Orlando Doesn't Have a Signature Dish And Would Like One. Can You Help?
The finalists in a highly important contest to help further define Central Florida's regional cuisine have been selected, and you have until November 9 to vote.
Honey. That's what they're going with. That's what Orlando, known around the world for theme park foods like smoked turkey legs, Dole Whip, corn dog nuggets and Mickey Bars, thinks they should be known for.
Okay, fair enough—they've got a lot of bees down there in Central Florida, and a lot of citrus trees, too; if there's one foodstuff that's easy to acquire locally, it's honey. But Buffalo didn't rocket to stardom on the backs of, say, root vegetables, or whatever else you can coax out of that usually-frozen ground; they don't grow cheese steaks on trees in Philadelphia, they make them from ingredients that may not even be real food. (Have you ever read the label on the Cheez Whiz jar?)
But someone down there in Mouse Land seems really committed to the idea. And so, Orlando, in a partnership between local government and the city's tourism office, is doing a contest, one that has invited chefs from around Central Florida to craft the city's new signature dish, using—you guessed it—honey.
Locals, predictably, are having a field day.
"An exercise in futility," is how Scott Joseph, the city's best-known food critic, described the contest, in a blog post. He reminded readers of the last time this happened, when someone ran a contest and the winner was alligator ribs.
"And that's why you see gator ribs on just about every menu in town and people the world over say, 'You must have the gator ribs when you go to Orlando.'"
They don't say that. He's joking. Try alligator meat, sometime. It's…interesting.
Plenty of chefs have thrown their hat in the ring for the latest effort to define Orlando food, even if that's something like trying to bottle lightning—a relatively new, highly transient, and astonishingly diverse regional culture is not so easily codified. Compound that with the fact that the city is still best known as the home of Mickey and Minnie, and you have yourself a whole mess of confusion.
In the end, however, all giant question marks aside, roughly thirty chefs have managed to come up with honey-specific desserts for the competition—through November 9, members of the public are encouraged to vote for their favorite; later on, a panel of professionals including Chef Art Smith will judge the ten semi-finalists, crowning one of them a winner. Don't know about you, but we're planning to retire to Orlando early. To sell honey-based desserts. They're going to be huge.