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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Working for the Mouse

October 21, 2008

Working for the Mouse

ORLANDO— I am in Walt Disney World as a visiting chef of the EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival.

Through the years I have been a frequent guest of The Mouse. I have enjoyed the parks with-and-without kids and had a great time doing the stuff one does down here since 1973. Until now I have never had such an inside view of the ins and outs of this amazingly complicated yet efficient collection of theme parks, hotels, and restaurants.

Throughout my 28-year restaurant career I have participated in numerous culinary events and festivals behind the scenes, in front of cameras, and as a guest chef or lecturer. Walt Disney World blows them all away with their efficiency, professionalism, service, and offerings. It should come as no surprise that a company dedicated to hospitality and good times 365-days a year is able to pull it off so well— from the festival’s attendees down to the guest chefs.

Just to tour the foodservice facilities and work alongside Disney chefs was a treat. This is a company that employs over 350 top-notch chefs and thousands of line cooks to work at over 300 foodservice facilities offering over 6,000 food items. It is baffling when seen as in a behind-the-scenes manner.

To pull off the daily prep and production of this place is mind boggling. On past visits I have often thought of what must go into preparing and serving this much food, scheduling the personnel, and purchasing and receiving that much food. To see it done is humbling.

In years past when one thought of foodservice at Walt Disney World, they were thinking burgers, fries, and Cokes. Those days are long gone. Granted this company knows burgers, fries and Cokes— as they serve over nine million hamburgers, nine million pounds of fries, and 46 million Coca Cola drinks— but now the park has several world-class restaurants which employ dozens of world-class chefs.

The EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival has been around for 13 years and, year-in year-out, is one of the most well-attended events in the park. I met dozens of chefs from all over the country, but more importantly, I met so many chefs who work inside the Disney system. To a person, they were all consummate professionals. Their kitchens are meticulously maintained, and their quality standards are second to none.

Of course anyone can serve hot dogs out of a cafeteria line (though there aren’t too many who can successfully serve as many millions as Disney), but to coordinate world-class restaurants such as Victoria and Albert’s, California Grill, Citricos, Jiko, and The Flying Fish Café while feeding over 200,000 guests every day is a awe-inspiring feat.

It’s been a great week. My four events were filled with people from all over the country (and Canada) who were interested in Mississippi and the food we serve in our restaurants, the food we eat in our homes, and the way we live. I met a lot of chefs from all over the country and had a great time in my off hours with my wife and kids. But I leave with a sense of awe at the magnitude of what is accomplished on an hourly basis behind the scenes at one of the country’s largest foodservice providers.

The chefs, hosts, coordinators, and employees of the EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival are the embodiment of competence, organization, hospitality, and professionalism. Well done, and thank you.


1/2 head iceberg lettuce1/2 bunch watercress 1 small bunch chicory 1/2 head romaine lettuce2 medium tomatoes, blanched and peeled1 1/2 cups cooked turkey breast, diced1 avocado3 eggs, hard-cooked1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled6 strips crisp bacon, crumbled2 tbsp. chopped chives

Chop all greens very fine (reserve some watercress for presentation) and arrange in salad bowl. Cut tomatoes in half, remove seeds and dice une. Also dice the turkey, avocado and eggs. Arrange the above ingredients, as well as the blue cheese and bacon crumbles, in straight lines across the greens. Arrange the chives diagonally across the above lines. Present the salad at the table, then toss with the dressing (below) and place on chilled plates with a watercress garnish. Serves six.

BROWN DERBY OLD-FASHIONED FRENCH DRESSING1/2 cup water1/2 tsp. sugar1 1/4 tbsp. salt1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce1 clove garlic, chopped1/2 cup red-wine vinegarJuice of 1/2 lemon1/2 tbsp. ground black pepper1/2 tsp. English mustard1/2 cup olive oil1 1/2 cups salad oil
Blend together all ingredients, except oils, then add olive and salad oils and mix well. Blend well again before mixing with salad.

© 2008 Walt Disney World
Reprinted with permission

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