Some of this region's top chefs are serving up gourmet meals for Saturday's Annual Chef's Gala event at Disney. (Photo by Dave Raith.)
LAKE BUENA VISTA – Start with a glass of sparkling wine at the Martini Bar reception. Then take a moment to think about the extravagant desserts awaiting you after the main meal, such as Disney’s Contemporary Resort Bakery serving Lemon Mascarpone Cheesecake with lavender-infused strawberries and Lemon Basil Ice Cream, or Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Bakery offering Caramel Milk Chocolate Gelato with Hazelnut Sponge and Caramel Vanilla Espuma.
Inbetween the wine and the desserts is a series of gourmet meals likely to take hours — yes, hours — to consume.
If that sounds like paradise, there’s still time to get on board. And if spending hours consuming gourmet cuisine sounds awfully indulgent, keep in mind the entire event serves a philanthropic cause: to assist families in Central Florida struggling to make ends meets in a rough economy.
On Saturday, Walt Disney World’s Epcot Showcase will be hosting the 20th Annual Chef’s Gala. For the past two decades, this event has become known as Central Florida’s premiere food and wine pairing event, an evening that starts at 6:45 p.m. with the sparkling wine and Martini Bar reception, along with a silent auction, then runs from 7:30 until 10 p.m. The main event for those who attend will be the opportunity to taste cuisine cooked up by more than 20 of this region’s top chefs.
For example, there will be demi-glaze and apple chips from the Waldorf Astoria Orlando; Florida-grown Heirloom Tomato Risotto with dried cherry from Disney’s California Grill; Pesto, Balsamic Demi Glace, Sweet Potato and Smoked Gouda Cake from Harmony Golf Preserve; and Red Wine Braised Florida Octopus with Sherry, courtesy of the Primo by Melissa Kelly restaurant.
The list goes on and on, with each meal including paired wines, desserts, live music and that silent auction.
Individual tickets to this event cost $225, with tickets for couples set at $400, and corporate ticket packages available for $2,000 for 10 people.
But this event isn’t just about promoting the culinary talents of Central Florida’s chefs at a time when the tourism and hospitality industry appears to be on the rebound and has become the leading industry for job growth in the state. This is, after all, a fund-raiser.
Proceeds from the Chef’s Gala go to support the Heart of Florida United Way and its funded programs that provide a multitude of services to local families — shelter, food and other basic necessities to people in desperate need.
The tickets sold at the Chef’s Gala could be used, for example, to help a local family pay a utility bill they can no longer afford, or cover their rent for a few months. Those dining on those luxurious meals at Epcot on Saturday can leave the event knowing that Central Florida not only has a lot of very talented chefs, but that a lot of local families can expect to benefit from this event in the coming months.
Last year, for example, this event raised more than $185,000 for local residents in need. That’s why the Chef’s Gala slogan has become Making a Tasteful Difference for 20 Years!
This year’s fund-raiser is being co-chaired by Shawn Bartelt, vice president and general manager of WFTV 9 and Central Florida’s TV 27, and Simon Hemus, president and COO of Tupperware Brands Corporation.
“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. ‘’We’re close to reaching our $200,000 goal. It will be a marvelous event.”
It will also be a rare opportunity, in a single night, to sample Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant’s Guinness-braised Beef Cheek with a Roasted Garlic Mashed Potato, along with Ristorante Tuscany’s housemade Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Saffron “Gnudi.”
For more information or to purchase tickets for the Chef’s Gala, log on to, email, or call 407-429-2129.
Heart of Florida United Way is a comprehensive health and human services charity and the largest provider of funds to the region’s health and human services programs. Last year it raised and managed $27.3 million throughout Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.

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