously high-concept, ranging from a pampa anise-spiked smoked lettuce infusion to a citrusy kiwicha milk (we stuck with nonalcoholic because of the altitude).

Standing at the restaurant’s front door after the meal for one last look at the Inca ruins just outside, we could hardly disagree with Mr. Martinez’s assessment of his new neighborhood: “For me, this is the best place to eat, to get ingredients — and to meet people.”

Mil, 500 meters (one-third of a mile) above the Archaeological Complex of Moray; milcentro.pe/en/. Lunch for two, without drinks and tip, is 947 soles (about $290) for the eight-course tasting menu.

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