Chef Faithy B. Harris-Dowdell – The Taste of Adventure at the Yak & Yeti Restaurant

The “Yak & Yeti” Restaurant has two things going for it: first, being a guest favorite of Disney’s Animal Kingdom®, and second, having Chef Faithy B. Harris-Dowdell as the guiding hand behind their many flavorful successes!

Chef Faithy is what he calls an anomaly; he’s a Floridian who was actually born and raised in Florida. “It seems that most folks you meet here in Florida are from somewhere else, from up north or out west… not that it matters, there are good people everywhere, and they’re often hungry!”


Born in Winter Park, Florida, Chef Faithy spent much of his time growing up with his grandparents in rural Mount Dora, Florida, helping out on their farm. “My grandfather grew up on a farm in Alabama, and so that is what he did here. He grew all sorts of vegetables and raised livestock, what he called the “natural way” since it was before ‘Organic’ became so popular. I was always helping him with the cattle, pigs, and chickens, and also planting and harvesting the vegetables. He grew a little bit of everything, it seemed, and I loved it, I loved the hard work and I loved the feeling of actually ‘creating’ something… I suppose that is where my drive to create comes from.”


The seeds of Chef Faithy’s desire to cook for a living were definitely planted on that farm, with his grandmother and grandfather. “My grandmother was a great cook, and she was always cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week. I spent so much time in the kitchen with her, helping out. My grandfather was also a great cook, especially the barbecue… most every weekend, family would get together at their house, and my grandfather would be grilling. It was such a great time, a great feeling, being surrounded by family… when I cook, it always brings me back to those times, it’s like coming home.”

G___8996Chef Faithy remembers watching all the cooking shows on PBS Saturday mornings when he was a kid. “I loved the way Julia Child and Justin Wilson would turn the simplest ingredients into something good, and make it look like fun, too. Cooking with my grandmother in the kitchen or my grandfather on the grill, and watching those shows, that’s what I remember about cooking when I was growing up, but I never thought about cooking as a career until my mom suggested it. A friend of hers had told her about the culinary program that Disney used to have, and she encouraged me to give it a try, and that was how I found the outlet for my passion, to be able to create, to cook good food for people and see that positive reaction… you get the satisfaction that you made something they enjoyed. That’s gold!”

G___9007Being part of the Disney Culinary Apprenticeship Program gave Chef Faithy the opportunity to learn a variety of skills in a variety of venues. “Disney World has such a variety of restaurants and eateries, and I worked at so many of them, from the Polynesian Hotel to the Epcot World Showcase, among others. After graduating the program, I worked at the Contemporary Hotel, but I was looking for something different, a new challenge, so I left to join the Rainforest Cafe and eventually became a trainer for their cooking staff, and so I hit the road, traveling to new restaurants and locations. That was a fun and successful time in my life, and lead to becoming the Kitchen Manager at the Rainforest Cafe in Denver, Colorado… and that is where my career really took off!”

G___9013Chef Faithy feels a need to help the younger generation of culinary artists. “As a chef, there is a big responsibility to mentor the newer talent, to let them know what is expected, that it is not an easy profession… it takes a lot of dedication to excel at cooking, you’re going to miss holidays and family time, you’re going to be working nights, working weekends, and so you have to be passionate about cooking or you won’t have the dedication it takes to be successful. You have to dedicate yourself to be the best at what you do… that is how you become a success, there is no other way.”

G___9026This dedication to success is alive and well at the “Yak & Yeti Restaurant” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom®, and Chef Faithy loves the diversity of the cuisine that is found on the menu. “We have a Pan-Asian menu, and we try to cover as much of Asia as possible with our food choices. Everything is made in-house, from scratch, with a many local fresh ingredients as possible… in fact, it is surprising how much we actually do in the restaurant.”

G___9021“Innovation is found by being adventurous, taking a chance, and at the Yak & Yeti, we like to take a traditional dish and then give it a little twist, a slightly different ‘flavor profile.’ We have guests who have traveled from all over the world, and it is is very rewarding to serve them a dish they are familiar with, that maybe they eat at home, and to improve the flavor, so that they are pleasantly surprised by it, and tell us that it is ‘the best they have ever had.’ It is a great experience getting that kind of feedback from people who have come here from every part of the globe… to me, that is true success!”

