Newsy Nuggets: Chef moves and Noma no mo

Written by Scott Joseph on .

California Grill Brunch dining roomCalifornia Grill

Some chef nuggets to note. Way up on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort, the kitchen at California Grill is under new management, so to speak. Matthew Birch has moved up to the title of chef de cuisine and Daniel Rogers has been named area chef, a title that’s a little confusing when it comes to CG.

Usually, area chef means that someone oversees more than one property – those found within a certain area, if that’s not getting too technical. But according to Rogers, who explained the chef hierarchy at California Grill to me in a Facebook private message, area chef is second in command to chef de cuisine, which would make it more of an executive sous chef position but for some reason Disney has decided not to use that term. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason for it. CG also has three sous chefs and cooks, assistant cooks and others in the kitchen. Dennis Thompson is the executive chef for the Contemporary Resort, overseeing all culinary, including California Grill, and the legendary Scott Hunnel is culinary director for the Contemporary and other properties. An area manager, if you will.

Up Maitland way, Jason Campbell has announced that he is leaving the executive chef position at Luke’s Kitchen and Bar and will move to the yet-to-open Primrose Lanes in the Milk District, where presumably his food will be consumed by people wearing rented shoes. Campbell’s last day at Luke’s is Sat., Jan. 22.

Moving to Copenhagen (figuratively), René Redzepi, the chef/owner of Noma, putatively the best restaurant in the world – oh hell, let’s just say in the Solar System – has announced that he will close the restaurant and turn it in to a full time food laboratory. The closing is being viewed as an indicator that luxury level fine dining is at a crossroads, but it’s also a tacit acknowledgement to the often abusive treatment of the dozens of cooks that toil for low (or no) wages to produce the precious dishes for those willing to pay exorbitant prices. (Dinner at Noma runs about $500 per person.) For an example of the kind of bullying workers face in such kitchens, see the first episode of “The Bear” on Hulu. Redzepi has admitted to abusing his staff, verbally and physically, in the past.

I’ve never been to Noma. Even when I was in Copenhagen a few years ago I didn’t even look into the possibility of a reservation. Why? I’d much rather have real food than something painstakingly constructed and manipulated. I also know that some chefs try to out outre each other by serving odd items and asking for grand sums of money just to see if they can get away with it. Consider former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni’s remembrance of being served a still-alive and wriggling shrimp when he dined at Noma.

But if that’s your thing, take heart (reindeer heart on fresh pine needles, according to another Noma dish description) – the restaurant will not close until the end of 2024. I assume that’s how far out its reservation book is filled.

2023 Epcot Festival of the Arts in progress

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Festival of arts paint

The 2023 Epcot International Festival of the Arts got underway last weekend – I wonder if there were ice sculptures? – and will run through Feb. 20. Everything seems to be following what has become the standard template for festivals a la Epcot.

You’ve got your displays, your merchandise huts, some entertainment and, of course, food kiosks, which in this case are given artsy names instead of, say, geographic designations as in the food and wine festival.

You’ll find Deco Delights (with dulce chocolate mousse, “decadent” Valrhona chocolate, and orange mousse); the Artist’s Table (three-meat meatloaf, duck and dumplings, and hummingbird cake); and Painted Panda (General Tso’s chicken shumai, charsiu pork bun).

You can also fine L’Art de la Cuisine Française in front of the France pavilion, with creme de brie in a bread bowl and a plant-based Napoleon. And Flavors of the Medina at Morocco, with house-made crispy almond phyllo pockets, and something called “carrots three ways,” about which I have nothing to say.

The headline entertainment is the Disney on Broadway concert series, which will either thrill or horrify you. Also available this year are dining packages in conjunction with the concerts where you can book a prix fixe three-course dinner at select Epcot restaurants and get a guaranteed seat at the concert. Check out the concert schedule and list of available restaurants – as well as other details about the festival – here.

Henrich Brestowski, owner of Chef Henry's Cafe, dies at 69

Written by Scott Joseph on .

BrestowdkisPhoto of Estera and Henrich Brestowski courtesy of the family.

Henrich Brestowski, the eponymous owner of Chef Henry’s Cafe, a popular Eastern European restaurant, died January 9 at AdventHealth Winter Park Hospital. He was 69.

Brestowski and his wife, Estera, opened the restaurant on Howell Branch Road in Winter Park in 1999. He was chef de cuisine and she was the pastry chef, noted for her strudels. In my review of July 25, 1999, in the Orlando Sentinel, I wrote:

“I don't know what the residents near Howell Branch Road east of Semoran Boulevard in Winter Park did to deserve Chef Henry's Cafe, but it must have been something good.

“Chef Henry's Cafe is a rare find, and let me say from the outset that I didn't find it on my own. Several readers put me on to the place with passionate letters singing the praises of the little cafe run by former Slovakia residents Henrich and Estera Brestowski. They were the kind of letters that make me roll my cynical eyes and read between the lines.

“'Authentic European cuisine,’ they said. Bratwursts on a hot dog bun, I thought.
‘Made from scratch,’ they wrote. Scratch is probably the brand name for a frozen food company, I mused.

“But I decided to pay a visit. Heck, I like brats as much as the next guy.

“What I found was authentic European cuisine, made from scratch, prepared and served by a family dedicated to promoting the foods of their homeland. And they're winning converts one plate at a time.

“They had me with my first spoonful of leber dumpling soup[.]”

Newsy Nuggets: Beer, beer, beer, Taste, chicken

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Science on Tap logo

The Orlando Science Center will host Science on Tap, a beer-centric version of its popular Science of Wine event, on Saturday, Jan. 21, from 1 to 4 p.m. in Loch Haven Park (yes, it’s an outdoor event; dress accordingly). Attendees will have the chance to sample sample-size sips from more than 30 breweries while exploring interactive science demonstrations. (No pop quizzes – that would be the Science of Soda.)

Also on tap, to use a trite phrase that somehow seems appropriate here so I’ll allow it, will be live entertainment, food trucks and games of cornhole and giant jenga, which I assume involves stacking very tall people.

General admission tickets are $60, $50 for OSC members and young professionals (assuming said professionals are over 21). There is a designated driver ticket available for $30. Those who purchase a ViP ticket for $90 get into the event at noon (it also gets you two ickets for a full pour of your choice, something not available to GenAd ticket holders). Food purchases are extra. Tickets and more information here.