Virgilio Martinez caught smuggling piranhas into the US for a 'special dinner'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Virgilio Martinez, the Peruvian chef owner of Central in Lima, best known for his appearance on Chef's Table, wound up in an interrogation room at LA's international airport yesterday after he tried to smuggle forty piranhas into the country. 

According to the LA Times, the chef, widely regarded as the best chef in Latin America, said he wanted the fish for a "special dinner" he was cooking for a friend in the city. 

Virgilio was visiting the States to make guest appearances at Jordan Kahn’s Vespertine and at Somni  at SLS Hotel Beverly Hills. 

The chef transported the fish in vaccum-packed pouches in a duffel bag. When he went through customs, he said "officers went into a panic" when they realised that he was carrying the fish - and he didn't improve his situation when he joked that the bag contained bones and flesh. 

But for him, it was a risk worth taking. 

“I was extremely obsessed about bringing piranhas because we serve piranhas in the Amazon at Central, so I said, ‘Guys, why not take a risk to bring piranhas to L.A.?’ ” He said.

“You probably have preconceived notions about piranhas because of movies but for me, piranhas, we go fish them.”

After five hours in custody, the chef managed to convince the customs officers that he just wanted to cook the fish, and was finally let go, duffel bag intact. 

You'll be glad to hear that the chef cooked his fish after all: he served the dried skins inside the heads at Somni, and made a salad with them at Vespertine the following day.

"I told the people at the Somni dinner: 'I spent five hours [in custody] for you, so you better enjoy it,'” he said.

What lengths would you go to for the perfect dish? What's the most extreme thing you've done to get your hands on an ingredient? Leave your answers in the comment section below! 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 9th May 2019

Virgilio Martinez caught smuggling piranhas into the US for a 'special dinner'