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.


“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.


“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.”


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.”


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!”

CubaLibre_Mojito Pitchers

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.

CubaLibre_Lobster Empanada 2_Fotor2

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!


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!



Chef Raul Bosch – Foodie Catering

Born and raised on the warm, tropical coast of Columbia, Chef Raul Bosch, the soft spoken and friendly owner of “Foodie Catering,” became interested in cooking by helping his grandmother prepare breakfast items and pastries for sale, often waking at 5 am just to help out. Later, after completing high school, Chef Raul worked at a local hotel just to get his foot in the door, and eventually made it to the kitchen. There, he became enamored by the art and style of cooking for the guests, and the hotel’s Chef encouraged him to go to school if he was really interested in making it a career.

That was all the urging young Raul Bosch needed, and he soon packed up and headed to New York City, working at different restaurants during the day and attending a prestigious restaurant school at night. Upon graduating, he interned at the Waldorf Astoria, but also made it a point to follow famous Chefs and learn from them, working in many, many of the famous and elite restaurants in the Big Apple. “I always wanted to work in ‘happening’ places, such as the “High Tier” Restaurant at The Metropolitan Opera, and many others, and I feel this has given me a great sense of scope in what makes a menu, a meal, or even a dish exciting and delightful, both in taste and in presentation.”


After being offered the chance to open an Italian restaurant in Central Florida, Chef Raul became an MVP in the local Orlando food circles. From The Grand Cypress, to The Floridian, and the Disney World Hotels and Resorts, he plied his trade with an eye for creativity and a desire to always innovate and improve. It was at this time that he was searching for the next “big step” in his culinary career. “It had always been in my mind that, yes, one day I would open my own restaurant; but it is very difficult, it has many ups and downs, and can often become a distraction to actually doing what I want, being a Chef.” Then the perfect idea appeared: customized meals for small or large events. “Foodie Catering” became my opportunity to be more creative, to innovate and collaborate with my clients… it is freedom, culinary freedom.”


Chef Raul enjoys the entire process of creating a menu for a client’s event. “You work very close to the customer, to provide something special. You have to be enthusiastic, or they won’t be enthusiastic. This allows me to share the joy in the creativity of the process of creating the menu, selecting the food.” He knows that great food has to be supported by great service and presentation. Having the right team is crucial, “I see myself more as an artist than a manager. The entire process, from thought to performance… it is a thrill for me.” His recipe for success is to hire the right people, set the standard high, and provide an atmosphere so that it is a joy to be on the team.


When asked what his philosophy of being a great Chef is, Chef Raul is quick to say that great service has to compliment great food. “It is about having the right attitude. You start with great ingredients, the freshest food, then add great service and presentation. It seems like a simple process, but it is very crucial.”


Chef Raul loves to exceed expectations, and that is probably why so many “Foodie Catering” events are prepared for returning clients. “We make people happy… whether the event is for 10 or 2000, we provide that personal, artistic flair.” Chef Raul cautions that it isn’t easy, but if you aren’t afraid of working hard and have the right attitude, it isn’t difficult, either. “If you love what you do, you do it your entire life.”


The next time you are at a “Foodie Catering” event, just ask for Chef Raul… he is always there and involved… yet another secret to maintaining a high standard of success!

Chef Tonda Corrente – La Femme du Fromage

Meet Chef Tonda, owner of the La Femme du Fromage, a premier destination for artisan cheeses located in the East End Market. In Orlando, Chef Tonda is known as the “Cheese lady” for her extensive knowledge of artisan cheeses and dedication to art of wine and cheese pairing. Chef Tonda is a self taught chef, who developed her passion for food at an early age.


“I love food and I love wine and I love bringing people together. I am very passionate about what happens around the dining table. I think that that’s where people enjoy life. That’s where they celebrate. That’s where families come together.” Chef Tonda enjoys sharing her love of cheeses through pairing classes where she partners with local cheese, wine and chocolate vendors such as Quantum Leap Winery and Peterbrooke Chocolatier.


