PROVIDENCE, RI – October 29, 2010 - Celebrated Peruvian chef Adolfo Perret Bermúdez has cooked for Andrea Bocelli, Placido Domingo and Beyoncé. He’s judged cooking competitions in Paris, Bolivia, Chile and the US. In his 24-year career, he’s also worked tirelessly as a global ambassador for Peruvian cuisine.
As he spoke about his life and work to a packed house at the Harborside Academic Center, the Providence Campus’ 161st Distinguished Visiting Chef (DVC) made one thing very clear: global accolades mean little if you don’t have heart. “You must make food with passion, love and hard work. You need your family, your friends and your spirit to give you the tools to succeed.”
A Family Affair Perret and his wife Gabriela preside over a growing empire of seafood restaurants in their native Peru.
When the couple opened their first restaurant, Punta Sal, in 1987, Peru was fighting massive inflation, political upheaval and growing unrest. It was hardly an ideal time to open a new restaurant. “Big dream, big risk,” said Perret, beaming at his wife, who sat proudly in the front row. “Sometimes you have to get into the pool, with or without water.”
The trick to weathering tough times, noted Perret, is to be “tolerant, consistent and careful. You need perseverance. Always push to make things better. You also need to look to other models to keep going.” He smiled. “If a door is closing, a window is opening!”
Global Influences, Local Techniques Perret brought that sly humor to his cooking demonstration, which focused mainly on seafood and the Peruvian national dish, ceviche. “Ceviche should smell like the sea, like the beach,” he noted, cupping his hand to his ear like a shell.
He cooked four dishes — all global riffs on traditional Peruvian dishes. He used a sushi mat to roll out perfect rolls of causa limeña, a traditional potato dish mashed with yellow pepper coulis and embellished with shrimp, cream cheese or vegetables.
He made two kinds of ceviche: traditional, which is served with glazed sweet potatoes and large-kernel Peruvian corn, and tiradito, a strip-style ceviche where the fish is sliced thin and dotted with cilantro, chopped peppers and a zesty marinade. As he worked, he threw in practical asides: “Always squeeze the lime or lemon when you need it, never ahead of time, or it gets bitter.” “Chili peppers are for flavor and color, not so much for heat.”
Lomo saltado, a beef-tip stir fry in a soy-garlic marinade, was his final dish. He demonstrated how to properly cut the meat on the bias for maximum tenderness. “The most important thing is the smoking of the beef,” he said as he flash-seared the meat in a flaming-hot wok.
Cooking from the Heart Senior Tyler Vorce, who received a Distinguished Visiting Chef Scholarship in Perret’s name, named an atypical culinary inspiration: “As an 8-year old, I aspired to be just like [JRR Tolkien’s] hobbits, who ate 7 meals a day. I cooked bacon and eggs, made biscuits and tried preparing hollandaise... At that young age, I slowly began to learn that cooking wasn’t necessarily about cooking for myself, but cooking for others and making them happy.”
The playful Perret then called on some brave students to answer questions about Peru and Peruvian cuisine. Perret’s wife handed out chullos, traditional Peruvian winter hats, to students with the right answer.