Martinez says officials "went into a panic" when they saw the fish

By Helen Murphy
May 09, 2019 11:19 AM
JONATHAN WONG/South China Morning Post/Getty

Virgilio Martinez, the chef and owner of Central Restaurante in Peru, was reportedly detained for over five hours at the Los Angeles International Airport after he brought 40 piranhas in his luggage.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Martinez, who was featured in the third season of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, was traveling to Los Angeles last week to cook dinners at two L.A. restaurants as part of the Times’ month-long Food Bowl festival.

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

As he was going through customs, officials opened his bag full of piranhas and “they went into a panic,” Martinez said.

RELATED: Inside the 2019 James Beard Awards: See All the Stars, Chefs, and Big Winners!

Martinez then responded with a joke when the officials asked what was inside of the bag, saying, “Flesh and bones.”

He was taken to a private interrogation room, according to the Times, where he stayed for five hours while he explained to officials that he was bringing the piranhas to the United States for culinary purposes.

“I told him that it was from my heart and showed him a few photos,” Martinez told the Times. “I took my book and said, ‘Look, this is what I want to do with the piranhas.’ And he finally said, ‘Oh, wow, go ahead.’”

A representative for LAX did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

RELATED: Chrissy Teigen and David Chang Are Teaming Up to Create Food Shows for Hulu

Regardless of the five-hour delay, Martinez did eventually put the 40 piranhas to good use.

For one of his Food Bowl events, he used the piranha meat to make a salad, and for another he served dried piranha skins inside the piranha heads.

Martinez joked to the Times: “I told the people at the… dinner that I spent five hours for you, so you better enjoy it.”

Advertisement