East End Market is a neighborhood market and culinary food hub inspired by Central Florida’s local farmers and food artisans. It is a destination for anyone who loves food.“You have to come here because it’s interesting and it’s different. You can get everything from your local bread to your local coffee roaster to their fresh organic cold-pressed juices … We have a great event space upstairs and we do fantastic events.”


“Cheese makes you happy. You just can’t say the word without smiling.” La Femme du Fromage is located in the East End Market at 3201 Corrine Drive in Orlando. Stop by for the best grilled cheese you have ever had!

La Femme Du Fromage on Urbanspoon

Executive Chef Greg Richie – Soco

Today is the day to discover the “brand new” of “traditional” dining, at Downton Orlando, Florida’s, newest old tradition, “Soco!” An ingenious acronym, Soco is the best way to experience Southern Contemporary Cuisine! Overlooking the lively corner of Central Boulevard and Summerlin Avenue in Beautiful Thornton Park, Soco combines classic southern style with an urban contemporary environment, the perfect blend of elements that create an exciting yet comfortable, almost reminiscent atmosphere to suit any mood.

Soco Interior

Soco” is the realization of the vision of Executive Chef/Partner Greg Richie, in his desire to engender a “Culinary Renaissance” in Downtown Orlando, by creating a truly unique and progressive culinary experience for his guests.

Chef Greg’s roots are in Texas and Georgia, which gives him an affinity for the South, and the culture and history that is found, not only in it’s cuisine, but also in the way food is part of socializing. “I grew up in a family of great cooks… and getting together with friends and family meant sharing, not only food, but also the support and enjoyment of each other.” Chef Greg knew at an early age what he wanted to do in life, “In fifth grade, for a school project, I made bread for my entire class. It was always a fun time, making things in the kitchen with my Mom and Grandmom.” By his thirteenth birthday, he knew he wanted to be a chef, and he began working in kitchens, washing up and doing whatever he could to learn and progress.

Soco Molasses-Glazed Hanger Steak

Becoming a cook allowed him to cultivate his creative side, “Food can be a fun adventure, you can’t be afraid to try new things, experiment with new ideas.” Chef Greg loves the challenges of creating a menu. “First, you have to start with the venue and go from there.” If it is a seafood restaurant, such as “Cityfish,” the sister restaurant to “Soco,” then that creates the context for the concept of the menu. The menu should then be designed to help create the restaurant’s identity. “Some places have a little bit of everything, which can make it hard to narrow down what the concept should be. At Southern Contemporary (Soco), we are Southern inspired, we start with the idea of what Southern food is, and then ‘contemporize’ it in some way, such as a traditional Southern dish that we throw a modern twist into, or perhaps a non-Southern dish in which we add the flavor of the South.” Chef Greg places a great importance on balance in the menu; a good assortment of flavors and foods with a good price range. “It all comes down to balance… a balance of menu items and a balance of flavors on the plate. Also, the guests expect and deserve a delicious meal, served in a beautiful environment, with great service and hospitality. That is our goal, 100 percent, to meet our guest’s expectations, every time they visit!”

Soco Slow-Roasted Barbeque-Glazed Pork Belly Biscuits

Chef Greg would like to invite everyone to try Thorton Park’s newest, traditionally eclectic, Southern hospitality, found only at “Soco.” “Our kitchen has a grand window, that allows our guests to ‘peek inside’ and see what’s going on, just like home!” Whether a small, intimate occasion, a casual get together, or a group function, “Soco” is a great place to make fun memories. The “Culinary Renaissance” of Downtown Orlando is found at “Soco!”

Soco Thornton Park on Urbanspoon

Chef Aarthi Sampath – American Gymkhana


Happy New Year! And what better way to bring in 2015 than to try out the best new authentic Indian restaurant with a modern flair, “American Gymkhana!” The passion behind the kitchen doors is Chef Aarthi Sampath, a wonderfully talented chef with a love for the art of cooking.

