Tempting treats to tantalize the tongue


Rolling out strudel dough at Dunaalmási Lovarda, a Hungarian family farm and cooking school.

“Just take one bite. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat a second.” I can still hear my mom’s cajoling words when I turned up my nose or clenched my mouth tight. Light years later, those very words slipped out of my mouth when my picky-eater daughter would refuse to eat what I had cooked. Fortunately for both of us, now world class champions of trying a bite of something unfamiliar (no insects, please… I can only bend so far!), the “try one bite rule” has enabled us to travel across many countries and continents, devouring many new foods along the way.

Tour Touts Tasty Treats in Tony Winter Park

Widowmaker: a killer pizza from Prato in Winter Park. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Widowmaker: a killer pizza from Prato in Winter Park. photo by Karen Kuzsel

If food tours were people, they’d be my new besties.
What’s not to like? On the tours I’ve taken, you make stops at locally known restaurants and stores to sample a dish and/or an adult beverage the hosts hope entices your return. More than just a walking tour through a neighborhood catering to a particular ethnicity or style of food, I enjoy the running commentary by amiable tour guides about iconic architecture and historic anecdotes that are typically included. My recent Sunday afternoon strolling along sunny Park Avenue in the upscale neighborhood of Winter Park, FL with my husband Russ and our friends, Sandy and Dom Pizzarusso, for the three-hour jaunt with Orlando Food Tours was one of our best food tours to date.
There are several reasons why this particular tour looked to be a winner even before we hooked up with our guide, Marshall, and the other eight folks on our tour. (The groups are usually no more than a dozen anywhere to facilitate conversation and easier serving for the various venues.)
One, Orlando Food Tours is a fairly new company so we were eager to jump on a LivingSocial coupon that discounted the price a tad. Everyone loves a bargain, right? Having that discount pushed us to try this unknown company’s offering. Second, even a fussy eater like my husband (a meat and potatoes Iowa man who can’t eat shellfish) would be able to indulge in each of the offerings. And that brings up another reason. Most tours don’t tell you exactly where you’re going or what types of food you’ll sample. This tour gives you the rundown upfront, with the stipulation that there could be last minute substitutions. On our registration form, we were even asked if we Read more

Food Fads for Functions: Comfort Food vs Healthy Choices

Checkerboard Salad cools with summery colors and refreshing tastes

Checkerboard Salad cools with summery colors and refreshing tastes. photo by Karen Kuzsel

What’s hot, what’s not lists usually don’t pique my curiosity but the Orlando chapter of the National Association of Catering and Events (NACE) cast a spell that had me drooling before I’d even registered for their monthly meeting. Not only was Mark Leggett, owner and designer for Arthur’s Catering going to be discussing food trends for events, but I was going to get to finally satisfy one of my “wonder what this would taste like” cravings.
Now I have piqued your interest, right?
About two years ago, I did a Prevue Magazine story that focused on why a meeting planner’s group returned to the Four Seasons in Phoenix, AZ for their annual conference. While not the only reason her group loved the resort, she said they couldn’t stop raving about the juicy cheeseburger sandwiched between a grilled glazed donut served at their western theme night barbecue. I couldn’t wrap my taste buds around this imagined flavor profile of the sweet donut soaked in the juices of a savory burger.
You know how when you first hear about something, then all of a sudden you seem to hear about it frequently? So it was with this burger, but I had yet to taste one for myself.
That all changed when the menu for NACE’s evening of “Comfort Food vs Healthy Choices: the clash between good and better” teased that one of the butler-passed mini-options would be a Krispy Kreme Burger enhanced by bacon and cheese.
It did not disappoint.
That said, I think the slider was the perfect size because there were so many other delightful dishes being presented that evening at the Ocoee Lakeshore Center and I wanted to taste all of them. There were Rosemary Potato Flatbread, a crunchy bite of Chicken & Waffle, and a Korean Pork Taco Read more


Taking a break from a Cooking class at an Orlando Marriott World Center. They presented me with the apron embroidered with my name.

Taking a break from a Cooking class at an Orlando Marriott World Center. They presented me with the apron embroidered with my name.

