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Chef Jason Schofield – The Science of Cooking, Consulting, & Creating

Executive Chef Jason Schofield, of the Schofield Restaurant Group, describes himself as a simple chef, “I like to take all my life experiences and use them to create my food… keeping things real, keeping them simple… that’s me.” When he was a kid, Chef Jason would go to restaurants with his father and “just try everything.” “Those were happy times with my father, experiencing those foods, often for the first time. It created a desire to always look for new things or new ways to make things. This kid-like ‘I am-ness’ is how I still approach my dishes today, with that newness and creativeness born of fun; playing with the textures, colors, and flavors of food to find new, fresh ways of cooking everything.”

While not wanting to “over complicate” things, Chef Jason believes that the best chefs are those who respect and nurture the “science” of cooking. “If I wasn’t a chef, I would probably be a scientist or physicist… I really enjoy the science of it all, the ‘why’ and ‘how’ things happen. Cooking is a process that often combines very different flavors and ingredients to make a complete ‘whole’ dish.”

“Sometimes I feel the term ‘Chef’ is loosely used… a true chef is more than just someone who cooks or runs a kitchen. A chef has to understand the art and science of the processes involved not only in creating the dishes, but also how they are presented, marketed, served, and even how the business of running a restaurant works. It isn’t just ‘home cooking.’” Chef Jason believes that learning is a lifelong process, and is vital to create and maintain a successful career. “There is no end point, you are always ‘becoming’ a chef, always pushing the boundaries, gaining a better understanding of flavors, learning new techniques of making things in different ways.”

For Chef Jason, success breeds success, and that is the main point he drives home to his clients as a Culinary Business Consultant. “There is a huge ‘surrounding knowledge’ of what it means to cook, to design a menu, to run a restaurant as a successful business. I apply the science of what it means to cook to my consulting. The restaurant isn’t just a place to cook, serve, and eat, it is a microcosm of everything it takes to make that happen, and it has to be viewed that way, as an inclusive process.” Chef Jason’s first impression is what helps him discern the levels of success and failure in a restaurant. “I view the restaurant as a whole, I look at the ambience, the food and menu design, the layout of the dining and cooking areas, and how it all ties together. I visit many, many restaurants, and that means I see what works and what doesn’t, then I apply that knowledge scientifically to solve the problems I find or discover new areas for growth.”

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Understanding the scientific processes of cooking and also having an artistic and creative mind are two sides of the coin that makes a successful chef. “A good chef has three attributes: human skill, which is natural talent, technical skill, which is learned and practiced, and conceptual skill, which is the creative aspect, and what will really set you apart. A chef is a scientist/artist… you have to use your knowledge of the chemical reactions of the ingredients that go into making a dish, and then you have to present the food in a fun, appealing way.”

What is the hardest thing a chef has to do in his or her career? Chef Jason has a short answer for that, “It is very important to get everyone on your team to believe in the same vision you have… they may not share your passion, but they have to believe in the direction you are leading them. Then it is your job to keep them intrigued and motivated. You have to wear many hats to be a successful chef, it isn’t a profession for the lazy. You have to thrive on the challenges but balance that with your home life outside of the restaurant… it is the only way to keep your sanity!”

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Always looking forward, Chef Jason has several restaurant concepts his company will be opening in the near future. “There are trends in the culinary world, based both on idea-driven and customer preference concepts. Having my own theme-based, concept driven restaurants allows me to put these trends into play, to see what works and what doesn’t, and then refine and pass along that knowledge to my consulting clients. Just like in the laboratory… the proof is in the putting!”

No matter what the future may hold, the trends for Chef Jason Schofield and his “Schofield Restaurant Group” are definitely leading to success!

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ChefEd Hollingsworth – The Magic of Cooking

Creating a great dining experience may seem like magic, but it really takes a lot of hard work… and if your dining experience is helmed by ChefEd Hollingsworth, you could be lucky enough to encounter both! “I was a professional magician for 18 years before I went to culinary school. I specialized in ‘close-up’ magic, playing different venues and events, meeting a ton of people, which I enjoyed… but I felt I needed a change, and I wanted to do something that I really felt passionate about.”

It wasn’t long before he remembered an old trick he learned at home. “My mom was a great cook, and I was always in the kitchen with her. She prepared a meal with great passion; it was such a fun time, and I loved those times with her.” ChefEd had always wanted to give culinary school a try, and he thought “now is the time,” so he enrolled in the Orlando Culinary Academy and was in the second graduating class. “One of the things I learned was how valuable an ingredient salt can be… it pulls so much flavor out of the other ingredients, making the taste more vibrant, more alive. No matter how much salt I used in a dish, my instructors would always taste and tell me ‘needs more salt!’”

