The James Beard Foundation announced their semifinalists for the coveted 2019 James Beard Awards, known to some as the “Oscars” of food and beverage industry.

Locally, four restaurants/chefs were nominated:

  • Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton for Outstanding Restaurant
  • Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa for Outstanding Service
  • Chef Rabii Saber of the Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World Resort for Outstanding Pastry Chef and
  • James and Julie Petrakis of the Swine Family (The Ravenous Pig in Winter Park, Cask and Larder at Orlando International Airport, The Polite Pig at Disney Springs) for Outstanding Restaurateur(s).

Here’s what some of the local chefs had to say upon their James Beard Award nomination:

6-10-09 Chef Norman

“It has been an honor and a joy to serve the guests who dine at NORMAN’S. For over 15 years we have treasured the most wonderful accolades from the press and beautiful words from the many diners who have come to us at The Ritz-Carlton to join us. This nomination stands as the greatest recognition for our restaurant to date. We celebrated when NORMAN’S reached the finalist stage for The James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Restaurant” in 2005 at the original location in Coral Gables. We are celebrating in Orlando now! The Beard Awards are known as ’the Oscars of the hospitality business’. We applaud the other 19 semi-finalists from around the United States.”—— Chef Norman Van Aken, Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton – Nominated for Outstanding Restaurant

“Victoria & Albert’s is honored to be a semifinalist in the James Beard Foundation Restaurant Awards “Best Service” category,” said Scott Hunnel, executive chef of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. “We offer the ultimate in fine dining and every single member of the team is fully invested in the Guest experience, combining the perfect formula of creativity, knowledge, and passion for service.”

“Gratitude makes everything turn into a gift.” I have always been grateful and thankful for what I have or faced in life. If it’s something bad I consider it a test that I had to overcome and if it’s something great like this nomination, I enjoy and celebrate it. This is the culmination of achievement and recognition for my hard work, my moments of pain, my sleepless nights and the firm determination to go to the end. If I win it’s not the most important thing I am going to have in terms of success, but the most important thing is my experience that led me to where I am today and the knowledge acquired along the road to be recognized for this award. The nominees include great names and talent, from celebrated restaurants, and small bake shops to large luxury resorts. A big thank you to the James Beard Foundation for covering it all. This is a great recognition and shines a spotlight on the pastry industry to keep it relevant.

I was born and raised in Morocco where I learned and was trained in the foundations of French pastry. The culinary passport opened the doors for me to travel, visit and work in different countries and continents including hotels in the US. such as the iconic Greenbrier in WV and the prestigious Bellagio in Las Vegas. It was a long and rich journey where I was fortunate to experience different cultures and gastrotomies. Joining the Four Seasons Company back in 2010 was the opportunity for me to put my knowledge and all that I have learned into practice. In 2014, I had the opportunity to come to Orlando to open this Resort. It was great to start everything from scratch and see everything grow to be where we are today. We have a beautiful property, operated by a dynamic group of people. Our future is bright and we have more to prove.” – Chef Rabii Saber of the Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World Resort – nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef

“It is every chef’s dream to be recognized by the James Beard Foundation, but to be honored as a semi-finalist for “Outstanding Restaurateur” is by far our biggest accomplishments to date. This category represents so much more than just me and Julie. It is a true ‘hats off’ to our entire Swine Family team – from the chefs and servers to our dishwashers – because without all of their dedicated hard work each and every day, this would not be possible. We are a hardworking team, but in the last few years we have paid special focus to getting back to our roots and making sure all of the concepts we create, celebrate and serve our local Orlando community. We couldn’t be more proud with the outcome.” – Chef James Petrakis of the Swine Family (The Ravenous Pig in Winter Park, Cask and Larder at Orlando International Airport, The Polite Pig at Disney Springs) for Outstanding Restaurateur(s)

Orlando often gets a bad rap about its culinary scene (ask Andrew Zimmern), a side effect of being stereotyped for our tourist food a la “turkey legs”, but we have grown in leaps and bounds these past ten years – in no small part due to the tireless work from these visionaries and luminaries of our local Orlando culinary world.

Hopefully this year the committee will give Orlando a chance – maybe it will be the year we finish first place.

For a full list of the 2019 semifinalists, visit: https://www.jamesbeard.org/blog/the-2019-james-beard-award-semifinalists.

The final nominees will be announced on March 27 at 10 a.m. with the final gala being hosted on May 6 in Chicago.