One of Us: Chef Tommy McDonough

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Since relocating from the Philadelphia area, Chef Tommy McDonough has introduced local diners to his internationally influenced gourmet sandwiches at Flavor Palette, which recently celebrated its first anniversary.

How did you begin your career as a chef?

My first real cooking job was at the iconic Tony Luke’s in Philadelphia when I was 18. I was a natural – I became a kitchen manager by 19 at another amazing shop named Benny’s Steaks. By 22, I was a corporate catering chef, running a kitchen that did high-volume events. From there, I went to The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, taking a job as a sous chef with one of the instructors from Taiwan and doing everything from fine dining to music festivals for thousands of people. I then worked for Hilton hotels under chefs from Belgium, Germany, India, Korea and the Philadelphia area’s chef of the year, eventually becoming the executive chef for their restaurant at 25. From there, I held positions in a Greek fusion restaurant, was the corporate executive chef for an international restaurant/caterer and as a personal/private chef for five years.  

Flavor Palette’s offerings include a diverse collection of international cuisines. How did you come to develop such an eclectic menu?

Coming from Philadelphia, I developed a great love and passion for very ethnically diverse cuisines. When I did my initial research of this area, I noticed that some of the flavors that I really enjoyed were not available. Combining the opportunity of creating distinction along with satisfying my tastes guided me to the development Flavor Palette!

You’ve been open in Ponte Vedra for just over a year now. What have you found to be the most popular items on the menu among local residents?

Well our number one seller has always been our half-pound ribeye cheese steak! Our customers definitely appreciate the high-quality product and understand why it costs a little bit more! Our consistent number two seller is the “Moroccan chicken pita,” with preserved lemon-marinated chicken and tomatoes, almonds, golden raisins, Kalamata olives and harissa yogurt sauce. I was very pleasantly surprised that this dynamic sandwich sells so well! I thought I was reaching when I created it. Those are followed by a virtual tie between our made-from-scratch falafel and our Angus Beef “Snappy Mac” burger topped with gorgonzola, sundried cherry relish, bacon and arugula. 

What are your personal favorite items on the menu?

My favorite sandwich on the menu is the “Philly Style” – Italian roast pork with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone on an Amoroso hoagie roll. It is my go-to comfort food from back home that just makes me happy. I would also have to say the Mezze platter: I just love the sampling of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flavors.

Do you have any plans to add new offerings to the menu?

Yes, I am always listening to feedback and evolving with the consensus. Starting next month and through the summer, we will be running two wraps that are very popular with my catering crowd – one being chicken salad with grapes, walnuts and lemon mayo; and the other being ham with gouda, granny smith apples and arugula. As a special, all next month we will be offering “Totchos” – a fun spin using tater tots instead of tortilla chips with typical nacho toppings. We are also planning on bringing back dessert options very soon.  

How do you enjoy spending your free time?

 Free time?! Ha ha – not too much of that for a chef/restaurant owner! The few hours that I do catch here and there are all spent with my kids, wife and parents. We really love taking nature walks, especially through the GTM Reserve trails. I am also kind of an amateur history and science geek, so I love reading and exploring the plethora of sites around St. Augustine.

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