Culinary Spotlight: Beard in Baldwin

Jason and Sue Chin are sowing them with the Beard in Baldwin event, bringing attention to our bounty of chefs.

Jason and Sue Chin (right) with Alexia and Rhys Gawlak of Winter Park’s Swine & Sons at the Beard in Baldwin event.

Nathan Dobbins

The James Beard Foundation made its presence felt on April 14, when Jason and Sue Chin, owners of Seito Sushi, The Osprey Tavern and Reyes Mezcaleria, hosted their second Beard in Baldwin event, which benefits the Foundation’s National Scholars Program. This was the only appearance of the Beard brand in Orlando this year, as there were no local chefs or restaurants on the most recent James Beard Awards semifinalist ballot.

The event was a showcase of culinary creativity, and it was thrilling to see each restaurant represented not only by their talented crews but the chefs themselves, not an easy thing to arrange on a very busy Saturday night.

Attendees arrived to do some serious eating, and the chefs were there to cook. Highball & Harvest’s Scott Pizzo created an outrageous little dish of  squid stuffed with duck pot pie, served in a wild onion bisque with duck pate and a cracker made from Mexican huitlacoche. Camilo Velasco of 1921NVA channeled Norman Van Aken’s love of Florida fare by deep frying Cape Canaveral anchovies (a bycatch of the shrimp trade) and serving them with a cod fritter and boiled peanut Catalan sauce. Chef Chau (Sushi Pop) delivered a charcoal-grilled salmon hand roll; Soco’s Greg Richie turned out beautiful duck confit on a foie gras buttermilk biscuit with pickled tomato; and Bruno Zacchini of namesake Pizza Bruno worked his portable wood-fired oven like a magician to make Margherita pizzas and octopus worthy of Naples.

It was my first chance to sample carne asada tamales from Tamale & Co., and the savory pork ragu over creamy polenta from Terralina. Roberto Treviño arrived from El Buda Latin Asian with shrimp chicharron in garlicky al ajillo sauce and Asian-style pate.

It’s not often you can turn a corner and encounter chefs Tim Keating (Urbain 40) and Tony Mantuano (Terralina) in deep conversation, while Joseph Creech (Hunger Street Tacos) is checking out the offerings from Black Rooster Taqueria and its burning hot chef, John Calloway. There were almost too many Orlando stars to track: James Petrakis, Jamie McFadden, Julie Casey … and that’s just the J’s.

The maven of 1921, Norman Van Aken himself, not only introduced the guest chefs in the VIP lounge (aka Osprey Tavern) but spoke to the masses from the Lake Baldwin stage and then wailed on harmonica along with the guest band, the amazing Legendary JCs. Inside the VIP, guest chefs Jeremiah Langhorne (The Dabney), Soraya Caraccioli-Kilgore (MadLab Creamery), Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford and Frank Anderson (The Rez Grill) shared the Osprey kitchen with its chef, Elek Kovacs, and superstar pastry chef Kristy Carlucci. And I must say, the food outside on Broad Street matched in every way the caliber inside.

And this is why Beard in Baldwin was an important happening, and why Orlando (and you) should care about a $110 ($175 for VIP) food event. Even with a multitude of semifinalist mentions in the Beard Awards (Victoria & Albert’s Scott Hunnel alone has been tagged eight times), Orlando has never made it to the finalist list, and therefore has never had a chance at winning. And it’s not, as some area writers posit, that Orlando doesn’t get national press, because it does. As we know from food television, chefs don’t peruse newspapers for news; they talk to other chefs. And the national Beard judges, who determine award-winning nominations, are chefs, food professionals and writers. So it takes a motivated, gifted organizer like Jason Chin to attract the attention where it’s needed, at the kitchen level.

Chin plans on making Beard in Baldwin an annual event. It just might be the key to stepping us into the award level, and we’d have Jason and Sue to thank—and our extraordinary chefs.

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