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Trotter Tribute

It was exactly a year ago — November 5, 2013 — that renowned chef Charlie Trotter died at the age of 54. So it seems fitting to choose today to tell you about a grand tribute that his friend Norman Van Aken is planning to benefit the organization that was founded in his name.

A Tribute to Charlie Trotter will be held at Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes on Saturday, December 13, from 7 until 10 p.m. Tickets are $200 per person plus tax and gratuity. Proceeds will benefit the Trotter Project, an organization formed to honor the late chef through programs, services and events that promote culinary and personal excellence.

The evening will feature culinary stations helmed by Van Aken and his Norman's staff as well as several of Central Florida's most celebrated chefs. In addition, sommeliers will offer wines to match the dishes being offered. You can expect this to be more than your usual cocktail-party-style nibbles; these chefs will be offering their best efforts to wow the crowd.

Among those participating are:

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Tartini arugula

It had been a while since I'd first visited Tartini, the very good "Pizzeria & Spaghetteria" on South Orange Avenue in Orlando, so I was happy to be invited back to see how things are going, and I'm happy to report they're going quite nicely.

And I can reaffirm that the pizzas coming out of the unique oven here are still some of the best pies in town. Well, the oven isn't unique anymore. And the town isn't confined to Orlando. That's because Tartini has opened a second location, at 625 Rock Ridge Blvd. in Apopka, and the new location has the same type of oven. What makes it unusual is that it has a turntable inside the brick oven. But the turntable doesn't just rotate, it also rises and falls, lifting the dough through the hot air. A pizza can cook fully in about 25 seconds.

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TOTG exteriorThere are few restaurants that enjoy iconic status. New York's Tavern on the Green is arguably one of them. The restaurant, which sits on the edge of Central Park (that's the green that it's on), has been the site of many memorable meals and special occasions over the years. But its quality flagged over the past decade, and it finally closed. New owners reopened the restaurant earlier this year. It was met mostly with a big yawn, getting mixed reviews, including this one from me.

But now, as announced by Florence Fabricant in the New York Times, the owners have hired Jeremiah Tower, who is himself something of an icon among chefs, to take over the kitchen there. Does this mean they're really serious about restoring the restaurant to its former glory and not just relying on unsuspecting tourists to keep the place filled?

I do hope so.

Tower was among the chefs who came last year to cook at the 10th anniversary gala for Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton. When Tower stepped up to the podium to tell the assembled guests about his course, the other chefs -- Norman Van Aken, Emeril Lagasse, Dean Fearing, Scott Hunnel, Brandon McGlamery among them -- made bowing motions to show their admiration.

"I think Jeremiah Tower is on the shortest list imaginable when it comes to a Chef who has the stature, historical knowledge, cultural breadth and outright PERSONA to match that storied place," Van Aken told me in an email. "Bravo! Let's hope the owners are willing to give this Culinary King reign for a good year to turn the ship around!"

The New York article also had this from my friend Clark Wolf: "The idea that Jeremiah would do something in New York is kind of fabulous," said Clark Wolf, a food consultant from California. "There'll be a lot of delicious food. It won't be boring. He'll know how to give the place that sizzle it needs."

A New York production company is currently assembling a documentary about Tower, which they hope to have ready to submit to film festivals next spring. (A representatlve for the production company contacted me about footage I shot at the gala.) I asked one of the people involved in the documentary what this news means for the production. "It definitely throws a curve ball at our narrative ark, but we will pivot accordingly." 

Let's hope it means that Tavern on the Green will live happily ever after.

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Roccos barThe bar and lounge at Rocco's Italian Grille.When Winter Park's Red Fox Lounge closed along with the Mt. Vernon Motor Lodge last weekend, Central Floridians lost a favorite kitschy entertainment hangout. The lounge act there for many years  featured husband and wife team Mark Wayne and Lorna Lambey. Wayne died in 2012, but Lambey continued to perform with Michael Moore on piano. But that duo appeared to be coming to an end with the Red Fox out of business.

But Rocco Potami, chef and owner of Rocco's Italian Cuisine a few doors away, has invited the musicians to be part of a newly expanded entertainment program at the popular Italian restaurant. Rocco's now features entertainment in its lounge Wednesdays through Saturdays beginning at 8 p.m. and continuting to midnight. Lambey and Moore will have their first performance in their new home on Saturday, November 8.

Rocco's Italian Grille is at 400 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park. It's open for dinner daily except Sunday. The phone number is 407-644-7770. Entertainment schedules will be updated on Rocco's Facebook Page.

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White beans  provencale

Straight from the can, it's hard to make the case for the humble bean. But add a bit of this, a lot of that, and suddenly an economical bean dish is a deliciously trendy one-pot wonder.

White Beans Provencal, with the flavor-rich base of a classic mirepoix (onion, celery and carrots), herbs of Provence, fresh rosemary, thyme, garlic and white wine, is the perfect side, main course, or fabulously healthy lunch. Serve with roasted lamb, meaty cuts of lemon-and-oregano-marinated swordfish, or simply with love.