Michael’s Tasting Room is one of the wonderful farm-to-table restaurants in St. Augustine, serving up Spanish flavors for more than 12 years. We spoke with Chef Michael to hear about his passions and inspiration for this award-winning restaurant.
What drew you to a career as a chef?
I started cooking at a young age, kind of inspired by my grandma when I was young. I lived on her farm for a year and cooked with her as she made cheeses, and milked the cows. It gave me some taste memories that I didn’t remember until later when I went to college and got into the hotel restaurant program. Looking back at those moments with my grandma, they really had rooted my appetite for culinary aspirations.
Michael’s Tasting Room offers a unique culinary experience in St. Augustine. What makes it unique?
We wanted to create a place where we treated food like wine and wine like food. So The Tasting Room became a place for new tastes, new ideas and new flavors with our seasonal menus. We blend locally sourced ingredients with imported products from Spain to build our flavors. Over the 12 years, we’ve become the restaurant we were always meant to be. The food we’re doing now is probably the best ever because it’s just the most true to me. With our ever-changing menu there’s always something new to try and enjoy with friends and family. We also strive for genuine hospitality. Our team genuinely cares about our guest experience. We want our patrons to think of us as a place nice enough for their special occasions or office functions, but also casual enough for time with friends. So, we invite folks to come see what’s new.
You’re originally from Puerto Rico. Tell us about your relationship with St. Augustine and what has made it your home?
It has a strong Spanish history and drew us here to connect to my Puerto Rican heritage. I was living in Dallas and we vacationed here. My wife and I also got married here, we knew in that moment it was where we wanted to start and raise our family. We just felt like it was an escape. It’s got European culture, small streets and has a lot of places that you can get lost in. I would say come and explore and enjoy what a small European village in the middle of sunny St. Augustine looks likes. Since then, I have been involved in many groups and organizations here. It’s my belief that helping build a strong community will in turn build a strong business, strong relationships, and most importantly a strong family. Something we can look back on and be proud of.
Tell us about the story of your charming building.
We walked in and saw it one day when it was a vacant building, all white. We thought, “We have a restaurant!” After we got in here, we started reading some of the history. The original building dates back to the 1700s, when an Italian immigrant had his family here. In 1960, the Whitney’s who owned Marineland had this building rebuilt for St. Augustine’s 400th Anniversary. So it has a lot of connection to a lot of history. I moved here in time to celebrate the 450th. It was kind of neat, the connection between the two.
What to date has been the highlight of your career?
One of my favorite cooking experiences was being able to cook alongside Emeril Lagasse for his Viva 500 show, celebrating the 500th anniversary of Ponce De Leon’s arrival on the East Coast.
What has surprised you most about the culinary business?
Every day there’s new surprises. I guess what surprised me is the amount of appreciation that you get from it. I think that you always go into it for your own aspirations. But whether it’s a teammate that you inspire or a guest that you’ve moved in a special event in their life, it was great to get feedback. It’s how impactful your art is to people through just cooking food.