Francisco Mendonça, a classically trained chef who was one of the early participants in Orlando’s food truck boom, died Saturday at the age of 57. His wife, Dee, said that Mendonça had been diagnosed with cancer in October.
Known to his friends and customers as chef Chico, Mendonça and his wife founded a food truck in 2012 called Bem Bom that featured the cuisine of his native Portugal. The name comes from a Portuguese response given when someone is asked how the food tastes. It means good good.
Plenty of people agreed and the truck became a local favorite of the then-burgeoning food-truck scene. In 2014 it was featured on the Food Network’s “Eat St.” and it still operates today.
But in 2018, the Mendonças opened a brick and mortar version of the food truck in the Audubon Park neighborhood of Orlando. And it, too, became a hit, earning critical plaudits and a mention in USA Today as one of “10 Best Value Venues in Orlando.”
Dee Mendonça said Tuesday that she and Bem Bom’s managing partner, AJ Campofiore, will continue to operate the business.
Dee said that Chico was born and raised in the Azores and moved to Bermuda when he was 21. He worked at a resort there for 11 years, eventually getting a job in the kitchen. “That’s when he started cooking,” she said, learning classic French techniques from the resort’s executive chef. When he moved to Dallas, he earned a culinary degree and cooked at Clair de Lune and Voltaire restaurants there.
The Mendonças moved to Central Florida when Chico partnered to open a restaurant here. But when that deal didn’t pan out, Dee said, Chico told her he was going to start a food truck. The local food truck scene, barely a year old when Bem Bom started, was distinguished by the quality of food the trucks offered. Mendonça wowed the crowds with such specialties as his Running Duck Taco, Chicken Piri Piri, and a lamb burger that featured meat ground to order.
I spent some time in the Bem Bom truck on a cold January afternoon in 2014 for a profile about Mendonça and the food truck. I was impressed with his meticulousness and the time he took to make each dish perfect. He told me he preferred working in the truck to cooking in a conventional restaurant. “I like the freedom,” he told me.
Besides his wife, Mendonça is survived by the couple’s children, Carlos, 20, and Sophia, 16. A celebration of Mendonça’s life is planned for sometime in June at the restaurant on Corrine Drive.