The Ocala Culinary Festival promises indulgence and inspiration in equal measure.
When the Ocala Culinary Festival debuted last spring, its creators hoped to inspire and delight their hometown with a few days of culinary magic. The overwhelming response to the event told them their instincts were right on target.
“We were overwhelmed with how positive the response was, and hearing all the feedback and appreciation was very energizing,” says Jennifer Murty, co-founder of the festival with Elodie Perron, co-owner of La Cuisine French Restaurant with her husband, Chef Patrice Perron.
The energy that they’ve channeled into the 2018 event—along with a stellar lineup of talent—promises to make this year’s festival truly amazing.
“Even though last year was over the top, this year will be far better,” says participating local chef Randal White of the Ocala Hilton, who is also on the advisory board for the festival. “It’s a fabulous opportunity for Ocala to showcase these culinary talents; we all learn to do better through each other.”
Indeed, festival coordinators have outdone themselves with the international roundup of participating chefs.
“We have chefs coming from Haiti,” Jennifer adds, referring to the much-anticipated evening that benefits the James Beard Foundation. “Haitian cuisine is inspired by French cooking, and because of all their island has endured, the chefs have had to be resourceful. We’re looking forward to seeing them give us the best examples of what Haitian cuisine looks—and tastes—like. And a representative from the James Beard Foundation will be attending.”
“The James Beard Foundation is like the Academy Awards for the culinary world. What they represent is excellence, so it’s a great honor to host this dinner,” says Robin Fannon, local cooking expert and regular Ocala Style contributor. Fannon is also a member of the festival’s advisory board.
“The fact that we’re having a Haitian theme makes it stand out,” notes Fannon, who has been immersed in planning the decorating details for the dinner, which will be held at her home. “I know this is going to be a sell-out success; we’re expecting about 80 people to attend. A lot of people don’t realize that Haitian island cuisine is really more French Creole, so this will be a unique evening—definitely not cookie-cutter!”
To keep things fresh and exciting, all of the venues are different from last year’s festival, and events will be held at various locations throughout Marion County. Timing is everything, and the festival was planned to coincide with one of the loveliest times of year in North Central Florida.
Ocala Style is proud to be the exclusive local magazine sponsor of the Ocala Culinary Festival. And thanks to the success of last year’s festival, the 2018 festival has increased media coverage.
“When we were planning the festival, we realized one of the most important things we could bring was media coverage, so we’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to food magazines about covering it,” explains Jennifer. “The Local Palate, a national magazine with regional emphasis, will be attending the festival and reporting on the events via social media.”
Proceeds from the inaugural festival in 2017 helped support a number of local charitable organizations. In 2018, the Ocala Culinary festival continues this trend. One local group the festival will contribute to is the Forest High School Culinary Program.
“Students in the culinary program volunteered last year, and we wanted to honor their exemplary, can-do spirit by contributing financially to their program,” says Jennifer. “We thoroughly enjoyed working with such enthusiastic volunteers.”
Mark your calendar for the Ocala Culinary Festival, April 11-15, 2018. Your taste buds will be forever grateful.
Schedule Of Events
A GOURMET TASTE OF HAITI
Wednesday, April 11, 6pm at a private home in the Ocala Historic District
Two celebrated Haitian chefs will showcase their island’s unique flavors during a multi-course dinner, including cocktails by the festival’s official mixologist. The evening benefits the James Beard Foundation.
COOKING LOCAL WITH CHEF DIMITRI POMAKIS
Wednesday, April 11, 6:30pm at Feta Mediterranean Cuisine
Enjoy the best of Greek-inspired cuisine and locally sourced ingredients, along with some of the chef’s favorite, not-so-local Greek wines.
SARAH’S CHEESE-MAKING CLASS
Thursday, April 12, 10am at Rose Farm Kitchen
Attendees will learn how to handcraft their own fresh, hand-stretched mozzarella. The class also includes an at-home cheese-making kit to keep.
GRILL CLINIC WITH ROBYN LINDARS a.k.a. GRILL GIRL
Thursday, April 12, 11:30am at Trilogy’s Salted Brick
Saturday, April 14, 3:30pm at Trilogy’s Salted Brick
Participants in this educational and entertaining class learn about grilling healthy, flavorful dishes on both charcoal and gas grills.
