I love Leo (and Kiki)

Blog post #5 by 2015-16 student blogger James Toenders

Each year, the school hosts 2 international guests chefs who spend a week at the school curating dinner menus carried out by the students. Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting Leonardo Pereira, the chef at Areias do Seixo in Portugal, and his wife and coworker Kiki Sontiyart, a graduate of the school.

Leo is a boss; a young man, only 8 years older than me, filled with a ridiculous amount of knowledge and skill regarding every facet of cooking. We first met him in a meeting at The Prune to discuss his background and the week’s menus. He was able to field all our questions with ease and talk about each minute portion of every menu; obviously he was super comfortable with what he was doing. This became especially apparent once we stepped into the kitchen.

Immediately my mind was blown by everything Leo was creating. From octopus toasts, to persimmon and shrimp raviolis, to pigs blood emulsion and even beeswax ice cream. Every menu item was totally enthralling to talk about, prepare, cook and eat. There was obviously some parts of prep that got tedious, like shucking thousands of periwinkles (tiny sea snails) for hours on end, but that’s part of making inspiring food. These foods were things I may not ever see again, and it was a treat to prepare them with such a high caliber chef.

On our first day with him, Leo said not to call him Chef unless he’s really pissed off. I tried my best not to, but it’s a routine you get into and in the more stressful situations it’s hard not to default to “Chef”. I think he figured this out, and in an explosion of humbleness, Leo started calling each person in the kitchen Chef. Everyone – the instructors, the hotline cooks, the people plating and even the first year dishwashers – was Chef. He is so insanely talented but doesn’t hold himself above a single person in the kitchen.

We finished every service by making a staff meal of the dishes from the night. Leo and Kiki stressed how important it was for us to taste everything we’ve made; because if we don’t, it’s almost as if we didn’t make it at all. I learned a boat-load this week about new ingredients, cooking techniques and general kitchen respect. I couldn’t have been happier with our time spent with Leo, and can’t wait for our next guest chef to arrive in the new year.


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