In recognition of her outstanding contributions to the local culinary community, Orlando Weekly is pleased to announce the recipient of our annual BITE Award: Chef Kathleen Blake.
You can take the girl out of Iowa, but you can't take the Iowa out of the girl. Kathleen Blake's Midwestern roots run deep, but long before she opened the Rusty Spoon, her exceptional downtown restaurant for which she's received four James Beard Award nominations, Blake was learning the basics of cooking inside her grandmother's kitchen.
Growing up in a farming community in Dyersville, Iowa, Blake's earliest memories of cooking involved hyperlocal sourcing, even if she didn't know it at the time. Her father sold farm equipment and developed a rapport and camaraderie with farmers, so by the time Blake moved to San Francisco at the age of 17, tapping into the community's cultivators and cooking seasonally was old hat. Working under and alongside such Bay Area legends and mentors as Joyce Goldstein (Square One), Judy Rodgers (Zuni Café) and Barbara Tropp (China Moon), Blake immersed herself in the innovative world of California cuisine while honing her skills as a chef, and those 13 years proved formative.
In 2001, through a Women Chefs & Restaurateurs scholarship, Blake landed in Washington, D.C., and, naturally, found herself working as chef de cuisine at the country's first certified organic restaurant.
Restaurant Nora, by legendary chef and 2017 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award winner Nora Pouillon, aligned with Blake's approach and ethic so much that by the time she moved to Melissa Kelly's Primo at the J.W. Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes in 2003, she'd already garnered a reputation for her fierce dedication to serving fresh, local, sustainable and seasonal fare. While it may sound cliché now, in 2003, she was one of just a handful of chefs ensconced in farm-to-table cuisine, and it's a commitment she's carried through to the Rusty Spoon.