Food and culture go hand in hand.
Food is part of virtually every culture’s rituals and traditions. Trying a new cuisine is an easy access point toward experiencing another person’s heritage.
To mark the occasion and celebrate the contributions of these cultures to Central Florida’s culinary scene, we have compiled a list of every AAPI chef, restaurateur and business owner who has been a guest on the Florida Foodie podcast.
Check out the Florida Foodie podcast. You can find every episode in the media player below:
Chris Chen, Phil Nguyen and Mike Cho all met in college as members of the same fraternity, Pi Delta Psi Fraternity Inc.
After college, the trio decided to come together to open a fast-casual Vietnamese restaurant, Viet-Nomz.
Since opening in 2016, the business partners have been able to expand their operations to three locations —Winter Park, Waterford Lakes and Lake Mary.
Sean “Sonny” Nguyen spent a lot of his childhood inside his family’s restaurants.
Nguyen — who owns Domu, along with several other restaurants — said he always had a love of cooking, but his parents actively discouraged him from working in restaurants.
Nguyen would work for the Bento Group from 2007 to 2016 when he first opened Domu at Orlando’s East End Market.
Nguyen describes Domu as a “neighborhood ramen shop.” The restaurant has been recognized by Michelin with a Bib Gourmand award, which honors high-quality food at reasonable prices.
Find every episode of Florida Foodie on YouTube:
Jae Lee and Jason Rom spend their days as software engineers, but in their downtime, they have two passions: jiu-jitsu and making and selling hot sauces and chili oils.
The pair run Tapped Sauces out of their homes in Satellite Beach.
The name comes from jiu-jitsu, where the goal is to get your opponent to submit or tap out.
Currently, Rom and Lee have two hot sauces and two chili oils in their line-up, all of which can be found in their online shop.
Chef Lewis Lin did not plan on being a restauranteur.
“I moved here in 2006,” Lin said. “I was coming for my master’s degree.”
Lin came to Florida from Taiwan, pursuing a master’s in finance. Unfortunately, he graduated in 2008, just as the recession hit the U.S.
So, Lin started working in restaurants. Eventually, he purchased his first restaurant and recently opened his third, Juju, in Orlando’s Milk District.
Thali Sugisawa is the executive director of FusionFest.
FusionFest is a nonprofit in Orlando aimed at celebrating the diverse cultures and heritage that can be found around Florida.
As part of that mission, the organization has developed Diversitastic Dining.
“Each month we celebrate a culture,” Sugisawa said. “We kind of try to align with whatever celebration is going on at the moment. So for Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ll try to do a Latin/Hispanic restaurant. For Asian and Pacific Islander month, we would try to do an Asian restaurant.”
Traditional cuisine is very important to Jess and Elizabeth Calvo, the owners of Thai Farm Kitchen.
The pair moved the restaurant operations from Thailand to the U.S., opening the first location in New York City.
The pair opened a second location in Orlando in 2022 but, unfortunately, had to shutter the restaurant just nine months after opening.
Their New York location remains open.
Chef Mike Collantes is a Central Florida native, growing up in Winter Park and Orlando.
He got his first taste of culinary work when he was a teenager working at Sbarro’s in the Fashion Square mall.
Collantes has come a long way since his food court days. In 2022, he won a prestigious Michelin Star for his omakase restaurant Soseki.
Kevin Phanhvilay is the co-owner of Sticky Rice, one of the few Lao restaurants in Orlando.
Phanhvilay grew up learning to cook from his mother also spent three years in Laos taking in the food and the atmosphere of his family’s homeland.
It’s an atmosphere he brought with him to Sticky Rice.
The Laotian-American restaurant looks like something out of a night market with large family-style tables and low-to-the-ground seating to transport you back to the motherland.
Dylan Eitharong prided himself on bringing authentic Thai food to Orlando.
He used to run a pop-up restaurant in the City Beautiful called Bangrak Thai Street Kitchen.
In the years since he was interviewed on Florida Foodie, Eitharong has moved to Thailand, where he runs a small chef’s table restaurant Haawm. However, Eitharong has made a return to Orlando in the past for a one-night-only pop-up.
It remains to be seen if he will ever hold another event in Central Florida.