Chef’s Gala a Success Before the Start

Written By Scott Joseph On May 21, 2012

Chefs Gala pana

The 2012 Chef’s Gala was successful even before the doors opened. As guests milled about in the reception area of Epcot’s World Showplace Saturday sipping sparkling wine and bidding on silent auction items, Bob Brown, president and CEO of Heart of Florida United Way, told me that advance ticket sales for the event surpassed the total proceeds of last year’s Gala. So every penny that was being bid on the auction items — and we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of pennies — went to push the profits even higher. Heart of Florida United Way is the beneficiary of the event.

Following a greeting by co-chairs Shawn Bartelt, vice president and general manager of WFTV 9, and Simon Hemus, president and chief operating officer of Tupperware Brands Corporation, the curtain was drawn back and the crowds descended upon the food and wine stations set up in the Hindenburg-sized venue.

Chefs gala riversJohn  Rivers was there showcasing his 4Rivers Sweet Shop brand and his crazy-good ice creams.

Todd English was not there, but Todd English’s bluezoo was. And for whatever reason, it had the longest line the entire evening. Chef Christopher Windus was serving butter-poached bay scallops and braised short ribs. I’d like to tell you they were worth the wait, but I wasn’t about to stand in that long line, not when there were plenty of other stations to visit.

Such as Chef’s Table at the Edgewater. Owners Kevin and Laurie Tarter were on hand to serve crispy braised pork belly with candied collards and smokey white bean cassoulet. It turned out to be my favorite of the evening.

Dun Chao of Sushi House had a pretty long line, too. Obviously word about the terrific Supper Club we had there last week had gotten out. (I’ll have a Supper Club redux for you soon).

Several of Disney’s top chefs stepped out of their kitchens to participate at the Gala, including Brian Piasecki (California Grill), Tim Keating (Flying Fish Cafe), and Phillip Ponticelli (Citricos) all looked as though they were working harder than if they’d stayed at their respective restaurants for the Saturday night rush. 

Primo’s chef de cuisine, Gilberto Ramirez, was dishing up the Florida octopus with mixed greens that he served at the media kickoff a couple of months ago. It was just as delicious this time, but I think maybe Ramirez was figuring out that molding each serving in a timbale was a little too labor intensive for this kind of event. Plate ‘em up, get ‘em out.

Graze restaurant was one of the newcomers this year. This is not the Graze from downtown Orlando’s Sanctuary condominiums (where Prickly Pear now resides). This is a new restaurant at Harmony Golf Preserve, situated somewhere between Kissimmee and Nassau. (OK, it’s a lot closer to Kissimmee, but it’s a trek; just sayin’.) The notable thing about Graze is its commitment to serving local products (Florida, not the Bahamas). Chef John Greene featured Palmetto Creek smoked pork.

I liked that each restaurant had its own designated wine, and that careful thought had gone into the pairings (though to be honest, none of the wines offered an omigod moment). The most curious pairing of the evening had to have been the Elk Grove pinot noir from Willamette Valley with a chilled coho salmon. It wasn’t so much the pairing itself but that an Oregon wine had been chosen to match a dish from a restaurant called Napa.

Chef’s Gala also featured some very pleasant jazz entertainment. Some folks were even moved to get out on the dance floor.

This was the 20th annual Chef’s Gala, and it’s clear that it just keeps getting better and better. Can’t wait to see the lineup for next year’s.

Chefs Gala chefs table

Chef Kevin Tarter of Chef’s Table at the Edgewater explained his dish to a guest.

Chefs gala piasecki

Brian Piasecki was serving risotto from his California Grill menu.

Chefs Gala sushi

These guys were only the decoration for Sushi House, not the main course.

Chefs gala entrance

It was a quiet stampede when the doors were finally opened.

Chefs gala entertainment

Chefs Gala crowd


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