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Culture and Cuisine: Chef Omar Torres Discusses Dual Role with Artistry Restaurants

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Story by: Chase Corey and Jim Carchidi

The menus at Park Avenue’s Boca and Atlantic Beer and Oyster may be different, but common threads lie in their ownership group, Winter Park-based Artistry Restaurants, and their executive chef, Omar Torres.

Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, his love of food is rooted in family gatherings. Torres has a deep respect for culinary culture and sees food as a window to the world that is opened using locally grown ingredients.

“We travel the world in every dish – and we must respect the creators of those memories,” he said. “I have an Italian and Puerto Rican background, but I have lived most of my life here in Central Florida. I enjoy being creative with a dish that could be Mediterranean or Caribbean and using local products to give it a personal touch. Being able to mix and match culinary skills while using different products brings a whole new experience to our guests.”

Chef Omar Torres is shown adding the finishing touches to the braised short rib with creamy polenta at Boca’s Cows ‘n Cabs table.

Torres began his dual role with Artistry Restaurants in October of 2022, but his culinary experience began in the early 1990’s as a cook at Hard Rock Café Orlando. He joined the food and beverage team at Amway Center in 2001 where he helped run the club-level restaurant for Orlando Magic ticket holders. In 2004, Torres graduated from Valencia College earning a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. His resume includes positions with Marriott Hotels, Ritz Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, and he has received recognition from the American Culinary Federation.

While working at Hilton Pensacola Beach in 2020, he helped create Bonsai; a fine dining restaurant that took over the former location of the hotel executive lounge after its closing during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I immediately started to think of ways to improve the operation while keeping people employed and helping our community weather the storm,” he said.

Here, Torres discusses how his experience blends into his current role.

As a celebrated Central Florida chef for numerous years, what was it about the idea of working for Artistry that you found most appealing? Working in the hospitality industry for 28 years, I’ve learned all aspects of food and beverage while working with some of the best in the industry. Artistry is an excellent company that has many different concepts which I’m honored to be part of. And we have an opportunity to make a lasting impact in Central Florida’s restaurant industry. I’m currently working on the Boca and Atlantic Beer and Oyster menus while simultaneously creating new partnerships with local farmers and industry professionals. I consider myself an artist when it comes to food and beverage, and my job at Artistry goes hand in hand with that.

What distinct culinary experience should guests look forward to at Atlantic Beer and Oyster and at Boca? Atlantic Beer and Oyster is a hidden gem with the ambiance of a coastal hideout. It’s a small spot where guests can enjoy the best beer and oysters with personalized service, and it touts the best lobster roll in Central Florida. The menu is locally inspired and highlighted by our Catch of the Day ceviche, which is made fresh daily.

Boca is a restaurant where guests can experience seasonal dishes with vibrant colors and well-pronounced flavors. The menu is rooted in creativity, and it pairs well with the rustic décor and relaxing ambiance. The ever-changing menu allows guests to enjoy red snapper one day and house-made gnocchi the next. You can dine at Boca every day of the week and always have a different culinary experience.

How have your past associations with upscale hotel brands shaped your approach at Artistry? I’ve been lucky enough to learn from the best of the best; from pool restaurants to fine dining. And I have devoted my entire career to learning all aspects of the food and beverage industry. In an effort to expand my knowledge, I’ve spent hours harvesting vegetables at farms and have had the pleasure of shadowing at some of the best breweries and whiskey distilleries. I remember venturing to a farm for fresh goat milk to make the best goat cheese possible, then upgrading the flavor with accents like smoke, sea salt, and herbs.

I’m an entrepreneur in the food and beverage world. I’ve designed restaurants from scratch, creating new concepts and steps of service, beverage lists, menus, financial plans and much more. I’ve held many titles, including Regional Director of Food and Beverage, Hotel Director of Operations, and Executive Chef at Five Star, Five Diamond and Michelin-awarded properties.

I love coming up with new ideas and I’m constantly pushing for innovation. I look at what others are doing and apply new ideas that can further our effort to broaden Central Florida’s standing as a hospitality leader. My varied career experiences help me to keep pushing all Artistry restaurants to be the industry standard.

What is your vision for Atlantic Beer and Oyster and Boca? We want to be the best in our respective concepts; the goal is to make Orlando and Winter Park one of the best culinary destinations in the world. We are always exploring ways to add a local flare, and we continue to work with local farmers.

Our Artistry team prides itself on being perpetual learners, and it’s our responsibility to further our knowledge of sustainability while having a long-lasting impact on the industry. We truly view our team as family.

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