Photograph by ALEC JACOBSON
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Chef Virgilio Martínez uses a kaleidoscopic variety of heirloom potatoes and ocas at his restaurant Mil, in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Photograph by ALEC JACOBSON

Get a taste of Peru’s hot potatoes

Industrialized agriculture has threatened the diversity and cultural value of this staple crop, but inventive chefs are changing the recipe.

This story appears in the June 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Since at least 5000 B.C., inhabitants of what’s now Peru have been feasting on spuds. It makes sense: More than 4,000 varieties grow here. But the diversity and cultural value of the crop are under threat from industrialized agriculture. Today inventive chefs such as Virgilio Martínez are boosting the status of the potato and other traditional Andean foods into cuisine often dubbed Novoandina. (Here’s why foodies have been drawn to Peru.)

At Mil, Martínez’s restaurant in the Sacred Valley, travelers can help harvest the very potatoes that will end up on their plates as part of an eight-course, Andean-focused menu. The myriad types found at Mil are due in part to Peru’s latest potato pioneer, Manuel Choqque Bravo. He has created what he calls Manuel’s super potatoes—high in antioxidants and ablaze with pink, blue, and purple hues. Bravo proves tubers are delicious not only as food but also as drink, with innovations that include Miskioca, a fermented tipple made from the colorful potato-like oca.

Another game changer, Lima-based chef Palmiro Ocampo, promotes zero-waste cooking and sustainable food with dishes like potato-peel chicken nuggets. Drawing from the past to transform modern fare, these chefs are passing the potatoes, and helping to make Peru one of the world’s top dining destinations.