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Beard announcement

The finalists for the 2019 James Beard Foundation awards were announced Wednesday morning at an event in Houston. Unfortunately, Central Florida’s record of never having a semifinalist advance to the final ballot remains intact.

Central Florida restaurants and chefs were nominated in four categories this year, all national: Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton was nominated for Outstanding Restaurant; Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa was on the long list for Outstanding Service; Rabii Saber of the Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World Resort was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef; and James and Julie Petrakis were co-nominees as Outstanding Restaurateur.

The Petrakises have been nominated multiple times previously in the Best Chef: South category. For the past two years, no local chefs were singled out in the category, even as a semifinalist.

One interesting note in the Outstanding Restaurant category: Jaleo in Washington, D.C., is a finalist. The José Andrés helmed ThinkFoodGroup opened its fifth Jaleo, the group’s largest, at Disney Springs last week. With five locations, Jaleo can be considered a chain, so it’s worth noting that the Beard judges are willing to include a chain restaurant as one of the country’s best.

Jaleo’s fellow nominees are: Balthazar, New York; FIG. Charleston; Quince, San Francisco; and Zahav, Philadelphia. (FIG and Quince should team up against the others.)

In the Best Chef: South category that has proved so elusive for Central Florida’s deserving chefs, the finalists are: Wishwesh Bhatt, Snackbar, Oxford, Miss.; Jose Enrique, Jose Enrique, San Juan, P.R.; Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus, Coquette, New Orleans; Slade Rushing, Brennan’s, New Orleans; and Isaac Toups, Toups’ Meatery, New Orleans.

The 2019 James Beard Awards Gala will be held in Chicago on Monday, May 6.

Here’s a link to the full list of award finalists.

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Forever Naan sign

I don’t know why it’s taken so long for an Indian restaurant to take advantage of the street name Curry Ford, but Forever Naan has finally stepped up with the subname Curry Street Grill.

It’s a little slip of a place near the corner of Conway Road in a strip that holds a pawn shop (once a Blockbuster Video) and a payday loan business. If I remember correctly, the space that Forever Naan occupies was once a Hungry Howie’s Pizza. So we’re not talking the toniest district.

But inside, FN has a pleasantly casual space. Although it seems more suited as a takeout restaurant, it has seating for dining in, albeit on uncomfortable looking metal chairs and backless stools. A bright red wall in the front of the space seems dedicated to Bollywood, with film reel sculptures, movie ticket signs and lobby cards for Indian flicks.

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Jaleo Opening

José Andrés officially opened his newest restaurant, Jaleo, at Disney Springs Thursday with a closed door reception for invited media and guests.

The Disney Springs Jaleo, which occupies a vastly refurbished building that once held Wolfgang Puck Cafe, is the fifth and largest for Andrés’ Washington, D.C., based ThinkFoodGroup. The building also has a dedicated corner for Pepe, a fast food restaurant based on Andrés’ food truck.

A highlight of the open kitchen is a wood-fired paella pit for cooking one of the signature dishes.

While invited guests were beginning to arrive inside the restaurant, Andrés sat down with a group of five media representatives, including three from Spanish language outlets. We sat on the patio overlooking the lagoon as the chef, still in a Patagonia quilted jacket, talked about opening the restaurant.

I asked him if there is a point where a chef and restaurateur loses control over what goes on at his properties because there are too many of them — his company owns and operates 15 brands. He said there was, but the key was having people he can trust at each location. He said that he is often asked, “Who cooks when you’re not here?” His reply: “The same person who cooks when I’m here.”

He told us that having a restaurant at Disney has been a dream of his ever since he first visited Epcot and saw that Paul Bocuse had a restaurant there. He said that Spain should be represented. “Spain is meant to have a bigger presence in Florida,” he said. “Spain arrived [to Florida] before anyone else in Europe.”

Here’s a video from the opening.

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Swamp sistas

  • On Sunday, March 24, two of our favorite chefs, Kathleen Blake of the Rusty Spoon and Jamie McFadden of Cuisiniers Catering, are teaming up for Swamp Sistas La La Charity Brunch at Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts in Winter Park. The $75 fee benefits Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida and includes the multi-course brunch as well as music by the Swamp Sistas Ensemble. Starts at 10 a.m. Tickets here.
  • Speaking of Second Harvest, its orange blossom Honey For Good from its retail food line, A Spoon Full of Hope, is now featured at Cask & Larder and other concession stands at Orlando International Airport.
  • Saturday, March 23, is another edition of United We Brunch, sponsored by the Orlando Weekly. It’s from noon until 3 p.m. at the Orchid Garden at Church Street Station. It sort of takes the concept of a walkabout food and drink event and applies it to brunch. At least 14 participating restaurants are expected. Tickets range from $45 to $80. The latter is for VIP status, which gets you in an hour earlier plus separate seating, bar and restrooms. So United but Separate We Brunch. Benefits the Second Chance of Florida foundation. Tickets here.
  • You can also see a video at that link of the United We Brunch held in October. Pay no mind to the voice that keeps repeating “Audio Jungle” as the music plays. That’s a that’s an audible watermark to prevent people from using music in videos without paying a licensing fee to Audio Jungle.

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Italy

Curious about the Food Secrets of Tuscany tour that Kevin Fonzo and I are cohosting in June?

Come to a special edition of Fonzo’s La Tavola dinner event on Wed., March 27, and we’ll answer all of your questions. Joining us will be Art in Voyage’s Mikael Audebert, the tour’s curator. Audebert can tell you about this and other AIV tours. Plus, he is offering to reimburse the cost of the La Tavola dinner to anyone who signs up for the trip that night. Tim Varan of Tim’s Wine Market (who also hosts tours through AIV) is serving some welcome sparkling wine to start the evening.

Cost of the dinner is $95 per person plus gratuity. Reservations are a must; the dinner is already nearly sold out. To reserve a space, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..