It’s no secret that we LOVE Disney eats, and we’re betting you do too. From the humble Mickey Ice Cream Bar to the finest dishes at Victoria & Albert’s, it’s hard to find a Disney food that doesn’t hold a special place in our hearts. (And when that happens, we’re sure to tell you about it.)
Have you ever wondered where these delicious and — in many cases — ICONIC foods come from? Believe it or not, many of our favorite Disney dishes actually originate in a SECRET LAB.
Intrigued? Well buckle up, folks, we’re taking you on a trip to find out where Disney foods are invented — Disney’s FLAVOR LAB.
What the what is Flavor Lab?
Flavor Lab is a very real, very hush-hush space. You’ve probably never heard of it because Disney keeps it shrouded in mystery! Most Cast Members can’t even get into this hard-to-access workspace.
Flavor Lab is a research and development location devoted to creating the food of Disney parks and resorts. In an interview with Food & Wine, Lenny DeGeorge, executive chef of culinary concept development for Disney Parks & Resorts, likened the Flavor Lab team to the folks behind our favorite attractions: “We’re like Imagineering, but for food.” In other words, OUR HEROES.
What do they do in the Flavor Lab?
The Flavor Lab team’s job is to conceptualize, create, and execute new food items in all of the Disney resorts around the world. That’s a LOT of Disney eats.
They don’t JUST focus on the menu items, either. The Flavor Lab team also helps craft the stories behind Disney’s restaurants and plays a role in developing the physical restaurant spaces — zeroing in on details right down to the heights of the tables and chairs and the choice of overhead lighting. “We work the opposite of typical here, creating the guiding principle, the menu — then we design the restaurant, then we design the kitchen,” master pastry chef Stefan Riemer told Food & Wine.
At any given time, Flavor Lab is working on around 100 different projects. For each new food item or dining concept, the design and creation process can take several months to several years. Some examples? Flavor Lab spent years developing the 50 potential combinations on the Satu’li Canteen menu. And when they worked on D-Luxe Burger for Disney Springs, they spent TWO WHOLE YEARS perfecting the French fries.
One of the most recent and most exciting projects that Flavor Lab has been working on is the EPCOT restaurant Space 220.
What goes into developing Disney foods?
If there’s one thing that Disney has on lock, it’s storytelling. Nearly everything Disney does is in the service of furthering a story — and they even do this through food. So of course, all of the food created in the Flavor Lab follows a story.
The Flavor Lab team also has to make sure that a dish can appeal to millions of different tastes so that it can satisfy the broadest range of guests and be served on a massive scale (more than 50 million guests visit Disney World every year!).
Where is Flavor Lab?
Another MYSTERY! Flavor Lab occupies a totally secret location. Reporter David Lansel from Food & Wine got the lucky chance to visit and it was quite the ordeal to get there.
Lansel explained that he was taken behind a gate that blocks off the service entrance to one of Disney World’s mid-priced resorts. They had to go through a guard checkpoint before driving WAY back into the HUGE support area for the hotel (Lansel called it a “mini-city”). Flavor Lab is tucked into this backstage area in an unassuming 7,500-square-foot building. Good luck finding it if you don’t know where it is already!
Why is it so secret?
So why the need to keep this place so quiet? The team at Flavor Lab knows that there are consequences when things aren’t kept a secret.
A dish can undergo many different changes before it’s perfected, and a leak about a new dish can make the process more difficult and interrupt the workflow. Prior to opening Flavor Lab, this tended to be an issue.
Riemer talks about the frustrations that came with NOT having a secret facility. “We used to have a tiny facility that we shared with another team,” he explained. “We ended up dropping a lot of ideas because we’d see them on social media before they were even launched!”
We’re on board with a top-secret location if it means we’re more likely to get to eventually TASTE Flavor Lab’s best creations!
What’s in the Flavor Lab?
Flavor Lab sounds like a mythical place where food dreams come true, doesn’t it? So, of course we’re wondering what it looks like inside. Let’s dig in.
The Flavor Lab is broken up into four sections — Eat, Create, Drink, and the kitchen.
Eat is the flashiest part of the lab. It’s a super high-tech kitchen set-up that looks like it’s straight from a cooking show. This is the spot where chefs demo new items for the chefs who will actually be making them in the restaurant. It’s also hooked up with cameras and streaming equipment so that they can collaborate with Disney culinary staff around the world in real time.
Create is a brainstorming space. There are tables set up and screens on the walls and it’s where the team goes to tell the stories of the next big foods in Disney World. Drink is the brainstorming and test space for beverages and place settings!
Of course, the best part of the facility is its kitchen where the Flavor Lab team gets cooking. Think of the best kitchen you’ve ever seen and amp it up — a lot. This space is SERIOUSLY state of the art and stocked with a revolving door of the latest and greatest culinary appliances.
Who Gets to Work in the Flavor Lab?
As you’ve probably gathered, the folks working in the Flavor Lab are the best of the best. Yet another fun fact about Flavor Lab is how they onboard new talent to the team.
Hiring new chefs is not a process Flavor Lab takes lightly. Chefs are put to the ultimate test before they get the green light. Finalists are brought into Flavor Lab to for an Iron Chef-style audition where they must cook a four-course meal in two hours and then be judged by a panel of executive chefs.
So there you have it — we’ve taken a few small steps towards demystifying Disney’s Flavor Lab. We’d certainly love to get a peek inside someday, but for now, we’ll settle for getting to eat the fruits of their labor.
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What do YOU think of The Flavor Lab? Pretty crazy right!? Share your thoughts in the comments!