K Restaurant and More
by Kristine Thomas
Though not a native of Orlando, Florida (who is these days?), Chef Kevin Fonzo is a well-known, and highly regarded name in the Central Florida community and beyond (but we’ll get to that later). Kevin began his culinary career at the ripe young age of fifteen while working in a country inn in upstate New York.
Furthering his education, Kevin graduated with honors from “The Culinary Institute of America” in Hyde Park, New York. With talent such as his, Kevin immediately found work and spent six years as part of the opening team of The Peabody Hotel in Orlando, Florida. During that time he was awarded, “Best Brunch in Orlando” by Glamour Magazine. His talent did not go unnoticed and he began work with a restaurant group in Atlanta where he received more accolades from Southern Living magazine, Gourmet Magazine, and Nation’s Restaurant News to name only a few.
It was Maria Bonomo, the owner and operator of the former Café Allegre in College Park that lured Kevin back to Orlando. “She brought me back to Orlando to be her chef. After about a year, I fell back in love with the Orlando area (especially College Park) and decided that I would call Orlando home.” And with the support of his family, Kevin purchased Allegre in 2001 and renamed it K Restaurant.
The Edible Schoolyard
Kevin’s goal behind K Restaurant was, “to be the best neighborhood restaurant we could be and to focus culinary on local farmers and artisans.” After just celebrating its 15th anniversary, it would seem Kevin has achieved his goal, doing what many would view as a challenge for most restaurants with his hyperlocal focus. “In the beginning it was educating our guests on a menu that changed every day. That one dish you loved Monday night might not be on the menu the following Monday due to seasonality of the item or limited quantity from the farmer,” explains Kevin. What seems to be his biggest surprise, was “The level of support we have had from the Central Florida area year after year!”
What is Kevin’s advice for those wanting to start a profitable restaurant of their own? “Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Make sure you do your homework, know your market and audience, make sure you have proper funding, and get ready to work your ass off!” he jokes. While 15 successful years is quite the accomplishment and something Kevin is very proud of, something more dear to his heart is the Edible Schoolyard Program at Orlando Junior Academy that he helped launch.
The importance of giving back to your community is not lost on Kevin. “The Orlando community has given [K Restaurant] such great support over the years, that I’m happy to give back as much and as often as I can.” Between 2010 and 2011, Kevin volunteered his time in the kitchen of Orlando Junior Academy preparing nutritious meals daily and developing a sustainable lunch program for the staff. Kevin even helped in supporting the school’s garden which would later receive the “Best School Garden for the State of Florida” by the University of Central Florida. Kevin now volunteers his time out of the kitchen and inside the classroom using cooking as an integrated education method. Students learn about the nutrition, science and math skills necessary for a culinary career. His work at Orlando Junior Academy was recognized by Michelle Obama, and he was invited to the White House as part of the First Lady’s “Chefs Move to School” program.
Culinary Influence that Spans the Globe
His talents have not only brought him to the White House, an accomplishment in and of itself: Kevin’s culinary journeys extend all around the United States and across the globe. Kevin has cooked throughout France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and more.
Sharing his talents with locals and travelers alike, Kevin leads private groups on culinary adventures throughout the world, cooking a
bit and learning about the foods, wines and histories of each city along the way.
And while each of these international cities has an extensive following of food lovers and critics, “They should view Orlando as one
of the fastest emerging culinary cities of the world!” exclaims Kevin. In addition to the numerous and incredibly talented chefs, artisans,
sommeliers, and farmers that reside here, “The beauty of Orlando is that these talented people are spread all over great independent restaurants, hotels, resorts, theme parks, markets and bars.” While Orlando’s talent pipeline is booming, the secret of this culinary community lies in its “one for all attitude,” says Kevin.
“We are constantly sharing information regarding farms, farmers, artisans helping each other out when needed.” And indeed, this community of food leaders can be seen throughout the city supporting one another at fundraising and charity events, celebrations, and
even sending guests to the other restaurants and bars.
Chef Kevin Fonzo has cooked across the globe, but fortunately for the Central Florida community, Kevin happily calls Orlando his home.