Finalists Announced for James Beard Awards; Central Florida Passed Over Again

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Updated with full list of Restaurant/Chef Awards finalists.

The finalists for the 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards were announced today at a luncheon at the Oregon Culinary Institute. Once again, none of the chefs nominated from the region made it to the finals. Only one chef from Florida was nominated; New Orleans was the big winner, relatively speaking, with three out of the five nominations.

Central Florida had an unprecedented four semifinalists this year for Best Chef South Region, including husband and wife team James and Julie Petrakis, owners of the Ravenous Pig in Winter Park. Scott Hunnel, executive chef of Victoria & Albert’s, who has been on the long-list of nominees multiple times, was also a semifinalist. Hari Pulapaka of Cress in Deland was also nominated. Over 29,000 nominations were submitted this year in all categories.

The finalists for top honor in the South Region are: Zach Bell, Cafe Boulud, Palm Beach; John Harris, Lilette, New Orleans; Christopher Hastings, Hot and Hot Fish Club, Birmingham; Tory McPhail, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans; and Stephen Stryjewski, Cochon, New Orleans.

Wine educator Kevin Zraly will receive the James Beard Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards will be announced at a ceremony in Avery Fisher Hall at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center on Monday, May 9. I’ll be there to report on the winners.

Continue reading to see the full list of finalists:

Big Wheel Truck Rolls the Food Truck Trend into Downtown Orlando

Written by Scott Joseph on .


Big Wheel Provisions proprietor Tony Adams in his shiny new food truck.
As we gear up for Food Truck Bazaar at the end of the month, a new truck is rolling into place today and taking a spot on a downtown Orlando corner. And this is one you’re going to want to check out.

Big Wheel Provisions has been known to local foodies for some time, especially those who visit the Audubon Park Community Market on Monday nights. That’s where BWP owner Tony Adams sells his wares, which include charcuterie and myriad products made mainly with local ingredients. Now Adams has jumped on the food truck bandwagon in a big way, with Big Wheel Truck, a fully rigged rig that is a professional kitchen on wheels, none of which, despite the name, is any larger than the others.

Adams rolls his truck into its newly acquired permanent space -- or as permanent as it can be given that it will drive away at the end of the day -- at the corner of Orange Avenue and Washington Street.

For those of you unfamiliar with the current food truck craze, you need to think beyond the concept of mere hot dogs or tacos, although those food stuffs are certainly part of the food truck repertoire (and will be represented at the Food Truck Bazaar, March 29). But there is a sector of food professionals that specialize in, for lack of a better term, gourmet cuisine who are putting their food on wheels and taking it to the streets.

Linda Seng, Owner of Linda's La Cantina, Dies at 73

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Linda Seng, whose name has been on the La Cantina steakhouse since 1972 and who for many years was the omnipresent owner and hostess of what it the area’s oldest restaurant, died Wednesday, March 9, of congestive heart failure. She was 73.

There has been a steakhouse called La Cantina on State Road 50 east of Orlando since before 1947, the year Rudy Seng bought the business and rechristened it Edie and Rudy's La Cantina. After Rudy died, in '72, his son took it over and renamed it Al and Linda's La Cantina.

And when Al and Linda Seng divorced in 1984, Al's name was dropped, and it has been Linda's La Cantina since.

Linda pretty much retired from the business in 2004. When I did a story about the area’s oldest restaurants that year, Linda’s daughter Karen told me that her mom was annoyed after the state passed a law prohibiting smoking in restaurants. So she passed along the duties to her kids. It's still a family operation with daughters, Karen Hart, Debbie Tassoni and Lorie Coley and their spouses taking care of managing the place.

Linda Louise Seng was born March 18, 1937, in Carrsville, Kentucky. Her first restaurant job was at a Detroit restaurant called Cunningham’s, Linda told me when I first interviewed her in 1992. “I guess you’d call me a soda jerk,” she said.

She told me that the thing she liked most about owning a restaurant was, “Meeting all the people who come in, making new friends and retaining the old ones.” She told me she regretted the long hours and the demand on her time that the restaurant took, but she said her philosophy for success was to “always be there. Be prepared to devote 24 hours a say seven days a week.”

“She really instilled that in us,” daughter Debbie told me today from the restaurant. When I reached Karen on her phone, she, too, was heading out the door to get to the restaurant to open up for the evening. Debbie said the restaurant will continue as it has, and Linda’s name will remain on the building. “There’d be no reason to change them,” she said.

Linda Seng is survived by her five children, 10 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Funeral service will be held  Monday at 3 p.m. at the First United Church of Christ, 4605 Curry Ford Road, Orlando, 32812, with Rev. Joel Reif officiating. Arrangements are being handled by Carey Hand Colonial Funeral Home, Orlando.


Pint American Gastropub Set to Open Friday

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pint American Gastropub, the latest endeavor from the Tato Family, which also owns Spice Modern Steakhouses, is scheduled to open Friday, March 11, in Lake Mary. The new restaurant will feature over 100 vodkas, 51 drafts and 100 bottled beers. Pint American is at 1130 TownPark Ave., Lake Mary. Here’s Pint American’s Web site, but as of today there isn’t much there. Click the following link to download Pint American Gastropub’s opening food menu . The phone number is 407-936-3377. More later.