“I think it is important to always be looking for new ideas, new ingredients, new ways of doing things. You never know where your next inspiration is going to come from. I love to go to other restaurants, to see what they are like, how they do things, what they are trying or experimenting with.” When asked what drives him and his ideas, ChefEd responds thoughtfully, “You know, as a chef you have to have a deep passion for your craft… you put the love you have for the food on the plate, and the guests respond to it. The presentation is also very important, because even if the dish tastes good, if it isn’t appealing and ‘pretty,’ then it is in bad taste, and the customer will most likely have a bad response.”

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What would he advise the aspiring chef? “That’s easy… get a job in a restaurant, any job. I don’t care if it is as a dishwasher, get in the door and in the mix, because it isn’t all glitter and glamorous, like on some food network show. Working in a restaurant is hard work, and it gets crazy, and it gets busy. You may only have 12 minutes or less to get a plate out to a guest, and that is a lot of pressure, and not everyone can take it. At culinary school, some of the students would be doing really well, and then they would get a job at a restaurant, then before you know it, they were dropping out… they realized it just wasn’t something they were made to do.”

When asked what makes his dishes so successful, ChefEd smiles and says a good magician never reveals his best secrets… but then says a good meal really is no secret. “It has to be ‘artistic’ on the plate. You want it to be colorful, bright, and vibrant. Food should paint a picture, tell a story… the plate tells the story of the chef!” One thing is definitely true, ChefEd Hollingsworth can work magic on the plate! Abracadabra, Pesto-Change-O!

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Chef Bob Aungst – Rocks, Sticks & Hell

Often, necessity is the mother of invention… and when you decide to reinvent yourself, you had better choose something that you love to do! Chef Bob Aungst was born in New Jersey and went to college in upstate New York, where he worked as a real estate broker and owned a successful real estate franchise. While he loved the interaction with his clients, Bob began to feel he needed a “change,” so he thought “What do I like to do?” The answer was “entertain people and cook,” so he soon found himself in Culinary Arts school at Schenectady College.

“With my real estate business and my two small children, choosing to attend Schenectady College was the best decision I could’ve made. They were a small school, which gave me great flexibility with my education, and they were wonderful to me.” Three weeks into the program, Chef Bob got an interesting call from the Dean of the Culinary Arts program, “He said, ‘Bob, I think you need to apply for this internship…’ I didn’t know what he meant, but he said I would be perfect for it… and he told me it was The Kentucky Derby. That was my very first special event, and I’ve done eighteen Kentucky Derby’s since then!” This internship opened the door to the rest of Chef Bob’s culinary career, which has boasted many major sporting events and conventions, feeding an average of over 2 million people a year!

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“I manage both the front and the back of the house at an event, which requires a lot of coordination. We may have 10 thousand clients for breakfast, 15 thousand for lunch, another 10 or 15 thousand for dinner, and then a smaller reception for 8 thousand people after that… and that’s all in one day… and the day after that, and after that, and so on… so, it definitely keeps you on your toes!”

In between giant events, Chef Bob often will coordinate small affairs for his private clients, and also several charity events. “There are a lot of spinning plates, but I thrive on the variety of venues, locations, and sizes of the events… I truly love what I do. It is impossible to get in a rut because no week or month looks the same. It is always a challenge that is fresh and exciting!”

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Chef Bob insists the most important element is designing an event is the initial idea. “You start with the idea, then you move to the concept, and that is where the art is created. You ask yourself, ‘What does it look like, taste like… what does it mean for the client, how is it presented to the guests?’” Once he is done with the creative side, it is time to make it all happen on the managerial side, to staff, organize, and cover the logistics of the event. “It is a balancing act, bouncing back and forth between ‘artist’ and ‘manager.’”

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When asked what he believes makes a good chef, Chef Bob cautions, “If you don’t love making others happy, don’t get into hospitality, don’t become a chef… because, most of the time, you won’t know if you are making them happy or not. So you have to do it for yourself, for your love of it, and that will carry you through between the few times that you actually hear from a guest, how they enjoyed your work and that you made a difference to them that day.” Pleasing the guests is always the top priority, “As a chef, you are in a special position to give someone the best night, the best experience, so go out of your way to do just that. Be willing to make a difference. That is how you go from failure to success, from good to great… see that opportunity and take advantage of it.”

So, the next time you are making a sandwich, just remember Chef Bob Aungst’s advice: “Create, Organize, Execute.” One down, 9,999 to go!

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Chef Henry Salgado – Txokos Basque Kitchen

What does it take to excel in the Culinary Arts? Chef Henry Salgado, of “Txokos Traditional Basque Modern Kitchen” can narrow it down to one word: Sacrifice. “It takes a lot of sacrifice to follow your passion, to realize your dreams. The success of your career depends upon the amount of sacrifice you are willing to make for it.”