Growing up in India exposed Chef Aarthi to many flavors and a wide variety of dishes, but she never thought about cooking until she was 11 or 12 years old, got in trouble and was grounded from all her other activities which forced her to stay home. With nothing else to do, she began reading cookbooks and wondering how to make the different dishes. She finally decided to bake her first cake, and was amazed at the results. “It almost seemed like magic, you put in simple ingredients, and then they come out to be a beautiful product.”


Chef Aarthi was always interested in the creative field, being a dancer, actress, and dramatist, and it was this love of the creative arts that drew her to cooking. Creating a dish or an entire meal is a special gift from the chef to his or her guests, and it is an exciting experience when they appreciate not only the quality of the content of the meal, but the special flair or artistry of the preparation.


When Chef Aarthi told her family that she was going to be a chef instead of an engineer or a doctor, they were less than pleased, but her determination and drive to excel in her chosen field pushed her to enroll in the Institute of Hotel Management in Jaipur, Northern India, and she eventually became the first student from the institute to ever be accepted by the prestigious Taj Group as a Kitchen Management trainee, one of only 12 selected in all of India!


After her work in India, she traveled to New York City in order to continue her growth as a Chef and learn from the talented Chefs here in the U.S., which she credits as having influenced her vision to include that “modern element” to her dishes. She relies heavily on her childhood memories, those authentic flavors that she experienced growing up in India, and then she loves to add the “local influences” of wherever she happens to be.


“The local tastes and traditions combine beautifully with the tastes of India, making the final product unique and very special. Every dish on my menu portrays the passion I have for the art of cooking; all the memories, the effort, the pains, the joys I have experienced. They all come together with each dish, creating something special… creating culinary art!”


American Gymkhana” is the perfect place to sample Chef Aarthi’s craft, and she loves to hear the feedback from her guests. “I am very passionate about food, about cuisine… it is a part of me. I am in my element when I am in the kitchen, preparing dishes that I know my guests will enjoy. It is where I belong!”


Stop by and experience the magic of Chef Aarthi at “American Gymkhana” one of the most enjoyable ways to have a multicultural experience!

American Gymkhana on Urbanspoon

Chef Jillian Hopke – Jillycakes Orlando

Chef Jillian Hopke, winner of Cupcake Wars, Season 6, was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts and grew up in a family that loved to bake. Since both her mother and grandmother baked elaborate cakes, baking came as natural to Chef Jillian as sculpting came to Michelangelo. After she graduated college with degrees in both dance and marketing, Chef Jillian began her creative career as a performer for Disney, and then later assumed the role of Director of Entertainment at Legoland, but her love for baking continued, and she greatly enjoyed creating tasteful treats for her family, friends, and coworkers. This “hobby” of baking quickly turned into a second career and a rising business! “Jillycakes” started out first as an online shop, but then after her huge success on Cupcake Wars, Chef Jillian opened her first storefront in December of 2014 in beautiful Winter Park, Florida.

Chef Jillian is an artist, in the truest sense, being an accomplished painter and sculptor, and it just seems natural to her to translate that same creative drive into her favorite edible environment: baking! In addition to the vast array of traditional cupcakes, “Jillycakes” combines very unique tastes and flavors that you most likely have never thought to try, such as savory Tomato Roasted Red Pepper Basil cupcakes, Fig-and Goat Cheese with Balsamic Drizzle cupcakes, Jalapeno Popper or even Mac-n-Cheese cupcakes!


Jillycakes” also specializes in custom made cakes and wedding cakes, so be sure to stop by the one and only “Jillycakes,” located in Winter Park, Florida, 125 North Orlando Ave., in the Trader Joe’s Plaza. Don’t go off “half-baked”… get a “Jillycake!”

Jillycakes on Urbanspoon