G___9025The next time you are feeling a little adventurous, Chef Faithy suggests that you take a little trip to Disney’s Animal Kingdom® and tempt your taste buds at the “Yak & Yeti” Restaurant… but beware, once you enjoy a taste of adventure, you may not want to go home!

G___9031Yak & Yeti Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Chef David Ramirez – Chocolatier – Creating the Sweet Life!

David Ramirez describes himself as a pastry chef who loves to make chocolate.  “Ever since I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a chef… then, in high school, I realized I wanted to be a pastry chef, and now I’ve spent 30 plus years making pastries!”
Chef David’s mom was supportive of her son’s passion, and told him he’d love making pastries because you are “in early and out early.”  While Chef David agrees she was right that he would be “in early,” he says the “out early” is not always the case.  “The thing I love most is that, when you walk into a bakery, it is like a warm embrace, everyone smiles… and when you mention baked goods to someone, it is always a good thing, the eyes widen and they get excited… so I have learned, being a pastry chef is bringing excitement to the palate.”
Chef David grew up in Long Island, New York, to parents who had emigrated from Chile.  “My mom was always cooking, and I was usually in the kitchen with her.  She would tell me that cooking would be great for me, because everyone needs breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so I would always have a job.”  He credits these times with his mom, helping her in the kitchen, as the beginning of his love of food, of the taste of it, preparing it, being creative with it.
Chef David has combined his love of food with a passion to compete,  and has not only won dozens of awards from the American Culinary Federation, in 2009 he was named Captain of Team USA in one of the most prestigious pastry competitions in the world, the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie.  In 2011, following so many successes in his field, Chef David Ramirez was inducted into Orlando Magazine’s “Culinary Hall of Fame,” a milestone achievement to an amazing career.
“I’ve always wanted to compete, to be the best… competition can bring out the best in you, or it can overwhelm, but either way, it will sharpen your skills, make you focus on the ingredients, on the food.  You just forget about the nonsense, you put everything else aside, and you focus on making something great.  You push yourself so hard, it becomes second nature to excel at whatever you are doing. Compared to high-level competition, the stress of normal life becomes much easier!”
Chef David finds his creative inspiration in life, in nature, in all of its colors and themes.  “I am constantly creating in my mind, evolving my thoughts into creations… all an artist needs to create something is the reason to do it, the passion to see it done.”
When asked what makes a great chef, he points out that it is the same thing that makes a great leader.  “You have to love what you do, and you have to treat those around you with respect.  You have to keep your ego in check, everyone you meet is important, and you should want to get along, to inspire.  It is the same with cooking, all the ingredients are important, and should be respected for what they bring to the table, how they will interact and improve the product.  Quality is the same in every facet of life, and as human beings, we understand quality and respect it.  I always try to bring quality into my creations and into my personal dealings… to me, that is what is important, you never have to explain quality!”
And, it should be noted, an award winning chocolate or pastry created by Chef David Ramirez is a great way to bring quality to any day!

David Ramirez Chocolates Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Specialty Chef Phillip Fisher – Making the “Good” Awesome!

