Winter Park, Fla., might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of top-notch dining, but chef Brandon McGlamery is changing that. McGlamery honed his skills at restaurants like The French Laundry, Chez Panisse and Delfina in Northern California, Bacchanalia in Atlanta, and Guy Savoy in Paris before moving to the Orlando area to open Luma on Park nearly six years ago, and then Prato in 2011.
His cooking emphasizes local, seasonal ingredients, responsibly farmed meats, and sustainable seafood from local Florida waters, so much so that he was chosen to serve on the Founder's Council for the inaugural Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, and he has also participated in the annual Cooking for Solutions event at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif.
McGlamery took the time to answer some of our questions about his love of cooking, great culinary memories, and what makes a restaurant great.
The Daily Meal: What was your first restaurant industry job?
Chef Brandon McGlamery: At 14 years old, I started as a busboy in a seasonal seafood restaurant in Naples, Fla. I was consistently taking home $50 in cash a night plus minimum wage and I thought I had hit the lottery. The funny thing is I loved the intense pace and looked forward to going to work more than going to school. I took pride in the fact that the servers always wanted me in their section because of my enthusiasm and how I challenged myself to get the tables turned as quickly as possible, which in turn increased their pay.
TDM: When you first walk into a restaurant, what do you look for as signs that it’s well-run, will be a good experience, etc.?
BM: I believe it starts the moment you step onto the curb of wherever it is you are dining. When you get out of your car, things like how clean the sidewalk is show me whether or not the establishment takes pride in its appearance. Then, once I am in the door, how is the hostess area? Is the hostess smiling or just puzzled that people are actually coming in for dinner? As that is the diner’s first interaction with anyone in the restaurant, I think it is very important that it be a positive one.
Now with this being said, I always try to be very optimistic going into any situation. Especially if I am with my family or friends, I just really want to enjoy my time with them. I never verbally criticize unless something is extremely off. My wife and I have a way of high-browing our eyes to communicate things. If it is a sideways style of frown that is code for not so good, but if it is a big grin and my shoulders perk up, well that is my enthusiasm and curiosity getting all fired up. I usually research the restaurants beforehand, so that I have an idea of what to expect before I go. I have two small boys and limited nights off, so going out locally is very premeditated. Though when I travel for work (research & development), I like to go out big and to be blown away and inspired by what I am eating.
TDM: Is there anything you absolutely hate cooking?
BM: There is nothing I hate to cook, although I am not a pastry or bread baker kind of guy. But on the flip side of that question, I love to poach eggs for some silly reason.
TDM: If one chef from history could prepare one dish for you, what would it be?
BM: It would definitely have to be Thomas Keller, though it would be a toss-up between his Oysters and Pearls or his Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Caviar. He once told someone that he had never even tasted one of the dishes whole and when they asked him how he knew if it was any good, his response was, "Well you don't have to stick your hand into a fire to know that it is hot!" Classic Thomas Keller…
TDM: What do you consider to be your biggest success as a chef?
BM: I feel the most successful as a chef when on any given night the restaurants are full, the guests are happy, the teams are firing on all cylinders and proud, and my kids and wife are at home safe and asleep.
TDM: What do you consider to be your biggest failure as a chef?
BM: As a young chef there were times when I felt that I gave up on things a little too easily and times when I failed to understand the big picture, but sometimes those things just come with age. I also had a bit of an explosive temper back then, something I had promised myself not to pick up from some of my mentors, but not soon enough realized I was far exceeding their bad habits and perfecting mine. At the time I chalked it up to passion and trying to achieve perfection, but now I chalk it up to purely being an idiot!
TDM: What is the most transcendental dining experience you’ve ever had?
BM: I have had many, almost too many to stand out, but to name a few…The time l ate with my mom at The French Laundry, a lunch at Mugaritz in Spain, the first time I ate at Gramercy Tavern and was floored, and a couple of years ago when I was able take one of my mentors, Anne Quatrano, out to lunch at Le Bernadin. Oh and on any given Sunday, my wife’s pork tacos! There are way too many to be thankful for, and I look forward to hopefully many more.
TDM: Are there any foods you will never eat?
BM: Bugs! I know in some cultures it is customary and even considered a delicacy to eat them but I just could never do it!
TDM: Is there a story that, in your opinion, sums up how interesting the restaurant industry can be?
BM: The entire Lyrics to Kenny Rogers’ "The Gambler":
"You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away, and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done."
Now that is some deep stuff…