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Disney Food for Families: Learning Opportunities for the Budding Chef

Disney Food for Families columnist Erin Foster captures some great ways to encourage your kids’ love of cooking!

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.

Fudge in the pan

Fudge prep at Goofy's Candy Company

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.”

Miyuki the candy artist in action

The new Karamell K├╝che 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.

Dipping strawberries at Karamell Kuche

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.

Kona Cafe dessert station

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.

Pancake and omelette station at the Crystal Palace

Rows of Mickey waffle makers at Tusker House

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.

Sushi bar at the Polynesian

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.

Grilling meats at 'Ohana

Creating the perfect pie at Via Napoli

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.

The Girls with Chef Scott Hunnel

The Girls with Chef Scott Hunnel

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.

Erin Foster Victoria and Alberts C

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?

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6 Comments

  1. Heather S. says:

    My six year old son has become very interested in the culinary arts. I told him that there is a program at Disney World where you can go to school to become a chef (Disney College Program) and his eyes got as big as saucers! =) I hope he will continue this interest and the next time we visit WDW I’ll make a priority of visiting as many of these places as possible for him to see first hand! Thanks for the great information!

  2. Mark D. says:

    Great post. My entire family loves watching the chefs at work, kids and adults included.

    At citricos they have a small open kitchen area (althought most of the food still looks like it comes out of the back) and I think a dessert prep area as well. I did not know they had a chef’s table.

    Thanks for the info!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I thought Victoria and Alberts no longer allowed children. Do they make an exception for the chef’s table?

    Great post! Thanks!

  4. Erin says:

    Thanks for the kind words!

    Victoria & Albert’s allows children age 10 and up both in the main dining room and at the Chef’s Table. The staff at the restaurant was very kind to my children, who were 10 and older, both times we dined there with them.

  5. Pudge the Fish says:

    Do anyone know if they still offer the grand adventures in cooking program for young kids at the Grand Floridian?

  6. AJ says:

    No grand adventures pudge :(

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