BY KAYE WARR
PHOTOS BY CHAD SPENCER
hef Pedro Flores hails from Mexico City, and he makes it a point to tell me that it is one of the worst polluted cities in the world. “Mexico City sits very high, so the air does not circulate.” He holds his hand up to demonstrate the altitude of the city, then looks over his shoulder and appears to relax. His restaurant, The Table Creekside, is all clean lines and sparkling water views. It is a study in white, tan, and blue, with large picture windows and a bar so closely resembling the cabin of a luxury yacht that I’m almost convinced I can feel the ocean moving below deck. I ask Pedro what inspired his love affair with food and he talks about his mother. His mother used to take him to the market very early in the morning and he would assist her in picking out fresh vegetables for use in her homemade sauces, salsas, and dips. “She made her own tortillas,” he recalls fondly. “She always told me: If you are going to do something, do your best— make it as if it’s for your family.”
Pedro moved to the States at the age of 16 and lived with family in Austin, Texas; an exceptionally clean city, he informs me. His path to chefdom began in the kitchen at a Marriott hotel, where he worked part-time as a dishwasher. Soon he was being trained as a prep cook and then a garde manger, in charge of the production of cold foods. Pedro then apprenticed in the banquet kitchen under a Japanese chef, a master of ice sculpture who passed some of his carving skills down to his pupil. Pedro assisted in the opening of a large hotel in San Antonio as the sous chef. In his early 20s by this point, Pedro felt he was ready for the title of executive chef. He set out to Miami to seek his fortune and it was there that he met another young chef, Rafael Manzano, who would later become his business partner.
The two young men worked together as chefs for six years at a Sheraton in Miami. They cooked for the likes of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, developing an easy rapport with one another. Both were offered the opportunity to become executive chefs and spent four years separately pursuing their dreams before meeting one day for dinner and drinks and deciding to open their own place. After much brainstorming, they drove from Miami to St. Augustine in search of the perfect location for their new restaurant. Rafael was familiar with Sarasota and convinced Pedro that this would be the ideal setting for their original concept: a franchise chicken joint. They were inspired by a shared desire to be unique and soon decided to concentrate on the idea of ‘Global Cuisine’ and draw on influences from all over the world. The ambitious and dedicated pair opened on Hillview Street, where the original ‘Table’ did very good business. “We were blessed,” says Pedro, remembering those early years. When they decided to expand with a full bar and nightclub, they were so successful that they opened a second location in St. Petersburg, which did very well until the economy collapsed, causing both restaurants to close.
The idea of The Table simmered and the pair returned to Sarasota under the auspices of Roy Lalone, owner of Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant. The Table was reinvigorated after a few years spent regrouping. One perk of being the sole ownerights of a restaurant is the ability to constantly reinvent yourself. Pedro smiles at me, “I’m a little bit crazy. I always want to surprise people, to challenge their perceptions and have them try something new and be amazed by it. I want them to remember that feeling and come back for more.” Chef Pedro is an arbiter of the farm-to-table movement. He prefers to use local, seasonal produce whenever possible and features ingredients from farms in Myakka, Fort Myers, and Tampa. His mission for the summer is to give guests light, healthy, often gluten-free meals that still represent his vision of incredibly flavorful, globally influenced food that defies expectations. Take the chef ’s riff on a Beef Stroganoff: He makes his own fettuccine with egg whites and ladles over it a meat sauce made of green and black barley and tender chunks of organic veal instead of beef. The dish is light and tasty and, as promised, it’s a revelation.