“When you finish eating, you should be ready to go dancing, not take a snooze," says Dominique Christini, owner and chef of Cafe Largo French restaurant. • To Christini, who specializes in the cuisine of his native Provence, food (along with French wine, of course), should invigorate the diner. The dishes of sunny southern France do just that, he says.
Florida has the same fresh herbs, vegetables and seafoods found in Provence. It's the reason he moved here more than 20 years ago with his wife and two children.
Christini, 53, received his culinary training in Nice and worked in hotels along the French Riviera before coming to the United States in 1976 to work as sous-chef at the Hilton's French restaurant in Cincinnati. He worked in a private club in Chicago before moving to Seminole.
Cafe Largo, secluded in a small arbor-style plaza, has been a popular dining spot for 22 years.
"It's a hard profession, and there's a natural selection to it," Christini said. "If you don't love it, you won't last; it's that simple."
To what do you attribute your success?
I was very fortunate to be trained by some tremendous chefs in Europe and to work with chefs in the United States. When we came here, we just opened the door and went cooking. Other chefs here have given us credibility, and we have a great sense of belonging to the community. I have respect for the profession and the competition that keeps us sharper. That's the beauty of our business — the competition.
My staff and I work as equals. No one is more important than the other.
What's your biggest challenge in the kitchen?
The biggest challenge is to be able to duplicate the same thing. Your taste buds have to have memory. Nature doesn't normally duplicate itself, so to become a good chef you have to develop your taste buds.
The worst thing is that we are human — our taste buds weaken as we get older. That's why you have to have taste bud memory.
Does your family work with you in the business?
My son Sebastien, who is 24, is in charge of the dining room.
Do you offer other services in addition to evening dining?
We have a five-course wine dinner every month. Generally they have a theme and are priced from $60 to $70. The next one is Aug. 21.
We offer cooking classes once a month during the summer. I like no more than 8 or 10 to a class. I take them to the kitchen and put them to work. We cook, have a little wine and eat. The price is $37.50 plus tax. The next is at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 18.
We also do private events, lunch as well as dinner, here and at people's homes.
How often does the dinner menu change, and what is an example of the price range?
The menu changes every two weeks.
The current menu includes gulf shrimp hors d'oeuvre sauteed with garlic, tomatoes and herbs at $9.75; onion soup with Emmental cheese at $6.95; Chateaubriand with bearnaise sauce at $28.00; fresh fruit tart baked with almond cream and carmelized at $7.50. Everything is prepared fresh each day.