As the baseball playoffs and World Series took center stage last month, one of the commercials caught our eye. We kept seeing a happy chef working with customers and staff and wondered who he was. It turned out that the star of that Modelo beer ad is one Eduardo Pérez.
When we reached out to him as the star of a national ad, we were expecting layers of publicists. What we got was a rather shocking email saying hi and asking what time would be good to chat directly from Chef Perez. His story.
Currently the Executive Chef at Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano, Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, Eduardo Pérez’s life story caught the eye of Modelo Especial, the Mexican beer, which now features the chef in its latest Fighting Spirit commercial. No matter how many times you hear stories like Eduardo’s, you can’t help but think just how many times a dishwasher with the goal can become one of the nation’s leading chefs.
Total Food Service couldn’t wait to share Chef Eduardo Pérez’s amazing story with our readers.
How did a kid from Guatemala find fame and fortune in the US?
I was 18 years old and like many kids looking for a better life. I was going to school and had a job as well but I wasn’t making any progress. My parents had already moved to Los Angeles and I was living with extended family and bouncing around from City to family in the county every weekend. Everybody in Guatemala kept talking about all of the great opportunity in the US. So it began with paying a “Coyote” to get me through Mexico and into the US. But it’s funny in our case the Border Patrol agent woke us up at 5 am to welcome us the country.
We are used to hearing stories about kids graduating from the CIA or Johnson and Wales and then apprenticing in France. Not exactly your story?
When I got to LA, I started as a gardener at Spago. Then after six months, a dishwasher was off for vacation and I got my chance to fill in.
It went from there and every time someone was on vacation, I stepped in. Whenever I had a break during a shift, I would make my way over to a station in the kitchen and learn how to butcher beef, make chicken or sausage.
How did that evolve into an opportunity to cook on the line?
“I didn’t want to be a dishwasher forever and they gave me the opportunity. Slowly, I got to meet the chefs, the prep cooks at night, and I learned a lot from them. So basically Spago was my school, and all the chefs that worked at Spago were my teachers. I learned so much from them. I was prepping vegetables, then handling pastry prep. From there, it was onto making pizzas for two years. I thought they were joking and literally I made pizzas for two years until he left.
What led to leaving Los Angeles to move to Las Vegas?
I was going to go work with a friend from California. Wolfgang [Puck] found out and sold me on taking my knowledge of how he operates to work with him to open a restaurant in Las Vegas. So I did it and right in the middle of it, he asked me to go to Mexico City and help them open there.
Who were the mentors that showed you the way?
When I returned to Spago two months later, Joseph Manzare had taken over as chef. I was joking around and I said, ‘Joseph, how about if today, you work the pasta station and I work the grill.’ Working the grill at Spago was like, you were the man. You were running the show. And he says, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ And from then on, every Sunday, I would work the grill. There were times when Wolfgang would walk in and make jokes and say, ‘Eduardo, is Joseph OK on the pasta station?’”
How did you learn the business side of running a restaurant?
When I came back to Spago in Vegas, I get the opportunity to understand how the front of a restaurant worked. It also enabled me to learn the administrative side of the business because I knew the cooking side already.
Where does this fire inside you to get better come from?
At the beginning, when I came to the States, I had no idea that this idea of a celebrity chef existed. I just knew that I had a passion for cooking that is still there today.
When did you know it was time to move on from Wolfgang?
After 27 years, I just didn’t see any more opportunity for growth. Spago was my school and their staff were my teachers. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for but I knew it was time.
How did this opportunity come along at the Venetian?
I had worked with Matteo Ferdinandi at Spago in Los Angeles. He was starting a new venture and it gave me the opportunity to work as an executive chef with a small company. We have three restaurants in Los Angeles and the two here in Las Vegas.
How has COVID-19 impacted your restaurants?
We were out for three months with the hotel shut down. We are seeing business return on the weekends at the hotel with customers from Arizona and California coming in for the weekends. Our second restaurant is in a mall so it’s been far more challenging.
What are your thoughts on a cap on the number of diners in your restaurants?
We’ve been working with a 50% capacity which works well with amount of traffic we have. One of our advantages here is that our bars are open and keeping the 6 feet required for social distancing.
How did the opportunity come along to star in a national TV commercial?
It was completely out of the blue. I woke up one day and there was a message on my phone from Modelo’s ad agency. Before I knew it, we were in Vancouver shooting the commercial.
Funny that a chef who has never had a TV show becomes the star of a commercial.
I’ve done lots of guest spots on local TV and I’ve never had a cooking show. Who knows? This could be a start.
Is the guy in that commercial really who you are?
That’s me. 100%. Okay, I say hello to everybody. But given the choice between spending time in the dining room or kitchen, cooking is my passion.
Since you are starring in a beer commercial, how has beer grown on a restaurant menu?
We have seen continual growth with beer. I think you see far more beer being consumed at the bar and more wine being served at the table.
What is your perspective on how to negotiate a restaurant/hotel alliance?
There’s no question in my mind that a management contract is the best way to go. It sets a tone for the hotel and the restaurant to be true partners. With that you are sharing the risk and the reward.
We are hours away from voting. Based on your own experience, where would you like to see the immigration issue?
I am not going to talk politics with you. But what I will say is that we depend on labor from outside the country to go into the fields and pick strawberries or vegetables. That workforce comes from Mexico and South America.