Feature Story and Photos by Larry H. Oskin

Before becoming an internationally renowned Master Chef, Keith Keogh had a dream of starting a unique, eco-friendly, agri-urbanism farm to table and though a long journey, Olive Isle in Groveland has become his dream come true!

Keith and Vicki Keogh

Chef Keogh was born on Christmas Eve in 1952 and raised in Lake Mary, where as a child he helped at his grandfather’s Lake Mary grocery store and gas station. Keith first met his wife Vicki during their high school years while working at Burger Chef, a quick-service restaurant.

Keith first studied anesthesiology at Seminole College, while working as a night manager for seventy-five cents an hour at Burger Chef. When Disney came to Orlando in 1971, he wanted to work as a Disney monorail driver so he could meet more girls while in school but when Disney Casting offered him $1.85 an hour to be a culinary assistant, he thought he had struck it rich! It was there that he fell in love with the prospect of being a head chef.

He was selected to be part of Disney’s first Apprenticeship Program developed by the American Culinary Federation. He started his career peeling, cutting, and preparing onions. He learned that everything served at Disney’s restaurants was made fresh and from scratch. Under the guidance of Disney Executive Chef Gary Reich and Sous Chef Johnny Rivers, Keith and the other apprentices had daily competitions to sharpen their culinary skills. He won numerous first-place honors in a wide range of categories before graduating from Disney’s Apprenticeship Program

During his culinary career, Keogh competed in the World Culinary Olympics that takes place every four years. He continued winning, accumulating 13 first place gold medals and 2 silver medals with numerous award-winning competition achievements all over the world. Under his expertise, Disney’s Olympic Culinary Team was formed and successfully competed in the world championships in Basel, Switzerland and Frankfort Germany. He successfully led the US Culinary Olympic Team for eight years and under his leadership and teamwork, American Cuisine and style began to be accepted as an international culinary category. In 1992, Keogh was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree from one of the biggest and most famous American culinary schools — Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.

Chef Keogh held many positions during his time with Disney including Executive Chef at Disney’s Golf Resort; EPCOT’s World Showcase grand opening; EPCOT Center and Executive Chef in research and development for Disney’s Parks Food Division, responsible for $250 million in food sales and 200 food outlets.

Chef Cliff Pleau, known for his culinary initiatives and menu development, was brought to Disney World to work on the opening of Disney’s California Grill.  Chef Keogh’s interest was peaked when Chef Pleau described the foods from San Francisco and the west coast.  Keogh made the decision to move to the west coast to absorb their food products and menus. There he learned how to professionally respect and enjoy farm to table cuisine.

He accepted the role of Vice President and COO at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and advanced to become the Academy’s President and CEO while expanding the business by 400% prior to its merger with another publicly held company in 2000.

Chef Keogh returned to Orlando as the Senior Vice President of Culinary Excellence with Red Lobster and Darden Restaurant. He later joined the Levy Company, which operated food services and restaurants for all of the largest sports stadiums, entertainment complexes, casinos and convention centers in the USA. They opened the Village Road Show’s Gold Class Cinemas, where fine dining and movie theatre experiences were brought to the public with diverse menus and better service with the limited use for forks and knives.

Chef Paul Prudhomme, considered the Father of American Cuisine, asked Chef Keogh to join the team of Magic Seasonings Blends, where he spent the next four years learning how to become a professionally seasoned expert in flavors while perfecting the skills of his taste buds. Here, he learned how to creatively go well beyond the traditional flavors as well as how to also cook without salts and sugars.

Keogh continued his culinary journey as Vice President of Culinary Excellence for all Food and Beverage operations with Pinnacle Entertainment in Las Vegas for their 16 casinos and race tracks. During his 5-year with the entertainment company, it opened or reimagined an average of one restaurant per month.

Keogh started the Total Food Network. as his own Internet-based culinary training company to provide virtual training on food purchasing, preparation and services.

To complete the pursuit of his lifelong ambition as a chef, Keogh decided to purchase a farm. He found an island owned by the Hunt family. Hunt was a fertilizer salesman, though he never used pesticides or fertilizers on his own island farm. Instead, he used tobacco and introduced snails to help enrich his citrus groves that were first planted in 1908. The Hunt Island groves had been abandoned since the 1970’s when a series of ravaging freezes prompted many growers in Lake County to give up on their citrus farms.

At 66, Keogh invested $750,000 to buy Hunt Island, 75 acres suitable for development in Groveland. Keith and Vicki Keogh renamed the property Olive Isle and quickly built a bunkhouse to live in while starting this reclamation project. For the past few years, Keogh has worked to reclaim the land on a daily basis, while reclaiming the surviving citrus and methodically clearing a major portion of the land for a new olive crop. He has already planted his first 250 olive trees, which will first be harvested in 2022.

He is financing the project himself, buying tractors, acquiring equipment, putting up buildings and hiring workers. He notes, “We purchased this island to have a place we can make a little bit of food — good clean healthy food.”

Chef Keogh’s olive trees are thriving in the sandy soil with good drainage. He wants to provide his olives “fresh as milk”  and olive oil to locals, chefs and tourists.  They will be able to pick their olives and fruit, while processing it on-site, before taking it back to their homes and restaurants.

Vicki and Keith Keogh






The couple already has beehives for honey, with blue-footed French bresse chickens for eggs, roosters and a diverse set of farm to table vegetation. They will soon have special breeds of Kunekune pigs from New Zealand and Aberdeen Angus beef cattle. Keogh wants to build a complete functioning farm with locally produced farm to table food.  There will be a variety of oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons, bananas and sugar cane. He envisions his olives will be the centerpiece crop.

Chef Keogh says. “I want to help elevate the restaurant industry here in Florida and in the USA by helping people learn about and enjoy the best foods they have ever tasted! Today’s grocery store food product standards are just not good enough for restaurants.  We need to develop agri-urbanism in Florida like Sonoma is to San Francisco. This will be the start of an exciting new culinary evolution for Groveland. I am committed to making high-quality farm-fresh daily fruits, vegetables, olives, eggs, meats, honeys and more – available to everyone here in Central Florida.”

With the fact that there is no solution for the greening challenges of citrus crops, he is hopeful that the state of Florida will start to take a much more serious look at the future potential for olives and olive oils in Florida. Keogh is an active member of the American Culinary Federation and a past National President.

Chef Keogh is very thankful for the tremendous support he is receiving from his wife; the City of Groveland, who has supported his efforts as part of their new Master Plan; his extended family; friends; and neighbors.



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