Photos by Marc Anthony Nelson
Chef Julio Peraza of Dallas restaurant Proof + Pantry is used to making big meals. That doesn't mean he's serving up steaks with their own ZIP codes; no, his meals are full of flavor. Pereza's patrons have come to expect robust, complex dishes with inventive pairings. For MOFAD's Feast for the Senses dinner, the classically trained chef pulled out all the stops, dedicating five courses to the five senses.
"Today people are so much more knowledgeable about what they consume, so chefs are being challenged unlike ever before," Peraza says. "Each time I come up with a dish, it's not just about the taste — it's about balancing texture, smells, and the visual components all together."
He kicked off the meal with a trademark dish, a simple steak tartare served with one major twist: it would be continuously cooled by liquid nitrogen. The effect was a visual spectacle, with vapor coating the plate (which arrived at an optimal temperature).
Next Peraza focused on sound with his cobia ceviche, featuring Peruvian ají and an audible crunch from tempura-like avocado. The bright, refreshing ceviche was at the forefront of the dish, Peraza explained, while the delicately battered avocado offered a contrasting texture.
For the first main, Peraza looked to focus on the sense of taste. Braising short ribs in red wine for a deep savory base, he juxtaposed the rich meat with the subtle sweetness of pan-seared scallops. Ravioli with house-made mushroom ragout rounded out the entree. A second main of lamb tagine was all about scent, featuring a range of spices with rich aromatics. Star anise, allspice, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, and more accompanied slow cooked lamb in the Moroccan-style dish. To add a Texas flair, Peraza briefly smoked the dish, to impart a wood aroma.
For dessert, Peraza created a hands-on, tactile experience. So he offered a take on the ice cream sandwich, served without utensils, using instead profiteroles stuffed with fresh berries and strawberry sorbet. It was a lighthearted end to an evening of highly conceptual cuisine.
"Doing the five senses was very unique," Peraza said. "A lot of people don't realize that's right up our alley in the way we design and execute dishes, but with this dinner they were able to see and enjoy the thought process behind each dish."