The Leaders of Enogastronomy

Pía León: "I suffered in challenging kitchens, but today my guys rest for 2 consecutive days"

Alessandra Meldolesi
copertina pia leon

Named the world's best chef in 2021, Pia León is no longer "the wife of," but Pia herself. The international success of her restaurant Kjolle has given her confidence and security, which she seeks to share with her team. It's the major subject of mental health in the kitchen, a topic that fortunately is starting to be discussed.

Cover photo: Paola Flores-

The chef

The chef Pía León is tireless: at just 36 years old, with 15 years in a chef's uniform, she has recently placed her restaurant Kjolle at the 28th spot on The World’s 50 Best list and 7th in the South American ranking. But she has also opened Mauka in Cusco, written a children's book, and contributed to MAZ Tokyo earning its second Michelin star. The girl with blonde hair is no longer just Virgilio Martinez's wife, although she still enjoys being part of Central, where she learned how to lead a kitchen. "Not just a wife, but Pia," a transformation largely due to her solo ventures. In fact, the concepts of the two restaurants are quite distinct: while Central focuses on the mountain ecosystem, changing dish by dish, Kjolle moves freely to showcase the country's biodiversity.

Pia leon Cesar del Rio 2024 05 15 01 46 17
César del Rio

"Kjolle has just turned five, but it feels like it's ten," she said in an interview with El Trinche. "We were closed for two years because of the pandemic, and it was tough. Now it's starting to walk on its own, to evolve, the team is much stronger, from the beginning the majority follows the same path, we share the same philosophy, and that helps. There's still a lot to do, sometimes we start with some insecurity and fear, but over time, we gain confidence and settle on a somewhat more stable path. Only time and the team you work with allow you to do this."

kjolle dish

The Peruvian chef confides that to withstand the weight of sacrifices, one must always strive for more. "But as hard as it may be to believe, we are not guided by lists and rankings. We want people to be happy, to send a message, to form a team of young people projecting into the future. Working in community, integrating incredible people who make ceramics or cutlery. Developing our network of producers and suppliers, growing together. We are fortunate to be three, Malena, Virgilio, and myself. We surround ourselves with people who think and share our values."

pia leon Paolo Aguilar
Paolo Aguilar

"Anyone who enters Kjolle feels the vibe, the idea is that the team feels comfortable, so they transmit it to those who visit us. I used to be tougher before, now I feel relaxed, but when attention needs to be drawn, it has to be done. And it's a young team. This teaching dynamic, where the guys gain confidence in themselves, means transmitting something new to them, because before they used to come out to the dining room shy, scared, nervous. The key is for the team to feel and share what you want; not to follow you, but to accompany you and move forward with you."

kJOLLE platos By Gustavo Vivanco
Gustavo Vivanco

It's the major subject of mental health in the restaurant industry, increasingly relevant. "When I entered the industry, I experienced both the old and the somewhat new kitchen. Something in between. I went through a tough kitchen, where I suffered. They never touched me physically, but it was mentally exhausting. I believe people are much more aware today, and that seems great to me. It doesn't mean gastronomy will change the world, but a possible change, starting from work hours. Not just for the fatigue, but so that people feel happier. For example, now we've managed to ensure that everyone gets two full days off. I know what it's like, having lived through it: these are necessary actions to generate tranquility, wellness, and happiness in the team."

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