In this installment of our Chef Spotlight Series, we meet up with Ingrid Perez, the newest executive chef leading the kitchen at Nautical Nellies Restaurant. Ingrid grew up in Tapachula, in Mexico’s South Pacific, and attended university at the Instituto Culinario de Mexico in Puebla City where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in culinary arts. She worked at different hotels in Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, and Milan, Italy. After graduating, she opened a small Mexican restaurant in her hometown but decided on a change after a couple of years. She was hired by Earls in Alberta in 2009 and worked there for five years before working at a fine dining restaurant for a year. She then went to Moxies as head chef for three years. Perez moved to Victoria last year and became executive chef at Nautical Nellies after a short stint as kitchen manager.
If there are three ingredients that you couldn’t live without, what would they be?
Limes, avocado, and cheese.
What is your favourite music to listen to before service?
Anything that is upbeat, but most of the time I keep going back to my favourite, Missy Elliott.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
I would say it’s pretty global, influenced by local and seasonal produce and resources, and I love to add some Mexican ingredients now and then to put my own stamp on things.
What would you do for a job if you weren’t a chef?
I love the hospitality industry, organizing, managing, and planning, so I think maybe an event planner.
What do you love most about your job? What do you hate the most?
I love food, the creativity, the fast-paced environment, the rush and the camaraderie that exists in the industry. I don’t like all the missed holidays and time with family and friends.
What is the best advice you have been given/what is the motto you live by?
Dream big, set goals, and take actions.
Can you share a great food memory?
Breakfast at grandma’s house. She would make the biggest spread of food, from beans, tortillas, eggs, pork adobo, chilaquiles, tamales, and more. I believe that food brings people together.
What are your passions and interests outside of cooking?
I love the outdoors, going for a nice hike or walk, being by the water, travelling, and reading. I also love getting together with friends and cooking or trying out different restaurants.
What is your favourite unsung ingredient that you think more people should cook with?
Zucchini flower. I love the diversity of it.
Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome to become a chef?
There have been challenges being a woman in a predominantly male-dominated industry, but I’ve found that taking the challenge, working hard, trusting my instincts, and following my intuition has been a key to success. After all, we (women) are caregivers, teachers, and mentors, which makes us strong leaders.
Recipe: Seafood Aguachile
Aguachile is originally from the North of Mexico, from Mazatlan, and it means “spicy water”
• 3 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
• 1 cucumber, cut into chunks
• 1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
• 1 Serrano pepper, seeded and stemmed (leave seeds if you want extra spicy)
• 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
• 2 garlic cloves
• 3 limes, juiced
• salt to taste
• 6 oz raw prawns, cut lengthwise
• 6 oz raw scallops, thinly sliced
• 6 oz raw yellowtail (or any other oily white fish), thinly sliced
• 1 avocado, diced or sliced
• ¼ jalapeño, thinly sliced
• 1 radish, thinly sliced
• 1 small mango, diced
• handful cilantro leaves
1. Place seafood over a single layer on a plate or platter
2. Blend all the marinade ingredients together until smooth and strain liquids through a fine mesh sieve. Adjust the salt to taste; it should be a bit salty.
3. Add enough aguachile marinade to the plate or platter to generously cover the seafood
4 .Place platter in fridge for around 10 minutes before serving
5. Add garnish
6. Enjoy with some tostadas or your favourite tortilla chips!
Notes: You can substitute any seafood and you can be playful and add varying garnishes such as roasted corn, mango, pineapple, cucumber, onion, etc.
Responses and recipe courtesy of Ingrid Perez.
Photos and write-up by Lauren Gaultier of @winethenfood