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James Julie copyJames and Julie Petrakis are co-nominees for a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef, South.Five Central Florida chefs representing four restaurants have been named semifinalists for a 2015 James Beard Award.

Kathleen Blake, The Rusty Spoon; Scott Hunnel, Victioria & Albert's; Hari Pulapaka, Cress; and James and Julie Petrakis, The Ravenous Pig, have been nominated for the Best Chef award for the South Region by the James Beard Foundation. All have been previous semifinalists. They are among a list of 20 chefs from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Puerto Rico nominated. As has been the case in recent years, New Orleans is the most heavily represented city with five chefs named.

Hunnel is Central Florida's most nominated chef. No local chef has made it to the final ballot. You can find the full list of James Beard Award semifinalists here.

Regional judges, comprised of restaurant critics and food journalists, will choose up to five candidates from the semifinalists list. Those getting the most votes will advance to the final ballot, to be announced on March 24. The same judges will then choose one chef from each region or category. The winners will be announced at a black-tie gala on May 4.

This year, the awards ceremony will be held in Chicago. It will be the first time the awards presentation has taken place outside of New York City.

Who would you vote for? And which of your favorite chef didn't make the cut this time?

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Saigon Noodle interior

February 19 marks Lunar New Year, often mistakenly, or at least incompletely referred to as Chinese New Year. It's the New year for the Chinese, but other Asian countries observe it, as well.

As you probably know, each year is represented by a revolving stable of animals. This year is the year of the goat. Or the year of the sheep. It's a little unclear, actually. It sort of alternates, which may explain why some restaurants that serve mutton, which most of us know as lamb, is really goat, which most of us know as goat. Either way, happy goat or sheep year.

I know many of you, including non-Asians, will head out to a favorite Chinese restaurant, but as I said, the Lunar New Year is observed by other Asians. The Vietnamese, for example. So if you want to join in the celebration to ring in the new year you have many more options.

Consider Saigon Noodle, a Vietnamese restaurant on the Eastern side of town.

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Cindys exterior

If you're in the vicinity of Florida Hospital Health Village, the medical complex on North Orange Avenue, you have another dining option besides the Panera Bread outlet inside the medical center or the Wendy's across the street. (And how a "Health Village" would allow a fast food joint to reside nearby is a question worth asking at its next town meeting.)

Cindy's Cafe, which used to reside on Virginia Drive moved into the space that had been a diner called Everybody's Mom. I always liked that name, but ultimately it seemed like Mom just wasn't up to pleasing everyone.

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My friends at icFlorida.com and I have a new feature called "Where to go & what to eat when..." In each episode we'll take a situation -- an occasion, a dilemma, a circumstance -- and I'll make a recommendation for where to go to dine and what you should eat while you're there -- quick and simple.

Our first episode is "Where to go & what to eat when you're at Walt Disney World and your favorite sports team is playing a big game. Solution: Hit the ESPN Club at Disney's BoardWalk. They've got a stadiumload of tvs, and thier latest menu, under the direction of chef Anthony Gregorek, will surprise you with its creativity. Click the image above to play the video.

Hope you enjoy this first one. And if you have any suggestions for future episodes, leave a comment below.

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Chilled Spinach

If you're lucky, you've tasted the delicately delicious starter at your favorite sushi place that inspires this recipe. Cooked, chilled, then tossed with a perfectly balanced Asian vinaigrette, this spinach is at once, sweet, savory and salty. With a spicy sesame kick, it's lo-cal bliss in a bowl, savored slowly with a lovely pair of chopsticks.

Serve this as a starter with steamed sea bass, brown rice and hot sake. Make extra marinade for dipping. Open Sesame!