AFTER 27 YEARS OF CULINARY JOURNEYS, THIS NJ CHEF NOW EMBRACES THE TAPAS FORMAT IN A GALACIAN THEMED SHREWSBURY EATERY
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
Chef Manuel Perez’s resume is an adventure in durability and diversity, highlighted by stints at famed restaurants like Le Bernardin, Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank, and Princeton’s Peacock Inn. In the last, he basically reinvented American Mosaic cuisine during a five year gig, but the veteran is now gathering ingredients for a different approach.
“At the moment, I’m having fun with this small plate concept; concocting tasting menus and wine pairings because I think that’s how people really like to eat today,” Perez noted while detailing his current work at Albariño, a Galacian themed eatery in Shrewsbury one with a focus on fare from the northwest province of Spain.
“We serve traditional Spanish tapas…shrimp in garlic sauce, crispy eggplant served with rosemary and honey, and lots of octopus,” said Perez. “But we also like to shake it up a little: chicken empanadas in a spicy pebre sauce, and ham and manchego croquettes. And of course, my gnocchi is on the menu, too, with Portobello mushrooms, slow roasted tomato, asparagus, and a mushroom butter sauce it’s one of my favorites dishes.”
Perez, who cooked alongside his mother as a child before harnessing that family passion and attending culinary school, also credits the influential chefs he has worked with over the past 27 years for his epicurean fervor and achievements.
“As a kid, I was around food all of the time and really took pleasure in it,” he recalled. “My mother was an amazing cook and she fostered a love of food, certainly, but it wasn’t until culinary school that I really fell in love with the process, the camaraderie, and the creativity of the kitchen.”
Perez completed his externship at the Hudson County Country Club and worked first as a prep cook at the Clinton Street Baking Company in Manhattan. “ There was so much to learn and see,” he said. “At Hudson County, I earned experience in the hospitality sector, preparing gourmet meals for 2,000 people; at Clinton Street Baking Company I learned under Neil Kleinberg, who was instrumental during my formative years.”
Perez moved on to work at the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and the Water Club before landing a position at Le Bernardin.
“My time at the Plaza was short lived, but it was a very cool introduction to Pan Asian cuisine,” he said. “The Water Club was high volume a la carte. At Le Bernardin, I gained an unbelievable education on fish under the tutelage of Eric Ripert.”
Perez traveled a lot, too, working in Key West and other parts of Florida before returning to the New York/New Jersey area to work at Soho on George and then Restaurant Nicholas. In 2010, he accepted an executive chef position at Peacock Inn, a luxury boutique hotel with a high end gourmet restaurant.
“I worked there for five years and met my wife, who was their pastry chef,” he said. “In 2015 we found we both had a desire to come back to New York, so we moved to Park Slope and I accepted a position at Bouley in TriBeCa, but returned to New Jersey about a year ago when the Terra Momo Restaurant Group approached me with this concept of authentic Spanish cuisine.”
So, the chef traveled to Spain to study the favors and techniques there, and experimented with various pro les before the restaurant’s opening last October.
“The menu and the concept here is the culmination of everything I have done up until this point,” Perez said. “ The favors at Albariño are not limited to Spain and Portugal, though; we have a little bit of everything, and I’m having a lot of fun with it.”
The Grove West, 508 Broad Street, Shrewsbury
732.852.2640 / albarinorestaurant.com