The Next Generation
The culinary heritage of local kitchen masters is a fascinating tale.
I am fascinated by the legacy of kitchen folk–people who own restaurants or cook in our area’s kitchens who can trace their culinary heritage back generations to parents with restaurants of their own, or mothers and grandmothers who influenced their progeny’s future with their cooking.
During a recent conversation with Sonny Nguyen (Domu, Tori Tori), he told me about working at his parents’ restaurants, from Chinese buffets to American steakhouses, and still cannot imagine doing anything else.
I’ve written several times about the legacy of Jason Chin, owner/operator of Seito Sushi, Osprey Tavern and Reyes Mezcaleria, who took over Seito from his parents, who had opened it in 2000. James Petrakis, co-owner with wife Julie of The Ravenous Pig, inherited his determination from dad John, who has opened several Orlando restaurants, and James’ Greek grandfather, who owned diners in Gainesville. Pemika Assawasoponkul, co-owner of KrungThep Tea Time, took a career path that differed from her father’s background as a hotel manager before opening the popular “Thai twist sandwich shop.”
Pom Moongauklang built her career through restaurants in New York and Orlando before opening Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria, but her indoctrination in the dining world began when she was literally born in the kitchen of her parent’s restaurant in Thailand. Chef Chau Trinh grew up in his mother’s strip mall Chinese restaurant in Fort Myers and then Saikyo Sushi in Winter Park. Mom now now works the line at Chau’s Sushi Pop, creating pho and ramen specials on the weekend. And Aaron Pak, owner of Sushi Lola's, calls his mom, Sei, “the mastermind chef” behind the South Korean-influenced menu.
Calabrian chef Barbara Alfano (Peperoncino Cucina) says, “Mostly I cook what my grandmas infused in me growing up in the Italian south.” Likewise, Kathleen Blake’s grandmother in Iowa informed much of the James Beard-nominated chef’s model of local sustainable cooking at The Rusty Spoon.
Alan Lo, one of the owners of Hawkers along with Wayne Yung, Kaleb Harrell and Kin Ho, grew up in his family’s Chinese/Puerto Rican restaurant, El Flamboyan, and recipes from all four families formed the basis of the original Hawkers menu.
The third generation owners of Lee & Rick’s Oyster Bar, Gene Richter and his sister, Trish Blunt, carry on a tradition that began in 1950 on the front porch of Rick Richter’s Old Winter Garden Road house. The 70+ year-old Linda’s La Cantina steak house is in its third generation, and the Gonzmart family is now in the fifth generation of running the Columbia restaurant dynasty for the past 114 years.
It seems that good food, like hair color and a distaste for cilantro, resides in the genes.
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