Thursday, April 12, 6:30pm at Silver Springs State Park
Experience the magic of Silver Springs State Park as it changes from day to night, with a cocktail in hand by mixologist Brenda Terry. Then, after dark, enjoy a sumptuous but casual feast reflecting the best examples of Southern cuisine by award-winning Chef Brian Whittington.
COOKING WITH THE KING OF SPICE
Friday, April 13, 11am at Rose Farm Kitchen
Cook alongside the chef to create—and then enjoy—a dinner of exciting flavors inspired by the Caribbean.
THE ART OF COCKTAILS
Friday, April 13, 3-4:30pm at Trilogy’s Salted Brick
Saturday, April 14, 3-4:30pm at Trilogy’s Salted Brick
An inspiring afternoon workshop shares the art and science behind mixing the perfect cocktail.
FEAST AT THE FARM WITH CHEF KATIE BUTTON
Friday, April 13, 6pm at Bridlewood Farm
Experience a cocktail reception and multi-course, seated dinner by esteemed Chef Katie Button in the scenic setting of a classy thoroughbred farm.
LUNCH WITH THE WAGNER FAMILY WINES
Saturday, Saturday, April 14, 12pm at Oak House
This guided tasting, paired with a light lunch, features the cherished Caymus Cabernet Sauvignons of the Wagner Family’s vineyards from Napa Valley, as well as an introduction to the expanded portfolio of the next generation of Wagner Family wines.
Sunday, April 15 at Ocala’s Art Park (adjacent to the Train Station and Tuscawilla Park)
- Early access, 11am–4pm
- General admission, 12pm–4pm
Festivalgoers mingle and celebrate with chefs, winemakers, mixologists and culinary vendors in a casual outdoor setting where they’ll eat and drink the best the festival has to offer.
Meet The Chefs And Talents
Some of the best chefs and culinary talents in the Sunshine State—and far beyond—will be showcased at this year’s festival. From Ocala’s own to the world’s finest, festival attendees will enjoy an extraordinary array of gastronomic genius!
Chef Anthony Lamas
His Louisville, Kentucky, restaurant, Seviche, has emerged as one of America’s best and most innovative Nuevo Latino restaurants. The 2011 Food Network Extreme Chef winner, Chef Lamas has been a featured chef at numerous culinary events and festivals. He was honored as a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef: Southeast award” in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Chef Katie Button
Executive chef and co-owner of of Cúrate Bar de Tapas and Nightbell in Asheville, North Carolina, Chef Button is known for her unique blend of food cultures (Spanish and Southern). One of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2015, Chef Button hosted an international television series, The Best Chefs in the World.
“Grill Girl” Robyn Lindars
This fire-obsessed foodie is the presence behind grillgirl.com, a site dedicated to all things cooked over fire. Robyn has been featured on numerous cooking shows. A trained Florida BBQ Association judge, she also competes in barbecue-cooking competitions.
Chef Stephan B. Durand
Born and raised in Haiti, Durand is an award-winning chef who’s received much recognition for his work not only as a chef but also for the creation and organization of Gout et Saveurs Lakay—Haiti Food & Spirits Festival and Taste of Haiti in Miami.
Chef Lucmann Pierre
Haitian-born Chef Pierre is founder of Le Pierre Caterers, a full-service, off-premises catering company based in Sudbury, Massachusetts. The award-winning chef has worked with dignitaries around the world and has been a guest on several television and radio programs, including NBC’s Today Show.
Chef Dimitri Pomakis
Locals know Chef Pomakis for his talents at Feta Mediterranean Cuisine, which he owns in Ocala, where his Greek heritage and talent for using locally sourced ingredients are both on display.
Chef Randal White
Author and television personality Chef White hones his craft as executive chef at the Ocala Hilton where he is known and loved for his talented take on Southern fusion.
Chef Jerzy Gonzalez
A private chef in the greater Philadelphia area, Chef Gonzalez trained at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. She’s been whipping up delectable culinary creations for nearly 15 years and has become one of the region’s most sought-after personal chefs.
