A world-famous chef was stopped at Los Angeles' airport trying to bring 40 vacuum-sealed piranhas into the US

  • Virgilio Martinez, the chef-owner of Central restaurant in Lima, Peru, was stopped at Los Angeles International Airport after he tried to bring 40 vacuum-sealed, frozen piranhas into the US last week.
  • He brought the fish to the US in hopes of serving them at an LA food festival.
  • He said he was pulled into an interrogation room and questioned about the fish, but was let go after showing officials pictures of what he planned to cook.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

A world-renowned chef was stopped at the Los Angeles International Airport after he tried to bring 40 vacuum-sealed, frozen piranhas into the US.

Virgilio Martinez, the chef-owner of Central restaurant in Lima, Peru, told the Los Angeles Times that he brought the fish into the country last week in hopes of serving them at an LA food 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 LA?'” Martinez said of flying with the fish. “You probably have preconceived notions about piranhas because of movies but for me, piranhas, we go fish them.”

Martinez, who was featured on season 3 of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table,” said customs officers went into a “panic” when they opened his bag.

He said he was pulled into an interrogation room, where he was asked why he had the piranhas. He told officers he was using them for a special dinner, and even pulled out a book to show them photos of his planned meal.


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After five hours, Martinez left LAX, fish in hand. That night he used some on a salad, and the following night he dried piranha skins and served them inside piranha heads, according to the Times.

Martinez didn’t immediately respond to INSIDER’s request for comment.

At his restaurant in Lima, Martinez serves piranha alongside cocona fruit and Luca root, according to its menu.

The piranha, meaning “tooth fish” in the Brazilian language of the Tupi people, is a South American fish with razor sharp teeth. It is commonly eaten in Peru, Brazil, and northeast South America, Eater reported.

The fish are known as predators and are found in rivers and lakes in South America.

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