Some people eat to live.
I live to eat.
Cooking and baking are two of my passions. Thank goodness a third one is exercising (as long as music and dance are involved) or I’d weigh hundreds of pounds. My tongue waters as the smell of onions and garlic sizzling in a hot oiled pan assail my nose like the sweetest of perfumes. Fresh baked cookies, pizza, or a marinated pork roast simmering in caraway-infused sauerkraut… any and all of those aromas and my taste buds perk up like a child’s ears attuned to adults trying to whisper forbidden conversation.
I grew up in an Eastern European Jewish home and learned to cook and bake dishes from those ethnic cultures at the hands of my more than capable grandmothers, aunts and my Mom. A pinch of this. A dash of that. Smell. Toss. Stir. Experiment.
Our military service family moved frequently from state-to-state, country-to-country. Each time my Mom learned to cook like the natives. The education of my palate began early and by the Read more


Mount Rushmore handcrafted in solid milk chocolate at the World of Chocolate Museum & Cafe'. photo by Karen Kuzsel.

Mount Rushmore handcrafted in solid milk chocolate at the World of Chocolate Museum & Cafe’. photo by Karen Kuzsel.

Russell Crowe’s movie, “Noah” has me seeing things in pairs.
I first noticed that the small strip mall near my house contains three sets of restaurants: Chinese, barbeque, and Italian. I thought it odd that a second restaurant would come into the same plaza with a similar menu, but then noticed venues recreating in the same manner.
As an active member of both the Orlando area chapters of MPI (Meeting Professionals International) and ISES (International Special Events Society), I attend meetings at many newly-opened venues that cater to corporate and leisure groups. The latest pairs are upscale bowling alleys, museums about chocolate, and the unfolding of Diagon Alley, the famed street favored by wizards, witches and now muggles.
I was frankly curious how an upscale bowling alley would differ from the ones I used to frequent. And what exactly does one do at a museum about chocolate other than dream of mouth-melting morsels sans calories? Will the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley be as skillfully-replicated as its Hogsmeade counterpart at Universal Orlando Resorts’ Islands of Adventure?
So here’s what I’ve discovered.
Both Chocolate Kingdom and The World of Chocolate Museum & Café are surrounded by the trappings of Orlando’s famed tourism districts. Both museums offer amusing and educational guided tours of how chocolate went from being a drink only the wealthy could afford to the favorite reason to crash a diet, including the ever-popular “It’s dark chocolate so its oxidants are healthy for you” excuse. Both museums offer limited chocolate samples along the roughly 45-minute interactive tour, have event space, and each has a convenient gift store. That’s where the similarities end. Here’s what makes each of them stand out. Read more


Hoo has personality!

Hoo has personality! photo by Karen Kuzsel

If wishes were dreams that come true, being able to take culinary classes in high school would have been near the top of my list. As easy as it would be for me to be envious of the 193 students who participated in the competition segments of the Orange County (FL) Public School’s 4th Annual Hospitality and Culinary Competition, I am instead grateful to have once again witnessed the incredible creative and skilled talent they exhibited.
The December competition held annually at the Orlando World Center Marriott broadens the number of categories and participating schools and tech centers each year who offer culinary and/or hospitality training. Competition categories include: gourmet meals, desserts, knife skills, decorative centerpieces, edible centerpieces, and waiter’s relay. The hospitality portion, which I didn’t see, includes room inspection, case study analysis and project presentation.
This was my fourth year of judging. The first time I agreed to sample desserts in the early morning. As lovely as some of those sweets were that crossed my lips and went straight to my hips, I have happily judged the presentation of edible centerpieces for the past three years if for no other reason than to stand in awe of what these students craft in an hour.
penguin holiday

