The dinner has been called the “it” party of the year in Orlando, and the event has been sold out for quite some time. On February 18th at the Alfond Inn Ballroom in Winter Park, Florida, the James Beard Foundation hosted a spectacular seven-course dinner, emceed by James Beard Award-winning chef Norman Van Aken and featuring dishes by past Orlando-based James Beard Award nominees.
The dinner served as a prelude to the semi-finalist announcements the next day at East End Market in Orlando, and as a way for Orlando chefs to show off their stuff. Servings included tender octopus salad with preserved artichoke and black garlic aioli, (prepared by chef Scott Hunnel of Disney World’s Victoria and Albert’s), and smoked ocala rabbit tortelli with Pine Island shrimp sugo and hazelnut granola (prepared by chefs Brandon McGlamery of Luma on Park and Prato, and chef James Petrakis of the Ravenous Pig and Cask and Larder).
“Our foundation is so impressed with growth of the dining scene here in Florida,” said James Beard Foundation President Susan Ungaro during a speech before the gala dinner. “No wonder Orlando has added culinary destination to the list of why people want to visit. But what connects us all, regardless of where we are from, is a love of food and a camaraderie around the table.”
The Orlando chefs did not skimp on unusual and artistic fare. The chefs also served up lamb three ways: a sweet and salty bacon marmalade, sweetmeats (brain), and sea salt-encrusted rolled-up lamb (prepared by chef Kathleen Blake of The Rusty Spoon in Orlando). And dessert featured a journey on more of the savory side: an olive oil-pistachio cake, with a bittersweet chocolate yogurt semifreddo on the side (prepared by Chef Julie Petrakis of Cask and Larder and The Ravenous Pig).
Each of the dishes was served with a glass of Rioja Spanish wine, carefully selected to complement each of the dishes. In between courses, an auction was held, where dinner events hosted by several of the chefs in attendance were sold for over $2,000 each. The proceeds from tickets and the auctions went to culinary education scholarships.