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Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Goes Grand for the 25th Anniversary Edition

Written By Scott Joseph On August 11, 2014

totn sushipopSushi Pop was one of the more popular booths at Saturday’s Taste of the Nation event. (Photo by Michael Lothrop)

It was a terrific night of food, drink and fun Saturday at the 25th annual Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation. The event, held at the Orlando World Center Marriott, attracted approximately 3000 guests who contributed to end childhood hunger in Central Florida.

Once again, some of the top chefs in the area donated their time, talents and ingredients to give attendees a sample of their cuisine. I taste lots of good things during the evening, and I didn’t get to nearly as many of the food stations as I had wanted to. (Which is not to say that I didn’t leave there overstuffed.) My favorite wines for the evening were from our friends at Rioja. The Marriott’s Tim Bradstreet and his crew were serving a couple of cocktails, too, including a whiskey concoction that had as its garnish a bit of bacon. I had a couple of those, just for the bacon.

totn throwdownIn a near tragedy, Kevin Fonzo of K restaurant took the Chef’s Throwdown term literally and tried to take on Alexia Gawlak of Siro” Urban Italian Kitchen. Authorities broke the two up just in time — who knows what Gawlak would have done to him?

I was honored to once again be invited to judge the Chef Throwdown competition, which this year pitted Alexia Gawlak of Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen and Kevin Fonzo of K restaurant in College Park. Creekstone Farms donated the main ingredient, sirloin flap steak, a cut from the bottom sirloin butt that is often compared to hanger or flank steak. Gawlak and Fonzo had just 30 minutes to create a dish to serve to the judging panel, which also included WFTV’s Bob Opsahl and the incomparable Helen Donegan, vice president of community relations at UCF and honorary chair of this year’s Taste. Donegan stepped in at the last minute when the third scheduled judge failed to show and did a terrific job.

And the choice wasn’t easy. Both chefs went in a southwestern direction, Gawlak with a tostada topped with the grilled meat, some cheese crumbles and a green chimichurri sauce, and Fonzo with a taco, also with cheese. Both had just the right amount of cilantro and both were exceedingly delicious. Gawlak’s, however, had one extra element that put her over the top — by only two points: a fried egg. The golden oak oozed all over the flap steak and gave a wonderful mouthfeel.

Of course it was all good-natured competition, and the winner, named by guest emcee and Food Network host Melissa d’Arabian, was given the honor of awarding a $5000 check on her behalf to Share Our Strength.

The only thing that would make this a more memorable event if it were somehow the last one that was needed. Regrettably, however, the end of childhood hunger, even in one of the richest countries in the world, is nowhere in sight.

Here are some other photos from the evening, many of them from Michael Lothrop of TipsoPhoto.com, used here with his permission.

totn rioja dhaneRioja wines, as usual, were a big hit at Taste of the Nation. Here Rioja’s Dhane Chesson, left, and Christine Steffens, pour for the masses.

totn richieGreg Richie, chef and partner at Soco, opening in September, served a cassoulet made with boiled peanuts.

totn gawlakEmcee Melissa d’Arabian holds the mic as contestant Alexia Gawlak answers a question I had about her dish.

totn flameKevin Fonzo makes me laugh as he sees how long he can hold his arm over an open flame. (That’s not what he was really doing.)


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