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Interview with Central Florida’s 2022 James Beard Awards Semi-finalists

Our local Orlando / Central Florida’s food scene recently had several chefs and restauranteurs nominated for the 2022 James Beard Awards, a top honor in the food industry.

“The mission of the James Beard Awards is to recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive,” according to the James Beard Foundations website.

The James Beard Foundation recently announced the semifinalists for its chef and restaurant categories with four Orlando culinarians who were nominated:

  • Henry Moso of Kabooki Sushi for Best Chef: South,
  • Rabii Saber of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando for Outstanding Pastry Chef,
  • Evette Rahman of Sister Honey’s for Outstanding Baker and
  • Jason and Sue Chin of the Good Salt Restaurant Group for Outstanding Restaurateur.

We recently spoke with them via e-mail to get their responses on being nominated for this prestigious award and what this means to them and Orlando –

Interview with Henry Moso – Kabooki Sushi – Nominated for Best Chef: South – James Beard Award

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What does this award mean to you?

It means everything for me and the team. It’s a reminder for us to keep doing good work for the community.

What does this award mean to Orlando?

It is a great recognition for our food industry to keep us pushing each other and keep creating perfecting our craft.

What do you have planned for this year?

Expanding next door space for both locations and possibly scouting for the 3th location.

What are your favorite ingredients to use right now?

Seasonal fish and citrus.

What makes a good chef in your opinion? 

The chef must be a consistent calm, focus and self motivate – a drive with great creative mind.

Interview with Rabii Saber from Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World – Nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef

A Sweet Celebration of Four Seasons Orlando Executive Pastry Chef Rabii Saber - Tasty Chomps: A Local's Culinary Guide

What does this award mean to you?

Being nominated as a James Beard Award semifinalist for the second time is a lifetime achievement for me.

It’s extremely rewarding to have years of dedication and hard work recognized by such a prestigious foundation, and it feels great to know there are people out there who appreciate what I’m doing.

It’s truly an incredible feeling, and at the same time motivation to keep pushing myself.

What does this award mean to Orlando?

The culinary scene in Orlando is growing and becoming more diverse year after year.

There are so many great chefs and restaurateurs in the City Beautiful that are dedicated and passionate about what they do, and their cumulative focus on improving and delivering an outstanding product to the community and tourists alike leads to this type of recognition.

I believe it’s time for this amazing city that we all call home to be noticed and not left overlooked.

How can people try your delicious creations here in Orlando?

At Four Seasons Resort Orlando, guests can enjoy our desserts in any of the resort’s six restaurants, ranging from a quick scoop of gelato at Lickety Split, our lobby level cake, to placing a custom cake order for any type of celebration, to house-made pastries and more.

I also do my best to stay in touch with the community and participate in as many local events as possible.

I was lucky enough to be invited to be featured during the Party of the Senses at Epcot Food & Wine Festival for three years in a row, and always collaborate with our restaurants during annual events including the Windermere Wine & Dine and Taste of Windermere, which benefit great causes.

What do you have planned for this year?

Coming out of the pandemic and seeing things slowly get back to normal, my focus is to rebuild our incredible pastry team and revamp our offerings at the resort.

The goal is to have completely new dessert offerings in all of our restaurants by the time we reach the holiday season.

This way, we can keep our guests happy and surprised with new menu items, while also keeping the team motivated to take on new challenges.

Something that is baking in our pastry shop is our new chocolate bar and bonbon collections, coming out soon.

Interview with Jason and Sue Chin from the Good Salt Restaurant Group – Nominated for Outstanding Restauranteur

Inside Look: Ramen Rumble 4 presented by Morimoto Asia Orlando x Good Salt Restaurant Group - Tasty Chomps: A Local's Culinary Guide 

What does this award mean to you?

Being a James Beard semi-finalist is, without a doubt, one of the greatest honors that we have ever been bestowed.

This recognition is especially meaningful to us because of what it means for our team.

They all put a tremendous amount of heart into each of the restaurants and this accolade is validation that the work that they do is worthy of national recognition.

What does this award mean to Orlando?

This year’s round of semi-finalists is huge for Orlando! There has certainly been a feeling of being “skipped over” in the past several years as there was not really much representation from our city.

With there being five semi-finalists from Orlando, we are hopeful that this year’s JBF awards will be inspiring to chefs and restaurateurs in our community and that this will continue to be an upward trend.

What were some challenges that came with the pandemic and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenges came with the uncertainty. There were many times where we were saying to each other, “Well, we’ve had a good run. I guess this is it.” We got through it as best we could by staying nimble and pivoting quickly when the need arose.

We also had tremendous support from our communities as they rallied around us to do whatever they could to help keep us open. We are forever in debt to them.

We are thankful that we were able to pull out of it and still be able to be open, as we know there were many that were not as fortunate. We will say that a silver lining in the whole thing was being able to identify shortcomings in our industry as a whole.

We know that many restaurant owners and operators have already begun to make significant changes in how they do business to create a healthier and more sustainable work environment.

What do you have planned for this year?

This year is all about looking inward at our group and seeing what we can do better. We have had some exciting upward movement with several of our key staff members to help ensure that our restaurants are able to continually improve and that we will be ready if and when we get an opportunity to do something new.

What makes a good restaurateur in your opinion?

There are so many things a restaurateur must balance, but I feel the ultimate measure of what makes a good restaurateur is their ability to inspire and empower their team to create a culture of inclusion and positivity within their restaurants. That culture will be palpable as soon as you step through the doors of any restaurant. A good restaurateur must also do good by their communities, knowing that what they do and how they do it can make a positive impact.

Interview with Evette Rahman, owner/head baker, Sister Honey’s – Nominated for Outstanding Baker

Press & Awards — Sister Honey's Bakery

What does this award mean to you?

It is an honor to get recognized in an ocean of bakeries. It validates that we are doing the right thing.

What does this award mean to Orlando?

The rest of country will know that we are not just for theme parks and vacations, but also a dinning destination. Orlando should be proud.

What do you have planned for this year?

We would love to expand into a bigger and better operation.

What are your favorite ingredients to use right now?

We use many different ingredients for the products that comprise our menu. We love to experiment and develop new items when the schedule allows.

What makes a good baker in your opinion?

A good baker has consistency across the board. There should be a never ending desire to improve and progress.

What are some of your most popular items right now at Sister Honey’s?

Can I say everything! It’s difficult to keep up with the demand, because things sell out in a blink of an eye. Some top sellers are coconut cake, pineapple cake, hummingbird cake, pistachio cake, key lime pie, strawberry pie, tiramisu, cookies, cupcakes, and on and on!

Update: Our candidates were not able to move forward to the final round but hopefully next year.

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