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Chef Richard Blais brings new Four Flamingos dining to Orlando

by Susan and Simon Veness

Chef Richard Blais has carved out a major niche for himself as a celebrity chef, and now he is offering a new Orlando dining experience at one of the city’s most upscale resorts.

Chef Richard Blais Four Flamingos
Chef Richard Blais

The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress has been a flagship hotel for deluxe style since 1984 and, right on the doorstep of the Walt Disney World Resort, it now showcases the latest restaurant collaboration from the Blais partnership. It may even tempt diners away from Disney, too!

Fans of the TV series “Top Chef” will already be familiar with the lively, high-energy Blais style, which has also branched out into a number of cookbooks and other restaurant ventures, notably the FLIP Burger Boutique series.

Four Flamingos

His latest project, Four Flamingos, is sure to tantalize the tastebuds of fine-dining connoisseurs throughout Central Florida, especially as it comes with a range of carefully curated cocktails that are both highly imaginative and immensely powerful.

As he told us, “To me, it is a lot of things that remind me of my personal and family experiences in Florida. Obviously, every chef needs to focus on things that grow and are sourced near the restaurant, from the farms and coasts, but then the general theme is that I like to put a bubble around the geography, so that means the U.S. South, the cuisine of Florida itself, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

“That’s the general framework that we play in, and I love all those flavors. So for me it is one of my most exciting restaurants, because when I go out to eat, these are the type of flavors I’m looking for, and finally I’m getting the opportunity to produce them.”

Four Flamingos is the hotel’s second new restaurant in recent years, following the striking Lakehouse in 2016. Surprisingly, it is Blais’s first branded outlet in the Sunshine State, but it immediately comes with an impressive pedigree of guaranteed gourmet expertise.

When the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress first opened, it brought a new level of restaurant quality to town in the shape of Hemingway’s, its specialty dinner venue that offered a distinctly classy alternative to the profusion of chain outlets that had sprung up around Walt Disney World.

Orlando’s dining scene took a leaf out of the hotel’s book over the next 20 years or so, ensuring that America’s vacation Mecca was also known for distinctive dining as well as world-class theme parks, and that has led the hotel to its latest culinary undertaking.

The distinguished Hemingway’s has been retired after almost 37 years, and in its place comes Chef Blais’s concept of Four Flamingos, a lighter, more Florida-centric eatery, but still with the necessary cachet of dining exclusivity and style.

Four Flamingos interior

Hotel general manager Paul Joseph says, “We had yet to re-open Hemingway’s last year when Richard had just opened a new restaurant at a sister Hyatt hotel in California, and we were able to talk to him, bring him out here, walk him through the kitchen, and ask him ‘Is this something you think would be a good fit for you and for us?’

“He came out here, loved the location, loved the resort, and loved the kitchen, so we decided to make the change. I even talked to the staff about it because some of them have been here for so long, and people were attached to the Hemingway’s name, but this was the time to make a change, re-energize it, and try a new concept. Partnered with a celebrity chef, it ended up being a no-brainer.”

Four Flamingos retains the same space as its illustrious predecessor, with a few minor modifications, and keeps to the same smart-tropical vibe of the original while bringing in a new pink motif and additions such as a lobster tank. Because seafood is high up on the Florida food source list, it features prominently in Chef Blais’s menu, but with some ultra-modern tweaks.

Traditional elements like the shrimp cocktail and surf ’n turf are given a contemporary twist and high-tech variations from Richard’s dabblings with molecular gastronomy.

When he talks about “putting a bubble around things,” he means it both metaphorically and literally, with liberal use of a patented smoker system that adds smoke “bubbles” to dishes and cocktails alike.

Chef Richard Blais ceviche
Snapper Ceviche

He is also fond of mixing different flavors from regional cuisines, hence the sauce for his shrimp cocktail includes a generous — and extremely appetizing — helping of guava along with tomato, and his oysters come with delectable datil pepper and hibiscus hot sauce pearls, in Florida pink, of course.

Chef Richard Blais shrimp cocktail
Shrimp Cocktail

As a side note, the datil pepper is a historic product of St. Augustine, an original ingredient brought by Menorcan immigrants in the 18th century and now very much part of the state’s vintage culinary profile, albeit rarely seen outside the north-east region.

Flavors are big and bold, but also clean and sharp, and seafood fans will definitely want to try the Snapper Ceviche and Avocado Crab appetizers, as well as the eye-catching 16 ounce Swordfish Prime Rib “Neptune’s Cut,” and Florida Seafood “Moqueca,” a Brazilian take on a typical bouillabaisse, but using local fish.

Tuna Tostones with Passion Fruit Yolk
Tuna Tostones with Passion Fruit Yolk

Land-based appetites are definitely not forgotten, though, with the entrée choices of a Bacon-Wrapped Filet with boniato mash and truffle demi, and Chef Blais’s signature Dry Aged Beef Ribeye, “Thor’s Hammer,” a massive 22-ounce platter served with a jalapeño chimichurri.

The menu also features a “Feast of the Day” for the entire table to share, and the option of a whole or half lobster straight from the tank, prepared to order from a selection of three tasty preparations, including blackened and seared a la plancha.

Then there are the cocktails, and some serious mixology magic to go with this rich array of food. Master mixologist Ryan Ferraro has borrowed a leaf from Chef Blais’s selection of smoking gadgets for creations like the Florida Old Fashioned (Knob Creek bourbon, orange blossom bitters, spiced orange blossom honey syrup, shaken and then smoked) and Ponce’s Punch, which mixes orange-infused St. Augustine gin with Licor 43, passionfruit, and sage syrup.

Four Flamingos cocktails

Ferraro makes a point of blending all his own bitters and syrups from scratch, with daily refreshers, and that attention to detail comes through loud and clear on possibly his most artful creation, the Key Lime in the Coconut. Effectively a key lime martini, this magnificent concoction has all the taste of a classic key lime pie in liquid form, with its coconut foam adding a rich top note to go with the heavenly mix of Stoli Vanilla Vodka and Midori melon liqueur.

Key Lime in the Coconut martini
Key Lime in the Coconut martini

A huge amount of thought and preparation has gone into the Four Flamingos concept. It is fun, bright, and immensely inviting, with plenty of Chef Blais’s playful sense of humor to go with the serious culinary side from his resume of work in some of the finest restaurants in the world, which include The French Laundry in California and El Bulli in Spain, as well as numerous “Top Chef” appearances.

His passion for the new venue is crystal clear, but he is also anxious to make sure people know this is still a serious dining venture, as befits the award-winning hotel, and it continues to elevate Orlando’s restaurant profile, which still surprises many people in this most tourist-centric of locations.

Chef Blais insists, “What I really want Four Flamingos to be is not a tourist destination. That is important to me as an operating chef and it’s a little bit of a chip on our shoulder to make sure we’re producing cuisine and an experience that is not based on being in a tourist town but is good regardless of where it’s based.

“We can all use a break these days, though, and we want Four Flamingos to be a fun vacation experience whether you are away on a two-week getaway or a local taking a break for just a few hours.”

As locals, we can definitely attest to the blissful get-away-from-it-all quality of the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, and now it offers even more for those visiting this ever-popular destination.

But why ‘Four Flamingos,’ you may ask? Well, that’s because there are four flamingo species native to the Americas, and they do tend to gather here in Florida. Just like our tourists.

Four Flamingos is open for dinner daily from 5-10 p.m.

For more information, including menus, and make bookings, visit FourFlamingosOrlando.com.

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