Winter Park, Florida, is home to many varied and unique restaurants that are, by design, simple, sophisticated, trendy, and tasteful. Two uniquely themed restaurants, Luma on Park and Prato, are helmed by non other than the simply sophisticated, trendy, and always tasteful, Executive Chef Brandon McGlamery.
“I’m just a normal guy who wears a Chef’s jacket five to six days a week,” is how he describes himself with a disarming and amiable smile. “I have a passion for food, preparing tasteful dishes for people, and working alongside like-minded individuals.” When not in the kitchen, Chef Brandon is content with his role as a father and a husband and also with his other great passion: fishing for Tarpon!
While preparation of food has often been viewed as “culinary art,” Chef Brandon has a little different take on the subject, “I view cooking as more of a craft than an art. You can obviously have artistic expression through it, but in order to reach that level, you need to have the foundations and techniques of a craftsman.” Of course, mastering the basics includes more than creating a tasteful dish, “You also have to be part psychiatrist and part leader… you have to learn how to lead your team, get them motivated to perfect their skills. You set the game plan and then articulate the vision in such a way that everybody understands both the vision and the part they play to successfully enact it… and then you have to have the stamina to keep it up, night after night, to produce high quality food that makes you both happy and proud. That is what will keep a restaurant busy, which is the best sign that a Chef is doing something right.”
When asked what got him interested in the culinary world, Chef Brandon says it was a very pragmatic decision. “I didn’t like school, didn’t want to be in the college scene, it just wasn’t me, wasn’t what resonated within me… but I didn’t know what else to do. And then I thought, ‘If I cook, I could at least always feed myself.’ Of course, once I was introduced to that world, cooking, creating different tastes, it just drew me in, and I became very focused on food. It really set my compass bearing, learning the techniques of the craft, and having the desire to make a career out of it.”
While attending the California Culinary Academy, the future-Chef Brandon was presented with a life-impacting experience. “My mother got us reservations to Thomas Keller’s restaurant ‘The French Laundry’ in Yountville, California, which was well-known then and even more famous now. It was amazing, such an inspiration for me at the time. And then my mother and I were touring the restaurant, and by my questions and knowledge, they found out I was in culinary school, and somehow, I wound up in the kitchen, talking with Thomas, meeting the man himself, and he asked me what I was planning on doing once I was out of culinary school, so I told him ‘coming to work for you.’ He looked at me and said ‘send me your resume,’ which I did and about six months later, I was there, working in that very kitchen.” Of course, Chef Brandon’s story doesn’t end there, apparently his rather brash statement made an impression upon Chef Thomas as well, for when “The French Laundry Cookbook” was released, the story of an upcoming student and his mother just happened to make it in as an anecdote! “When I met the co-writer for the book, Michael Roman, he said, ‘I know you from somewhere,’ and then he figured it out, ‘Oh, you’re the kid from the book!’ It is just so cool to have been included, my mom and I, in something that is as widely read, loved, and used as that book.”
Chef Brandon is very straightforward about how he gets his inspiration to create a menu. “First and foremost, you have to ask yourself, ‘What is in season? What is being brought in fresh from the farm, fresh from the ocean?’ Then, once you know the type of food, ‘What is the traditional way to prepare it, to season it?’ ‘What have we done in the past and do we want to do it again or try something different?’ I am very into collaboration, especially as a mentor, and I often want to see what my team brings to the table, what flavors they will suggest. Cooking is a craft, and it is often fun to experiment, but you must keep in mind, people have been cooking for a very long time, so it is not likely you will create something that hasn’t been done before. You just cook from your heart, trust your gut, and add in the experiences that you have had before, the things you have seen. It is a very exciting and insightful process!”
Does this ever lead the taste in a bad direction? “Of course, but if you are experienced, it won’t happen that often. I have a saying, ‘It’s either good or it’s not.’ Don’t try to save something if it isn’t working, most likely it is never going to work. However, I also realize that, just because something isn’t appealing to my personal tastes, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. I’ll tell my team to put it on the menu, see what it does; and sometimes our guests have a really good reaction to it, which means it is a great teaching moment for us all.”
The menu’s at both “Luma on Park” and “Prato” follow the personalities of the restaurants. “Luma is new American, it is about freedom, there is an open flow to the menu, perhaps more experimental at times. The idea for Prato was to keep the nod to the Italian influence. Of course, both restaurants are seasonally directed and ingredient driven, but they each have a solid core menu, dishes that you would expect, that become your favorites to enjoy again and again. But, that doesn’t mean we won’t experiment a little, keeping the door open for innovative tastes. Prato is more structured, so we have about a 25% flexibility with that menu, but Luma is much more open with about 50% flexibility in the menu, which leads to new and exciting taste combinations.”
Chef Brandon is never afraid of stepping out of his comfort zone, “Experience is about taking a chance, pushing your boundaries… you never know until you try it!”
If you haven’t experienced the craftsmanship of “Luma on Park” or “Prato” in Winter Park, Florida, be sure to push those boundaries aside and open your taste buds to new and wonderful culinary experiences… you will be glad you did!