Brandon Callanta, a student at Orlando Culinary Academy, is the winner of the first annual Aloha Kitchen Challenge, sponsored by Roy’s restaurant. Callanta won for his “massaman curry scented scallop,” a dish he developed under the tutelage of Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant Wine Bar in College Park. (Fonzo, left, and Callanta are shown plating the winning entree.)
Celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi visited his eponymous restaurant on Restaurant Row Orlando Monday night to oversee the event. The competition pitted three local culinary students against each other as they vied for a chance at an internship in any Roy’s restaurant in the country. The students were paired with a local professional chef who served as mentor and advisor. Also competing were
The teams took over the kitchen at Roy’s along with some of Roy’s regular culinary staff and Roy himself. The dining room was occupied by guests who had reserved spaces to experience the special five-course menu. Five invited judges sat at the food counter and graded the students on the taste, presentation and creativity of their dishes. Guests in the dining room were also invited to vote for their favorites. Callanta won on a mere five-point margin.
I was honored to serve as one of the judges along with Pam Brandon of the Divas of Dish; Heather McPherson, Orlando Sentinel; Sven Bode of Orlando Style magazine; and Jay Love from 102 JAMZ.
I can tell you there wasn’t a clunker among the dishes — all three were stellar, and all three received very high marks, at least on my ballot. Besides Callanta’s just-spicy-enough curry scallop, which was served on a crunchy slaw-like Island fennel salad, we also tasted Womack’s seabass cassoulet with bacon and mushroom sausage, and Norelli’s Niman Ranch pork duo, which included a wonderful pork cheek, on a delicious parsnip puree.
The other two dishes were an appetizer course from Mac Lynch, the new executive chef at Roy’s on Sand Lake Road, of crispy duck breast with confit terrine; and a dessert from Roy’s pastry chef, Stella Mamajek, which featured a macadamia nut financier cake topped with vanilla bean ice cream.
“This has been an experience of a lifetime,” Callanta said in a statement from the restaurant. “Chef Kevin taught me how to prioritize and come up with a solid game plan to execute the event successfully. He also taught me the importance of paying attention to detail and helped me through working under pressure.”
Besides the criteria of taste, presentation and creativity, the contestants were also charged with keeping the cost of the food on the plate to no more than $6.25.
And while they were not judged on the wines that were paired with each course, Callanta’s scallop dish was the clear winner there with the Bonterra viognier, which was a textbook example of how a wine can bloom and open up when enjoyed with the right food.
Callanta wins a two-month paid internship at the Roy’s restaurant of his choice. Given that Roy’s originated in Hawaii and there is a restaurant on all the islands, he has some pretty desirable properties to choose among.
Yamaguchi was a perfect host, wandering about the restaurant to greet his guests. The restaurant chain that bears his name is now owned by OSI Restaurant Partners in Tampa, but Yamaguchi visits the Orlando restaurant occasionally. When he does, it’s often as part of a celebration or event, and he frequently includes other chefs from the area. I’ve always admired his efforts to foster a sense of community among area chefs. It was fun to see so many of Orlando’s top culinary talent in the same kitchen.
By the way, you may have noticed that there has been a change in the executive chef position at the Orlando Roy’s. Until a couple of weeks ago, the chef partner was Michael Wos. Wos resigned from the restaurant a couple of weeks ago (not unexpectedly, I was told). Lynch came from the company’s Atlanta restaurant.
Roy’s is at 7760 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando. The phone number is 407-352-4844.