Sunday, March 25, 2012

Meet Chef Rei of Panzur: A Hudson Valley Foodie Gem

Rei Peraza, Chef and Owner of Panzur in Tivoli, NY

Nestled into the little Hudson Valley town of Tivoli is an exceptional restaurant that rivals the best the big city has to offer - Panzur. Chef Rei Peraza owns this little gem, and his passion and deft hand bring the magic.

This is not a restaurant review, but I will say that I love the food here. Sophisticated and satisfyingly homey at the same time. Molecular gastronomy together with rustic goodness. Wonderful atmosphere and a team who are cool, but not "too cool" to be good at what they do and make you feel taken care of. 

I highly recommend the house-made jamon de pato (duck ham),  one of the staples of the ever-changing menu. And Panzur has prepared not one, but two, of the best foie gras dishes I have ever eaten... anywhere (including the most highly lauded restaurants in the country). Yeah, it's good. You should go.  

They make wonderful drinks too. My favorite is Pinga de Oro. Yes, I know what it means...

So, I posed a few questions to Chef Rei, the genius behind all this goodness... 

Q. How do you describe your food to people? 

A. The real answer... I cook what ever comes out, what ever I am feeling at the moment. If I try to put myself in a box, I tend to get a bit stagnant.  The other answer: progressive Spanish with French, Asian, and Latin American influences.

Q. I have been particularly impressed with your subtle and meaningful approach to "molecular gastronomy" techniques. You are the anti-Moto so to speak. Tell me about your philosophy on this matter.

A. Thanks, simply put, I think "MG" is dominated by techniques that can be easily learned and repeated by even the most basic of cooks, I believe these techniques should be intertwined with more conventional/classic techniques. If these style/techniques become dominant they can yield a gimmicky soulless cuisine.  

Q. When people taste your food, what will they know about you?

A. I am intense, in your face, not subtle... not scared I will hit it big or crash and burn.

Q. How do you come up with new dishes? 

A. The creative process always varies. It can really be any kind of sensory experience whether it is a trip to the supermarket, something I read about in a magazine or book…really anything can spark an idea. Then I elaborate on it, until I feel I've achieved the balance I am looking for.

Q. What is your process for then developing the dish? Does your imagination taste it? Smell it? See it? Which sense leads the way? Or is it more of an intellectual thought process?

A. I tend to create a dish in my head and mentally "make" it over and over trying to look at it and taste it from different angles. By the time I actually make it I am always closer to the finished dish. The most important thing is flavor, then smell and finally the presentation.  Sometimes I just need to talk it over with someone, my sous chef or my wife for example. The act of talking about it can bring it together in my mind.  

Q. Why live and have your restaurant in the Hudson Valley?

A. I grew up mainly in South Florida with next to no seasonal change and once I came to the Northeast, I loved being somewhere with distinct seasons. It's hard to explain but I have moved around a lot and this is where my wife and I feel the most 'at home' if you will.  It offers a nice balance of country living without being completely separated from the city, which is great both for my family life and my business.  

Q. What is your passion? 

A. I have a passion for life and for its most basic pleasures. Obviously I am all consumed by food, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, beer -- if you can eat it or drink it I am obsessed with it – all of it from growing it, to conceptualizing, to its execution.

Q. What led you to the work you do today?

A. Trial and error.

Q. What would you be doing if you weren't a chef?

A. I would make wine and own an open wheel race team.

Q. What is your opinion of cooking reality shows like Top Chef, Chopped, Next Iron Chef, etc..? Would you ever…?

A. The idea of a cooking shows are great, Its been a huge part of the growth of our industry. If it were the right show and the right time, I would do it.  

Q. Who are your favorite artists?
A. Beethoven. He was a genius. I was kind off obsessed with his life. If you align his music with life, you can hear what he was feeling. In those days music came from within as there was very little to be consciously or unconsciously inspired by.

Q. What music is moving you these days?

A. It depends on my mood, lately I have not been listening to much music. Up until Panzur I never allowed a radio in the kitchen, and soon after receiving a new ipod for fathers day I promptly washed it. I listened to everything... those who know will tell you I love Billy Joel, great song writer, not just the old stuff, but all of it and I associate his music with different stages of my life. But if you were to magically listen to my laundered ipod you will here everything from Eminem to Pink Floyd... and of course Beethoven .

 Q. What question do you wish people would ask you?

A. What would you like to eat? I am going make you whatever you like. (Usually its the other way around)

Q. What are a few of your favorite things?

A. Spending time with my wife and son. Sounds selfish but I love sharing in what I do with them. 

Q. How do you curate your life?

A. With the relationships I have and the memories I hope people will have of me.  

Q. What would you want for your last meal?

A. Too long to describe, years ago this was a topic on a long road trip between my wife and I.  I discussed in great detail breakfast, lunch and dinner with the appropriate snacks in between, all matched with its perfect beverage albeit great wine, beer, coffee. Unknown to me she wrote it all down, and for special occasions since she has made some of those impossible meals/wines a reality. In retrospect, it wasn't what I would eat, but with whom.   

Q. What is your favorite cocktail or beverage?

A. I love wine over any thing else. I am still mystified that it’s just fermented grape juice. 

Q. What is your philosophy of life in 12 words or less?

A. Try, as hard as you can, to live your passion. 


  1. Well done. Thanks for sharing Panzur with us when we visited. Good memories revisited thru this post. Jeremy

  2. I love Pansur. Delicious foods, great place, accommodating staff and an unforgettable experience. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.
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