The Magic That Happens in Walt Disney World Catering!

As some of you may or may not know, I spent the last 15 years working in catering at Walt Disney World.  It is where I learned to boil water, as people say when you know nothing about cooking!  I’ve been so fortunate to work with countless talented and creative people, and been able to be a part of many amazing events!

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I am now switching gears now to the Food and Beverage line of business at Walt Disney World, more specifically; I am moving on to being a Sous Chef at Sanaa, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  I could not have landed in a more beautiful restaurant and flavorful cuisine!

I went thru my picture files for about an hour and grabbed some of my favorite pictures that capture just a few of my most memorable events.

I have been really lucky, truly, truly blessed! 🙂

Fortunately at WDW you never have to same good bye, just until next time!!!

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2012 Epcot Party For The Senses and A Little Magic of Healthy Living Wrap Up

This year’s Epcot International Food and Wine Festival has been quite the ride.  Full of great food, long days, many laughs and a ton of “growth”.  We had amazing Visiting Chefs join the #DisneyChefs family, and even more Home Team Chefs participate.  Every Saturday was a culinary adventure during the Party For The Senses, always giving a great learning.

The Chefs were all great, they grabbed on to the Disney Magic and gave it back tenfold.

So many exceptional, creative dishes were enjoyed by 1000’s!

Of course the drinks were equally enjoyable, some weeks they were just what the doctor ordered!

Our on Park Event Operations Chefs hit home runs more than a couple of times!  Chef Joe Bonanno was a crowd favorite!

We had quite a few other events then Party For The Senses- The Magic of Healthy Living being one of them-

Celebrity Chefs Brian Frick, Andrew Zimmerman and the Voltaggio Brothers joined us for a night.

Thanks Michael for pausing for me to take a picture-

I love the family affair!!

Jonathon Sawyer, of the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland Ohio, definitely won for most nicest/bad@## Chef in my opinion- Food was amazeballs and he and his team were super fun and really enjoyed what they were doing.

Chef Judi and her PEO team were awesome- They had a truckload of fun and delivered a great scallop dish.

Chef Christine and 1200 Potato Rings.  Great to see some things never change, never settle.

This Sauerkraut Bread Pudding was my favorite- had nothing to do with all the Contemporary hats.

A few of my new Chef friends!

We had to celebrate Halloween with a few cute cupcakes.  And I did manage to get one picture in front of the camera.

The Cirque entertainment was captivating and the room set was top notch sexy.

We did manage to have some fun-

The famed Chef Joe Rod (Rodriguez) came back to PEO from Norway (the real country, not Epcot Norway), and was the highlight of the week.

Last but not least- Louie- the man that makes things happen- one way or another!

Just a short visual summary of the last few weeks- Truly hard to sum up the experience, but it certainly is one I wouldn’t trade.  Just happy to be part of an amazing team!!

Party For The Senses – October 6th 2012

The Party For The Senses is a hard ticket event that happens every Saturday night during Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival.   Chefs from across the world come to participate as well as many of Disney’s talented Chefs.  It is an event that guests look forward to all year, as well as the Disney Cast.  The planning for these events is extreme and detailed, starting before the final event of the year is even finished.  Happily I am getting a first hand look at these event this year, being on the Park Events team.

Our Front of the House partners have taken the room to a even cooler level- the vipe of the Wine View Lounge is straight up “swank”.

The lighting of the room and the even the tables is a perfect complement to the creativity of the food and wine being showcased.

Love these displays!

It is always great to talk to someone excited about what they are offering, displaying their passion for the products.

It is a pretty surreal experience to be around so many talented chefs- and the way we all engaged was even better!  I walked away this weekend with a ton of ideas!

Chef Jessy and the talented team held everyone together, delivering a perfect event!

I was told the reveal was something not to be missed- and it was extreme!  The guests were certainly excited!

Our own Chef Damon Lauder used our new Cvap to cook Pasture Prime Pork Jowls.  Was worried for a bit for not having enough, they were so popular!

Celina Tio, a long time participant of “Party” knows what she is doing- perfect flavors and perfect amount of product!  The Tio team was a pleasure to have in the kitchen for a few days!

All of the participating Chefs and teams delivered flavorful and creative dishes.

AND….they had fun, kids included!

They also worked hard! The King and Queen of Pork included!

Party for the Senses is always a blast, seeing friends from wayback and creating brand new friendships…even thru twitter.

It has been such a great experience to be a part of the #EpcotFoodFestival this year, so fun to get to know so many talented Chefs, and to support their success!

