When Arturo Perez first came to Marco Island some 30 years ago, he thought he was going to stay just one season. Instead, he’s become the island’s most famous chef—arguably its most famous ever.
“That feels good,” the humble Perez said when it was suggested he may be the most famous chef on the island. “I’ve been around a long time. A lot of people know me.”
Perez was a butcher in his native Mexico before moving to New York, where he became a chef under the tutelage of, as he says, “many different chefs.”
For our Chef’s Choice feature, Perez elected to prepare Veal Sorrento.
Perez starts by pounding two veal cutlets with a heavy-duty mallet tool. Then he adds prosciutto on top of the cutlets and pounds them again to embed the prosciutto into the cutlets. He then dredges the cutlets in flour and sautés them in extra virgin olive oil and adds garlic, onion, seasoning, butter, wine and veal stock to the pan.
In the meantime, he’s grilling slices of eggplant that he places on top of the cutlets along with some tomato sauce. Perez then pulls a ball of fresh mozzarella from the refrigerator and carefully slices two soft, moist pieces to finish the dish.
Finally, Perez pulls the pan from the flame and slides it into the oven, at 450 degrees, to melt the cheese before serving.
As expected, Arturo Perez is poetry in motion in the kitchen as he creates his masterpiece with the greatest of ease.
When he arrived on Marco in 1988, his former boss in New York had invited him to be his chef at Antonio’s for the winter season. Then it would be back to New York. At least that was the plan.
Perez developed a reputation and a following in 8 years at Antonio’s and was ready to make a go of it on his own.
He owned and operated Arturo’s for 18 years. Perez likes being in the kitchen.
“Sometimes someone will come in and ask for me when they come in for dinner. They’ll say, ‘Oh, I know Arturo.’ The server will come back in the kitchen and say, ’This guy wants to say hi to you.’ I prefer to stay in the kitchen. I like to oversee every dish and see how it comes out,” he says with an amiable smile.
Perez, has no plans to retire. He said having children has something to do with that.
However, he prefers the smaller atmosphere of Arturo’s Bistro.
“When it’s small you can control it a little more,” he reasons. “With a big restaurant, you have to carry more people. There’s too much involved. Too much work.”
Perez likes to keep his staff at around 10 people.
“During season we’ll have a little more people,” he said, “but we won’t have more than 10 people working. That’s it.”
Perez has turned the kitchen over to his son, Arturo, Jr., who is 33.
“My dad wanted me to learn everything,” Arturo, Jr. said. “I started as a dishwasher. I learned the front of the house. He started teaching me to cook 17 years ago.”
“He started with me when he was 16 years old,” Perez said of his youngest son.
So, has Arturo, Jr. made his dad proud?
“Oh yeah, yeah,” Perez said in his understated manner.
“I try to make him proud,” Arturo, Jr. says as he hovers over the stove. “I don’t know if I do.”
Does Perez think his namesake is a good chef as he is?
“Oh, yeah,” Arturo, Sr. says. “I think he is.”
That’s quite a compliment.
“Coming from my dad, yes it is,” Arturo, Jr. beams. “He can be pretty tough sometimes.”
Auturo’s Bistro is open every day, 4:30 PM to 9 PM. For reservations, call 239-394-7578
- 2 veal cutlets
- 1/2 teaspoon onion
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 cup of veal stock
- 2 oz white wine
- 2 oz tomato sauce
- 2 pieces of grilled eggplant
- Fresh Mozzarella cheese
- Italian seasoning
- Salt & Pepper (optional)
- Olive oil
Pound the veal cutlets, add prosciutto on top the cutlets and pound again to embed in the veal. Dust with flour and sauté in extra virgin olive oil. Turn when golden brown. Add the garlic, onion, season, butter, wine and veal stock to the pan. Top the veal with grilled eggplant and tomato sauce. Finish with fresh mozzarella cheese. Bake at 450 degrees to melt the cheese and serve.
Can be accompanied with a starch and fresh vegetables.