Creative Palate

11/01/2022 03:55 AM By Lisa Anderson
The Chews Letter
Tucker Bengoa
Tucker Bengoa
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

Creative Palate

Childhood Kitchen Experiences Forge Lasting Impact

Tucker Bengoa is living proof that childhood influences have a powerful impact. It’s no stretch to say that Tucker’s career today is directly tied to his experiences as a boy. Born in Bilbao, Spain, Tucker was just a year old when his parents moved to the U.S. They came to Ocala specifically because his father Juan played professional jai-alai.

His mother Teresa hailed from Portugal and was a chef in France before she had Tucker. Her love of cooking extended well beyond the restaurant; Tucker was not the kid who grew up on a rotation of chicken nuggets and mac-and-cheese. “My mom was always cooking and encouraging me to try new foods. She did a lot of Portuguese-style cooking at home. We ate lots of healthy, real food,” says Tucker, noting that shrimp, clams, and mussels were normal dinner dishes when he was a child. 

All those adventurous meals did more than satisfy hunger. They also captured Tucker’s imagination; he was about 9 when he first got interested in cooking. Soon, he was assisting his mother with meal prep and learning cooking techniques from her.

Although he enjoyed cooking, outside the kitchen, his hobbies had a faster pace. “I was into go-kart racing and did this locally, but also traveled all over the state racing until I was 14,” says Tucker.  “In high school, I started drag racing at Gainesville Raceway. I did junior drag racing and then moved up to a roadster and did this for about six years.”

In high school, Tucker was also on the track team and played soccer. He graduated from Trinity Catholic in 2005. Although he attended College of Central Florida for a time, there was no question in his mind that his career would center around food.

Food Focused

“The whole restaurant food scene has been part of my family since I was a kid,” he says. “I worked at different restaurants, and then in 2010, I started cooking at Pi on Broadway, which was partly owned by my brother Juan Bengoa.”

It was during Tucker’s time at Pi on Broadway that he met Bill Bow and Tim Kirby. Both men were airline pilots. “They used to come into Pi all the time, and I always said if they ever wanted to open a place, I wanted to run it,” recalls Tucker. 

As a matter of fact, Bill and Tim did want to open an eatery, but not just any restaurant. Inspired by their mutual love of flying, craft beer, and a fascination with the “golden era of flying boats,” the men formed an LLC in 2018, and thus Flying Boat Tap Room was born. Tucker came on board as managing partner and chef. 

For the record, “flying boats” were large fixed-wing seaplanes with unique hulls that allowed them to land on water. Common during WWI, flying boats expanded in military use during WWII, when they were regularly employed for maritime patrol and air-sea rescue. 

Menu Creativity

Tucker’s expertise and creative palate are on full display at Flying Boat Tap Room, which is located in Belleview. Since the building was empty when they purchased it, the partners were able to remodel and design the restaurant exactly as they wished.

Tucker was given free rein to develop the menu he wanted, which has been a resounding success. The emphasis is on tapas, wood-fired pizza, and Florida-brewed craft beer. “Mainly, I write my own menus. I love coming up with new, creative things. There are not too many places like this around here,” says Tucker, 35.

“We built this place to showcase Florida beers, and we only serve Florida-based beers. We travel to Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville to pick up beers, so we have 110 to 130 cans and bottles that rotate on a regular basis,” he adds.

“We’re using fresh produce and have an herb garden, where we grow some of the things we use,” says Tucker, adding that he also smokes their meats.

While some restaurants have the crust already cooked and just add toppings when a pizza is ordered, that wouldn’t cut it with Tucker. “We make our own dough and stretch it by hand—and only when a pizza is ordered,” he states.

As much as he loved go-kart and drag racing when he was younger, Tucker admits there’s not much time for hobbies now. “There may be more toys in the future, but I’m totally focused on the restaurant now. We just had our one-year anniversary on August 13,” says Tucker. 

Outside of work, Tucker is devoted to his family, which includes his 12-year-old son Laydyn Bengoa and his fiancée Rachel Workman.

Those early years in the kitchen learning from his mother continue to influence his cooking today. “I love what I do,” declares Tucker. “I get to make creative menus and talk to people. You’ve got to enjoy what you do, and I do!”
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