We did have a small degree of celebrity oogleing, but for the most part we kept it cool…

Some of the best looking and tasting desserts had…I renamed the sphere, “Noahsphere” in honor of Chef Noah French, who made it.

I guess it is clear that I lean towards the chocolate desserts.

I was captivated by Chef John Hui and the sculpture he did.  I spent a few minutes gawking as he nonchalantly threw together a sugar hummingbird.  Walked away amazed, after I told him, I completely got it- and thanks for the lesson, I’ll throw one together on my next day off.  He laughed.  and then laughed again.

What a great few weeks it has been, hard, but so worth it.  I can’t wait to see the rest!

All From Florida Dinner Event Menu

This is a great time of year to live in Florida, with the summer heat and steady rains comes wonderful produce.  Our farmers are plentiful and talented, bringing us the chance to create phenomenal dishes, all from within the state.  As Chefs, we strive to use local sourcing and organic when we can, we want to educate our guests as well as feeding them.  

We had a young, hip group in a few weeks ago, and were asked to produce a menu to WOW this well-traveled group.  When it comes down to it, the beautiful produce and meats we can get, really stand on their own, simple speaks loudly here.  That was the focus we drove toward, keep an organic, local and sustainable menu, featuring creative presentation and simplified, screamingly good flavors.

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It is a pleasure to feed people interested in food, in what we do- like any profession, when you come across someone interested in what you do, it is very reaffirming. 

The group loved it all, the food, the lighting, the lounge feel, and the entertainment was amazing.  If you ever get a chance to see, meet or hear Anita Goodstory- you will not regret, I had belly cramps from holding in my giggles.  What a personality! 

Cheers to eating local, supporting small farmers and having the tastiest, freshest ingrediants available!

Howard’s Vanilla Lemonade

I received an email last week for the yearly renewal of my domain name, WOW; Vanilla Lemonade is a year old.  And what a year its been!

Happy Birthday Vanilla Lemonade

Over the last 12 months the question I’ve been asked most is, why did I pick the name Vanilla Lemonade?  Well, isn’t it being super cute name enough of a reason?? Ahh- but there is actually a story…

I started at Walt Disney World in February 1998, on the opening team of DAK, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which was an amazing experience.  By the beginning of 1999 I joined DAK CAT, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Catering.  I spent about 3 years on this talented team, which not only taught me how to cook pasta for 1000 people, or how to pack and load a truck, but they built the foundation and gave me the passion of the career I still love today.

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We were a small team, a total of 5-7 cooks, a couple of chefs, 5 or 6 servers and a few front of house managers.  A perfect number of people for a family to generate.  Because we were such a small team that sometimes had huge events, surpassing even 10,000 guests, we did rely on a lot of extra help.  Extra culinary, servers from other locations, stewards, chefs would work with us frequently to execute our large events in the park.

We did have a few “outside” people come to work on a regular basis, which became extended family.  Howard was a Steward that was with us for over a year, 5-6 days a week.  He was a big guy, a really big guy, perfect for loading grills on trucks, throwing 80 quart mixing bowls in the dish sink and lucky for us, he had spent a lot of time in kitchens, so was also able to assist us out with prep!

Howard was a daily temp worker that had a hard life, battled with temptations, health issues, and the other challenges that a day-to-day life style can offer.  Like I said he was a big guy, rough and tough too, but after a while, we broke him down to a plush; Howard became somewhat of a fan favorite.

It’s down right sweaty hot here in Florida and don’t forget we are outside doing events, setting up tables, pushing trams thru the parks, standing in front of a hot grill for a few hours- you’re certain to be “glowing”.  On any hot day you would find Howard over by the truck handing out glasses of his lemonade to anyone that needed something to cool them down.  Howard’s lemonade was a crowd favorite, all the extra help knew to look for the giant orange thermos.   The lemonade was on our checklist before our truck ever pulled off the dock, and if Howard happened to have the day off, and us without the lemonade someone always had something to say about it.

And then one day Howard didn’t make it for an event.  “No” he didn’t forget, or run out of time, he told us angrily.  Howard explained, that the Chef told him “no more!”  And then we got a lashing from the chef…

Howard’s Recipe
1 Half Gallon Lemonade concentrate
6 Half Gallon Water
15 Vanilla Beans

…..The chef was not happy with his food cost floating Howard’s Lemonade Stand.

Ooh- but that Vanilla Lemonade was delicious …. DEE-licious.

