He is internationally recognized as a master chef, but that's only the beginning of what makes him an inspiration.
Tony Pereira, 51, lives in deeply troubled Venezuela. Having graduated from various prestigious gastronomy academies, he has worked in a number of five-star hotels in his country.
His work day starts at 7 a.m., but Tony actually gets up every morning at 4. While the city is still sleeping, he takes his motorbike to the parish of San Sebastian in Maiquetía, close to Caracas.
He stops in first to greet Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, giving thanks for the new day that still hasn’t dawned. Then he goes into the courtyard, lights up the stove fueled by an old bottled gas canister, takes down a couple of enormous brass pans and, day after day, come rain, come shine, dedicates the hours before going to work to preparing an exclusive menu for a group of very special guests.
An exclusive menu – not because of the exquisite nature of the ingredients, but because the most important condiment he adds is an abundance of kindness.
The dedication and commitment of Tony and his team are all the greater, given that the ingredients, however simple, are difficult to get hold of in this country so sunk in the poverty of its economic and social crisis. It is a challenge to find even the basics, but our chef uses all his creativity to ensure that the menu is a varied one. Today it is rice with chicken. Nearly 25 pounds of rice and four or five chickens. Tony calculates, talking to himself.
And the guests? Over 150 of them, mainly children and young people, who come here as they do each day, to this improvised dining room in the inner courtyard of the parish of Saint Sebastian for their only hot meal of the day. Many of them would have nothing to eat at all if they didn’t come here.
Father Martin, the priest, middle-aged and brimming over with cheerfulness, welcomes the children and old people at the door.
Before going into the dining room he greets a young boy in a blue shirt, 11-year-old Felipe, wide-eyed, with an open smile. “Every day he comes here from the top of the hill, pushing his father in a wheelchair. Then he has to go and climb the hill; can you imagine how hard that must be for a boy of his age?”
Felipe approaches the priest, “My dad couldn’t come today, he has a fever, so I left him alone at home. Maybe I could take him some food in a bowl?”
The priest nods with understanding. “You eat something first, then we’ll prepare something for you.” Tony also comes up and says hello. He knows him well. “He’s a good boy. It’s wonderful the way he looks after his sick father.”
Every weekend, in addition to the dinners in San Sebastian, Tony, like the chef he is, prepares “banquets.”
These are not weddings or first Communions, nor are they served on porcelain plates with crystal glasses. No, they are simple lunches in the poorest hillside suburbs, above all for the local children, who come here bringing their plastic containers. Arepas (tortillas), lentil soup or whatever Tony can get hold of cheaply with the help of Caritas and the parish of San Sebastian.
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