Chef-owner of Central restaurant in Peru, Virgilio Martinez, was stopped at LAX with a duffel bag full of vacuum-sealed piranhas. Martinez featured on Netflix’s “Chef’s Table,” but that wasn’t enough for him to breeze through customs.
Martinez was on his way into Los Angeles to cook dinners at Somnu and Vespertine as a part of the Los Angeles Times’ food festival, Food Bowl. Martinez said, “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.?’” Martinez continued by saying that people probably have a misconception of piranhas from movies, but it is commonplace to go and fish them for him.
Upon finding the piranhas in his bag, customs officers interrogated him for several hours before releasing Martinez—piranhas in hand. “I’m doing a special dinner with a friend who I really respect and I’m going to do a dish I really enjoy doing.” Martinez described how he showed officers pictures of the dish that he intended to prepare and was eventually let go.
“I bet most people [in L.A.] have never tried piranhas. I told the people at the Somni dinner that I spent five hours for you, so you better enjoy it.”