Vanilla Lemonade, is not only a refreshing twist on lemonade, but to me it represents a time when I figured out what my future looked like.  I graduated from college with 2 B.A. Degrees in Art, took the first job I was offered, and spent 10 months filling drinks, scooping mashed potatoes and wondering what I was going to do with myself.  I was then welcomed into a family that would nurture, teach and allow me to grow. My love of cooking, food and catering came from that team, and equally important came the lesson of being able to learn from anybody, no matter who they are or where they came from.  Thank you  Howard, the Rough and Tumble Temp Working Teddy Bear for showing me that everyone has a lesson to teach if you are willing to learn.

Since then I’ve worked on a few different vanilla lemonade recipes.

Howard’s Vanilla Lemonade

  • Frozen Lemonade Concentrate, or Favorite Powder Mix
  • Vanilla Bean/Vanilla Extract

The quick and easy method- and sometimes that is just what we need!  Make the lemonade as the container directs, add a vanilla bean split open down the middle for every 2 quarts made, or add a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Refridergate and serve over ice.  Perfect for a day at the beach!

Howard’s Vanilla Lemonade

Fresh Vanilla Lemonade

  • 4 cups water, divided
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups fresh lemon juice (about 15 lemons)

In a heavy saucepan, make your simple syrup by combining 2 cups water, sugar, and the split vanilla bean and bring to a boil over medium-high heat for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool.  Stir in lemon juice and remaining 2 cups water; refrigerate until serving. 

Garnish with citrus, fresh herbs or cherries.

Makes about 2 quarts

Fresh Vanilla Lemonade

Vacation Vanilla Lemonade

  • 2 oz coconut rum
  • 3 oz vanilla lemonade

…Over ice..Sip and enjoy.

Vacation Vanilla Lemonade

Cheers to learning and loving what you do with your life!

Cocktails and Dinner with #digiNow12 at Disney’s Living Seas

We have been busy at work the last week with 3 different Press Events, a 1000 or so Cheerleaders, and a technical driven event that we look forward to all year.  The digitalNow Conference was held at Walt Disney World this week; which gave us a chance to push our creative minds.  While the group spent most of their time at the Contemporary Resort, they did venture to the Parks for a night.  The Living Seas at Epcot turned into a futuristic, creative, interactive dining room, where Entertainment, Bartenders, and Chefs spent the evening getting the chance to create magic. 

This is the type of event that keep us motivated in Catering and always searching for what is next.  The Front of the House provided such an innovative setup, from the gorgeous glowing highboys to the serpentine roman tables to the fantastic buffet sets. 

The set up was definetly something to tweet about #digiNow12

The Entertainment and Florist jumped right into the theming of the night.

The Bars were amazing- so cool!  The specialty drinks were a hit, not just because of the awesome presentation, but the flavors as well.  I attached the recipes below, these were all developed by our Front of the House team!

Sangria de Patron

  • 2 oz Patron Silver
  • 2 1/2 oz Monin Hibiscus
  • 3/4 oz Lemonade
  • 1/2 oz Lime Juice 

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice.  Shake and strain over ice in a rocks glass.

Black Cherry Cooler

  • 1 1/4 oz Red Stag Black Cherry Bourbon
  • 1/2 oz  Triple Sec
  • 2 oz Pineapple Juice
  • 1 oz Orange Juice
  • 1/2 oz Cruzan Black Strap Rum

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Shake and strain over ice in a rocks glass.  Top with Black Strap Rum as a floater.

Ginger Snap

  • 1 1/4 oz Skyy Citrus Vodka
  • 1 oz Canton Ginger Liquor
  • 3 oz Lemonade
  • Splash of Ginger Ale

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Shake and strain over ice in a rocks glass. Top with Ginger Ale.

The food for the event was equally inventive, we had fresh grown organic produce from The Land at Epcot, Chef Damon and his team were distilling with the RotoVap,  live herbs were growing from their roots on the salad station, and Chef Matt and his pastry team created artisan gelatos and lollipops in the middle of the World View Plaza before the fireworks started.

The dinner was creative, tasty and fresh with a focus on local, sustainable and taste that hit all notes!

Events like this not only surprise and delight our guests, they keep our cast engaged and driven to deliver the most excellent service possible.  These event keep our passion flowing :)!

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“Be Our Guest”- Standing on the Other Side at the Food Blog Forum

I was fortunate to attend the Food Blog Forum last weekend, which came to Orlando through the diligence of Julie Deily (The Little Kitchen)and Dawn Viola (Dawn Viola), and the  sponsorship of Walt Disney World, Kitchen Aid, La Creuset, OXO, Whole Foods and many more.   It was my first food blogging conference and quite frankly, it left me with an overwhelming sense of encouragement, both personally and professionally. I was able to pick up great tips and soak in the group’s creative energy; I was a sponge. 

