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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.


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 :)!


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.


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.

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

Orlando Food Blogger Forum-

One of my favorite things since I’ve started in the catering business is when I actually get to be a guest at an event! This weekend I am attending my first blogger conference right in my own backyard!  Work backyard that is- The conference is being held right at Epcot.

I took a walk early one morning to grab a shot of the Food Blogger Forum venue in the break of dawn.

The unique part is that I while I was signing up for this talent loaded conference put together by amazing bloggers, I have also have been working on planning the events from an operational stand point.  And I have been getting sooo excited because our teams are really pushing boundaries to give the bloggers an awesome experience.  We, as chefs and caterers love when our guests are equally as passionate about food and beverage, and never want to disappoint!

Inside these doors is where the Magic happens!

Our teams spend weeks planning events, looking at guest flow, station designs and looks, as well as the food presentations, and that’s just some of the details.  We dream big- and consider what a right fit for each event and what we can do operationally.  Our teams are numerous and it is quite a feat to keep everyone on the same beat.  



Creativity is quite important!

My favorite events to help plan are the functions with high detail- whether it’s a dinner for 5000 people in a theme park with numerous action stations, off premise kitchens and only an hour to set, or a more intimate dinner with a highly creative menu and room set up.  The adrenaline rush that comes from pulling off these events is what I love about catering.

Mornings at Epcot are so gorgeous!

Planning events are pretty awesome, it is great having the ability to sit down with such a creative team and bounce ideas until something sticks. Those planning meeting are definitely my favorite!  They certainly can go on for hours, and sometimes we have to walk away because we have hit a brick wall.  I told a friend recently, that it is embarassing how much I love my job, but it is true.

What great timing -The Flower and Garden Festival is going on too!

And now, after weeks of planning the events of the food blogger conference, I am hanging up my chef hat and putting on my guest hat!  I am definitely going to soak it all in and I can’t wait to experience the magic first hand!

SOOOO Glad I am on my "Lent Mulligan" this weekend- these desserts and pastries are going to be awesome!

In a few minutes the quiet of the day will be gone- So pretty!

Lunch at The Living Seas

Since I started in the beginning of January at Park Event Operations we have done quite a few Sustainable and Local focused events.  Having the vendors and partners to get such fresh, flavorful and responsible products is great-and important!  Anytime you can get your groceries from a local farm will not only help your community, but they are guaranteed to be a better tasting and fresher product! 

Dining Room With A View
A lot of people have been to The living Seas, but the lucky ones have been able to enjoy the tanks in their dining room! 
This was a Salad Bar filled with Goodness!
The Chefs prepared so many salads, marinated and pickled vegetables, the cheeses were amazing- and the breads…oh, the breads!

The Display of Citrus Beet Salad is Gorgeous!

I love the detailed knife work!

Citrus Beet Salad

The food is beautiful enough to stand alone, but the props and decor add so much!

Beautiful Spread!

Rabbit, Duck, Artisan Sausages…But the BEST was the Blue Cheese and Pecan Focaccia Bread- So good!
The guests raved about it all-

A Different Kind of Flower...

Love the Fireplaces!
And the hot food….Amazing…..

2012 Casseroles...


Shrimp and Grits Casserole

Cheers to the South Carolina!  Gotta love the Shrimp and Grits!
Florida Yardbird- Looks soo good!
I loved the shaved fried mushrooms- surprising to me as I really don’t like fungus 😦
Grilled Pork Belly
It’s hard to beat a slider for lunch- I see them as a way I can eat multiple plates!

Slider Trio


Duck Fat Fries- Crispy, Delicious!

The fish to make these sliders came from The Land- Fresh and Sustainable!
Having The Land right next door is pretty awesome!

The Waygu Beef came from Ocala, another local product!

Waygu Beef is considered to be as delicious as Kobe Beef-  Great part is it comes from this side of the world! 
Dessert on the Piano!
Well, that’s a little glimpse into an event in a park, a look at some creative, beautiful dishes and a shout out to using all the local and sustainable products you can!!

Chefs Table Site Visit 6.6.11

A few nights ago, we had an event in the kitchen.  Now, we do these Chef Table Experiences fairly often, but so far they haven’t gotten old.

We push the stainless prep tables out of the way, throw down a rug, move our “On Stage” cooking stations into the kitchen, hang a chandelier and put in a dining table and chairs….Voila, kitchen space turns dining space.  Our guests love it, we can seat something close to 30 people, and more if we go the reception route.

Thru the Chefs and Sommelier spieling courses and pairings, we establish a relationship with our guests.  Some experiences are interactive for the group, rubbing truffle oil on pulse points or discovering the Miracle Berry, we create our own Umami. Storytelling and personality keep the crowd engaged and by the end of the evening, the entire staff has connected with the guests, leaving us all with wanting more.

Of course the food is the star of the show, take a look at some of the dishes from the other night.  Then go straight to the kitchen and cook 🙂 Bon appetit!

Truffle Caviar, Mozzarella Basil Salad, Tomato Water

We put a bit of liquid into the bottom of the Nitro Bowl, and add a few dry ice chips to keep the salad properly chilled! Awesome presentation with the fog spilling out onto the table! @kingfarmmyakka

Coconut Smoked Key West Wreckfish, Pepperdew Jicama Slaw, Black Currant Bursts

@thechefsgarden Fiddlehead Ferns are just about done for the season

Braised Mangalista Pork Belly, Garlic Herb Gnocchi, Zellwood Corn Puree, Chive Oil

Braised Pork Belly

Strawberry Nitrogen Sphere, Citrus Foam, Hot Chili Pearls, Smoked Hawaiian Sea Salt. Have to admit, I didn't get to it fast enough to get a good picture- but you can get the idea.

@copperriverwild - Copper River Salmon All the Way!

Sir Ahmed and the Chicken. Could be the name of a storybook, haha!

Chicken feet for tomorrow's soup!

Sous Vide Whole Milk Fed Chicken Breast and Thighs-

Whole Milk Fed Chicken- Leg Confit Stuffed Squash, Sous Vide Breast and Thigh, Scarlet Runner Bean Hash, Hen of the Woods Mushroom, Absinthe Gastrique

Sweet Endings

Everything but the Lemon- This was so good- SOO good!

Go git um….

When I started cooking I was given a lot of advice, had a lot of people guiding me, looking after me- I was green, in fact I was green enough to look in the china storage area for the china cap, that the chef sent me for.  Yup, green enough to fall for that trick.  The best piece of advice that was delivered to me, that serves in many area’s in my life, not just the kitchen, was – “Just go in and pretend you know what you’re doing”.

So true, so helpful, the number of chefs I have tricked into thinking I know what I am doing thru the years is vast.  Now, I do credit them a bit- they might have suspected, but I made sure not to leave any concrete evidence.  Well, after 12 years of working in a kitchen, sharpening my skills, I have learned a thing or two, had a lot of great leaders to learn from, and a lot of bad ones to also learn from!

I did take that advice with me, and have in fact passed it on to many young culinary warriors!  It rings true in many parts of my life, right here, right now…pretend I know what I am doing…my first blog entry!

Hope you enjoy!!