I’m very excited to announce that two-time James Beard Award winner Melissa Kelly, of Primo by Melissa Kelly at Grande Lakes Orlando, will be part of “A Celebration of Women Chefs, Restaurateurs and Winemakers,” a special SJO Pop-Up Dinner to be held on Saturday, November 9, to benefit the Women Chefs & Restaurateur’s scholarship fund.
Joining Kelly, who won the prestigious Beard award for Best Chef, Northeast Region, first in 1999 and again in 2013, will be some of Central Florida’s most celebrated chefs, including:
- Kathleen Blake, chef and co-owner of Rusty Spoon in downtown Orlando
- Jephanie Foster, former chef and owner of Blue Bistro and Midnight Blue
- Anette Grecchi Gray, the first woman to hold an executive chef position at a Walt Disney World restaurant and also the first to be named corporate executive chef for Red Lobster
- Julie Petrakis, chef and co-owner of The Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder.
And Janice Talty, co-owner of Olde Hearth Bakery, will provide bread pairings throughout the meal.
I’m a fan of all of these chefs, and I know you are, too. Blake’s Rusty Spoon is a downtown destination restaurant that never disappoints. And Petrakis herself has been a Beard Award nominee, and deservedly so. Grecchi Gray is a true pioneer; she was the first woman to lead a WDW restaurant when she was named executive chef at Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian (and that didn’t happen until the ’90s).
And I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked, “Whatever happened to Jephanie Foster?” Her food at Blue Bistro displayed true talent, and I’m pleased that she has agreed to step away from her duties as a personal chef for the evening to give us a reminder of why we loved her food so much.
In addition to the all-women chef talent, the dinner will feature wine pairings exclusively from women winemakers from Spain’s Rioja region. Dhane Chesson of Vibrant Rioja is a partner in the event and will assist the chefs in pairing wines with their dishes. She has a considerable portfolio from which to choose. “The majority of the wineries in Rioja, Spain, are multigenerational and family owned, and women have been involved in all aspects of the winery business for well over a century,” said Chesson. “Women winemakers are not unusual in Rioja but true stars.”
The evening will feature a reception featuring blanco and rosado wines with passed hors d’oeuvres prepared by all of the chefs followed by a seated dinner with each of the chefs taking the lead for a wine-paired course.
And where will this event take place? I can’t tell you that — yet. As part of the Pop-Up Dinner mystique, guests will not learn the location until the day before. You may recall that previous SJO Pop-Up Dinners have been in the barrel room of a winery and the fish-processing room of a seafood wholesaler.
Also taking part in the dinner is Gigi Rivera Chilvers, co-owner of Wine on the Way, a local online wine retailer.
Tickets for the Pop-Up Dinner are $125 per person, plus tax, and available here.