Prolific culinary ambassador and TV personality Chef Jason Peru wants to shake things up and makes no apologies for his aspirations.
From the Caribbean to North America, Europe and Africa, he has sizzled as a culinary expert. He has “taken a bubble” on the local soca and soca chutney scene and has even thrown his hat into the political ring this year. His latest project is his soon-to-be-released cookbook memoir, The Impregnation of Flavour.
“People’s criticisms do not stop me from doing anything. As long as my heart is in the right place,” he told Guardian Media recently.“I want to inspire people. If there were more people to do this, we would become greater citizens and I am trying to do that every day of my life–get people excited about cooking; let them know they can make changes politically, get involved in music, dance; travel the world. Edify yourselves. Do not sit at home and wait for things to happen,” he said.
Peru believes in combining his keen culinary skills with his business and marketing acumen and welcomes opportunities to venture into areas outside his “comfort zone.” The avant-garde chef said he was building a template for others to follow.
Having made his television debut on Synergy TV in 2007 on shows like “Celebrity Chef Wedding”, he landed his own cooking show, “Fast Food Fixes in Five” a year later. By 2011, he was conducting live public culinary showcases and workshops through Fanatic Kitchen Studios to rave reviews.
In his numerous television appearances, including on the former CNMG’s "Cooked", Peru balances professionalism and wholesomeness with a playful passion for Caribbean cuisine and adds a touch of international flair. When he talks about local cuisine, there is a love in his eyes which, he said, transports him back to his childhood days of frying bakes in his mother’s kitchen. He often exudes boyish happiness when he infuses anecdotes about his mother, Helen, father, Errol, or friends in general while on set.
Fondly called, “the Original Bubbling Star” for his ability to “bubble” a delicious, innovative pot, Peru has emerged as the go-to chef for the uninitiated and for many who get stuck while trying to recall how to make their home-cooked favourites.
As a culinary ambassador, he has travelled extensively, with North American showcases and festivals like the Curry Fest in Orlando in 2014 and Ireland’s Guinness Meatopia in 2019 being some of his more recent stops.
Television shoots for the Travel Channel in New Newfoundland, Canada, from 2016 to 2018 and television shows in Barbados from 2016 to 2018 have also kept him busy. Additionally, Peru has been a brand ambassador for Angostura Ltd, Carib Brewery Ltd, KitchenAid Caribbean and is in his seventh year with Chief Brand Products. Along with other notable chefs, he also has a line of kitchen utensils with Bergner Europe.
He has been the culinary management consultant for a hotel restaurant in Guyana since 2017 which also opened a Bistro and Wine Bar under his guidance last year.
Charismatic Peru also has a considerable social media presence and has teamed up with equally witty co-host, Kezzieann Miller to promote Caribbean cuisine via their Foodie Nation presentations on YouTube.
Cooking has always come naturally to Peru he said, but building his brand has not. He has had to overcome adversity and sometimes feels misunderstood because of his bold approach and showmanship which he picked up while at university.
Originally from Santa Cruz, Peru grew up trying to emulate famous British chef, Ainsley Harriott and American celebrity chef, Emeril Lagasse. He ended up gaining weight rapidly and was teased at his secondary school, Belmont Boys’ Secondary. It was gym instructor Kevin Leigertwood who helped build his confidence, training him to balance exercise with moderate eating.
After completing an Associate Degree in Culinary Management at the TTHTI, Peru attained four scholarships and earned his Associate degree and BSc in Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales University, Miami and later, his MSc in Marketing with a Minor in Media Studies at the School of Business and Computer Science, Trinidad.
“I suffered a lot when I went to the United States. Being a Caribbean boy, I was looked down on a lot because of the ingredients I knew. We have something called Saijan bhaji (moringa leaves which have now gained international recognition) here and if I were to speak about it, they wouldn’t know about it. I was ridiculed a lot, so I had to toughen up,” he recalled.
Back home after university, navigating the local culinary field was also tough, but Peru adjusted.
