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Emeril Lagasse was the first headliner to hit Orlando's tourist corridor, bringing his New Orleans sass to Universal CityWalk in 1999.
Since then, Orlando has become a hot spot for celebrity-chef hangouts. Emeril opened a second, Polynesian-themed eatery called Emeril's Tchoup Chop, and Roy Yamaguchi (Roy's), Norman Van Aken (Norman's), Melissa Kelly (Primo), Todd English (bluezoo), Kevin Dundon (Raglan Road), Cat Cora (Kouzzina), and Donna Scala (La Luce) set up shop here, too.
Meanwhile, a few local chefs have fostered their own foodie followings. Clifford Pleau, who broke boundaries as the opening chef of Disney's California Grill, later went on to create the popular, upscale Seasons 52 chain with Darden Restaurants. Winter Park natives James and Julie Petrakis met at the Culinary Institute of America and eventually founded the Ravenous Pig, a respected gastropub, and Cask & Larder, a brewpub. After training on the West Coast, Brandon McGlamery created a following of his own at Luma on Park and Prato. And Greg Richie, who gained acclaim as the first on-site chef at Roy's, developed his own fan base and is now at Emeril's Tchoup Chop.
Farm to Table
Preferring to cook with organic fruits and vegetables, the chefs at Melissa Kelly's Primo took to tilling themselves. The culinary team built two sprawling gardens at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes, which houses Kelly's Italian-organic restaurant. Stroll through at any time to see strawberries and rosemary peeking through the soil, and maybe zucchini, kale, red oak lettuce, and deep purple eggplants. Taking the farm-to-table concept a step further, the Marriott and adjoining Ritz-Carlton created an on-premises farm and now cater events there, using homegrown foods where possible.
Emeril's Orlando and Emeril's Tchoup Chop
Lagasse built his reputation as a Creole cook with bold flavors in New Orleans and imported his signature style to Emeril's Orlando. When he opened Tchoup Chop, he made the menu Polynesian fusion to match the theme of its host hotel. So whereas roasted redfish with andouille crust gives a taste of the French Quarter at Emeril's Orlando, you're more likely to think of tiki huts at Tchoup Chop, where kiawe-smoked baby back ribs are typical.
Melding childhood experiences in Asia and Hawaii, master chef Roy Yamaguchi blends flavors from throughout the Pacific Rim. For guests in his Orlando dining room (it's one of two dozen plus globally), that means creative classics like crunchy lobster pot stickers and macadamia-crusted mahimahi. Yamaguchi gives local chefs the freedom to create a sizable portion of their menus, which is why you might find Hawaiian-style misoyaki butterfish here and nowhere else.
Kouzzina by Cat Cora
Cat Cora's family is Greek, but she was raised in the Deep South. As a result, her menu reflects Greek influences—olive oil, lemon, garlic, and olives are abundant—yet the food is approachable for the steak-and-taters crowd. So what if the pork tenderloin is cooked over oak and served with feta gremolata, wilted greens, and zucchini-corn pie? Once you have the Cat's ouzo-tini, a martini made with authentic Greek Metaxa ouzo, you'll be up for anything.
Norman Van Aken
He first called it New World Cuisine, while others used the word Floribbean. No matter the terminology, Van Aken was among the first to mix and match elements of Floridian foods with those from Latin America and the Caribbean. Today he throws Asia into the mix, too, conjuring up intensely flavorful foods from ceviches (sometimes tossed tableside) to a Mongolian-marinated veal chop that's to die for.
Todd English's bluezoo
English first made headlines in Boston at a storefront restaurant called Olives, which drew crowds for straightforward food that he calls "interpretive rustic Mediterranean cuisine." Today English oversees an empire of restaurants. In Orlando, seafood is the theme, and here our finned friends are frequently gussied up with cutting-edge cooking techniques.
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