The weekend was a unique one for me,  as the event was held at Walt Disney World.  I mentioned in my previous post that I had helped plan a few of the FBF events, writing menus, station design and layout, which led to my excitement.  The entire Disney team rallied to make these events unforgettable – chefs from across Walt Disney World happily volunteered to participate.  The Food Blog Forum Orlando was destined to be the tops.

Of all my credentials, this one is my favorite!

We spent the weekend at the Poly –Cast Member lingo for the Walt Disney Polynesian Resort—keep reading you will be an insider soon.  We were welcomed by the famous Little Lady Laura, who I spent a few days with when I started working in Park Events.  She was fabulous at connecting with all of the guests and helping to create a seamless event (I did see her slip down the Poly poolside, so rest assured, she had a blast).

The Poly Lobby

After a long week of “getting it done” at work, Sir Wes and I happily enjoyed the season’s first poolside sangria before I went to the reception at The Grand (AKA- Disney’s Grand Floridian).  I knew the reception would be the perfect way to start the weekend- it was held outside at Summerhouse, overlooking the lake and the pool.  Beautiful weather, fantastic service and food that would be talked about all weekend!  I knew how great it would be, the dishes were flavorful and elegantly presented.  I actually even tried the beef short ribs (for those who are not aware, I stay away from pork and beef). Just a bite, though – Sir Wes wanted to make sure the flavor he added came out right.  Kudos to Chef Douglas, Chef Larry, Sir Wes and the talented Grand Culinary Team.

Perfect weather!

Before sunrise, the bloggers were on their way to Epcot for the day-long forum, but before the speakers started, we broke bread.  And here is where I start to get proud- it was AWESOME.  The Park Event Operation (PEO) team delivered a St. Patrick’s Day Eye Opener that continued the culinary train started the previous night at the Grand. 

The speakers were captivating!

The morning was spent listening to inspirational talks by Jaden and Scott Hair of Steamy Kitchen, Dianne and Todd of White on Rice Couple, David Leite, who spoke about Bigger and Bad Ass Posts, and Dawn Viola, who rounded  this talented group. They all offered so much great advice, inspiration, and constructive criticism that I’m sure you could not get out of a book. My scribble-scrabbled notes were miles long. 

I snuck out a few minutes early so I could get a sneak peak, and I felt like a child waiting to give mom a present- I just couldn’t wait for everyone to see.   The room set up was fantastic, full of bells and whistles.  

The team did a wonderful job setting the stations and the tables-  plenty of room to accommodate 100+ bloggers and their huge cameras.  I told one of the chefs before the guests arrived- “wait until you see the mass of camera’s about to walk into the room”!  The “Healthful Taste of Disney” lunch was recorded by many as the most creative and flavorful meal they had experienced.  How could I not be grinning from ear to ear!?!?

The Chefs were creative and healthful, they also were able to accomodate so many different allegeries and dietary concerns, which, by itself, is magical for some guests!

After the lunch, we had roundtables of small groups which was great for getting a ton of my questions answered. I was also comforted to see the other Bloggers had similar questions and doubts.  And then came my favorite part, a food styling and photographing demo from Aran of Cannelle et Vanille and Diane Cu of White on Rice Couple.  There are a few reasons I started blogging, but the biggest was my love of taking photographs and wanting to grow that hobby.  Aran’s photographs are like Food Ballet – colors and textures just dance and they leave you feeling enriched.  Just beautiful.

Inspiring!

The forum broke and Bloggers spread thru Epcot to enjoy the remainder of the day before gathering back to a dessert party with a phenomenal viewing of the fireworks. The desserts were all amazing, but the talk of the event was the Guinness Ice Cream with Bacon Brittle- I’m thinking of getting the recipe for you soon!   The following morning was a brunch hosted by Whole Foods Orlando, which I was unable to attend. You can, however, read about it by searching Twitter for #FBFORL and see for yourself how big of a hit it was. 

Kudos to Pam and Karen!

It is difficult to sum up the feeling I had when I drove home. I took so much away from the weekend and I am certain that it will impact my blog, my work and my life.  I shared with my leaders and peers at work just how much all the bloggers enjoyed everything.  They felt Walt Disney World went over the top, and showed a tremendous amount of gratitude.  The reactions of the guests at the Food Blog Forum is what we, as cast members, take away; to be able to take a part in creating this type of magic, is an honor.  A lot of hours and hard work were put into this event and I was fortunate enough to see firsthand how magical it is for our WDW guests.  I wish every Cast Member was able to experience how impactful their efforts are, it is a gift that will resonate with me every day.