A 5th generation Floridian of Cuban-Spanish origin on his father’s side and Atlanta, Georgia natives on his mother’s side, Chef Henry attended Culinary school and apprenticed in South Florida, where he learned from and worked alongside many wonderful chefs.

His journeys took him to California, Seattle, Washington, and eventually landed him in Atlanta, Georgia, where he enjoyed “catching up” with his relatives. His time in Atlanta set the stage for his life in two ways; first, he met the woman who would become his wife, and second, he worked under and learned from one of the “Culinary Legends” in the area, Miss Edna Lewis. “Miss Edna Lewis is the Guru of Southern Cooking, and it was an amazing time working under and learning from her, both her and her protege, Scott Peacock, who was a personal chef for 2 Georgia governors.”

“Chef Miss Edna was part of the New York food scene, she knew James Beard, and was actually there, was part of the ‘Culinary Revolution’ that changed American cooking.” Just being around someone who had cooked alongside the likes of Julia Child and other heavy-hitters in the Culinary Pantheon is one thing, but having them see something special in you and cultivating it is another thing, altogether. “A turning point for me was the moment I overheard Miss Edna remarking to another chef that I was a ‘natural.’ That really hit home, it was a turning point for me… I knew it was time to get serious with my career.”

The opportunity to “get back to Florida” arrived in what Chef Henry describes as a “horrible little diner” that his wife found in a local real estate magazine while they were traveling through New Smyrna, Florida. “I had a Cuban concept for a restaurant, ‘The Spanish River Grill.’ My wife found this small restaurant for sale and encouraged me to take a look. I thought she was crazy, but she had all these great ideas about how to make it work, and on the drive back to Atlanta, I had procured the money to purchase and get it ready to open. It took a lot of effort, but what started out as an idea to surf during the day and then cook dinner for people at night turned into ‘fine dining’ in New Smyrna… go figure!”

Expansion became the vision for the future, “We were looking at places in Colorado and California, but then I realized, why not Orlando? It is close and has the clientele and resources to build a successful business.” Wanting to base the restaurant on traditional Spanish cuisine, Chef Henry researched and studied the history and culture of Spain’s Basque Country. “After visiting the Basque region, I became very inspired, it is a fantastic place where ‘food’ is the center of the universe.” Txokos is a Basque tradition, and is based on the gastronomic societies that honor the meal itself, the act of sharing it, and so the “Txokos Traditional Basque Modern Kitchen” was born.

“Txokos Basque Kitchen is the closest thing to being in Basque, Northern Spain, without being there… I am very involved in the local farmer’s markets, getting the freshest foods and ingredients from local Florida farmers. For us here at ’Txokos Traditional Basque Modern Kitchen,’ it is all about the technique, the journey, the flavors of the foods, the presentation and appreciation of the experience and pleasure of the guests. Just like in Basque, Spain, once you dine with us, you are no longer a customer, you are family!”

When asked what makes a successful chef, Chef Henry doesn’t hesitate on his reply, “Be willing to sacrifice. Nothing is free, it takes hard work, it takes research, it takes reading as many books and trade magazines as possible and paying attention. You have to be willing to sacrifice your weekends, your off time, your personal life. It is not easy… but it is worth it.”

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Whatever your meal or occasion, be sure to stop by “Txokos Traditional Basque Modern Kitchen” in the East End Market at 3201 Corrine Dr, Orlando, FL 32803, and have a cold gin & tonic and try the delicious food. Chef Henry knows you will be back to dine with your new Basque family!
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I-Drive 360

I-Drive 360, Orlando’s new and exciting Entertainment Destination, is easy to find… just look for the 400 foot tall observation wheel known as “The Orlando Eye!” World famous “International Drive” will lead you to “Madame Tussauds” celebrity wax attraction, the “Sea Life Orlando” Aquarium, and the first “Bad to the Bone” museum of it’s kind, “Skeletons: Animals Unveiled!”

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But what is excitement without great food? I-Drive 360 has got you covered, whether you want something fast or the full service treatment. This summer, in the heart of I-Drive 360, Chef Keith Esbin thrills with authentic and exotic dishes from the Middle East at the “Paramount Fine Foods.”

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And don’t miss Orlando’s favorite Greek Culinary couple, Chef Katerina and Vassilis Coumbaros, as they open their brand new concept, “Tapa Toro,” with a tasty blend of classic and contemporary Spanish cuisine!

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With so much to see, do, and most importantly, EAT, you won’t regret a moment spent exploring the newest attraction in Central Florida… I-Drive 360… where FUN meets the FAMILY!

