As a child, Southeast Michigan native Jonathan Peregrino looked out the window a lot wishing he could play with the other children, but his athletically induced asthma kept him home. Still, it was at home that he found out he had a passion.
“So, instead of playing video games, which I still did, I found myself in the kitchen a lot helping my mom and grandma out,” he said. “I loved it and always found it really easy. I knew one day I would end up in the food industry.”
Today, Peregrino’s skills have earned him a spot on season seven of Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship.” Set to air on Mondays at 9 p.m. EST starting on Nov. 2, Peregrino, who is openly gay, will be one of eight bakers competing for a cash prize of $25,000 and the prestigious title of Holiday baking Champion. Although he is limited on the details he can divulge about the ongoing show, Peregrino said it all started when he received an unexpected Instagram message from a casting director.
“I thought it was a joke but went along with it. They said they found my profile by someone they follow who happened to follow me. One thing led to another, a message turned in to a phone call, which led to a Skype interview, which led to being considered for a different season, then running my background check and less than a month from the first message I found myself heading to shoot the show,” Peregrino said.
“Prior to being on, I’d seen an episode or two. But after being cast on the show, I binged all six seasons. Watching it on TV, I was the type of person sitting at home, yelling at the TV wondering why are they doing this [saying], ‘Man, that looks like crap, you have so much time!’ I didn’t know what to actually expect when getting there, but thought I was chosen for a reason, that I could do it,” he said. “When I got there, it was crazy – the lights, camera, being in a new kitchen, equipment I don’t have or haven’t used, being around other people with varying levels of experience.”
Fostering a Culinary Passion
Now that the festive show is already taped, Peregrino’s holiday focus hasn’t stopped. He is back in Detroit and busy preparing for the upcoming holiday season at home, and it’ll be the first year that he’s working in the culinary industry over the holidays. That’s right, despite his immense passion for baking, he only recently turned professional. Instead of following his calling after finishing high school, Peregrino sought out a different career path. After high school, he graduated from Indiana University with a business and marketing degree and started his career in sales, and despite a 15-year career, his passion for cooking did not go away.
“As I went through my professional career and seeing what happens in a restaurant, I pivoted and thought business-wise that going baking/pastry would be better for me. I made the goal just out of college that by the time I turned 40, the ball would be rolling for me to have something [in the food industry],” he said. “I started to dabble with pastry by taking some classes at Washtenaw Community College, but completing a program wasn’t going to be able to happen while I was working full time.”
So, Peregrino was faced with a choice to choose one over another.
“I’ve lived a very comfortable life, having all my debts paid off, not worrying about money or buying what I wanted and the ability to travel the world,” Peregrino said. “But the big thing is I wasn’t happy. Being in the kitchen and cooking for others is what made me happy. So I knew I had to at least give it a shot.”
It wasn’t long before he found a short pastry program in the Philippines. He said that along with giving him great foundational skills it gave him “the chance to explore my heritage.” Back in the U.S., the dough ball started rolling quickly and today, at 38, Peregrino has exceeded his goal of working in the culinary world by 40. Currently, he works about 65 hours a week, dividing his time between jobs as the head baker at Tapped Coffee and Craft Beverages in Canton and as the pastry sous chef at Oak & Reel in Detroit.
“I like to cook what makes people or my audience happy. I try to gauge what they are interested in and would like. When baking in general, I enjoy incorporating flavors of things I grew up with, such as changing a Filipino bread roll to a stuffed roll — whether that be with a cinnamon chocolate ganache, or cream cheese and everything seasoning — or incorporating ube — a purple sweet potato — into my mom’s cheesecake recipe,” Peregrino said. “I also enjoy preparing a chocolate orange tart or pies. I guess one of the things my friends love the most is when I do my double chocolate oatmeal cran-raisin cookies. Personally, I love anything with chocolate.”
Outside of Work and Future Goals
When Peregrino isn’t following his dreams at work, he’s sharpening his skills in his home kitchen.
“I enjoy playing, testing, trying new things. I also have a small home-based business, so I try to do as much of that as I can,” he said.
He also coaches group fitness classes a few times a week at the Detroit Body Garage, enjoys bike riding and being outside. So far, Peregrino has completed two Ironman races. But as fulfilling as his life has become in recent years, Peregrino’s as goal-oriented as ever and has big plans for the future.
“One day the goal is to have my own shop, but right now I’m all about getting experience and trying to figure out where I see myself and what kind of shop suits me the best,” he said. “This experience has been so surreal, and never thought I’d already be doing the things I’m doing.”