Specialty Chef Phillip Fisher, of the Gaylord Palms “Moor Restaurant,” is a young chef who is making his mark in the culinary industry, combining knowledge, passion, and vision with a desire to “keep it simple” in a business that is anything but simple!
The son of a successful attorney, Chef Phillip was introduced to many great restaurants at an early age, which laid the groundwork for his love of food.  “When we would go to a really nice restaurant, I was amazed at how awesome the food dishes were… at 10 years old, I may not have known what was in a dish, but by tasting it, I ‘understood’ what it was.  The flavors and aromas combined into an incredible experience, all created by the Chef.”
By the age of 13, Chef Phillip was cooking at home, discovering ways to combine his new passion with an older one.  “I love to fish, and I wanted to catch, clean, and cook it all myself.  I was often in the kitchen with my mom, and it was always a fun time, always a learning experience.  It all started with Rainbow Trout, and using trial and error to discover how many ways I could prepare it, make it a successful meal… and that started me on my own path of developing fun flavors and techniques, and how to navigate the ‘failure to success’ process, how to get it right.”
Chef Phillip is the first to admit that cooking can be a little redundant, “How many times can you make a certain dish, and in how many different ways? Some dishes are done a million times over, so I like to start with questions of my own.  ‘What do people know about this dish, what do they like about it?’ That way I have something to build off of, that is the start of the creative process.”  At the same time, he understands that a good chef must resist the urge to “overcomplicate” things, or add too many steps and ingredients.  “My mantra is ‘Keep it simple…’ keep it to 3 or 4 main ingredients.  I don’t want a long list of components, it becomes, just too much… you need to find the peak, everything peaks, the key to being a great chef is to know when to stop cooking something, let it be what it is… don’t overcomplicate!”
Chef Phillip loves the challenge that comes from balancing the creative passion of preparing the food with the need for properly managing the many needs of running a business.  “Preparing a superior dish starts with growing the food, and the it’s the same with the business side, you have to grow your team, and allow them to grow into who they wish to be.  Cooking is a business, and the purpose of business is to make money, that’s not a bad thing to say, and the best way to grow a business is to  build a team of talented people and then help them grow their passions.”
This same dichotomy, developing a menu and developing a business, are two things that excite Chef Phillip about his position at Gaylord Palms.  “We wanted to look at what wasn’t there.  The Gaylord and Marriott brands already had successful restaurants, I felt the need to break that mold, to branch out, create something a little different.”  Borrowing a philosophy from Steve Jobs, “Don’t steal ideas, but rather build off of established great ideas,” Chef Phillip found his muse in the “farm to fork, sea to table” mindset of bringing the closest and freshest ingredients to your guests.  “It seems simple, to find what works and then keep doing it, but it is a challenge to find the ‘best’ of what works, but that is what you have to do to create the best.
If you settle for ‘good’ then you’ll never make it to the ‘best.’  That is the basis of our restaurant.  Every ingredient is selected to provide you the best of the local ingredients.”  In fact, when dining at “The Moor” at Gaylord Palms, you can expect an incredible meal created from ingredients found from local producers, all within a 100 miles.  “We want to be as local as possible, but only the best of the best will do… and that goes for everything about the restaurant, from the ground up.  The best furniture, the best silverware and dishes, finding the best wait-staff and kitchen team, making sure everyone is trained to serve our guests the best way possible.  It is our goal… as one of our managers puts it, ‘Is good what we’re going for?’ No, we’re going for awesome!”
Put Chef Phillip and his team to the test, just stop by “Moor” at Gaylord Palms, and you will have a good time, enjoying great food, having an awesome night!

Chef Danilo Martorano – Peperoncino Cucina

Chef Danilo Martorano is from a small town in Calabria, the southern province of Italy. Chef’s love and passion for food grew from watching his mother preparing traditional Calabrian dishes from his favorite local ingredients. Calabria is known for its abundance of the best produce of Italy, as well as fresh seafood and wine. As you can imagine, the Calabrian cuisine is simply amazing.

Chef Danilo started his career in the culinary field as a dishwasher at the age of seventeen to support his passion for motorcycle sport racing. Chef had a chance to work at some of the best Italian restaurants in Germany, England, and Holland. From learning how to make pizza to becoming a Pastry Chef, Chef soon decided that cooking was his true passion.


Recently, Chef arrived in the United States, a land of opportunity, where he met the love of his life, Chef Barbara Alfano. Right here in Orlando, at the Peperoncino Cucina, they recreate some of the best dishes of Calabria and Southern Italy. Chef enjoys working together as a team, as a couple, and as a family. They enjoy being able to spend time together, doing what they both love. They incorporate their love and passion for Italy in every dish. Chef says, “It is the best thing of my life.”


Although Chef Danilo loves being a chef, he didn’t lose his passion for motorcycle sport racing. He follows his favorite Italian professional racers, such as Valentino Rossi, as well as Americans Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden. Coming soon – a Peperoncino racing bike!


Chef realized that there is a need for an authentic Italian pizzeria, serving favorites such as Margarita, Capricciosa, and Quattro Stagioni. By the end of the month, Chef Barbara and Chef Danilo will open a brand new addition, Peperoncino Pizzeria, adjacent to Peperoncino Cucina, adding 100 extra seats. Similar to Pepernicino Cucina, the pizzeria will offer a signature menu, inspired by original Italian recipes and local fresh ingredients.


In addition to dining in the restaurant, Peperoncino will offer pizza delivery. One can also arrange a personal Chef experience in the comfort of your own home. For more information, please call (407) 440-2856 or visit 7988 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando, FL 32819
Peperoncino Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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.”


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!”


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!


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.”


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!


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!


“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!”


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.’”


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!