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There never can be too many chefs. United Way Gala set to return May 10, event raises almost $300,000 for needy

Posted on Monday, April 28, 2014 at 2:55 pm


By Peter Covino
A&E Editor
For the Heart of Florida United Way, it doesn’t get any more important than the 22nd Annual Chef’s Gala.
The event, held each year at the Epcot World Showcase at Walt Disney World, is the biggest fundraiser for the charity, which serves Osceola, Orange and Seminole counties.
Last  year’s event raised more than $296,000 for area residents through the various programs funded by the United Way. The programs include charities that provide food, shelter and other necessities to Central Floridians in desperate need.
Heart of Florida United Way is the largest provider of funds to the region’s most critical health and human service programs. Last year it raised and managed $25.3 million throughout the tri-county area, including operating programs such as United Way 2-1-1, Central Florida’s community crisis and suicide hotline and information and referral helpline.
Besides being a great cause, it also is one of the major highlights on the dining calendar,  with a menu of items selected and prepared by more than 20 of Central Florida’s top chefs. Menu items are paired with wines. The event also features sparkling wine and martini bar receptions, desserts, live music and a silent auction.
The United Way officially launched the gala with a media preview with some of the items that will be featured at the Chef’s Gala, which will be held Saturday, May 10. Held at Primo by Melissa Kelly at the J.W. Marriott at Grande Lakes Orlando, the annual event is a mini-tasting of what guests can look forward to at the Chef’s Gala.
The host restaurant chef from Primo, Gilberto Ramirez, offered poached Maine lobster truffled brioche with garlic aioli, Primo garden chives and crispy buttermilk-malt vinegar marinated shallots.
Chef Jared Gross from Napa Hyatt Regency Orlando featured spicy Florida shellfish cioppino, with smoked paprika rouille and saffron croutons.
Chef Greg Richie, from the Thornton Park Group, created a slow-braised pork shank on Parmesan grits with shrimp and sausage.
Desserts are always a big part of the Chef’s Gala, and the preview included a nice selection from Disney’s Hollywood Studios Bakery, prepared by Pastry Chef Andreas Born:
Banana-toffee mousse on coca crunch with passion fruit glace; milk chocolate cremeux with mojito concoction on almond rocher and crunchy sugar cookie puff with lemon grass cream.
As usual, the selections are apart from the ordinary. The spicy Florida shellfish cioppino featured a surprise that had guests talking at the lunch table — a whole baby octopus.
It is one of the great things about the Chef’s Gala, it is always an adventure in eating. For the adventurous, there is always something unique such as the baby octopus. But there are so many food selections, people with an aversion to tentacles and tiny eyes staring up at them, always can find something more in the meat and potatoes tradition.
The list of restaurants participating at this year’s event includes:
Artist Point, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge; Bice Ristorante; Biegarten Restaurant, Epcot; Blu on the Avenue; Bull & Bear, Waldorf Astoria Orlando; Cask & Larder; Citricos, Disney’s Floridian Resort & Spa; Cress Restaurant; Flying Fish Café, Disney’s Boardwalk; Jiko the Cooking Place, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge; K Restaurant; Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano, Disney’s Hollywood Studios; Napa, Hyatt Regency Orlando; Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant; Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion; The Crystal Palace, Magic Kingdom Park; The Wave of American Flavors, Disney’s Contemporary Park; Tusker House Restaurant, Disney’s Animal Kingdom; Victoria and Albert’s, Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel & Spa
Coffee partipants feature Coffee Roaster’s Alliance and Joffrey’s Coffee &
Tea Company.
Beverages are provided by Coastal Wine & Spirits, Crush Distributors, Southern Wine & Spirits and Strategic Importers.
The co-chairs for this year’s Chef’s Gala are Dr. Antonia Novello, executive director of public health safety for Florida Hospital and John Pisan, regional managing director and senior vice president of Wells Fargo Wealth Management Group.
United Way officials said that 95 percent of the funds raised by the event goes directly back into the community.
“This year’s event will even be better than last year,” said Novello, who also served as co-chair in 2013.
With thousands of homeless and people in desperate need, “we have to do better and we can,” she said.
Tickets for the Chef’s Gala, which kicks off with the silent auction and sparkling wine and martini bar reception, is at 6:45 p.m. The main event follows and continues until 10 p.m.
Individual tickets are  $275, $500 per couple and can be purchased online at