Story by LISA ANDERSON
Chef Loring Felix’s hand swipes over my desk. He stops as he feels the tip of a nail sticking out. In a brief exchange about my desk, he surprises me. “My grandfather was a carpenter. I worked with him as a kid. That was my first love.”
If you’ve lived in Ocala for a while, you have most likely heard of Chef Felix. He’s been executive chef, managing partner, or owner of several well-known restaurants in the area: Bella Luna Café, Felix’s Restaurant and Catering, Braised Onion Restaurant, Mesa De Notte, and currently, The Fiery Chef. “I started cooking because my mom was a single mom. She was a nurse and worked the 3:00 to 11:00 shift. So, I’m 11, 12, 13 years old, and I’m cooking for my brothers and sisters. I started looking through cookbooks, and I’d make some stuff. A lot of it wasn’t that good. I got a little better.”
In 1974, at the age of 15, he got a job at the Long John Silver’s on Silver Springs Boulevard, but it was the Marine Corps that gave him his head start as a chef. “I always wanted to go to [culinary] school, and it was one of the reasons that I went into the Marine Corps. I was a baker, and I was a pastry chef for years. After that, I worked primarily in fine dining, upscale restaurants.”
He was stationed in Southern California for five years and took the opportunity to skateboard and surf whenever possible. He returned to Ocala in 1981. “I actually opened O’Neal Brothers when I got out of the Marine Corps. That’s where Harry’s is [now]. “I was one of 15 cooks that were hired in the kitchen, and I was one of the last five standing after a month.”
Three years later, Chef Felix moved to South Florida to pursue his dream. “South Florida was doing all the fun, cool stuff. You know, chefs were the thing back then. I was a little hired gun. I’d do a show and somebody would be like, ‘You need to come work for me.’ I’d go work for them for a while, until somebody else would [say] come work for me.”
He made his way back to Central Florida in the early Nineties and has been a beloved fixture ever since. Chef Felix has been carefully planning a national brand, but his love is for this city and the people. “This town knows me, and I know the people in it. I know what they like. I know who they are, the connections they have, and that’s what works for me. That’s why I’m so busy now, even with COVID.”
Learn more about Chef Felix or order your next meal from The Fiery Chef by visiting thefierychef.com.