If a love of cooking is hereditary, then Elio Orozco’s family members are the folks to prove it. Executive chef Orozco, along with his older brother, younger brother and cousin, all help run the kitchen at Taste (2317 Lee Rd., 216-932-9100, tastefoodwine.com) in Cleveland Heights. With so many restaurants on Lee Road, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. But Taste’s sophisticated atmosphere, distinctive and tasty food, and noteworthy wine list all help it do just that.
Originally from Guatemala, Orozco says he learned his way around a kitchen early on. “My mom had a restaurant there for 25 years,” he explains. “She started cooking at 5 a.m. every day for the 7 a.m. opening. I was always watching, always in the kitchen. I really loved it.”
Orozco decided to make a career in food after visiting his cousin, who was working at the time as a chef at Corleone’s in Parma. He says he immediately took a liking to the work and ended up cooking there for six years.
When Taste opened in 2008, he joined the kitchen as sous chef. In the early days of the restaurant, the menu was primarily French, and Orozco was eager to learn that style of cooking. After a brief departure to work as a chef at another establishment, Orozco was hired back at Taste, this time as executive chef. He didn't come alone, bringing with him his cousin and two brothers.
Orozco says he enjoys working with family. “The only difficult thing is working with my older brother,” he says. “He’s the older brother; he’s kind of my boss! Everything else is under control. We really get along, hang out and come up with all of our ideas together.”
Orozco describes the current menu at Taste as “American Eclectic,” with the “eclectic” referring to a little bit of Italian, French and Spanish influences. Entrees range from the more casual vegan plate or burger du jour to an extravagant filet mignon Napoleon, an attractive stack of beef, potato pancake, grilled tomato, spinach and blackened shrimp. Personally, I’m partial to the airline chicken Camila with cremini mushrooms and a divine prosciutto Marsala wine sauce. I can also vouch for the perfectly cooked, pillow-soft gnocchi with caramelized onions and a rich housemade vodka tomato cream sauce.
Seafood, including tuna, scallops and scampi, also command a noteworthy presence on Taste’s menu. Orozco says it’s what he enjoys most, though he's partial to just about everything. "Often, I have lunch and dinner here," he says. "I eat everything. In a week, I can eat the whole menu!”
The chef isn't the only one working his way through Taste’s menu; Orozco says that approximately 80 percent of the restaurant’s clientele are regulars, dining two, three, sometimes even four times a week. Diners here tend to be a more mature collection of locals.
The bar at Taste offers an impressive wine list, with a variety of domestic and international bottle selections that range in price from $22 to $300. The restaurant regularly hosts special events, including wine tastings and wine dinners.
Sweets aficionados should stick around to peruse the dessert menu, studded with gems like lemon vanilla bean cheesecake and chocolate mousse with hazelnut ice cream. During a recent visit, I fell hard for the white chocolate and vanilla creme brulee, a delightful twist on the classic French indulgence.
Orozco says he hopes to have opportunities to become involved with local competitions, fundraisers and culinary events. He’d like to keep spreading the word about Taste and grow its loyal customer base. “I like my job,” he says. “Everybody is happy. I love what I do and I just try to be better every day.”