To say the transition from food truck to brick-and-mortar operation was a challenging one for Bem Bom chef/owner Francisco “Chico” Mendonça and business partner A.J. Campofiore would be an understatement of epic proportions. Now that it has opened, the Audubon Park charmer is consistently hopping, and the inviting patio fronting Corrine Drive is one of the toughest seats to snag in the neighborhood. They come for Chico’s Portuguese and Mexican dishes, much like the ones he fashioned inside his food truck and, prior to that, at Winter Park’s Cocina 214. Frango de churrasco (or barbecued chicken) done in the piri piri style is a must, but dense and porky grilled chouriço is hard to overlook, as is the center-cut salted cod topped with caramelized onions and peppers drizzled in Portuguese olive oil and served with punched potatoes.
Prato’s style of cooking can be defined as classic Italian with an emphasis on local ingredients. This, coupled with the restaurant’s sleek wood-and-brick decor, makes for a modern dining experience with a cool, rustic vibe. A signature special beloved by locals is the Widowmaker pizza, which is topped with caciocavallo cheese, romesco, fennel sausage and an egg in the center. A small yet eclectic selection of pastas and secondi awaits, where dishes change seasonally – and daily, depending what fresh ingredients are available. Chef Brandon McGlamery, who is also responsible for the success of the hugely popular Luma on Park, located a few steps down Park Avenue, reassures that his restaurants ‘stick to seasonally directed and ingredient-driven as our motto’.
That is certainly true — and that’s why “education” becomes a slippery term in the world of taste. The sommelier’s job is to monetize the educated palate. In wine, that might mean persuading someone to upgrade from a bottle that’s $30 on a list to one that’s $50. The cheese sommelier might try to sell a customer on a more expensive artisan, aged Gouda rather than the basic Gouda in red wax. For the honey sommelier, it may be about persuading someone to upgrade their $4 honey in a 12-ounce plastic bear to a buckwheat honey that’s $12 for four ounces. For the mustard sommelier, it’s about explaining why you’d want to pay for real Dijon mustard and not the cheap imitations you find in the supermarket.
When you’re losing steam after a long day out with your family and need a snack and a drink to hold you over until dinner, head to Cocina 214 in Winter Park for Happy Hour. This Tex-Mex spot serves 12 types of margaritas and lots of things that are perfect for a small pre-meal, like tacos, queso fundido, and fried avocado bites. And if you don’t feel like relocating to another spot after a few drinks, the burritos and tamales should help hold you over until breakfast.
With taste education so intertwined with commerce, some public skepticism over such certifications is understandable. This past fall, a cheating scandal rocked the Court of Master Sommeliers, which had to invalidate the tasting portion of its hallowed master sommelier diploma exam. One of the proctors had leaked the exam’s most sacred secrets: the identity of the wines that the master’s candidates were supposed to taste blind.
Since I just spent a year writing a book about cider, the first credential I seek out is to become a Certified Cider Professional (or CCP), a brand-new professional title created by the United States Association of Cider Makers. I attended an introductory seminar on the CCP Level 1 exam at CiderCon in Baltimore in the winter of 2018. The following summer, one afternoon on a whim — without any further study — I decide to log in to the cider association website, pay $75 and take the exam. There are 60 questions on apple history, apple classifications and genetics, cidermaking techniques, styles of cider, detecting flaws, and food pairings with cider. I submit my answers, then find out instantaneously that I’ve gotten 89 percent correct — a passing grade. It has taken me 37 minutes 47 seconds to complete the exam, which includes the interruption of a 15-minute work call. I am now proudly a Level 1 Certified Cider Professional — a cider sommelier. I receive a felt CCP patch in the mail — one that I might have proudly ironed onto my acid-washed jean jacket back in the ’80s. Within months, I am teaching cider classes to candidates who also hope to pass the CCP Level 1 test.
Now, we work our way through what she calls “single-origin” honeys: a straw-colored, delicate acacia honey from Bulgaria; a smooth, surprisingly savory orange blossom honey from Florida; a pleasantly strange, brick-colored honey from Maine blueberry blossoms, with complex aromas of cheese and tomato paste and flavors from dried fruit to umami. “This is not your clover honey from a teddy bear,” Marchese says. “That honey in the teddy bear is just sugar water.”
Foie Gras is the specially fatten liver of duck or geese. Prized for its butter and meaty flavor, this French delicacy is may be prepared in whole form, or as a mousse, pate, or terrine and is cooked prior to being served hot or chilled. The meat is finely chopped or minced and mixed with fat and formed into a spread to create a delicate and rich taste experience.
Whisk has some of my favorite southern food in Miami. The restaurant is hidden in sunset place behind the chevron station in a sort of alley but it is a gem. Let's start with the best part, the food. The menu is pretty extensive and honestly great for sharing. I've ordered the Fried green tomatoes several times and they are always fantastic and flavorful. The cornbread is also some of my favorite out there and all the meats are always perfectly cooked and well-seasoned.
Indeed, what the rise of specialized taste education, the cult of sensory analysis, and the wine-ification of everything means is that taste is becoming more and more codified all the time. There are good tastes and bad tastes; not only that, there’s a growing caste of gatekeepers in every field who are keeping score on what tastes great, middling and flawed. Maybe this is what morality or philosophy looks like in an increasingly post-religious, post-intellectual, materialistic United States. We are a people in need of an authority, a higher voice, some guidance — even if it comes from behind the cheese counter. Maybe, for many affluent Americans, the sommeliers of everything represent something shaman-like. Listen to me. I am your one true sommelier.