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Chefs de France placesetting

I took advantage of a complimentary day at Epcot recently to pay a return visit to Chefs de France, the big brasserie on the first level of the France pavilion. True, the upstairs bistro, Monsieur Paul, offers a more sedate dining experience, at least relatively so, but Chefs de France can be as equally enjoyable, as was the case on my latest visit.

My companion ducked into the restaurant just ahead of a massive downpour and were shown to a table by the window where we could watch the crowds scurry.

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Lott with bookPhoto by Lucy Hill

Correction: An earlier version of this article had an incorrect date for the book signing at Buttermilk Bakery. It is July 28, not June 28.

Too often, restaurant guides are just glorified directories, lists that offer little more information than you can get from the Yellow Pages. (You remember the Yellow Pages, don’t you?) I should know, I’ve participated in some of those publications, including a couple of Zagat Surveys.

But Kendra Lott, publisher of Edible Orlando, has produced a guide that goes beyond mere cross-referenced listings with her recently released book, “Unique Eats and Eateries of Orlando” (208 pp. Reedy Press. $20.95). It’s a great resource not only for newcomers but for longtime locals, as well, from an entertaining writer, dedicated culinarian and Central Florida native.

First of all, the book is not a comprehensive guide to every restaurant in the area, not even close. Even longevity and general popularity weren’t enough for some establishments to make the cut. (I was amused by the omission of one particular longtime restaurant with an inexplicably diehard following; If I see you at one of Lott’s upcoming book signings I’ll tell you which one.)

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Shula room

Shula’s Steak House made quite an impression when it first opened at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in late 1995. High-end steakhouses featuring huge hunks of USDA prime meat were, um, rare. Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster, which was originally known as Del Frisco’s, was a couple of years old. But Morton’s — then called Morton’s of Chicago — wouldn’t open an Orlando location until 1996, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House didn’t enter the area until 2000.

I liked Shula’s immediately. It was classy, service was first rate, and the food, though pricey, was excellent. In 2000, I even awarded it my Critic’s Choice Foodie Award for Best Restaurant Overall.

The upscale brand was founded, of course, by Don Shula, the legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins. (It has always been easy to remember which hotel the steakhouse is in because why would anyone put Shula’s into the Swan hotel?)

The first Shula’s was in Miami Lakes and the second, if I remember correctly, opened in Tampa. Orlando’s was third. Even after all these years, the company, Shula’s Restaurant Group, has only eight steakhouses, though it also operates other more casual brands, including Shula’s 347 Grill, which has a location in Lake Mary.

The company, now based in Ft. Lauderdale, has a new CEO, Bill Freeman, who previously ran the MINA Group of restaurants. So it may be that the brand is ready to take on the Ruths and Dels and Mortons of the world. Perhaps that’s the reason Shula’s Steak Houses are undergoing a brand-wide overhaul with a refreshed decor and a revamped menu from new corporate culinary director, Demetrio Zavala.

Orlando’s Shula’s is the first to be redesigned. I was invited to a media opening and then was asked to join a small group to have dinner with Don Shula and his wife, Mary Anne, who was the previous CEO and is the current chair of the board.

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Scallops Agrodolce

When I returned recently to the newly renovated Fiorenzo at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, one of my favorite dishes was the Scallops Agrodolce. Chef Jared Gross uses huge scallops and tops them with an agrodolce sauce -- agrodolce is Italian for sour and sweet -- and serves them on a frissee salad. It's a light appetizer, and it's perfect for a hot summer day.

I asked Gross to share the recipe, which he was happy to do. In this segment of Compliments of the Chef, he shows you some cooking tips so you can try the recipe yourself. Or head to the Hyatt Regency Orlando and he'll cook up a batch for you.

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Sous Chef Challenge 2019

In the hierarchy of the professional kitchen, it’s the executive chef and chef de cuisine at the top. But often running the show, especially when the top chef is absent, is the sous chef. If you’re a sous, this event is for you.

The second annual Scott Joseph’s Sous Chef Challenge: The Next Big Thing, part of the ACF Central Florida Chapter’s Culinary Arts Competitions, will be held Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, as part of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show at the Orange County Convention Center.

The event allows the region’s sous chefs to step to the front and demonstrate their culinary creativity. They’re challenged with coming up with “the next big thing” — the dish, ingredient or preparation that might become a trend. And for each sous to show why he or she is the chef to present it.

The winner selected by the judges will be awarded a prize of $1000.