Go Epicurista: Thank you for spending time with us this afternoon!
Christina Thomas: It’s my pleasure, this is quite comfortable. Kind of like talking to myself. (wink!)
You say food equals happiness, how did you come to that mind-blowing conclusion?
CT: Anyone that loves food will agree, it’s really not that mind-blowing. But, here’s how I arrived at that (obvious) revelation. I learned to cook at a young age. I could pan sear a steak, make crispy fried plantains (“Tostones” as they are called in DR) and whip up a fresh tomato salad at the age of 9 like no other! I loved vegetables, tomatoes in particular, and became the designated salad-maker for the family. It was great! Why? Well I’ll tell you. Everyone loved my salads and it made me happy to make them happy. As the youngest of four girls, I now had something to contribute and cooking made that possible. Hence, I associate food with happiness. It’s that simple.
CT: The Hospitality Industry was all around me growing up. My family was involved in everything from airlines to hotels, restaurants to event catering, travel planners to tour guides, fishing tours to dude ranches; you name it we did it! My travel agent mom exposed me to the fantastic world of travel. I had incredible experiences travelling the Caribbean, Europe and the US; meeting new people, trying new foods and learning about different cultures. Travel opens you up to new experiences, to be more accepting of others and more adventurous.
Where did you grow up?
CT: I was lucky to live in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic during the school year and then spend summers in Portland, Oregon where I was born. Talk about living in two very opposite and different environments but equally food-centric. I learned about the best Latin cooking in DR with fresh fish, rice, beans and plantains and then my love for fresh vegetables and fruits was nurtured in Oregon where, even back then, it was all about eating local.
How did you become an Epicurista?
CT: I’ve had a passion for food and travel for as long as I can I remember, but I did not enjoy these alone. It was sharing with family and friends which created truly memorable experiences. My culinary exposure at home was limited (there was no Food Network then to expose me to the foodie world… oh how I wish!) So, I relished those special occasions when we would go out to dinner at a restaurant, especially if it was in a nice hotel. It was so fancy and I loved seeing the chefs in their white uniforms. There was such reverence. A certain elegance in how it all came together. Seeing beautiful dishes magically appear in front of me left me in awe and still makes me giddy to this day. As a kid, we typically only went out to eat if it was a special occasion, a birthday, a holiday or entertaining out of town friends. The great food, the laughter and conversation around the table was truly special. I came to associate restaurant meals with special celebrations. These days our convenience-driven busy lives have made it common for us to go out for a quick bite to eat and for most people it is nothing special nor a cause for celebration. It seems many eat to eat and don’t even pay attention to their food. But to me, to this day, going out to eat is special – it doesn’t matter what type of food or establishment. It could be a messy burger from a food truck or a fancy seven course wine dinner. Enjoying great food with my family and friends is always a celebration for me. That is what being an Epicurista is all about.
An Epicurista is like being a Foodie?
Great food and wine with friends always leads to great conversation, laughter and memories, be it on a Monday or on your Birthday, it is a chance to make every day memorable. It is an opportunity to marvel, to “ooh and aah” in delight at the creations of a talented chef or winemaker and this for me is cause to celebrate. Once again, food = happiness!”
CT: In essence, yes, although I feel there is more to it which is why I adopted the term Epicurista. Some believe that foodies are snobs, that all they do is take pictures of their food to show off on social media, and they have become the new food critics relishing in dissecting and critiquing every aspect of a meal for the sake of showing off their food knowledge. Unfortunately there are people like that out there that have given the term “Foodie” a bad rap. I think the true foodies, the Epicuristas, are the ones that enjoy a great meal with all their senses, appreciate the people that make it happen for all the hard work and passion that they put in, they don’t focus on slight imperfections but instead enjoy the overall experience and the celebration with friends around the table. Food in and of itself is simply nourishment, it is the people that prepare it and the people you share it with that elevate it to a celebration! What do you consider a great meal?
CT: Enjoying a great meal for me is not about critiquing the ingredients or the method of preparation, dissecting every step of service or the restaurant decor. It’s not about perfection, it’s about all the elements coming together to create a memorable experience, a great celebration! A great meal is about taking it all in with all my senses. Smell the aromas from the kitchen (I’m a sucker for the smell of sautéed garlic – yes I know this may be a ploy to make me hungry but it works!), hear the sounds of the restaurant – the sizzle of the food in an open kitchen, the animated dinner conversation and laughter in the dining room; then when the food is delivered, oh it’s like getting a surprise gift, I can’t wait to see the artistry of the plate when it is placed in front of me, it is magic! I love creative presentations in all forms but white plates with the colors of the food coming together like a beautiful painting truly takes my breath away. This inspires countless pictures and I must say that I started taking pictures of my food long ago before “food porn” existed and it wasn’t to share them on social media but instead as a way to remember a great evening. This is what memories are made of! But I digress, the party of the senses continues when you get to the best part, the taste of the combination of flavors – sweet, savory, spicy (my favorite!), then you feel the textures of the food in your mouth – the silkiness of a melt in your mouth filet for example or the creaminess and cool chill of ice cream. Take it all in with all your senses! Sharing this party of the senses with my friends is lastly the most important ingredient and what great meals are made of! Let’s talk about your professional life, where did this love of food and travel take you?
