Executive Chef Chris Mongogna
Chef Chris Mongogna cooks with a passion and excitement matching his engaging personality. At the age of thirteen, the self-taught New Orleans native cooked his first meal on a Monday, red beans and rice. Helping his mother finish while she was working, he started experimenting with his own spices, tweaking the dish to the enjoyment of his family. It’s this type of enjoyment that serves as the basis of why he’s always wanted to be a chef. He appreciates the fact that food is nostalgic, can spark memories of childhood, or experiences of diners’ past. Chris owes a lot of his love for cooking to his mother and two grandmothers who specialized in Italian food, New Orleans classics, and Southern Country. Chris quickly moved on to helping his Grammy during Sunday dinner, grating cheese and asking if he could help with EVERYTHING. After a few slaps on his hand from a wooden spoon as he dabbed his bread into the red gravy, he was soon stuffing artichokes and became a full-time helper on Sundays.
Much like the old days of Sunday dinner, Chris came to Fire six years ago as a part-timer after Hurricane Katrina. Knowing this was his best shot at getting into the business in a legendary food city with no formal culinary education, he landed a job as a fry cook and pizza cook. Quickly he was hired on full-time and made the move to the Emerald Coast with Brenda and the rest of the Fire family. A jack of all trades, Chris, along with Brenda and General Manager Mario McNally, built the restaurant inside Fire’s previous location. After getting Fire settled in Grayton Beach, Chris was named executive pastry chef where he excelled at experimenting with the pairing of flavors and staying true to his idea of decadent, over-the-top desserts such as his famous Chocolate Chipotle Cake.
Chris believes that his mentor and former Fire chef, Carl Schaubhut, brought Fire to a certain level, and is excited about continuing that level of production, while using the knowledge he gained from Carl to take Fire to yet another level. Chris sees the future of Fire to be a true “farm to table” operation with the freshest ingredients, using only local purveyors whenever possible. He looks forward to the day when he has a Fire “garden” at Gulfplace where he can pick ingredients in the morning and have them served on a dish in the evening.
Chris’ influences include, as mentioned, his mentor, Carl Schaubhut, as well as Michael Symon, Kerry Simon, and Tim Love. Chris can identify with their approachable, non-traditional take on cooking attitude. Emeril Lagasse also holds a special place as Chris followed him in the early years before celebrity chefs were en vogue.
Chris has made Fire his life, he helped construct both locations in Florida, and chances are if there is a problem with the pipes or electrical malfunction, it’s his phone that will ring. When he does get some time away from work, he enjoys playing golf, going to the beach, and spending time with his two daughters, Karley, 13, and Sophia, 8. Chris is starting the girls early, carrying on the family tradition of a love of cooking--both girls were recently given a chef’s knife for Christmas.
Sous Chef Camille Withall
Chef Camille Withall received her training at the American Hospitality Academy in the Philippines. While at the academy she was exposed to many cuisines that gave her a well rounded appreciation and respect for many culinary techniques and flavor profiles.
Upon graduation she took an internship at Sandestin in Sandestin, Florida. She began as a pastry chef and excelled to a point that she moved on to the "line". During her time at Sandestinl, she was exposed to many jobs which helped her for her next challenge.
Camille started at Fire preparing many delicious salads and desserts but soon proved she could take on many more assignments. She achieved Sous Chef status in 2011 and has been excelling with the ever increasing responsibilities a lead chef.
General Manager Mario McNally
Mario McNally started working in the restaurant business when he was 17 at a restaurant called Foodies operated by the Brennan family in New Orleans. During his time at the restaurant he was fortunate to have been taught to cook by the late Jamie Shannon from Commander's Palace. Mario soon realized that the restaurant industry would his career for the rest of his life.
After two years Mario decided to further expand his knowledge by learning operations in the "front of the house". Chateaubriand Steak House was started by Gerard and Evelyn Crozier, who owned a well respected French restaurant in Metairie for many years called Croziers. Mario started out as a busboy, and quickly moved up to head server. Miss Evelyn thought he had a great palate and proceeded to send him to wine education classes. That is where Mario began his journey that would lead to his love for wines.
Mario took in as much knowledge as he could during his three years at the Steak House, but it was time to venture out to other cuisines. After hearing of an opening at Gabrielle's, which was one of New Orleans' most respected restaurants, Mario met with owner Mary Sonnier, who was actually in many of the wine classes he had been attending. She was hesitant to hire Mario because of his age but since they knew each other from the wine classes, she took a chance. He began as a server, then a bartender and soon there after management. Through Gabrielle's, his knowledge and subsequent love for domestic wines blossomed and drove his current desire to find obscure, boutique wineries.
After five years of Gabreielle's, Mario decided to investigate a new restaurant opening. Then new operation was called Restaurant Fire. He started with Fire as a server and quickly transitioned to Manager. Today he is the General Manager of Restaurant Fire in Gulf Place after many years of helping Miss Brenda open Fire in three different locations. He says it been a crazy ride but it has been worth it because it was Miss Brenda who really molded his love for wines with several trips to the wine country on the west coast.