Chef Pía León’s impressive resume in the culinary world starts out in Le Cordon Bleu in her native Lima, Peru and her journey has now led her to be named the World’s Best Chef of 2021. She started out working for restaurants in the Capital city and her career took a turning point in 2009 when she landed a job at then-new restaurant Central. In the span of five years she went from the only female cook in the kitchen to head chef working with chef/owner Virgilio Martínez. León follows fellow South American chef and 2020 winner, Chef Narda Lepes marking two consecutive years that Latina chefs have been awarded this honor.
“It’s a controversial award but it’s an opportunity, a platform to make visible the work you’ve been doing. This year it’s my work, but also that of the chefs who will win it after me and those who won it before me,” she said in a statement. “Man or woman, the passion you feel – if you are sure that you really want to be a chef – is carried in your heart and it’s impossible to remove, obscure or tarnish. That always comes out in the end: the result is visible.”
The accolade comes on the heels of major wins for Central with the restaurant being named the Best Restaurant in Latin America in 2014 and retaining that title for two years. She worked at Central for a decade before opening her own restaurant, Kjolle, also in Lima, in 2018 and together with cocktail bar Mayo they form Casa Tupac. She and Martinez, also her husband, run the restaurants — which are all located in the same building in Lima — with a combined team of 80. “The most important thing for me is the people around you, those who accompany you in your life mission and your goals,” she said. “But the key moment that generated a feeling of family in the team was the fact that I started from the bottom, therefore I belonged.” she added.
She’d held off on opening her own restaurant, welcoming a son in 2016, but the same year she opened Kjolle she received the award for Latin America’s Best Female Chef. In 2019 Kjolle received the Highest New Entry Award when it debuted at No.21 on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 list. The restaurant’s menu features ingredients native to Peru including fruit from the Amazon, tubers from the Andes, and seafood from the coast, according to the Worlds50Best website. They also own Mil near Cusco, in southeastern Peru near the Andes. Each restaurant’s interpretation of Peruvian cuisine elevates local ingredients and marry the earthy components with seafood elements like León’s pumpkin and crustaceans dish.
She’ll officially receive the World’s Best Chef award on Oct.5 in Antwerp, Flanders. “I’m happy – after so much work, it’s the perfect moment, the perfect platform to demonstrate that although it can be difficult at times, if you have the will and you know what you want, things do happen, in their own time and at the right moment.”