Our restaurant critic's 5 favorite food-related moments of 2015

There were moments in my culinary forays this year that really stood out, so much so that I felt compelled to play Oprah for a day and share (or re-share, as the case may be) five of the most memorable.

1. Sampling Matsusaka Beef (Jan. 22)

click to enlarge Matsusaka beef
Matsusaka beef

Early in the year, Jessica Bryce Young and I had the distinct pleasure of sampling Matsusaka beef from Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture, in Japan. It is, arguably, the finest

beef you'll ever have the pleasure of ingesting. Sublime doesn't come close to describing how good that beef was, and there's hope that local restaurants/hotels/retailers/wholesalers will make the beef available in the Orlando area sometime next year. And if they do, it won't be cheap ($250-$300 per pound retail).

2. Birthday dinner at Norman's Orlando (Aug. 22)

click to enlarge Florida Gulf Cobia, White Asparagus, Pickled Zucchini, Chanterelles, Summer Black Truffle, Huitlacoche Spongecake
Florida Gulf Cobia, White Asparagus, Pickled Zucchini, Chanterelles, Summer Black Truffle, Huitlacoche Spongecake

We celebrated my wife's birthday at Norman's and were treated to a multi-course meal so grande, "grande" doesn't begin to describe it. Executive chef Andres

Mendoza and executive pastry chef Jose Detres presented us with 11 expertly crafted dishes that we'll remember for a very long time. At one point during our third dessert course—that's right, our third dessert course—foie gras was shaved onto our caremelito parfait. That should give you an idea as to the level of decadence we experienced. It should be noted that general manager and sommelier Yusuf Yildiz is a master host and curator.

3. Witnessing Masaharu Morimoto filet a tuna (Sept. 29)

click to enlarge Masaharu Morimoto
Masaharu Morimoto

The larger-than-life Morimoto Asia seems to match Masaharu Morimoto's larger-than-life personality. The Iron Chef really knows how to work, and please, a crowd. At one

point during a media preview of his Disney Springs restaurant, Morimoto methodically, and impressively, hacked and sliced a giant tuna in mere minutes, then proceeded to fashion a 60-foot-long tuna roll (along with the help of many attendees), much to the delight of the gathered throngs. While the sushi roll wasn't very memorable, Morimoto's performance certainly was.

4. James Beard Dinner (Dec. 5)

click to enlarge Top Chefs Tony Mantuano and Edward Lee
Top Chefs Tony Mantuano and Edward Lee

The Dec. 5 stop of the James Beard Foundation's Celebrity Chef Tour at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando was easily the highlight of the 2015 culinary calendar. No

fewer than three James Beard Award winners joined a few future winners in presenting an eight-course meal that wowed the gourmands who gathered amid the 17th-floor slickery of Capa Steakhouse. Arriving guests were greeted with an impressive charcuterie spread by Michael Sullivan of Creekstone Farms (JBF Celebrity Chef Tour director Jeff Black described him as the "Reverend of Pork"). Once guests were seated, dishes by Beard Award winners Norman Van Aken (Best Chef Southeast, 1997) Gerard Craft (Best Chef Midwest, 2015) and Tony Mantuano (Best Chef Great Lakes, 2005) were presented, followed by a little red-meat razzle-dazzle by Fabrizio Schenardi (executive chef, Four Seasons Resort Orlando) and Edward Lee (610 Magnolia, Top Chef). Oh, and there didn't appear to be any shortage of black truffles. A cheese course by Capa chef Tim Dacey and a sweet ending courtesy of Stefan Riemer (pastry chef, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts) and Rabii Saber (executive pastry chef, Four Seasons Resort Orlando) rounded out the meal.

5. Acquiring a set of knives by Michel Bras (Dec. 16)

click to enlarge Knives by Michel Bras and Kai
Knives by Michel Bras and Kai

Renowned French chef Michel Bras is a soft-spoken culinary legend, so when he collaborated with Japanese knife maker Kai, people took notice. Now that I've acquired

these beauties (a kind gift from the makers, though they can be purchased here), I can hardly imagine my kitchen being without them. The 3-inch sheep's foot paring knife and the 6-inch santoku chef's knife (Bras' favorite) have razor-sharp blades, coated in titanium with a matte finish, and are affixed to handles fashioned from black Pakkawood in the traditional Japanese chestnut shape that sit perfectly in one's hand. They're not just utilitarian tools – they're works of art.


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