2011 Chef's Gala is Saturday

Written by Scott Joseph on .


Some of the chefs from the 2010 Chef's Gala. Many of them will be back at Saturday's event at Walt Disney World.
As you prepare to slog through another week, I hope you have Saturday’s Chef’s Gala in mind. It’ll help you get through the workweek knowing that the area’s premier charitable food and wine event is waiting at the other end.


Chef’s Gala benefits Heart of Florida United Way’s local health and human services that provide food, shelter and other services to Central Floridians in need. You know there’s a need -- even more so than in years past. This great organization would be worthy to just write out a generous check. But here’s a chance to contribute and also enjoy some pretty fabulous food and wine. (You can also write a generous check if you wish.)

Chef’s Gala will once again be in the ginormous World Showplace at Epcot. The voluminous venue allows guests to move about the food and wine stations without being jostled and crammed. Walt Disney World, which has hosted and sponsored the event for 19 years, always does a terrific job with setting the proper party mood. (In fact, the Chef’s Galas are very similar to the Party for the Senses events during the Epcot International Food & Wine Event, and you know how much fun those are.

Of course, for Party for the Senses, you have to buy a ticket to get into Epcot, then park in the main lot and walk all around the World Showcase to get to the Showplace. By the time you get there you’re all hot and sticky. Those attending Chef’s Gala are directed to a special area of the parking lot where air-conditioned buses wait to drive you through Epcot’s backstage area -- which itself is a treat if you’ve never seen it -- right to the door of the World Showplace. You arrive fresh as a daisy, especially a daisy decked out in cocktail attire (that means suits for the gentlemen, gentlemen).

And once you’re inside, you’ll be treated to a champagne and martini reception and a silent auction. Then it’s inside to the main event. There will be approximately 20 stations this year from some of Central Florida’s and WDW’s top culinary talent. There will be Kouzzina by Cat Cora and La Luce by Donna Scala (Scala’s food was my favorite last year with her scotch pudding made with real Macallen Scotch; can’t wait to see what she has this year). Also in the lineup: Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion; Napa; Todd English’s bluezoo; Primo by Melissa Kelly; Artist Point; and a bunch of others. Trust me, you’re not leaving this thing hungry. Or thirsty. The wines are always top-notch. In fact, I often find a new favorite to stock up on.

Individual tickets are $225 and couples tickets are $400. You can purchase online by going to the 2011 Chef’s Gala site.

Reception and silent auction begin at 6:45 p.m. Saturday; curtains to the main event open at 7:30. Last buses leave to take you back to the parking lot when the event ends at 10 (buses shuttle continuously throughout the evening, so you can leave whenever you’re full). I’ll be there; hope you will be, too.


Downtown Disney's AMC Dine-In Theatres Offer New Dinner and a Movie Option

Written by Scott Joseph on .

The lobby bar, MacGuffins, at Downtown Disney's AMC Dine-In Theatres

The AMC Downtown Disney 24, which is actually a movie complex and not a group of defendants, will premiere its newest Dine-In Theatres on Monday, May 16. What’s an AMC Dine-In Theatre, you ask? Well, it’s a theater, albeit misspelled, that you dine in while watching a movie. You probably could have figured it out if you had just given yourself a little more time. I’m not judging.

I was able to get a sneak peek -- let’s call it a preview -- of the newly redesigned theaters that will allow full-service dining, complete with full liquor bar and wines by the bottle, to guests who choose this dinner and a movie option. The AMC Downtown Disney 24 has set aside one quarter of its theaters -- that’s six; try to keep up -- for the Fork & Screen concept.

That Fork & Screen designation is different from AMC’s Cinema Suites concept, which is exclusively for patrons 21 and over. The F&S concept is for guests 18 and over or -- and here’s the qualifier -- accompanied by an adult. So, yes, squalling babies may be admitted as long as their 18 year old parents are there to try to shush them. Did I mention this is at Disney? ( The Cinema Suites adult movies houses -- why does that sound wrong? -- are in other communities and are not offered here.)

Edible Communities Wins Publication of the Year Award

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Edible_OrlandoThere was one bit of good news from the James Beard Foundation Awards with a Central Florida connection. While the restaurant and chef awards were Monday night at Lincoln Center, the festivities actually began Friday with the book, broadcast and  journalism awards at Espace. The event was hosted by the Food Network’s Ted Allen and Gail Simmons of Top Chef.

And winning the Publication of the Year Award was Edible Communities Publications, which launched Edible Orlando last year. Edible Communities co-founders Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian were on hand to accept the honor.

Edible Communities is based in California, but Edible Orlando is strictly a local publication. It is published by Kendra Lott and is edited by Katie Farmand. Pam Brandon, one of the Divas of Dish, is managing editor. The next issue of Edible Orlando will be on the newsstands June 1. For subscription information or to find where you can pick up a free copy, visit edibleorlando.com.

Congratulations to Edible Communities.


Beard Award Wrap-up

Written by Scott Joseph on .

And into history passes another James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony, or, as it’s known in Central Florida, passover, to paraphrase an old joke by Bob Hope about the Academy Awards. The awards ceremony, a black-tie affair at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, is often referred to as the Oscars of the culinary world and is replete with red carpet arrivals and long-winded speeches.

Orlando chefs have yet to be invited to the awards as finalists. Winner of the south region, in which Florida participates, was Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon in New Orleans. Cochon and Cochon Butcher are wonderful restaurants, so I can’t deny that Stryjewski is deserving. But the fact that several Orlando area chefs are, too, can’t be denied, either, even as it is overlooked time and time again by the awards. In the past few years we’ve seen some of our chefs makes it onto the preliminary ballot, along with dozens of others. We even had a record number this year -- 4 -- although The Ravenous Pig’s James and Julie Petrakis were listed on one line, a rarity for the awards. (The other nominees were Scott Hunnel of Victoria & Albert’s and Hari Pulapaka of Cress in Deland.)

It becomes more and more frustrating to have Central Florida’s talent passed over, especially when there is a comment like the one from Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune, winner of the New York regional best chef award, who remarked that “if you open a can of sardines and a box of Triscuits you can win a cooking award in New York.” Ironically, they think that Orlando chefs have no more creativity than that.

So perhaps the best advice is for Central Florida chefs to start getting creative with tins of fish and packages of crackers.

Creativity, of course, isn’t the issue. The trouble is that, as judges, we must certify that we’ve eaten in the restaurants and eaten the cuisine of the nominees we vote for, which certainly makes sense. But when other judges come to Orlando they usually are on vacation, and probably stay in the Disney area or near the convention center. So they don’t venture out to try The Ravenous Pig or K or Luma or any of the other deserving restaurants and chefs. It’s a struggle, but we’ll get there. It’s just going to take a little longer than I originally thought.

Other major awards include ABC Kitchen in New York as Best Restaurant, Jean-Georges Vongerichten; Jose Andres, Minibar by Jose Andres, Washington, D.C., Outstanding Chef; and Eleven Madison Park, New York, Outstanding Restaurant. For a complete list of winners visit James Beard’s website.

Following the awards ceremony, the attendees crowded into the lobby of Avery Fisher Hall to sample the foods of the featured gala dinner chefs. There was a lot of wonderful food, and I quickly achieved overload. You know you've had too much when you come upon another food counter featuring duck filet mignon and you just have to say no. Best thing I sampled was the pork pasteles from Chef Mirisoll from Puerto Rico. Maybe if I hadn't had four of them I would have had room for the duck.

Mirisoll, by the way, is a caterer from San Juan. Would like to see our Jamie McFadden included in the lineup, too.