When I was 20 years old, I had no culinary expertise to speak of. I had just gotten used to cooked tomatoes on my margherita pizza and stopped picking off the strings of basil. I had never tried mussels, I turned my nose up at lobster, and I had to order my steak well done.
I sat thinking about this and how food ignorant I was—and still can be—while I watched 20-year-old chef Omar Pereney garnish his clams and direct his staff, some of who had a few years on him, as they all buzzed around the kitchen at Recipe House for the Chef Surprise fundraising dinner.
Once I moved on from sitting in awe of the young chef, I instead stared in awe of his dishes. The evening acted as a preview for the seafood restaurant, Peska Seafood Culture, that the Venezuelan prodigy is opening next month. Five rounds of paired specialties—each dish with two different tastes on one plate—meant there was something for everyone.
The first round was of chocolate clams, which weren’t found legally in the United States until recently. I was assured it was because of their formerly diminished population rather than any danger imposed by actually eating them. Half of our tin buckets held ice under a crudo clam, with cilantro and lime vinaigrette, and the other half was filled with chunks of salt under a grilled clam with portobello mushrooms.
Similarly, we had options for the ceviche round. On one side of the plate were delicious chunks of pink tuna and juicy watermelon—a mixture I thought was crazy until I tasted it—and the other was a striped bass tiradito with stringy cucumber and yuzu that tasted tangy and delicious.
"Anything you put in something crispy is delicious," chef Pereney said as we moved on to the tostada round. We had two chips, one with a citrusy piece of tuna and chipotle mayo and the other with a smoky scallop. Once again, the tuna was so good that this time I ate another bite off a friend’s plate.
Surprisingly we hadn’t even gotten to what I assumed was the “main dish” until we were served a filet of grilled striped bass on a bed of roasted veggies. The fish fell apart with the slightest touch of my fork as I finished it all in a few minutes.
Following along with our menus, we saw that next up was a mascarpone cookie covered in vanilla cream and berries, but we were intermissioned with a tiny dollop of a minty-herbal sorbet before served our dessert, which came in a stemless wine glass.
Thinking I was finished with the surprisingly filling dishes, I noticed the kitchen had another round of plates sitting out. On each of them was a small portion of cream. They doled out the plates as the chef walked over to us holding a Styrofoam container. He opened it and out came dry ice-like smoke. Pereney placed a tiny cookie on each plate that resembled a macaron. As we eat ate what he called the “dragon’s kiss,” cold smoke shot out our noses and mouths with a minty flavor to our great surprise. I couldn't help but eat two more.
Once Peska opens its doors, I’ll be making a beeline there for some of chef Pereney's tuna and clams, and especially for one more dragon’s kiss as an after-dinner mint.