Mar 27, 2018
by Christopher Kerosky, Kerosky, Purves & Bogue, LLP, Sonoma County Human Rights Commissioner
Peru has made many amazing contributions to world culture – among them, the Inca civilization and Machu Picchu, the mysterious Nazca lines, and Peruvian cuisine, considered one of the world’s finest.
Out of that beautiful country has come two of our own community’s best and brightest: Percy Brandon and Olenka Orjeda Airaldi. Percy is General Manager of Vintners Inn and John Ash & Co.; Olenka is a well-known chef and founder of Olenka Cooks, which promotes the cuisine of her native country.
Percy Brandon, like many immigrants, the road to success has been a long and challenging one. He left his native Peru at age 19 and went first to Canada. “I didn’t know anyone there, hardly spoke the language, but I was filled with huge dreams and a passion to succeed.” Percy’s first job was working as a busboy; his first home was the YMCA in Vancouver. He was “undocumented” there for a time, working in restaurants, hoping to avoid deportation. Meanwhile, he began to work his way up the ladder: from kitchen help to sous chef and finally chef, eventually sponsored by his employer for legal residence in Canada.
Later, Percy worked in social services, first with teens in group homes and later as a counselor to Spanish-speaking immigrants. He served primarily refugees from El Salvador, helping them adjust to their new lives in Canada. On nights and weekends, he served on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Auxiliary.
Percy moved to California in 1991 and returned to the hospitality industry, starting at the bottom rung all over again. At one point, he had 4 jobs, working breakfast, lunch and dinner during 18-hour days. His day would start at 5:30 am at his job at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and he’d return at 11 pm to his home in Martinez. To earn the money for closing costs on his first house, Percy worked those shifts 28 days straight.
He got his first management job at the Palace Hotel, then moved to Bodega Bay Lodge, which brought him to the North Bay. Percy later served as GM of the Napa Valley Grille for 5 years before taking over at Vintners Inn/John Ash & Co. in 2000. Since then, Percy has spearheaded multiple expansions and remodels there, the opening of the Event Center and soon the Spa and additional rooms, and the establishment of the restaurant/inn as a prime destination for tourists and locals alike. He’s served on multiple boards (Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Sonoma County Tourist Board to mention few) and he’s received recognition for his contributions to the Community (Spirit of Sonoma, Best of NorthBay Biz). His greatest achievement? “That’s easy. It was finally finding my soul mate, Olenka.”
Olenka Orjeda Airaldi had her own career in banking in Peru when she met Percy through mutual friends. She had degrees from Catholic University and the Peruvian University of Applied Sciences. Olenka had achieved success as a bank manager and leader of the business community in Lima.
Percy convinced her to come to Sonoma County, where she landed in 2012 with limited English but lots of passion and charm. She had always wanted to be a chef, so she got a degree in Culinary Arts while mastering English. Olenka quickly became a star in the foodie community here, teaching classes in Peruvian cooking and hosting many charity events and Pop-Up dinners. “I learned to cook from mi Mamama, who was an awesome cook. From an early age, I was in the kitchen helping grandmother.”
Olenka eventually founded “Olenka Cooks”, which offers classes, private dinners and on-line Peruvian recipes, olenkacooks.com.She has appeared on The Food Network and is already known nationally as an authority on her native cuisine.
Their life together.
Percy and Olenka were married in 2013 and in September 2014, they became parents to twins, Giacomo and Vicenzo. The young boys are virtual celebrities in the County, charming guests at their parents’ many charity events and parties.
Anyone who knows them will tell you that Percy and Olenka are full of energy, perennially upbeat and tirelessly giving back to the community. The pair are great ambassadors for Peru and good role models for new immigrants. When asked to reflect on their own immigrant experiences, Percy offered this: “I have found that the secret of our success as immigrants in the USA is to be able to integrate into American society while maintaining and loving our heritage”. Isn’t that what the American Dream is all about?
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