Justin Plank, who has served for seven and a half years as executive chef at Disney Springs’ Terralina Crafted Italian, helping in its transition from Portobello, has left that Levy Restaurants property and will be executive chef at the soon-to-open Voodoo Bayou on Restaurant Row.
Terralina announced that Claudio Daggio, who served as sous chef for Plank, has been promoted to executive chef.
Voodoo Bayou is a brand from True Grit Hospitality in Palm Beach and owned by Curtis Peery. Before starting True Grit Hospitality, he was vice president of BB King’s Blues Club. Peery worked his way up through the BB King’s organization from his first position there as assistant manager. He was hired for that job by Plank. (Before that, Peery was general manager at O’Boys Real Smoked Bar-b-q on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park in the building now occupied by Ravenous Pig.)
Peery opened the first Voodoo Bayou, described as high end Cajun, in Palm Springs about three years ago and the second location on Las Olas Boulevard a few months ago. Orlando’s, which will occupy the former Moonfish restaurant on Sand Lake Road, will be the third location.
The two men had kept in touch over the years, and when it was time to start looking for an executive chef for the Orlando VB, Peery called Plank to see if he knew of anyone who might be interested. “I said, ‘You know, I’ve been here a long time at Terralina and it’s running like a top,’” Plank said. “‘Why not? I’ll throw my name in the hat.’” That next week Plank signed a contract with Peery.
Since Sept. 1, Plank, 54, has been training at the Las Olas Voodoo Bayou in Ft. Lauderdale, where we spoke by phone. “It’s really, really fun,” he said of the training, “but really hard.”
“It’s a very labor intensive menu,” he explained, “every single thing is made from scratch.” He said that the restaurant’s red beans and rice are made and then smoked for up to an hour; the wings are brined for a day and then marinated for a day; fried chicken is brined 24 hours and made fresh every hour and a half. “We make our own tasso ham and andouille sausage,” Plank said.
Although a seasoned chef, Plank said there were a couple of things he had to learn. “Biscuits and cornbread were not in my repertoire,” he said. “You become an expert on biscuits and cornbread.”
Plank has been part of Central Florida’s culinary scene for decades. At one point, the storied Park Plaza Gardens, which occupied the space on Park Avenue in Winter Park where BoVine is now, was renamed Chef Justin’s Park Plaza Gardens because the owners wanted to keep him from moving to another restaurant.
He’s made a lot of contacts over the years and plans to approach people he’s worked with as it gets closer to opening Voodoo Bayou. (The restaurant is delayed because of construction on the space but is expected to open in early 2024, most likely February.) Plank has already tapped Gary Hoffman as his sous chef after Hoffman’s last gig, the University Club in downtown Orlando, closed recently.
As for Terralina, Plank said: “That staff is my family. I built them. I designed the menu to be extremely efficient and extremely good. It literally runs itself.”