Celeb chefs strike gold in Orlando

Forkfuls of fame

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Celeb chefs strike gold in Orlando

Unsurprisingly, most restaurants run by celebrity chefs are found inside glittering hotels and theme parks. But in the last year, we’ve seen the city’s first Wahlburgers open downtown, and Norman Van Aken, godfather of Floribbean cuisine, has chosen (gasp!) Mount Dora for his next restaurant venture. Heartening gestures, to be sure, but let’s not delude ourselves – these established chefs and their backers are drawn to the city not so much for the food-conscious denizens and burgeoning gastro-culture, but for its concentrated volumes of visitors. The star power is certain to intensify in the coming years, making the growing list below all the brighter.

Todd English's bluezoo
Where: Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotel

There's never a dull moment with Todd English, whose original Boston flagship, Olives, garnered international acclaim. The same could be said of his seafood-centric resto. Case in point: The "Dancing Fish," fileted tableside and served with polenta, mushrooms, rock shrimp and caper sauce.

1500 Epcot Resorts Blvd., 407-934-1111; swandolphinrestaurants.com

Emeril's Orlando and Emeril's Tchoup Chop
Where: Universal Orlando and Loews Royal Pacific Resort

Long the media darling of the culinary world, Emeril Lagasse's foothold in the Orlando area goes beyond his restaurants – his foundation has helped fund the kitchen house and culinary garden at the Orlando Junior Academy.

Emeril's Orlando, 6000 Universal Blvd., 407-224-2424;

Emeril's Tchoup Chop, 6300 Hollywood Way, 407-503-3340; emerilsrestaurants.com

La Luce
Where: Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

The legacy left behind by influential Napa Valley chef Donna Scala, who passed away in 2014, is palpable inside the kitchen of this modern and elegant Italian kitchen helmed by Alberto Navarrete Arias, who spent the better part of two decades working alongside Scala.

14100 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane, 407-597-3600; laluceorlando.com

Morimoto Asia
Where: Disney Springs

After his action-heavy stint on Iron Chef, it's no surprise that Masaharu Morimoto's palatial paean to pan-Asian fare is just as dramatic, with dishes like whole Peking duck and a memorable seafood tower.

1600 Buena Vista Drive, 407-939-6686; disneyworld.disney.go.com

NORMAN'S Orlando
Where: Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes

Of all the celeb chefs, gastronomy's poet laureate, Norman Van Aken, spends the most time in Orlando, and Central Floridians can expect to see even more of him when his Mount Dora resto, 1921 by Norman Van Aken, opens this summer.

4012 Central Florida Parkway, 407-206-2400; normans.com

Where: Disney Springs

Along with executive chef Steven Richard, James Beard Foundation Award-winner and Top Chef Master Tony Mantuano has transformed Portobello into a casual, kid-friendly country Italian trattoria.

1650 Buena Vista Drive, 407-934-8888; portobellorestaurant.com

Where: JW Marriott, Grande Lakes Resort

You'll often find Melissa Kelly, the first two-time James Beard Foundation Award-winner and original "farm-to-table" adopter, in her Orlando kitchen during the winter months when she closes her flagship restaurant in Maine.

4040 Central Florida Parkway, 407-393-4444; marriott.com

Raglan Road
Where: Disney Springs

Kevin Dundon, one of Ireland's finest chefs, has cooked for monarchs, presidents and Bono. On a handful of occasions during the year, he cooks modern Irish fare for guests at his inviting Disney pub, famous for killer clogging shows.

1640 Buena Vista Drive, 407-938-0300; raglanroad.com

Where: Dr. Phillips Restaurant Row

Roy Yamaguchi brought his brand of Pacific Rim and Hawaiian fusion cuisine to Orlando back in 2001, and while it's a rare sight to catch him in the kitchen, there's something to be said for the restaurant's longevity.

7760 Sand Lake Road, 407-352-4844; roysrestaurant.com

Where: Downtown Orlando

The first Florida location in brothers Paul, Donnie and "Marky" Mark Wahlberg's fast-food empire is arguably the most popular burger joint in the city. The epic Thanksgiving Day turkey burger is piled with stuffing, orange-cranberry sauce and roasted butternut squash.

200 S. Orange Ave., 407-293-7777; wahlburgersorlando.com


Frontera Fresco

Coming super soon to Disney Springs, the quick-service version of yoga-loving scholar of regional Mexican cuisine and kitchen warrior Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill will bring his nouveau take on fresh-Mex.

Homecoming: Florida Kitchen & Southern Shine

The ever-gregarious and popular Art Smith seems like a perfect fit for Disney Springs; we might even get an Oprah sighting or two.

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