Voyage Houston - Conversations with Thomas Perez March 15, 2023
Voyage Houston – Conversations with Thomas Perez
Today we’d like to introduce you to Thomas Perez. Them and their team share their story with us below:
During the pandemic when the restaurant and hospitality industry shut down, Thomas was released from La Table, a modern upscale French restaurant located on Post Oak frequently ranked within the 25 in Alison Cook’s Top 100 list in Houston. While having more free time than he was used to and a home garden that was flourishing, he began making empanadas and chimichurri sauce all from scratch at home with his boys. They began making small gift boxes filled with empanadas and chimichurri sauce and gifting them to his neighbors. Word spread fast and before long people were calling to order empanadas by the dozen to their house. Thomas eventually started offering bottles of wines paired with the empanadas and soon he was pumping out over 100 empanadas a day at home! Through this empanada and wine home delivery business, Thomas eventually met entrepreneurs Brian Culwell and his wife Amelia. The Culwell’s have an incredible sixth sense about new business and approached Thomas to turn this empanada and wine business into a full-blown concept. This was the birth of Plane & Level. With Thomas industry experience and talent, Brian’s creativity and ingenuity and Amelia’s taste and style, Plane & Level went from paper to realty. Within the first 6 months of opening during pandemic this Spanish tapas and wine bar became packed! Expansion began to seat an additional 50-75 guests and recently opened over the holidays.
Thomas is native El Salvadoran with nearly 25 years in the industry, Thomas Perez, world-class sommelier is Co-Founder and Culinary Director of Plane & Level.
At a young age, Perez escaped war-torn El Salvador with the goal to finish middle school. Little did he know that attending a wine tasting, at the renowned Masters of Food & Wine event, while he was working as a busboy at Highlands Inn in Carmel, that his life was about to change. Wine stole his heart and in 2004 Perez graduated from Escuela Superior de Enologia del Pais Vasco, Spain where he received his Masters in Oenology and Viticulture, becoming one of few sommeliers in the world that is also an oenologist.
Perez has engaged his extensive knowledge of winemaking techniques and education from time spent with Fidel Fernández at Bodegas Luis Cañas, Spain, Jean François Coche at Domaine Coche-Dury, France, and with Aubert de Villaine at Domaine de La Romanée-Conti, France, to deliver some of the world’s most exquisite wines. With this experience, he became founding winemaker of Kristi-Lynn Wine where he creates fine wines that showcase the pure identity of the varietals from Santa Maria Valley, California; Willamette Valley, Oregon; Mendoza, Argentina; and La Rioja, Spain.
Monterey County Weekly magazine boasts of Perez’s talents and humility by saying, “they simply do not make many wine whisperers like Thomas Perez. With Perez there’s no ego, only an oenology degree and profound understanding of the connection between how the wine is made and how it acts in the glass. ” It is this deep understanding of wine that has him named one of the three top wine experts in the nation by Men’s Health Magazine in 2010.
Thomas has worked as wine director and sommelier at high-profile properties such as: Aubergine L’Auberge Carmel Relais & Chateaux, Cantinetta Luca and Marinus at Bernardus Lodge, The Inn at Dos Brisas Relais & Chateaux, The Clubs at Houston Oaks, Bandol Wines and La Table.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Opening during a pandemic led to:
*product inventory issues
*shipping and delivery delays
*encouraging people to come out and try the restaurant while everyone was still scared of being in public
What was your favorite childhood memory?
La Zorra y Las Uvas
When I was a kid one of my favorite things to draw was this fox eating grapes. This is a famous fable written by Felix Maria de Samaniego a Spanish writer from the 1800s. Little did I knew that I was going to study wine in the same town where he was born and lived Laguardia in La Rioja.
Photography by: Katie Park