Although Orlando, Florida has been a popular winter resort destination for 100 years, it was the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971 that brought Orlando to the world’s attention and that of the nation’s chefs. Known as the “Theme Park Capital of the World,” today over 72 million visitors come annually to the area. (Including the thousands of chefs coming for ACF National Convention, August 4-8, 2019. Registration is still open — call (800) 624-9458 to speak with an events team member now!)
Before the impact of Walt Disney World, Orlando primarily offered visitors an assortment of regional dishes. But thanks to the direct influence of Walt Disney himself, who deeply believed that various ethnic dishes offered American diners a chance to better understand the world, Orlando is now host to an amazing range of dining experiences, including three unique restaurants worthy of note.
Among Orlando’s many leading restaurant chefs is Scott Hunnel, whose stated goal of “repeat excellence” now includes overseeing all the food production at Disney’s prestigious Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, including high-end Victoria and Albert’s.
“Meals here are an event, whether served in the elegant dining room or [at] the Chef’s Table,” according to USA Today’s 10Best. Seasonal, avant-garde prix fixe meals here “can only be described as a top-of-the-line culinary experience.”
A frequent James Beard finalist and an active ACF member, Hunnel’s skill has helped to define not only the award-winning style of the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, but also influenced the cuisine of the entire region.
As executive chef, Hunnel oversees all culinary operations at the resort including 11 foodservice locations. “The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is a Disney flagship property. Only excellence is acceptable here,” he says. “And our team delivers that expected guest experience day after day.”
Another restaurant that offers visiting chefs an entirely different but equally memorable dining experience is Kadence. Selected by the Orlando Sentinel Newspaper as the best restaurant of 2019, this nine-seat sushi bar specializes in a multi-course, pre-set tasting menu. Located in the Audubon Park Garden District inside a black building that looks more like a modern art museum than a cutting edge restaurant, the restaurant’s sushi is considered by both critics and diners to be some of the best in the American southeast.
“Kadence is about rhythm, precision, creativity — and most of all conviviality and being fully present in each moment with our guests. The food is traditional yet layered with our travels and training — and it’s fun,” Kadence’s three talented young chef-owners, Lordfer Lalicon, Jennifer Banagale and Mark V. Berdin said in a statement to NCR. “We are excited to be in Orlando helping to push the growing food movement in our home state.”
Berdin believes the restaurant is a mirror of the Kadence team’s mutual evolution together as a team. Their cohesive creativity often results in astounding seafood dishes which demonstrate a global awareness of ingredients. Fresh fish from Japan are flown in several times a week as well as orange clams from Washington State and finger limes from California to name just a few of the ingredients that these chefs transform daily into dishes that are as savory as they are beautifully unique.
If, however, while in town, chefs wish to experience a more casual, regional menu, Se7en Bites is a great choice as many devoted locals will tell you. It’s the “perfect way to start your day filled with traditional Southern breakfast dishes with a modern twist,” according to Chef Trina Gregory-Propst.
Gregory-Propst, the pastry chef and owner of Se7en Bites, always had a way with things sweet. Even her 21 years in the spa industry did not erase the lesson she learned in early childhood from her grandmother that food was a joy made to be shared.
However, after many years there came a day when baking just for her family and friends was not enough. Gregory- Propst decided to finally follow her heart and change careers. She enrolled in the culinary program offered by Valencia College in Orlando, and completed three Bachelors degrees in the Culinary Arts, Baking and Pastry Management, and Restaurant Management.
After graduation, she searched and finally located a small building in the Milk District of Orlando, and in 2013 Se7en Bites opened. Would anyone come? Maybe her dream was just a fantasy, an expensive personal illusion wrapped in f lour and sugar.
Her fears soon dissolved because the hoped-for customers came. They came in droves and lined up around the block for her light-as-air biscuits, chicken pot pies, savory bread puddings and other memorable “fresh baked goods made from family recipes” that are sure to touch the heart as well as satisfy the palate.
In 2016, along with her wife Va Propst, Gregory-Propst opened a larger Se7en Bites. It has the same bustle, addictive baked goods, and warm welcoming atmosphere as the original bakeshop. In March, the pair opened Sette, an Italian spot in the Ivanhoe Village area offering made-from-scratch vegan pastas, hearty risottos and, of course, desserts.
With such a great up-and-coming food scene, Orlando is an ideal location for ACF chefs to visit this summer. Whether attending a committee planning session or the national Convention, these and many other outstanding local spots offer chefs a chance to both relax and savor world class cuisine in a unique culinary destination.
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