Obviously one of the many reasons that families find Disney destinations to be such compelling vacation spots is that the parks and resorts are fully prepared to accommodate the interests of children. At various points, all of my girls have been captivated with the idea of becoming a chef (well, at least until they began to realize that kitchens have to be cleaned after they are used).
Disney does a wonderful job of indulging the interests of the budding chef by allowing children, and their parents, plentiful opportunities to observe and interact with the real-life culinary craftspeople that make the food magic happen.
Where to Learn from the Masters: Sweets
Our favorite Walt Disney World venue for chef interaction is at Goofy’s Candy Company at Downtown Disney. On one recent trip, my girls and I spent over an hour standing at the candy prep counter there watching a cast member make pan after pan of swoon-inducing fudge.
We have found that the cast members there are particularly gracious in taking the time to explain to curious bystanders exactly what they are doing, and why. We’ve even been offered small tasting spoonfuls of warm fudge batter to better assess the product as it transforms from pourable paste to solid yum.
Let me tell you, if there’s anything better than Disney fudge, it would have to be warm gooey Disney fudge. There is a similar fudge-creation station at the Confectionery on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. You are welcome to watch, but I have always found the pace there more frenetic and the cast members more focused on product prep and less able to chat with guests.
Another candy observation opportunity is at the regularly scheduled performances by Miyuki in the Japan pavilion at Epcot. Check the Times Guide when you enter the park and be sure to show up about ten minutes early to grab a prime viewing spot. Miyuki is a sculptor using hot rice paste as her medium; truly an inspiration to both the aspiring pastry chef and the aspiring artist. We have found her to be amenable to entertaining questions from children at the end of her “performance.”
The new Karamell Küche shop in Epcot is nirvana for kids looking to learn more about food prep. The glass-enclosed service line allows guests to watch cast members create caramel popcorn and caramel dipped fruit. Again, you’re welcome to stay as long as you like (just tell other guests that they can pass you in the line) and ask questions.
We have also had lovely chats with some of the cast members at the dessert prep station at the Polynesian resort’s Kona Cafe. My girls were particularly fascinated to learn here about how much of the food is pre-prepped and how much is just assembled at the last minute. I think this was the first time that they really understood that the time constraints and demands of a commercial food situation are entirely different from a home situation.
Where to Learn from the Masters: Breakfast
Several of the buffet-style restaurants have make-to-order stations for omelets, pancakes or waffles. The chefs at these open stations are usually amenable to questions about their work, and they often have great suggestions for ingredient combinations that you might not already have thought of. Also, if you’re nice to the pancake man, he may create a special Mickey pancake just for you.
Where to Learn from the Masters: Savory
Some of the best spots to speak to chefs are at Disney’s sushi counters, including those at the Polynesian, at the Swan, and at Epcot’s Japan pavilion. Sushi chefs are accustomed to interacting with guests and are happy to entertain questions and make recommendations. Almost everything my kids know about sushi they’ve learned from conversations with sushi chefs. On a related note, the hibachi chefs at the Japan pavilion’s Teppan Edo are also wonderful sources of information about Japanese style cooking.
Other restaurants with open cooking areas include ‘Ohana at the Polynesian, Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Kouzzina at the Boardwalk resort, and Via Napoli in Epcot. Again, the chefs there have always seemed flattered by my children’s interest in and attention to their work. If your kids are interested in food, but are shy, having them pay a complement to the chef is a wonderful ice breaker. Perhaps have them role-play with you during dinner something like, “I loved the chicken. Can you tell me more about the spices you used?” This is a perfect entree into a substantive conversation.
Where to Learn from the Masters: Chefs’ Tables
If you have older children who are interested in more in-depth interaction with Disney chefs, then you are welcome to take them to a Chef’s Table experience at a signature restaurant such as those at Citricos, the Flying Fish, or Victoria & Albert’s.
Chef’s Table meals are either in, or directly adjacent to, the actual kitchen where meals are prepared. There is an expectation at these meals that you will have sustained interaction with the culinary staff. While these meals are pricey, for the budding chef the chance to sit in a gourmet kitchen and interact with true professionals can be a life-changing event.
With up-close opportunities to learn from the professionals at Walt Disney World, my girls have gained first-hand knowledge about the preparation of everything from funnel cake to fois gras.
So what am I missing? Do you have a favorite spot in the Disney Parks to learn about food preparation? Is there any place you’ve found to be particularly welcoming to children with questions?