Otilio and Megan Gonzalez, who own the Nomad Café in Melbourne, travel internationally to gain culinary inspiration. / Photos by Chris Felker
Megan and Otilio Gonzalez are locavore believers who strive for a decidedly international flair in the fare they serve up at their Nomad Café in Melbourne.
The couple have become annual globetrotters as well as successful restaurateurs – the thriving café marks its fifth anniversary this fall – and they travel expressly to learn tricks and unique flavor combinations used by chefs abroad.
Otilio is the chef, though Megan also has a culinary degree. She was trained in classic French techniques and pastry arts.
Growing up on an orange farm in Mexico, Otilio learned his culture’s traditional cooking methods. Early on, he developed a sense of the importance of food origins and cultivation.
After immigrating to New York, he worked in several places, apprenticing for a Mediterranean chef.
Said Megan, “He ended up landing in a traditional Greek restaurant in upstate New York, where he worked for almost eight years. Got hired for (washing) dishes, and worked his way all the way up to being head chef there.” He just has a natural talent for it.”
Megan also has farm experience – her grandfather had an apple and maple-syrup farm in upstate New York. That’s where the couple met.
Menu changes with seasons
Nomad Café’s menu, a collaborative effort between the two, is an eclectic mix that changes frequently. That’s partly based on what’s fresh and seasonal – and because, when they opened, they couldn’t settle on any one cuisine, Megan said.
“Our menu used to be more Latin-oriented. Now, typically, at dinner, we have about 12 entrées, most based around the local ingredients we get, and then each one of them is influenced from a different region of the world. We have four or five staples that change only about once a year, and then we have five or six that change every week to two weeks, depending on what local produce and things we’re getting our hands on,” Megan added.
“We’re not a true, 100 percent locally sourced restaurant. We don’t make that claim,” she said. “We call it ‘seasonally dependent.’”
She says they coordinate with local farmers through Florida Fields to Forks in Malabar, as well as directly with Springer Farms in Melbourne (“very seasonal; they basically do on-demand greenery for us”); and a watercress farm in Fellsmere; plus Suwannee Farms in O’Brien for beef.
There are challenges to this method. The Gonzalezes were using a “natural” poultry farm in the Carolinas but stopped because they found that the farm was making false claims. “Now we’re on the hunt for a good poultry source,” she noted.
“We used to have a bunch of window boxes and grew all of our own tomatoes, peppers, cabbage. But people started stealing it … so we’re not doing that anymore. But it was fun while it lasted,” Megan said.
When Florida Food & Farm interviewed the Gonzalezes, they were headed to Spain to harvest more ideas.
“We just buy train tickets … and literally let the wind take us. Otilio takes everything we learn … and incorporates it almost into a ‘fusion’ style of stuff that we can do when we get back. It’s a lot of fun; it’s definitely a big perk of the job,” Megan said. “This time, we’re focusing on the Mediterranean coast and southern Spain.”
Nomad Café, 2002 S. Harbor City Blvd., Melbourne, FL 32901; 321- 327-2996; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily except Sunday; thenomadcafe.com. The restaurant’s Facebook pages list daily and weekly farm-to-table specials.
Chris Felker writes and edits for various South Florida media, including Okeechobee – the Magazine and The Coastal Star. He has lived in Palm Beach County for over 30 years. Prior to becoming a freelancer, he served as an editor for The Palm Beach Post for 22 years.