James Katurakes, known as Chef K, is the Executive Chef at the Orange County Convention Center. He is classically trained by some of the world’s best chefs and consistently cooks for large events, which is no small feat (pun intended!).
An Interview with Chef K
What cuisine is your specialty?
I’ve made it a mission to work in all kinds of venues with multi-faceted cuisines so that I am well-equipped to prepare any type of meal. However, throughout my career, I’ve worked with a lot of Master Chefs, and the one type of cuisine I have always enjoyed is artisan, handcrafted meals. Using fresh, local ingredients and creating dishes the right way, with the right intentions, has always been my goal. Adding a human touch to a dish with a chef’s passion for those ingredients is unbeatable.
If you could travel anywhere in the world to eat for one week, where would it be and why?
I would go to Asia. Everything is based on what’s available at the market that day. I think that is an exceptional way to create a meal. It brings us back to the basics that we sometimes forget.
Who had the biggest influence on the way you cook, and why?
My high school teacher, Mr. Elmer Passwater. He saw my potential and encouraged me to start competing in my craft, which ultimately led to my career.
If you weren’t a chef, what would your dream job be?
I’ve always loved the islands. I don’t think I could ever be anything other than a chef, though. I love the opportunities it provides and the look on a guests face when they taste a dish that truly changes them. It would be a dream come true to run the kitchen at a resort like Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
What advice would you share with chefs just beginning their careers?
Exposure is one of the most important things you can gain as a young chef. Watching chefs create meals and work with ingredients is the most underrated task a young chef can take on. The visual experience is one of the best ways to learn and one of the things we should never be afraid to ask for or seek out.
Chef K’s Thoughts on Orlando’s Food Scene
Where do you shop locally for interesting ingredients?
Enson Market in Chinatown. They have the freshest noodles and produce. You can’t beat it.
What’s your go-to meal at home?
I’m on a big Indian kick these days. Butter chicken, samosas, biryani, and curry – lots of curry!
What is your favorite local restaurant?
Pio Pio. Their flavors are outstanding, and their prices are reasonable for the value and flavor.
If you could change one thing about Orlando’s food scene, what would it be?
I wish for the synergies that local food purveyors and communities have in places like California. In Florida, we are too fragmented, and we don’t celebrate the local cuisine and flavors as much as we should. There’s a sense of love and pride that those places have for their food scene that I don’t think we’ve quite explored yet.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’ve been in this building for 26 years, and the opportunities that have presented themselves from the partnership between Sodexo Live! and the Orange County Convention Center are unmatched. With Sodexo Live!, we have a unique position to bring experience and talent to the building and to our clients so that we can present our guests with the best possible food and overall experience for their events. Sodexo Live! offers its know-how in hospitality and culinary excellence to create tailor-made offers and transfix places and events. With the Convention Center being as renowned as it is, we are fortunate to host clients from across the globe and utilize those resources to provide world-class hospitality.
For more Chef Q&A’s, visit our archives.