Chef Keith Lorren
Classically trained, Chef Lorren has worked behind the scenes at the Food Network Studios developing recipes for top shows and has been a guest on several television and radio programs including NBC’s Today Show, Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games and Travel Channel’s Park Secrets.
An artist when it comes to cocktails, Brenda Terry, the festival’s official mixologist, practices her craft at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club. From fashioning classic tipples to creating original recipes, Brenda has created one-of-a-kind libations for various bars, restaurants and brands all over the world.
Chef Brian Whittington
Nominated by the James Beard Foundation as one of the best chefs in the South, Chef Whittington’s restaurant, Preserved, in St. Augustine, is hailed as one of the South’s best new restaurants. Chef Whittington has been invited to participate in such television shows as Bravo’s Top Chef, Alton Brown’s Cut Throat Kitchen and, most recently, the Grill Iron.
As a Certified Specialist in Wine and Certified Sommelier from Court of Masters, Caymus Vineyards in California, Danielle Christensen shares her knowledge of all things wine related to enhance any meal.
A graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Adam Fehrenbacher makes his home in Gainesville, Florida. After more than 20 years of working as a chef for various successful restaurants, he has branched out on his own to open Fehrenbacher’s Artisan Sausages with his wife, Tatania.
Chef Patrice Perron
Born and raised in Lyon, France, Patrice Perron, executive chef and proprietor at La Cuisine, moved to Ocala to open a French restaurant in 2009.
Chef Rick Alabaugh
With more than 35 years pursuing a successful career in the culinary arts, Rick Alabaugh enjoys experimenting with food combinations and flavors to create dishes that are “innovative, fresh, full of flavor and visually appealing.” He’s been executive chef at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club since 2002.
Chef Wallace Phaire
After graduating from Johnson & Wales University, Chef Phaire returned to the Caribbean, where he was born and raised, to expand his craft and influence the island cuisine. He now serves as the executive chef of Salted Brick at Trilogy in Ocala, where he shares the fruits of his travels, diverse flavors and culinary passion.
In August 2015, local Jose Juarez, aka The BarbaCuban, was announced the winner of the national contest, America’s New Grill Star, put on by the Live with Kelly and Michael show. His winning dish (the Cuban Missile burger) had a key ingredient: his special 455 sauce. Recently, Jose has developed other new sauces inspired by his Cuban heritage.
Chef Loring Felix
After a restaurant career spanning 40 years at the helm of many of Ocala’s most successful restaurants, Chef Loring Felix has struck out on his own to open a catering company, The Fiery Chef. He’s also started writing a blog of the same name.
Martha Jane Davis
Martha is the longtime local caterer behind as many special moments as there are live oaks standing in Ocala. Martha’s catering company, Woodlea Gardens, is the epitome of Ocala’s warm Southern hospitality.
Rashad Jones is an Ocala resident who launched Big Lee’s Serious About BBQ in 2014 from a food truck to rave reviews, quickly earning a large following of barbecue enthusiasts. Recently, he won his own Food Network pilot called Eat, Sleep BBQ after competing on Food Network’s Guy’s Big Project for the opportunity.
Roshini (Chef Rosh for short) will be traveling to the festival from Houston, Texas, to share her unique style of fusion cooking. In 2009, Chef Rosh was awarded “Chopped Champion” on the Food Network‘s show Chopped. Recognized as one of the top Indian chefs in the United States, she frequently supports world-class food and wine festivals.
Damon Vitale & Jamie Green
Damon and Jamie are instructors with the Marion Technical College Culinary Arts program. Their extensive experience in the United States Air Force serving chiefs of staff, officers, distinguished guests and foreign heads of state has become a valuable resource to their students. Damon and Jamie will showcase their culinary skills at the Grand Tasting and join a group of local chefs who will provide hospitality and logistical support to out-of-town talent.
Rondo Fernandez is by far Ocala’s most recognized restaurateur and philanthropist. His Mojo Grill & Catering services some of the largest events in our community, and his experience has been invaluable as a board member of the Ocala Culinary Festival.
What To Know
Ticketed events are all inclusive of food, drinks and gratuity. Attendance for each event is limited, and tickets sell out quickly, especially for some of the smaller, more intimate experiences, so don’t delay. Tickets may be purchased online at ocalaculinaryfestival.com.