CT: Well, it could only lead to one thing – a career in the hospitality industry (as well as an exercise plan so I don’t put on a million pounds!) As much as I enjoy cooking, I enjoyed being at the table with guests much more, so being a chef was not for me. I liked the dining room and that’s where I started in restaurants and catering, serving tables and bartending before I was even old enough to drink. My degree? yes you guessed it, Hospitality Management from a great school in the Sunshine State, Florida International University. Your first job out of college had you rubbing elbows with celebrities?
CT: The same day of my college graduation, I became part of the opening team in Miami for a little restaurant chain you may have heard of…Planet Hollywood. In the early 90’s it was all the rage with lines around the block! It was an incredible experience and the fact that I am a movie buff only added to my excitement. I was surrounded by movie memorabilia and movie stars! Dreams do come true with hard work and this job was a prime example although I don’t know how many elbows I was rubbing at that time as I started as a server to get my foot in the door. My love for planning celebrations, parties and outings for friends translated to becoming the Sales & Events Manager shortly after opening and planning many high profile events for celebrity guests and catered affairs for the who’s who in Miami. Rubbing elbows soon followed. Oh the stories I could tell, but I just won’t. After opening several restaurants, I was promoted into the corporate world where I was part of standardizing operations, training and directing the sales and marketing efforts for the chain throughout the US and Canada. This allowed me the opportunity to travel and see some wonderful cities in this great country of ours. When did hotel life come into the picture?
CT: The office environment left me wanting and my desire to be in the middle of the party was still there. Being in sales was fun but it meant I didn’t actually get to see guests enjoying the feast. I took the call to join the Catering and Convention Services team for one of the largest convention hotels in Central Florida with well-respected Orlando-based Rosen Hotels & Resorts. I was back in my element overseeing the planning of events, conventions and meetings for all types of clients – from corporate to professional associations to social affairs. You became the Hotel’s Resident Manager responsible for the day to day operation, what did you love about that role?
CT: I was fortunate to work with a great team of very dedicated individuals. Having the opportunity to lead them was very rewarding. I loved creating, planning and collaborating with my team on various projects. My favorites were being actively involved in the upgrades of the property, opening a new spa, developing various new food & beverage concepts including a Sushi Bar, a Tapas & Tequila Bar, a new lobby bar and coffee bar, planning a successful Vine & Dine wine dinner series with prominent wine speakers including several winemakers and master sommeliers, and collaborating with the chefs on menus. As the Resident Manager, did you live in the hotel?
CT: The title does imply that and it was an often-asked question. Although I “technically” did not live there, I felt like I practically did. Long hours and time away from my family and friends became the norm in this 24/7 business. Unfortunately, the moments I loved the most in my life, sharing great food and wine and traveling with my family and friends became few and far between.
Was this your “AHA” Moment?
CT: The demands of the job are a norm in the industry so I did not question them. Unfortunately “AHA” moments tend to happen as a result of a painful experience, and I am no different. My “AHA moment” happened when I realized, after the sudden and painful loss of my sister, that life was not to be taken for granted. Although I liked my very nice job working for a very solid company, I had to shift gears and make a choice. It was time for me to regain my passion for life. I needed to get back to creating memorable celebrations for my family and friends and enjoying life because life is meant to be lived.
The present is a gift that is meant to be used to the fullest each day. It cannot be put away in a closet and saved for later to use it “someday” when you have time. Life is short and “someday” may never come.”
This brings us to the next chapter in your life as an Epicurista – Why create goEpicurista.com?
CT: During my 20+ year career in the hospitality industry I have been very fortunate to meet great people along the way: guests, co-workers and purveyors that all shared my love for great food and wine. I was privileged to be on the inside and get to know the people that make it all happen. The chefs, the winemakers, the sommeliers, the mixologists, the food growers and all those that support them to make food magic happen. Food is art and they are the true artists! It is their passion for what they do that has allowed me to enjoy my passion. They are the ones that inspire me to get in the kitchen and want to cook with their beautiful cookbooks, they inspire me to get out there and try their restaurants, their wines, their product and which in turn have helped me create memorable experiences with my family and friends. I am eternally grateful for all their hard work, blood, sweat and tears for without them, I would not be able to enjoy these wonderful Epicurista celebrations. I created goEpicurista.com to celebrate them and the great food experiences they provide anywhere and everywhere. It is my hope that sharing these great experiences will inspire you to take the time out of your busy schedule to get together with friends and enjoy the Epicurista life.
CT: I want to inspire people to goEpicurista! Take time out of your busy lives and enjoy time with friends celebrating life and enjoying great food and wine at home, around town and all over the world. I want to provide you with a unique Epicurista Insider experience going behind the scenes. I want to celebrate and promote the people and places that provide great culinary experiences around Central Florida and everywhere I go. I want to make a positive impact in the community by promoting local businesses that are doing it right for both visitors and locals to enjoy and give back any way I can. I want to showcase local chefs, bartenders, sommeliers and all the great talents that can be found when you try the local flavor. They should be celebrities in my book! Ultimately, my personal mission is to enjoy great food with friends and celebrate life!
If you’re still not sure what Epicurista means, click here.
To learn more about Christina, check out goEpicurista Word Play
So what are you waiting for? Are you ready to goEpicurista?