At age 18, Eduardo Pérez made the long trek from Guatemala to the United States to join his parents in Los Angeles. He planned to go to school and work at night to earn a living and pay his way through school, but instead came on board at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills as a dishwasher. Over the years, he worked his way up through the kitchen, taking on the jobs in the pantry, caring for plants, making salads, and eventually taking over the pasta station before heading up the kitchen.
Pérez’s life story caught the eye of Modelo Especial, the Mexican beer, which now features the chef in its latest Fighting Spirit commercial.
“I started as a dishwasher with the goal in mind to become an executive chef. And here I am now. Years of hard work, dedication, and there is more to learn,” Pérez says in the commercial. “The fighting spirit to me means working hard. You need to work hard for what you want in life. Set yourself a goal and achieve it. Then set yourself a higher goal and achieve it. I guess I have a lion in me who wants to dominate, to control, and I am doing it.”
Each year, Modelo Especial selects a “new set of heroes that embody this Fighting Spirit,” says Greg Gallagher, vice president of marketing for Modelo. “Eduardo Perez joins award-wining musician Anderson Paak and UFC fighter Amanda Nunes for our lineup.”
The company looks at a large group of national candidates and pares the list down, considering a variety of stories that will best represent the Fighting Spirit, he says. “As we began to narrow our search, Eduardo’s story stood out. We were struck by his perseverance and tenacity to get to the top of the profession. He lives the values that our brand embodies — hard work, perseverance, a resilient attitude, and celebration. And consumers agree — his ad is the highest scoring one we ever tested.”
The chef, who is now at Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano at the Venetian, says Modelo reached out to him last October to gauge his interest in appearing in the commercial. He flew to Vancouver in January for a full day of filming.
“When you come from a foreign country, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to be doing in this country,” Pérez recalls in an interview with Eater Vegas. “I wanted to go to school in Guatamala, but I couldn’t afford going to school. My parents were already living in Los Angeles.”
So he made arrangements to come to the United States. “My father was working in construction, and back then, I thought maybe I would become a construction worker during the day and I go to school and become an engineer.”
Instead he landed at Spago, initially taking care of the garden and meeting the chefs. When a dishwasher went on vacation for two weeks, he took over the job. They made room for him to stay, and he ended up helping cook oysters and cleaning clams and fish.
“I didn’t want to be a dishwasher forever,” Pérez says. “They gave me the opportunity. Slowly, I got to meet the chefs, the prep cooks at night, and a I learned a lot from them. So basically Spago was my school, and all the chefs that worked at Spago were my teachers. I learned so much from them.”
Pérez started prepping vegetables, then handling pastry prep. From there, he moved up to making pizzas. “‘You’re gonna be making pizza for the next two years,’” he recalls being told. “I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. Literally, I made pizzas for two years until he left.”
He wanted to work the pasta station next, but instead moved to the pantry, which, fortunately for Pérez, sat next to the pasta station so he could learn. He later moved up to the pasta station before helping at Granita, Wolfgang Puck’s Malibu restaurant that opened in 1991.
When he returned to Spago two months later, Joseph Manzare took over as chef. “I was joking around and I said, ‘Joseph, how about if today, you work the pasta station and I work the grill.’ Working the grill at Spago was like, you were the man. You were running the show. And he says, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ And from then on, every Sunday, I would work the grill. There were times when Wolfgang would walk in and make jokes and say, ‘Eduardo, is Joseph OK on the pasta station?’”
Pérez went on to help open Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at the MGM Grand, Spago in Mexico City, later worked as a banquet chef at Spago when it was at the Forum Shops at Caesars, then cafe chef, handling the front of Spago with its indoor patio. For eight years, he worked as the chef de cuisine at Spago before moving over to Lupo by Wolfgang Puck at Mandalay Bay for four years. After a stint in Miami at Smith & Wollensky, he returned to Las Vegas to run Matteo’s. Perez and Matteo’s owner Matteo Ferdinandi met while working together at Spago in Los Angeles.
Since the commercial started airing in August, friends and family continually posted his appearance on his Facebook page.
“My wife and kids are my biggest fans,” he says. “As soon as they released the commercial, my wife put it all over Facebook. So, my cousins, everybody saw it,” he says of his newfound fame.
The commercial doesn’t mention where he works, showing him working in a nondescript kitchen wearing a chef’s coat with just his name and executive chef stitched on the white jacket. “Now we need to find a way for them to know that it’s here.”