Chef de Cuisine Sam Bove has a thing for bread. When asked about his culinary influences, names like Chad Robinson of the famed Tartine in San Francisco come to mind. But while baking is a hobby for Sam, cooking remains his passion and livelihood. We caught up with him in the kitchen at Blackfly the Restaurant, working alongside Executive Chef Matthew Brown, who oversees the kitchen of Blackfly and its sister restaurant, Collage. Supporting a menu with refreshingly casual local fare and “as-fresh-as-it-gets” seafood, the thoughtfulness and intention of the culinary team’s creation of each dish is the secret ingredient that elevates the dining experience.
“The menu is as artistic as the environs here,” says Sam. “You can feel just as comfortable in a bathing suit fresh off the beach ordering fried shrimp and a Bud Light as diving into an indulgent three-hour dining extravagance. We work closely with as many local brands as possible, from Growers Alliance, to Rype + Ready, Kyle’s Seafood, and Currie Brother’s Produce. Our local customers know that we will also cook properly-cleaned fish to guests’ precise specifications.”
The son of an Italian father and Southern mother, Sam’s lineage fits perfectly with the restaurant’s culinary focal points. Reflective of his heritage are tastes of the Louisiana influences in his Gumbo. His boudin sausage harkens back to his Grandmother’s Calabrian roots and creation of peasant food dishes. He strives to take inspiration from Michelin star chefs who elevate similarly domestic dishes and turn them into artistry.
The latest of such experimental culinary evolutions is one that Sam calls “Sea-cuterie.” The sharable dish offers Spanish-style Mojama, a filleted salt-cured tuna, Salmon Pastrami, Creole-style Boudin, and some Octopus Terrine. The intriguing combination of unexpected flavors is a surprise to the palate and takes more than a few simple hours to prep, from brining to curing and aging. While a lot of that time is inactive, there is an incredible dedication to this dish beyond what meets the eye. “Most people already like salami and pepperoni,” says Sam, ”but to really enjoy this dish, in some ways, you need to understand it. And you probably have to like blue cheese, for instance.”
Growing up as the middle child of five, Sam experienced cooking as a daily activity in a house brimming with excellent cooks. He recalls making eggs and pancakes as soon as he was old enough to reach the stove. Though both of his parents worked full time, dinner was always planned, created, and even theatrical. An air of pageantry surrounded the presentation of each meal as the byproduct of pride in creation. His oldest brother is a master BBQ-er, and can make something magical out of wood, fire, and meat. The second oldest is married and cooks up a storm for his family. For Sam, it is great to see the culinary influence carried down through the family.
Sam’s culinary career was also greatly influenced by Tartine’s Chad Robinson, whose book, Tartine Book No. 3: Modern Classic Whole served as both an education and a reference in methods of bread baking. He bakes bread at home and has a pantry with flours and grains to prove it. While he has a lot of fun baking, however, he wouldn’t call it his specialty. “There is a deep history of people sharing their bread starters. Some can be kept alive for 50-60 years and are passed down through the generations. In my reading, I heard of one in a Paris bakery that was 50 years old.”
In his own family history, he remains humbled by the story of his grandparents, who had such a small home in Newark, New Jersey, that they would place a piece of plywood on top of their bed to lay out ravioli for the holidays. Italian Christmas was meatballs, sausage, pasta, and gravy (not sauce, mind you!).
At home, he manages to cook for himself – from Bolognese to bean and cheese burritos. He’s not above cereal. His pantry is always stocked with Peets Coffee, which he rush ships from Seattle.
“I love ‘ugly delicious’ foods and all things fermented from sauerkraut to kimchi,” says Sam. “I am working with the idea around a kombucha brine right now.”
In 2012, Sam left for UNF and went to school for Politics and International Relations, studying under Nancy Soderberg, before working on both Obama’s and Hillary’s campaigns. But although politics ignited his brain, he found that he could not see himself sitting at a desk under fluorescent lights.
So, he left the corporate world to take a fine dining job at Roy’s, where he met Ryan Ruffell, his first mentor in the professional kitchen. In fact, at one point, Ryan held Sam’s current job at Blackfly. Later Sam moved back home to work at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Winter Park. He left in February of 2017 to eat his way through Paris and Rome, taking copious notes of all the cheese, wine, bread, croissants, and coffee he could, while wandering around from as many live music venues as possible.
“As hard and as dirty and as non-glamourous as the restaurant industry can be,” he says, “it’s an adrenaline rush every night that I am admittedly excited about and that keeps me striving to learn more each day.”