Highlights From Florida — Beyond the Pillsbury Bake-Off

When I wasn’t sequestered behind closed doors as a judge of the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off last week, I did manage to get out and about to discover some other fun things in Orlando. Here are other highlights of that trip:

* Poached farm egg, aleppo pepper hollandaise, California asparagus and pork belly at Luma on Park in Winter Park, Fla.

A perfectly poached egg that oozes a bright orange yolk to make a dish of juicy pork belly even richer. It doesn’t get better than that at this sophisticated restaurant with a glam two-story glass wine “jewel box” that displays bottles upon bottles of fine vintages.

Not your average edamame.

* Togarashi spice stir-fried Japanese edamame at Emeril Lagasse’s Tchoup Chop in Orlando.

OK, I know what you’re thinking: How can one get that excited by edamame these days? It’s possible when they are charred and smoky like these and come with a hit of spice that make them downright finger-licking good.

The adorable duck procession at the Peabody Orlando.

* The duck mascots at the Peabody Orlando resort.

You’ll find ducks galore all over the hotel — from duck-shaped soaps in the bathrooms in the rooms to duck-shaped butter on the restaurant tables to duck swizzle sticks with a head on one end and a webbed foot on the other in cocktails.

They take ducks seriously here. There is no duck served on the menus at the restaurants here. And when the Pillsbury Bake-Off was held here last week, no duck could be used in the recipes.

But the best spectacle is the twice-daily Peabody Duck March. At 11 a.m., five real Mallards (one male and four females) leave their palatial “palace” on the hotel rooftop, waddle into an elevator with their official Duckmaster, dressed in a regal red uniform, then descend down to the lobby floor. When the doors open, the ducks march out to the sound of John Philip Sousa, onto a red carpet that leads to the lobby fountain. There, they frolic until the ritual reverses at 5 p.m., and the ducks march out of the fountain, back onto the elevator and up to their rooftop home.

The tradition began in 1932 when the then-general manager of the hotel put some real ducks in the fountain in the Peabody as a joke after having a little too much to drink after a weekend of hunting.

It sounds hokey, but it’s quite a memorable sight to behold.

A woman who needs no introduction.

* Seeing Martha Stewart in person.

As a fan of her cookbooks and magazine, I was thrilled to meet the one-and-only Martha Stewart at the Bake-Off and be interviewed by her (even if that part ended up on the cutting room floor. wahhh!)

You can tell the woman is a seasoned media pro. When she saw me about to take a photo, she stepped forward from the throng that surrounded her, turned right toward me, and gave a big smile. Now, that’s how you do it, folks.

More: Behind the Scenes at the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off

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