Acclaimed Chef Omar Pereney is able to cook in the city of Houston again after a lengthy court battle with his former employer Peska Seafood Culture.
Pereney parted ways with Peska last February when the restaurant moved toward a broader steak-and-seafood menu and away from Pereney’s elevated fish dishes that are known for their artful presentation. It took nearly a year for the 23-year-old chef to be able to cook within 20 miles of Harris County - a chunk of land larger than Rhode Island - because of a non-compete that limited his activity. The restaurant also owned the rights to his name and likeness for 10 years, despite the severed relationship.
“This was insane and flat out not right,” his lawyer Ashish Mahendru told Eater. “Non-competes are generally designed for people who are exposed to trade secrets - like the architect of Google who knows all of the back-end of how the platform works and could destroy the company if he went to Apple. Then Peska superimposed on that the concept that they owned him - his name and his likeness. It was massively over-broad.“
Eater reported that Peska closed up shop in November; its owner, Maite Ysita, could not be reached for comment. In a previous statement issued in May, Ysita said her lawyer believed the suit was without merit. Eater has reached out to the restaurant’s attorney for comment.
Mahendru disagreed it was without merit, opting to represent Pereney pro bono. “This was really interesting legal work that we wanted to do,” he says. Pereney credits Mahendru and his team with giving him back his future in Houston. ”I had just gotten here,” Pereney says. He headed up Peska’s culinary program in Mexico and the company asked him to move to Houston to expand the brand. “Houston’s been so good to me and I have so much more to do in this city.”
In the interim, the chef, who started his career early with a cooking show in his native Venezuela at the age of 14, busied himself with consulting gigs across the U.S. and internationally. Those include Spirit Food & Friends in Alexandria, Louisiana; Victoria House in San Pedro, Belize; and Verde in Manhattan.
Now that he’s free to work in Houston again, he’s consulting with the Houston Food Bank on a redesign of its volunteer cafe at its central HQ; he’s helping out a health-conscious eatery in Montrose; and he’s working with Liebman’s on revamping its menu at the company’s new location in Houston.
Pereney says despite the stress of a lawsuit, overall this was a positive experience, and he’s just glad to be able to helm a kitchen again. “Everything happens for a reason. I couldn’t be a traditional chef for the entirety of 2017, but consulting is a new passion for me which I discovered because of this. It’s the best thing that could’ve ever happened,” he told Eater. “I came to the States to cook and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”