The 20th anniversary edition of Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation, dedicated to its motto, “No Kid Hungry,” took place at the Orange County Convention Center Saturday evening. Early estimates were that the event would raise over $110,000. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to fighting hunger in America.
In over for all the money to go to the cause, a great number of people must donate a tremendous amount of time, talent and consumables. For this event, the chefs are the stars, and they really went all out this year to make the evening one filled with lots of delicious food, recession be damned.
Some of the area’s top talent for some of our best restaurants were on hand, a real treat for foodies. Even if you didn’t know that all of the money from the $100 general admisison ticket of $125 for VIP that allowed access to an area with large tables and seating, you could easily have justified the cost for all the wonderful food and wine — and beer (more about that in a moment).
One of my favorites for the evening was the trio of tastes from Hawk’s Landing at Orlando Marriott World Center. They presented a spicy little lamb slider, a French dip of meat from Harris Ranch, and fritters of Maine lobster and corn with a spicy mayo dipping sauce. The sliders were the clear winner, but it was all good. Hawk’s Landing also had the most elaborate display, which was like a huge bar and backbar, all sturdy wood, constructed, I was told, by one of the hotel’s banquet servers.
I also loved the porcini rubbed filet mignon, served atop a dollop of mashers and drizzled with a touch of 12-year-aged balsamic, from The Capital Grille. The Darden gang was well represented with the Cap Grille, Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse. Seasons 52 and Bahama Breeze could not be found.
Jamie McFadden, the culinary stylist of Cuisiniers, was giving peas a chance to shine with three offerings. His “A Study of Peas” included, chilled pea soup in a shot glass, sweet pea flan served inside an egg shell, and wasabi pea crusted salmon fillets over vegetable escabeche.
Bram Fowler of the recently relocated Journeys at Alaqua had a simple but inspired scallop ceviche with ponzu and seaweed served on a scallop halfshell. A lovely presentation that was easy to eat.
Norman’s had whisky cola pork belly served a la sliders on a delicate biscuit made with Manchego cheese. Norman Van Aken was not at the event, however his executive chef, Joe Burnett, was.
Sanaa, the new Indian-inspired Africa restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village, was the only Disney representative. But chef Bob Getchell did the resort proud with his chicken in red curry sauce, which did not hold back on the spices one bit, served on fragrant rice and topped with a dollop of cool mint raita and served with a crispy pappadum wafer. I think if I had had this one earlier in the evening I would have just kept circling around for more.
Throughout the large ballroom, representative from wine and beverage distributors were pouring wine, alcohol and beer to help wash down the good food. I didn’t taste any noteworthy wines, but nothing really was awful, either.
But perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was the booth that drew the longest line — one that took more than 15 minutes to wind through: the tappers of Stella Artois beer. I don’t know if it was the commemorative glass, the souvenir shopping bag or just the ample pour of a cold beverage that had everyone waiting, but wait they did.
But most didn’t mind because the line wound them past Olde Hearth Bread Company and Empress Sissi’s sweets.
I’ve gotten over the disdain I used to have over the incongruity of an evening of fabulous food and drink for the cause of hunger in America.