If the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is true, then the players for the Baltimore Orioles are in excellent hands. Executive Chef Jenny Perez is on a mission to transform the way people see food, focusing on the incredible healing power of eating well. Her passion is rooted in education, long-term sustainability and food as the ultimate way to care for others. We met with her to hear her animated point of view.
For Chef Perez, learning to cook at a young age was part of the cultural territory of her native Costa Rica. Her early mastery of cooking fresh foods from scratch was a launchpad into corporate kitchens in the US, but it was her conversion to vegetarianism that truly began her journey as a chef. Not being able to find enough “food that was packed with nutrition,” she began experimenting with food, creating nutritious dishes and exploring the science of better eating.
Chef Perez shared the fruits of her research with private clients, starting her own market and working as a private chef. Her earliest introduction to the Orioles’ kitchen wasn’t exactly a home run—the great culinary tradition of hot dogs and pizza was alive and well, and in direct opposition to Perez’s deep commitment to local, organic, fresh-to-table ingredients. Nonetheless, she was invited to cook privately for an Orioles executive, and interest in her approach gradually grew among the players.
When Chef Perez came onboard, she set about transforming the kitchen so that dishes were “all made from scratch, all organic, well-sourced locally.” Anything that enters her kitchen has her stamp of approval, and has been tested and researched by the Chef herself. Her goal wasn’t just to overhaul the nutritional content of the players’ meals, but to create a home-away-from-home experience through the nurturing power of food. She’s dedicated to giving the players a space “not like a restaurant, but somewhere where they can nourish.”
Initially her health-friendly approach inspired only a healthy dose of skepticism, but Chef Perez slowly incorporated her food-as-fuel mentality throughout the menu. “If I know that you eat pizza, I’m going to make pizza from scratch using all organic ingredients. I’m going to make a hot dog that’s locally sourced, all meat and dry-aged.” Her methods quickly won over the players, as did her wish to create a space that was welcoming. Players travel, she explains, six months of the year, so she told herself she’d “better make this place like it’s home.” That includes serving Latin, Italian, Asian and American dishes, to name a few. And word of her fresh, in-season cooking has spread to visiting teams, so now she nourishes them, too.
Her respect for farming is perhaps the most central part of her food philosophy. To Chef Perez, “nutrition and wellness come right from the soil… it’s important to understand who the doctor is. It’s the farmer.” Her love of the soil extends to Mountain Valley Spring water, which naturally springs from deep within the earth. “You have all your minerals, and all the good stuff that comes from the land.” She’s referring to the essential minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium found naturally in the water, as well a naturally balanced pH level that hasn’t been manipulated by human hand. But she is perhaps most excited by the unique reusable glass bottles. “Every time you eat or drink anything,” she emphasizes, “you have to be mindful of what you are drinking from.”
For Chef Perez’s players, the choice of drinking water matters on multiple levels. Having clean, pure water is essential, “because they hydrate so much.” And Chef Perez relies on the water’s natural health benefits in teas, stews, broths, smoothies and her signature turmeric* and wheatgrass shots. It’s all part of her concept of what she calls “medicinal food,” and the role that chefs can play as wellness providers. From her profound regard for farming—“the most important profession”—to her ongoing engagement in education, with everyone from elite athletes to orphaned children in Costa Rica, Perez is more healer than chef. “But I want to be a different kind of healer. It’s healing through food. It’s healing through information.”
*Into a juicer, add ¼ cup of turmeric juice and a little green apple to help the root juice better. Then squeeze a little bit of lemon, pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. To avoid wasting produce, the Chef uses a Slow Star Juicer by Tribest to avoid wasting produce.