The 20th Annual Chef’s Gala: a lavish event for a very good cause.

The 20th Annual Chef's Gala will be held on May 19 at the Epcot World Showplace. (Photo by Dave Raith).

ORLANDO – It promises to be lavish and extravagant, an event that’s as exciting to attend as it is pleasurable for what gets served: meals by some of the top chefs in Central Florida’s best known restaurants.
The 20th Annual Chef’s Gala will be held at Epcot’s World Showplace on Saturday, May 19, and more than 20 prominent chefs have been preparing gourmet dishes and desserts for this special affair, food that will get paired with fine wines throughout the evening. Consider the options that will be available: roasted lamb with a Moroccan salad, courtesy of the culinary talents at Cinderella’s Royal Table at the Magic Kingdom; a veal tenderloin with potato pave and apple chips, brought to the event by the Bull & Bear Restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando; and Palmetto Creek Smoked Pork with sweet potatoes and smoked Gouda hash, prepared by the staff at the Graze Restaurant at Harmony Golf Preserve, among many others.
Tickets for the Chef’s Gala are $225 per person, $400 per couple, or $2,000 for a corporate package of 10 tickets. And if it sounds like an event that struggling local families simply could never afford to attend and are completely priced out of, the truth is those families are the ones who will benefit the most from this annual bash.
Billed as “A tasteful way to make a difference,” the Chef’s Gala has been held every year for the past two decades for the benefit of the Heart of Florida United Way, and this fund-raiser is designed to raise money used throughout the year so the non-profit agency can continue to assist families that are desperately in need – and to give them a helping hand.
On Tuesday, the United Way held a media advance preview of the Chef’s Gala, at Primo’s Restaurant at the JW Marriott Resort in South Orlando, offering samples of some of the dishes that will be served next month when the big event arrives.
The two co-chairs coordinating this year’s fund-raising event, Shawn Bartelt and Simon Hemus, said if it’s a success again this year, then the people assisted by the United Way are the ones who will eventually have the most to be thankful for.
“Last year this event raised $180,000, and this year we hope to go over $200,000, and 95 percent of that goes back into the community and is used for the good of the community,” said Hemus, the president and COO of Tupperware Brands Corporation. “Please continue to spread the message. We’re close to reaching our $200,000 goal. It will be a marvelous event.”

The media advance of the Chef's Gala featured samples of the gourmet foods that will be served at the main event, including this octopus salad. (Photo by Dave Raith).

The media advance preview is held so members of the local media can help spread the word in thatr crucial final month about the Chef’s Gala, in the hope that every last ticket gets sold, said Bartelt, the vice president and general manager of WFTV’s TV 27.
“To make this event the success it needs to be, we need your help,” she said. “This is one of the greatest events. The Chef’s Gala is just a pleasure to be involved in.”
Walt Disney World has served as the event host and sponsor of the Chef’s Gala for the past 20 years. Through Disney’s support, more than $1 million has been raised over the years for programs that serve this region’s most vulnerable residents.
“I actually volunteer in our community with families that are underprivileged,” Bartelt said, adding that the money raised by Chef’s Gala is used for a multitude of services.
“Sometimes it’s simple things like keeping a roof over families heads, by paying their electric bills and other utilities,” she said.
Proceeds from the Chef’s Gala help fund local health and human service programs supported by United Way that provide food, shelter and other services to Central Floridians in dire need. Last year, nearly 1,000 people attended the Chef’s Gala, and the money they spend on those tickets got channeled back into the United Way’s programs.

The food served at the 20th Annual Chef's Gala will be made by 20 of this region's top chefs. (Photo by Dave Raith).

“I was introduced to United Way in another life when I was back in New York, and it’s a wonderful organization,” Hemus said. “We don’t have anything like this in England.”
Hemus said he was also surprised to see how much poverty there is in Central Florida, that sadly needs to be addressed.
“Eleven percent of the people living in the corridor are under the poverty level, and coming from England, that’s a shock to us,” he said. “We thought everyone in the United States was well off.”
At the Chef’s Gala, gourmet dishes and desserts will be paired with fine wines, and sommeliers will be on hand to provide information about each wine and to discuss the pairings.
“Some of the finest restaurants in the area will be there,” Hemus said. “This year, there will be live music and dancing, and I was thinking for the first time, ‘I wonder if I can dance?’ and my wife told me, ‘No, you can’t.’ But nothing is going to stop me from dancing at this event.”
Michele Plant, the director of marketing and communications for the United Way, said she’s hopeful that every last ticket gets sold this year, as area residents learn just how exciting Chef’s Gala is going to be — and with the assistance of the local media getting the word out.
“We appreciate all of your help and support for us,” she said.
For more information or to purchase tickets for the Chef’s Gala, log on to www.chefsgala.org, email Chefsgala@hfuw.org, or call 407-429-2129.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.
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