Relationships with the opposite sex too, have taught the initially “sheltered”, “kindhearted” and “sweet” Peru some hard life lessons, he admitted.
His foray into chutney soca, with the song, “Bubble with Me” in 2014 and into politics as the UNC candidate for Caroni East in this year’s general elections have also tested his resilience.
During the initial COVID-19 lockdown, he launched “Feed the Nation 1000”, sourcing sponsorship and organising volunteers to cook and distribute meals weekly to 1,000 needy people.
“I used it as my introduction to politics to show that if this is what I can do as a chef, imagine what I could do on a constituency or ministerial level with greater resources,” he said.
He said this “upset” some who most likely felt he was overstepping his bounds, but he said he would not be deterred.
“I think I've had a proclivity for politics since 1995. I was about 11. I have always loved the excitement, the environment that politics fosters. A lot of people shun it, but I love to see how these heroes...these guys who have brilliant ideas can change a country.
“Being a chef, I am able to do certain things, but being in politics lets you do it on a different level.”
In the making for 18 years since he is an avid documenter of his activities, Peru’s cookbook memoir will be released in November. In it, he pairs recipes with the stories which sparked them. From recipes he modified during his internship in Grenada, to meals cooked for girls with whom he went out on first dates, Peru promises a journey of “immature, mature, whimsical and awe-inspiring” adventures turned into food ideas.
Describing it as a “must-read” and “the new Caribbean-centric staple,” he said he decided to share to make people happy and continue to get them excited about food, especially during this pandemic where many are cooking at home and have been requesting recipes.
Q&A with Peru
Known for his bold flair and mean cooking skills, culinary ambassador, TV personality and talented chef, Jason Peru, further chats with Gillian Caliste about his travels and likes.
Chef, you’ve travelled extensively, what keeps you anchored to Trinidad, promoting local cuisine?
I was fortunate enough to obtain four scholarships; one from the T&T Government and I always said rather than contribute to the brain drain, why not come back to Trinidad and Tobago. I was also able to better apply my techniques to this market and I always gave back. My logo is red, white and black. I’m always about representing our food and rather than representing something international that people already know, we have a great culture, so many great races, we should represent something unique. Why not own it, sell it?
What's the best country you've visited?
Uganda. Trinidad had opened up our consulate there and I was selected with two other chefs to spend two weeks showcasing our food. I did that also in Venezuela in 2007. Hugo Chavez had invited me.
The kindest people I met were from Uganda. It’s not only that we went on the (river) Nile, they were the nicest and most humble people. I cooked with the poorest people in Venezuela on the hills. People talk about the kind of poverty we have here, but it’s glorious here. When you travel and see the poverty in Venezuela, these people had nothing, but they were so happy and they were trying.
Any strange food you had in Uganda? What did it taste like?
I had ostrich and it was nice…tasted like beef. I had crickets.
What do you do to relax?
I like flying my drone, a DJI Inspire. I like to drive to the beach and I like shooting at the range. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I don’t really favour the fete scene, the crowds.
You’ve had a hard day, what’s your go-to food?
Some good, authentic Indian food…mattar paneer–peas and Indian cheese in a light curry sauce–naan bread…potato salad, fried rice, fried chicken, callaloo.
A dish you failed at?
There were two things I failed at–learning to speak French and making barfi. Haha!
What is this fascination with pork I hear that you have?
Pork is my favourite meat in the whole wide world. Every week I butcher and mince my own pork, season it and make fresh pork sausages and people (clients) go crazy for it. I think I make pork better than anybody in this country. I make barbequed pork, roast pork, char-siu pork. I am a pork master.
Speaking about pork, what’s your favourite festival to cook for?
Christmas then Divali. From a boy, I've always been enchanted by Christmas. My birthday is December 31 and December is my month to have fun. We made bread on Christmas Eve, a great ham. In the morning at my grandmother’s house in Sangre Grande, we’d have chulha or fireside curried duck, buss-up-shut and dhalphuri. We’d stop by each family member and you’d get potato salad and Chinese chicken, turkey and ham, curry. It’s a great day.