penguin holiday. photo by Karen Kuzsel

The Marriott prepared an amazing buffet in multiple stations for the judges and students and then awards are presented for the top places in each category. After smelling the aromas of gourmet meals and desserts being prepared tableside across the cavernous ballroom for a few hours, you can understand why there’s a mad rush for the buffet tables when given the OK signal.
Before I name the participating schools, tech centers and winners, I encourage anyone who would like to witness or impact future generations of hospitality and culinary stars to contact Patricia Breeding for next year’s team of volunteers. 407-317-3200,ext 2690 or  Patricia.breeding@ocps.net.
Don’t take just my word that this program is beneficial. Dave Robitaille, MS, MT (ASCP) and Program Specialist and Administrator for the Health Science Career and Technical Education at OCPS says, “The data overwhelmingly shows that students enrolled in CTE programs have a greater chance of completing high school and going to college than non-CTE students. So, CTE programs should not be looked at as an alternative for students not bound for college. On the contrary, if parents want their children to go to college, they should encourage them to enroll in a CTE program.”
The high schools who participated are: Colonial, Cypress Creek, Freedom, Wekiva, Winter Park, Oak Ridge, Gateway School, and Dr Phillips. Tech centers include  Mid Florida Tech, Westside Tech, and Orlando Tech. Sponsors included the Marriott, Keiser University, Johnson and Wales University, and the CFHLA.
The edible Christmas tree and friends. photo by Karen Kuzsel

The edible Christmas tree and friends. photo by Karen Kuzsel


School Home School Student Name
Non – Edible Centerpiece      
First place Cypress Creek HS   Riani Pokipala
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Cassidy Brown
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Sofia Fernandez
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Madison Fitch
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Tia Humphries
Edible Centerpiece      
First place Mid Florida Tech University HS Christine Hernandez
Second place Mid Florida Tech Edgewater HS Kristopher Davis
Third place Mid Florida Tech Cypress Creek Jamie Pena
Dessert High School      
First place Gateway School   Heriberto Lopez
First place Gateway School   Josue Cabrales
Second place Cypress Creek HS   Grant Baldinger
Second place Cypress Creek HS   Jessica Butler
Third place Winter Park HS   Daniella Sauri
Third place Winter Park HS   Raham Elsayed
DessertTech Center      
First place Westside Tech Wekiva HS Zakoya Hall
First place Westside Tech Evans HS Devante McDonald
Second place Westside Tech West Orange HS Kristi Caruana
Second place Westside Tech West Orange HS Lauren Harms
Gourmet Meal      
First place Winter Park HS   Melissa Morales
First place Winter Park HS   Antonio Cepero
First place Winter Park HS   Angelique Allison
Second place Winter Park HS   Joey Goldberg
Second place Winter Park HS   Laura Johnson
Second place Winter Park HS   Foley Flood
Third place Winter Park HS   Caleb Johnson
Third place Winter Park HS   Julie Phicien
Third place Winter Park HS   Amber Negron
Gourmet MealTech Center      
First place Westside Tech West Orange HS Angela Cippilone
First place Westside Tech West Orange HS Brandon Santiago
First place Westside Tech West Orange HS Abby Johnson
Second place Mid Florida Tech Cypress Creek Emmanuel Arboleda
Second place Mid Florida Tech University HS Raquel Amador
Second place Mid Florida Tech University HS Desiree Perez
Knife Skills      
First place Orlando Tech Winter Park HS Yafreicy Rodriguez
Second place Mid Florida Tech Dr Phillips HS Fransheska Whittington
Third place Westside Tech Wekiva HS Latasha Morris


Waiter’s Relay      
First place Freedom HS   Luis Alvarado
First place Freedom HS   Ysenia Palomino
First place Freedom HS   Lourdes Sanchez
Second place Colonial HS   Christine Ortiz Hernandez
Second place Colonial HS   Nathaniel Morales
Second place Colonial HS   Angel Dones
Third place Orlando Tech University HS Jessica Rivera
Third place Orlando Tech University HS Gabrielle Tursi
Third place Orlando Tech University HS Adrianna Colon


A cantelope tiki hut shields birds of a feather. photo by Karen Kuzsel

A cantelope tiki hut shields birds of a feather. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Hospitality Competition Winners

Event School Home School Student Name
Hospitality Competition      
First place – Overall Dr Phillips HS   Tia Humphries
First place Dr Phillips HS   Cassidy Brown
First place Dr Phillips HS   Madison Fitch
First place Dr Phillips HS   Sofia Fernandez
Second place- Overall Colonial HS   Yarissa Pena
Second place Colonial HS   Meagan Ojeda
Second place Colonial HS   Noe Hernandez
Second place Colonial HS   Lesly Lopez
Third place – Overall Mid Florida Tech Lake Nona HS Angie Grunskyte
Third place Mid Florida Tech West Orange HS Jadia Johnson
Third place Mid Florida Tech Cypress Creek HS Sasha Gatti
Third place Mid Florida Tech Wekiva HS Deja Miller

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com. @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.

