Orlando -- Chefs are cooking and vintners are pouring at Chef's Gala, an annual food-and-wine extravaganza. Attendees don cocktail dresses and heels, or jackets (don't worry gents, you can leave your ties at home). They peruse silent-auction items, then sample all the appetizer-size creations they want from more than 20 local restaurants. Paired wines are poured generously. It's fun, and the proceeds help our neighbors in need.
This may sound like an advertisement, and I guess it is because I attended a media event to sample some of the food. Heart of Florida United Way hosts us writers, editors, bloggers and publishers in advance to get the word out. Chef's Gala raises money for the charitable organization ($296,000 last year!), which is so far-reaching that it somehow touches the lives of one in five area residents. Nearly all the proceeds go into the pot used to benefit people who need it.
So, to the food. I didn't get to taste much (Passover; long boring story) but I assure you my food-guru tablemates went wild over the three foods and four desserts served.
Here are the three savory dishes served as samples:
Primo by Melissa Kelly's contribution is a poached Maine lobster roll on a truffled brioche with garlic aioli and chives grown on the premises. It's served with crispy shallots that have been marinated in buttermilk and malt vinegar. Since Primo's original restaurant is in Maine, and the concept is known for creative farm-fresh food, it may be worth the price of a ticket just to try this sandwich.
From the Thornton Park Restaurant Group, which runs Cityfish and is working on two new concepts nearby, is this pork dish. It's a slow-braised shank atop parmesan grits with shrimp and sausage. It looks like a meal in itself.
The fine folks at Napa, in the Hyatt Regency Orlando, cooked up a spicy Florida shellfish cioppino. Included: smoked paprika rouille (generally a breadcrumb/garlic/saffront/chile sauce) and saffron croutons.
We were invited to sample so many desserts that I'll only write captions. All these sweets are courtesy of Pastry Chef Andreas Born of Disney's Hollywood Studios Bakery.
Banana-toffee mousse on cocoa crunch with strawberry-banana pearls
Caramel custard with passion fruit glace
Milk chocolate cremeux with mojito concoction on almond rocher
Crunchy sugar-cookie puff with lemongrass cream
Here are the chefs who served their specialties at the media preview.
L-R -- Jared Gross, Napa; Gilberto Ramirez, Primo; Greg Richie, Thornton Park; Andreas Born, Disney
Intrigued? Join me. I'll be wining and dining the whole evening, and bidding on the silent auction items. (Disclaimer: I consult with the silent-auction committee. Of course, that means I know great deals will be on offer. I bought a whole bunch last year.)
Here are some of the other participants. See the Chef's Gala site for the full list, including several of Disney's top restaurants.
Cress -- voted No. 1 for the entire Orlando metro area in the most recent Zagat guide! (It's my big project, so that mention is shameless self-promotion)
- 22nd Annual Heart of Florida United Way Annual Chef's Gala
- Epcot World Showcase (you do not need to pay Epcot admission; you will be bussed in a very civilized manner from a dedicated area of the parking lot to the event space)
- Saturday, May 10, 2014
- 6:45 p.m. to 10 p.m.
- Cost (don't faint; it's worth it, I swear, between the food, the experience, and the community-good): $275/person, $500/couple. Of note: The event sold out last year. It's that special.
- Tickets: call 407.429.2129 or click this link.