THE BLOG
01/28/2014 01:02 pm ET Updated Mar 29, 2014

From the Ivory Tower Kitchen: The Birth of a Culinary Renaissance

In an age when locavores and foodies scour the culinary scene for the next hotbed of gastronomic excitement, Central Florida has once and for all staked her claim as a legitimate culinary destination. A recent remarkable gathering of chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, farmers and suppliers at one of the nation's best known farms Lake Meadow Naturals in Ocoee, FL has set the foundation for what will undoubtedly evolve into a national example for how a diverse region can define itself to the culinary world.

My fellow chefs and I in the region have long believed that we are on par with the rest of the nation when it came to progressive and passionate championing of the resources of our region. And now, the venerable James Beard Foundation (JBF) through the Chef Action Network (CAN) thinks so as well. The first Central Florida JBF-CAN Salon for Food Policy and Action brought together thirty-five of some of the most prominent, articulate and passionate individuals for a day and half of spirited conversation and call to action to help improve the region's food system.

We cooked, socialized, toured, debated, spoke freely and laid the foundation for brisk and precise actions that will help us, not only define our culinary identity, but also help future generations preserve and celebrate the culinary bounty of our region. Chef Michel Nischan, President and CEO of Wholesome Wave, Katherine Miller of the Chef Action Network, and Kristopher Moon and Michelle Santoro of the James Beard Foundation helped the group think through critical issues relating to the sustainable identity of our region's culinary landscape.

During the event, Kendra Lott of Edible Orlando coined the phrase "SunshinePlate". In a matter of just a few days, the region is abuzz. The excitement is palpable. The passion is evident. The desire is real. And, best of all, the conversation and pride is sincere. And, if you don't believe me, ask the James Beard Foundation. For the first time, the JBF will announce its chef and restaurant semifinalists from outside New York City, and publicly, from the East End Market in Orlando on February 19th.

Look out everyone, #SunshinePlate will brighten your hopes and excite your palate, one plate at a time.

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Hari Pulapaka is a two-time James Beard nominated chef who serves on the Advisory Board of The Chef Action Network, a non-profit organization that connects chefs to tools and resources that will help them create significant and lasting change in their communities, the country and the world. CAN is focused on harnessing the power of America's preeminent chefs in support of a strong, sustainable, just and healthy food system. He and his wife Jenneffer, a podiatric surgeon own and run Cress restaurant in DeLand, FL. Hari also has a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Florida and is a full-time tenured Associate Professor of Mathematics at Stetson University in DeLand, FL.