by Laura Reiley | November 24, 2016
Grove Stand: Euro- SMASH at Prato
Prato’s chef Brandon McGlamery combines his well-honed French, Italian and Californian techniques in his Winter Park foodie haven.
The servers wear lumber-sexual shirts and speak at length about the basil gnocchetti with surf clams and Calabrian chilies while artfully uncorking a Sicilian Nero d’Avola or a Negroamaro from Apulia. On a nice day, with the wide front windows thrown open to the busy street, the only tipoff that this is Central Florida is a wall of bromeliads and a little telltale humidity.
The cool and unpretentious yet sophisticated vibe of Winter Park’s Prato, open since 2011, suits its Executive Chef, 43-year-old Brandon McGlamery. “It is completely wood-fired, with Acunto oak-burning ovens and very much a peasant American version of Italian food with a wine list that is all Italian and Spanish. Cooking should be about what captivates your heart and your soul. That is what I try to express to people about Prato,” explains McGlamery.
Though McGlamery was a non-foodie growing up in Naples and St. Petersburg, he recalls that his dad bribed him to try his first oyster with the promise of a new skateboard deck (“a Powell Peralta Lance Mountain design, if I remember correctly”). McGlamery discovered his affinity for what goes into making delicious food after he dropped out of college and headed to the California Culinary Academy, in San Francisco. From there, his resume reads like a who’s who of Northern California’s toughest reservations—Stars, Chez Panisse, the French Laundry, Delfina, Fifth Floor, Jardinière. The West Coast definitely made its mark on Prato. “It’s going full circle back to that wood fire at Chez Panisse or Delfina,” he acknowledges.
When asked whether Alice Waters or Thomas Keller was the greater taskmaster, McGlamery quickly responds, “Chez Panisse was a country club for chefs. They went there to work on their golf stroke. The French Laundry was like a competitive residency to become a good doctor. Working for Keller was like studying underneath a very intense surgeon.”
McGlamery eventually set his sights on Europe, working in Paris for Restaurant Guy Savoy and in London at Gordon Ramsey’s Michelin three-starred restaurant. While abroad, he got a call from a friend: Would he come help open Luma on Park in Winter Park, just for six weeks? Eleven years later, he’s still there, and Winter Park has grown up around him. Luma is Prato’s sister restaurant, and McGlamery is at the helm of both. He’s also working on opening Luke’s Kitchen and Bar later this year in Maitland, which he says will have a raw bar, rotisserie and a charcoal wood grill for oysters.
With his stylish but straightforward fare, McGlamery is definitely a driving force that has put this charming Orange County ’burb on the culinary map.
“I call my food seasonally directed and ingredient driven. I’m not going to use the words ‘farm to table.’ When I first opened Luma there weren’t any farms around us. But there’s been a 180-degree shift: People are so aware now about where their food comes from.”
What has kept him in Florida—beyond falling in love with his wife, Liz, and having two boys, Ryder, 6, and Ashby, almost 5— is the state’s emerging local food scene. Farmers, anglers, ranchers and artisanal food businesses have flourished, and they’re supplying his restaurants.
“Anything you do needs to have some level of approachability and reckoning. Let’s give them what they want with a twist,” McGlamery says of his philosophy. He’s trying to defy expectations and push the boundaries, but not in a contrived way.
People seem to understand his mouth-watering message as they lift forkfuls of rustic meatballs from a pool of roasted tomato sauce to their lips.
To make the succulent pork taglio and flat iron bistecca happen, as well as ensure that the variations of house-made pasta (gnocchetti, campanelle, torchio) are just right, McGlamery splits his time between Luma and Prato. Luke’s will add a third stop to his day.
“I have to give room for the chefs de cuisine to grow,” he says. “It’s about making sure the team knows I’m there. I’m not a yeller or a screamer; fatherhood calmed me down a lot.”