Florida tempts groups with deliciously diverse culinary scene
by Lisa Simundson
How have you seen Orlando’s dining scene evolve?
I’ve been cooking here for 25 years, though actually, I was one of the first chefs to cook in the James Beard House, all the way back in 1994. Back in the early ’90s, you had Allen Susser, Norman Van Aken and Mark Militello in South Florida, using local ingredients there and it was pretty revolutionary at the time. Here, there have always been restaurants that understood the farm-to-table concept and about buying locally, but it’s just taken a long time and some marketing dollars to get the word out. Now there are new restaurants opening all the time—chef-driven restaurants. Last year, they announced the James Beard Award nominees here in Orlando, so that really proved how far we’ve come as a culinary destination.
Beyond Orlando, are you seeing any trends?
The whole dining scene has really evolved nationwide over the past 10 years because people are much more educated about food now than they were a decade ago. They search out where they want to go online and search about menu items and ingredients. Food is becoming more like entertainment for people. I know for myself, as a chef, I definitely plot out where I’m going to eat when I travel.
Tell us about your culinary tours and accommodating groups.
Our tours have been very well received. Between our new winery stops, the cooking and gardening and visiting with vendors in the market, it’s become really popular. As for group size, 30 seems to about the right number. We can do more but then they’d be split between two coaches. It’s about a four-hour tour and seems to work best after lunchtime, like 12:30 or 1, then back to the hotel by 6.
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