Five Orlando Chefs Named Semifinalists for 2015 James Beard Awards

Chef Kathleen Blake of The Rusty Spoon in Orlando

Five Orlando chefs have received James Beard Award nominations for 2015.

A whole lot of love was given to Orlando-area chefs who were represented in force for the 2015 James Beard Awards semifinalists nominations. Five Orlando chefs were named in the "Best Chefs in the South" category; the most out of any other city in Florida.

This prestigious recognition for our culinary talent further demonstrates that among our world-famous theme parks and entertainment, dining in Orlando has also become a main attraction.

With an intriguing lineup of both original and world-famous restaurants set to open this year, Orlando is poised to expand even further as a culinary destination in 2015. This year marks the transition of Walt Disney World's Downtown Disney into Disney Springs. Morimoto Asia, created by Chef Masaharu Morimoto of Iron Chef America fame, and STK Orlando are among the new restaurants planned for Disney Springs. A new original venue, The Whiskey, will open along Restaurant Row in the middle of Orlando's tourism district. Along with gourmet burgers and craft cocktails, the restaurant will present "food fights," where local chefs will pit recipe against recipe.

Although it may surprise some new visitors to hear of Orlando's flourishing food scene, locals and traveling foodies are no stranger to the epicurean delights crafted by the city's veteran chefs.

About Orlando's James Beard Award Semifinalists:

  • Kathleen Blake started cooking in her grandmother's kitchen growing up in Iowa. She attended the Community College of San Francisco's Apprenticeship Program, which landed her at Square One Restaurant. A Women Chef & Restaurateurs Scholarship Award brought her to Washington, D.C., as the chef de cuisine at the heralded Restaurant Nora. After meeting and becoming friends with Melissa Kelly, she moved to Orlando to become Melissa's chef de cuisine at Primo at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes. In 2011 she opened the Rusty Spoon, a gastropub in downtown Orlando.

  • Victoria & Albert's at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and its chef, Scott Hunnel, have long been synonymous with fine dining at Walt Disney World Resort. For the past 15 years, the restaurant has been the recipient of the AAA Five Diamond Award, among many other honors. The restaurant offers six-course, prixe-fixe meals of Modern American cuisine using ingredients sourced from products around the world, with a focus on local markets and seaports in Florida.

  • Graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, Julie and James Petrakis opened their American gastropub, The Ravenous Pig, in 2007 and have been receiving accolades ever since. The Pig has been so successful that the couple opened a sister restaurant, Cask & Larder, in Winter Park in September of 2012. The restaurant is a micro pub with Southern artisanal food and hand-crafted beer. Continuing to expand upon their celebrated culinary empire, the pair will open Swine & Sons Provisions, their third Winter Park locale, this spring, specializing in takeout charcuterie; butcher sandwiches; homemade pastry offerings and more.

  • Chef Hari Pulapaka and his wife and restaurant co-owner, Jenneffer, are modern-day superheroes. By day, Hari is a mathematics professor at Stetson University. By night, he turns out award-winning fare at Cress Restaurant. Hari first came to the U.S. from Mumbai to earn his graduate degree in mathematics and later got his culinary degree. Jenneffer is a podiatric surgeon and manages the restaurant. Cress was named a Top Restaurant in Central Florida in the 2013 Zagat Orlando Guide.

Cover image: Chef Kathleen Blake of The Rusty Spoon

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