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Chef Justin Leo – American Q

You don’t have to grow up in a large Italian family to become a great Chef, but it doesn’t hurt, either. Chef Justin Leo, of “American Q” Restaurant, has many fond childhood memories helping in his grandmother’s kitchen. “My grandmother was a great cook, and she always made everything from scratch. She made everything for all the family events and get-togethers, and she even started her own small catering business.” Although he worked through high school helping out in this business, he never really considered it a “real” profession. “I decided to go to college and study computer engineering, but it just didn’t hold my interest. I was unsure what to do, and then my mom suggested I study cooking.” Chef Justin was in the first class to graduate with an Associates Degree in Culinary Arts from his college in Buffalo, New York. “It was a great time, a great learning experience. All the instructors were locally renowned chefs, so we were really being mentored in what makes cooking an art form.”

Chef Leo’s first job after graduating was as a dishwasher, just to get his foot in the kitchen. Patience and persistence soon paid off, “One night, the chef didn’t show up to work, and so they asked me to cook… and that’s how I got my start!” Perfecting his trade with “hands on” experience in a wide range of venues, from High End Restaurants, Steakhouses, Casinos, and Walt Disney World resorts, he spent many years in western New York and Central Florida. Finally deciding that Orlando was the place for him, Chef Justin has made Florida his permanent home, and has never looked back.

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“Moving to Florida was a natural thing, it is where I wanted to be… and I knew the opportunities I needed would present themselves.” Opportunity did find Chef Justin, in the form of a “Barbecue Concept Restaurant.” “American Q” was such an interesting idea… ‘Barbecue and Beyond’… how are we going to do that?” Deciding that regional fare was going to be the anchor for the menu items started his creative Chef’s mind working. “First off, you don’t have to like barbecue, our menu is an interpretation of barbecue, but the focus is regional cuisine.” So, whether it is Mississippi Catfish, Texas Beef Ribs, Memphis Baby Back Ribs, or St. Louis Spare Ribs, you will find something to suit your tastes on the “American Q” menu.

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“We have a great commitment to the Florida Fresh Markets… all the meats are fresh from Florida, they never leave the state.” Chef Justin works directly with the farmers to bring only the best and freshest tastes directly to his guests. “Being a chef is being an artist, but you have to balance that with being a manager, managing the kitchen, the food, the presentations, the cost, and giving the guest the best value for the best price. Quality doesn’t cut corners, and the best way to ruin a dish is to use cheap ingredients.”

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What advice does Chef Justin have for those with culinary dreams? “Go get a job in a kitchen somewhere, to see if it is for you. It is not easy, it is hard work, and a lot of hours, so if you don’t love it, you probably won’t survive all the times you feel like you are in a rut.” Chef Justin’s formula is simple: Go, Do, Create. Go to the kitchen, do the work that needs to be done, and then create your own special style or signature. There are no shortcuts. “Shortcuts mean you trade who you could be for who you are now… you can only polish your talent and develop your skills through hard work.”

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Putting his preaching into practice, Chef Justin Leo is always searching for new ways to expand his knowledge and find a new horizon. One thing is certain, you will enjoy the passion he puts on display every day at “American Q,” in beautiful Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Come on and give it a try, every dish will be your favorite!

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April 8th is National Empanada Day!

Feeling a little “stressed out” from the long, grey winter? Find your smile at Cuba Libre, the best “authentic” Cuban Restaurant and Rum Bar in the Orlando, Florida area. Perfectly located at “Pointe Orlando,” Executive Chef, Jose Gonzalez, invites you to leave your troubles behind while you enjoy fresh, “made from scratch” dishes and the fully stocked Rum Bar, with over 80 different kinds of rum to choose from. “We are sure you will find something that you will like at Cuba Libre… just be sure to try one of our famous Mojitos, we believe you won’t find a better one anywhere!”

What is the secret to making the perfect Mojito? “We press our own sugar cane on site… the sugar extract, known as ‘guarapo’ is so fresh, it beats the processed syrup that other restaurants may use. Actual sugar, fresh from the cane, equals an incredible taste!”

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And now is the best time to try it for yourself: since April 8th is National Empanada Day, Cuba Libre is celebrating all April long, with special combinations and menu items, such as the “Lobster Empanada,” based on the fan-favorite recipe from the opening of Cuba Libre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, over 14 years ago.

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To help spread the “Empanada Experience” to the world, Chef Jose is offering an “experience of a lifetime” chance to learn how to make traditional empanada’s the Cuba Libre way, on Thursday, April 23rd, 2015. 30 guests will learn the Chef’s personal secrets as he guides you along the recipe trail to find the hidden treasure of beef, chicken, and cheese empanada’s, as only Chef Gonzalez can do it. A simple click here to purchase tickets and you will be on your way to Empanadas, Mojitos, special treats, and an unforgettable evening of fun!

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Chef Jose can’t wait to see you at Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar, at Pointe Orlando. “Come in, forget the stress and problems of life, and enjoy a night of fresh Cuban cuisine, great drinks, entertainment, music, and most importantly, fun, fun, fun!” The perfect place to live it up… Vive Cuba Libre!

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