Popular chef dies in fight
Loud music in car leads to fatal fisticuffs

Henry K. Lee and Steve Rubenstein, Chronicle Staff Writers
Thursday, February 6, 2003

A dispute over the volume of a car radio led to the death of a celebrated Mission District chef in the middle of 22nd Street early Wednesday.

Carlos Perez, 44, the executive chef of Platanos restaurant, died around 1 a.m. after a fight that started when a resident objected to the music that Perez was listening to in his parked car, police said.

According to investigators, Perez had been blasting a combination of rap and hip-hop music from a 1991 silver Buick Regal near the intersection of Guerrero Street. The resident, whose name was not released, was awakened by the noise and decided to confront Perez.

"Words were exchanged, and that led to punches being thrown," said Sgt. Neville Gittens, a San Francisco police spokesman. "They both fell to the ground, pushing and tussling with each other."
Paramedics were called when it was discovered that Perez was not breathing, Gittens said. Perez was pronounced dead at the scene.

No cause of death has been determined, and police are awaiting autopsy results and conflicting witness reports before deciding whether to make an arrest.

During the struggle, Perez apparently managed to stab the resident in the back with a key protruding from between his knuckles. The resident was treated for his wounds and released.

Perez died about an hour after leaving work at Platanos, a popular new Central American restaurant at 18th and Guerrero streets where he had earlier prepared a marinated pork dinner for 40 members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Perez, a father of four, had been visiting friends and celebrating his 44th birthday, which was on Wednesday. Friends and colleagues were in shock over Perez's death, and the restaurant was closed in his memory.
"Cooking wasn't his job, it was his passion," said restaurant owner Lisa Lazarus. "He was consumed by it. He was a perfectionist. He wanted everyone to have the best dining experience possible."

On Tuesday night, hours before his death, he labored to assemble a special vegetable plate for one diner after learning at the last moment that she was a vegetarian.

Before coming to Platanos, Perez had worked at Aqua, One Market and the Rotunda restaurants and had attended cooking school in New York.

Perez's secret ingredient was achiote, a spice from his native Nicaragua. Dissatisfied with locally available achiote, Perez obtained his specially prepared supply from his mother in Managua.

E-mail the writers at hlee@sfchronicle.com and srubenstein@sfchronicle.com.