About the LA to LA Chef
My name is Gisele Perez. If you’ve ever lived in New Orleans your ears probably perked up at the sound of that name, as it represents both the Spanish and French heritage of New Orleans. We were a French colony first, a Spanish colony for a long period, and then a French colony again briefly before we were sold to America, by Napolean Bonaparte so that he could pay off his war debts.
I was born in New Orleans, LA, a fact of which I am extremely proud. My family moved to Los Angeles, CA when I was a child, joining the mass migration from Louisiana – and the rest of South – in the late 1950’s. My mother was the last of her family to make the move westward. All of my father’s family stayed behind. So we made regular visits back to New Orleans throughout my childhood to spend with my father’s family, staying in between the two houses my grandfather had built for his new bride, my grandmother, Momí. I consider New Orleans not just my hometown, but my “ancestral homeland”, and I continue the pilgrimages as often I can.
Fall of 1969, that turbulent time – I left Los Angeles (I thought for good) and headed to the Bay Area where I attended Mills College in Oakland, CA. Couldn’t wait to get to Berkeley where everything cool was happening, I thought. Surprise for me- there were National Guard with bayonets on every corner, and the streets were filled with dog poop and panhandlers. Back at Mills, we had sit down dinners served by waitresses every night in our fancy dormitory dining room (we had to wear dresses for Sunday dinners). I managed to graduate with a B.A. in Design for Theater and Dance, then lived in Berkeley for a couple of years after that.
Next, it was on to the “Big Apple” (New York City – here I come!), where I pursued my passion for modern dance and theater – and got the chance to dine in one of the world’s greatest food cities. I spent almost 18 years there. Everyone should live in New York for a while when they are young, but it can start wearing thin when you begin reaching your middle years.
I returned to the San Francisco Bay Area (yippee!) to attend the California Culinary Academy where I specialized in Baking and Pastry Arts, and graduated with honors. I lived in Berkeley – right next door the big communal house where I lived all those years earlier.
1997-back in L.A.- (geez! who would have thunk) where I opened Small Pleasures Catering, after over 20 years of working in many aspects of the food service industry in New York City, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area (you know- the starving artist thing). My New Orleans background continually informs my taste profile- not that I cooked Creole or Cajun cuisine, or even spicy food at Small Pleasures, but everything I cook has layers of flavor built in, a hallmark of Louisiana cooking. My years spent in the Bay Area in the early ’70’s also nurtured my palate. My housemates had a big organic garden in our backyard, and we lived a block and a half from People’s Park, cited in the book, Organics Inc., as one of the seminal events of the organic food movement, for the huge public organic garden planted there. And then, there was all that buzz of a young Cal grad turned chef, who after inviting friends to her apartment for regular dinner parties, opened a restaurant destined to become groundbreaking, Chez Panisse.
I began writing life stories about 10 years ago, and then Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. The first incarnation of this blog was a way of coping with the devastation it wrought on the city of New Orleans.
As a result of blogging, I have met wonderful friends, interviewed great chefs, and visited some pretty cool places. I have also had the wonderful opportunity to develop recipes for Jarlsberg Cheese and Lindsay Olives.
In addition to this blog, I write a monthly column (The LA to L.A. Chef) for OKRA Magazine, the online publication of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. I am in the process of writing a memoir with recipes on my LA to L.A. experience.
I am also the chef/owner of small pleasures catering in Los Angeles,CA.
What’s next? Stay tuned…