I learned about the death of Chef Chico Mendonça today from Bem Bom Food in Orlando in the news. He died at the age of 57 from cancer after a 7 month battle, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
I first tried Bem Bom Food during the first World’s Largest Food Truck Rally EVER (I know the name is a little crazy) in Tampa at the Florida State Fairgrounds off 301 and MLK. It was a crazy time and we were trying to bring 100 food trucks to Tampa to break the world record that was set in Miami previously.
We had nothing to offer the food trucks, except a chance to be a part of history.
Convincing trucks in Tampa to come was surprisingly a pain, local trucks didn’t think they could make any money that day with so much competition and were being booked up for competing events despite our efforts.
We were lucky though and had an incredible amount of media coverage from local television, a great media partner (RIP Tampa Tribune), and the City of Tampa’s support from former Mayor Bob Buckhorn who wanted to put Tampa on the map for food trucks as many other cities sought to ban them.
Many trucks drove in from out of state to help us break the world record, but Bem Bom was from Orlando. It was the first Portugese food truck I had ever tried and indeed my first Portugese meal. One thing I will never forget is how delicious that Piri-Piri Chicken Prego chicken sandwich tasted as I bit into it. It featured local chicken tenderloins with piri-piri marinade, melted island cheese, pico de gallo, and piri-piri sauce. Superb.
When Jeff Houck, former food writer, at the Tampa Tribune called me to ask me what I was most excited to try at the event, I said Bem Bom Food.
The sandwich was a mixture of all the things Bem Bom had experienced up to that point and between all the craziness, being blown away by delicious food was part of why I had agreed to participate in the whole thing. I felt a bit like a local food hero that day, riding on top of a double decker ice cream bus called Tropiccool with over 75 food trucks (including Bem Bom) in tow on Interstate 4 from Downtown Tampa to the fairgrounds.
Over 30,000 people showed up that day on August 31st, 2013 to enjoy food from over 100 food trucks and a massive traffic jam ensued that stretched for miles. We were successful at showing that food trucks and local food mattered. The trucks who came were rewarded with long lines of hungry customers that spent a fortune. It is probably one of the craziest things I have ever done in my life so far (I’m sure there is more to come though).
After that day, Bem Bom contacted me when they were featured on Eat Street on the Cooking Channel a few years later and I made sure to put in a good word. I sent in photos for stories to outlets and I hoped to one day catch-up again in Orlando, but we never saw each other again. I always heard good things and could see their popularity though.
Bem Bom will go on in Orlando with Chico’s legacy in mind and I am definitely going to make a trip to remember a friend who took a chance on me when I was still new to food and trying to make my own changes to the world with an optimistic mind.
If you’re like to donate to their GoFundMe – you can here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/chef-chico-mendonca-final-trip-home-to-the-azores