Orlando Dining Districts go Magical in September


roasted beets surround the Duck Confit Salad. photo by Karen Kuzsel

  Some people eat to live. I live to eat. OK, so maybe I should qualify that a tad. I vigorously exercise on a fairly consistent basis so that I can eat what I want, (and almost) when I want. When travelling, I studiously ponder restaurant menus, ogling descriptions of mouth-watering dishes combined in an inventive manner that utilize that region’s flavors and locally-produced ingredients. Food fascinates me. I want to taste, touch, smell, and ingest ethnic flavors and chef-crafted creations.
            You only have to watch the Food Network for a day, or peruse the limitless selections of cookbooks pandering to diverse diets to know food has become so much more than a simple meal prepared quickly. A hamburger doesn’t raise eyebrows unless it’s been stuffed with artisan cheeses, farm-fresh bacon, shredded glazed meats, exotic mushrooms, caramelized onions, or sauces. Even with a suffering economy, a fine dining experience (and whatever that means to your personal palette) is still a beacon that draws one through a restaurant’s doors.
            I am not alone in wanting to awe my taste buds. Convention & Visitor Bureaus and city governments have discovered that defining dining districts attracts arts, entertainment and shopping businesses, which then creates a community persona that’s easy to market.   
            Fort Worth has the West 7th Street Corridor, formerly a light industrial space converted into hip eateries and bars that becomes a raucous block party for private groups. Uptown Charlotte (NC) is actually their downtown, Read more

Simple & Savory Fall Faves from Spa Chefs focus on Healthy(er) Choices

Individual Vegetable Pizzetta from Golden Door (Spa)–a savory snack to put a smile even on a meat-lover’s face!

If money and time were as plentiful as the weeds trying to overtake my yard, I’d take cooking classes around the world from culinary master chefs –particularly if they share delectable but low-calorie recipes, and I’d wallow in spa service treatments bent on improving my emotional spirit while unknotting muscles cramped tighter than a woman wearing high heels during a day-long shopping binge across tiled floors.

With the impending escalation of activity that scurries in with Fall, time seems to becomes as stretched thin as a resistance tube just before it snaps harshly apart. Menu selection and preparation becomes as painstakingly deliberate as planning battlefield strategy: how many people, what’s the occasion (school lunches, executive dinner, client meal, tail gating party, or holiday banquet), the budget, the environment, and for goodness sakes, how many different dietary selections should be offered?

Don’t panic. Even if you’re not a gourmet cook, don’t have the budget Read more

Dragonfly: a Zen Garden of Taste, Texture and Ambiance

Cobra Kai sushi roll

 “If you’re expecting Dragonfly to be a traditional sushi restaurant, then you need to think again,” utters my friend Julienne, a once-a-week sushi-holic with whom I recently dined at the year-old hot Orlando spot. “Sushi restaurants usually focus on the food, not on the décor. This place has the ambiance you’d expect in a San Francisco restaurant, with mood lighting and modern high-style. The music is contemporary and low enough you can have a conversation. The long couch in the lounge bar area invites mingling. This place is visually stunning. Perfect for date night or with all the indoor and outdoor private space, great for groups wanting to meet in a fashionable, comfortable setting.” 

 Dragonfly does indeed have ambiance. The restaurant is designed with three key elements in mind: sensual, spiritual and savory. Sensory is easy. There are those deep red spots of color on pillows, seat backs or drop down curtains that shield private spaces for group dining and the contrasting smoothness of river rock crusted cabinets and scalloped baseboards.  Cork flooring pads against clicking heels. Latticed wood screens contribute to the gentle flow of the restaurant. A European walnut tree previously cut down was creatively reimagined into an expansive sushi bar counter. “We believe in sustainability, both in our décor and in our food,” notes Dave Talpasz, GM for Dragonfly. Even the restrooms havea zen spa quality, with stall walls of hand-painted gold swirls and stone basins.

Read more