Today I was searching through my documents folder and found a paper I wrote for my culinary program experience at Walt Disney World. This paper was written two months into my internship, and covers the basics of working in a quick-service environment. Eventually I will do a post about my Food & Wine experience, but if you ever want to learn about my disney experience, you can always check out my older blog, MyLifeInDisney .
From Mickey Waffles to
Carved Turkey:My Co-op
Lights! Camera! Action! During casting I was placed at the resort, “All-Star Movies” This resort is in the value category hosting families and tour groups. Our food court, the “World Premiere Food Court” hosts five shops which each offer something different for the guest to dine on. I get to work in three of the shops, Roxy, Majestic, and Lyric. The Grand shop is where the reach-in coolers are for the guests to grab sushi and other cold items. Rialto is our dessert shop where guests can get ice cream sandwiches and sundaes.
I first started my training two days after I moved into the apartment housing. Our “Traditions” class is required by all cast members. We talked about company policies, and went on a lengthy lecture about the “Four Keys”. The four keys are Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency. Safety is a major factor in Disney’s business success. Families feel safe while on property, and we as cast members have many protocols we have to follow to be safe. For example we wear cut gloves anytime we are using a knife. I had never needed to wear a cut glove before so it is hard to get used to. It reduces the risk of getting cut, which makes everybody feel a bit safer. We also have an abundance of carts we use when getting ingredients and equipment into our station. This is not only safe for our backs, but also efficient due to the amount one can fit on a cart. Another safety technique we use is the HACCP monitor. At scheduled times we take the temperature of food with a probe which reads directly onto a handheld computer. This data is then stored. We also use a label machine which prints out the tickets which state what the item is, when it was made, and when it will need to be used by/discarded. This helps keeps the food safe and organized. No more sharpie marker on plastic wrap here!
The next key, courtesy, is very important especially when interacting with guests. The Lyric shop is home to the carving station and in the morning, omelets. I enjoy working directly with the guests and making their day special. Guests visit us from around the world and we try to accompany all of their needs. Thankfully most cast members are bilingual which makes the guest feel more comfortable speaking in their own language. If we are unable to understand the language we try our best to help the guest in anyway that we can, including gesturing to each item until we point to the one that the guest wants. The other day I had a guest come to the grill station and only spoke turkish. No employees spoke turkish so I had to decipher what she wanted to order. After pointing to the menu items we finally figured out what she wanted to order. I felt bad for not being able to understand her better, but I think I helped her out the best way I could.
Professional dress codes at Cascade Culinary helped me with the third key, Show. Walt Disney envisioned a place where guests could be immersed into the movies. There are no jobs at Walt Disney World, instead they are referred to as roles. Cast members who work onstage in front of guests must always be show ready. This includes looking professional and following the Disney Look. This look ensures the guests are not distracted by our costumes and have full attention on their surroundings. Because of being used to looking professional at school, getting ready for work becomes second nature.
Disney provides us with our costumes and even laundries them. The only hassle is the cast service building is separate from the work location so I have to stop there either before or after work if I need new costumes. Each costume has a built in bar code in which you scan to check the item out. I can have up to five costumes at a time which is nice because I only need to visit once a week.
Every key must be unlocked to go onto the next level. For example, the last key, Efficiency, cannot be used if there are safety hazards. Safety always comes first, and there are no excuses.
There were only a few machines that I had to learn to use, as most were utilized at school. I had prior knowledge of ovens, steam tables, hot boxes, grills, and convection burners just to name a few. One machine I had to learn was the machine which tied bags together. A bag is twisted and pushed into the machine. A hydraulic pump then attaches a metal ring to hold the bag securely. It is very neat!
I learned how to filter the fryer oil and then clean the fryers out for the grill shift. After our shop closes at eleven, I filter or empty the four fryers in our kitchen. The filter takes a lot of time and paper towels to clean out since no water can go in the machine. Thankfully I have an hour to clean out four fryers if we close our shop in time. Lately we have had guests until 11:15 which pushes my clean up time back.
Everyday I am usually scheduled at different times, meaning different stations. The stations are as follows: AM Salads, Omelets, PM Salads, AM Grills, PM Grill, PM Prep, and Carver. Each station is important, and so far I do not dislike any of them. The only hassle is the omelet because the clock in time is 5:30am. But then again I get off work at two so I get the whole afternoon off which is nice.
My favorite shift by far is PM prep. My shift starts at four thirty, and I start the day off by making muffins. After an hour lunch break I start prepping vegetables for dinner. I then steam the vegetables and cool them off in an ice bath until they reach the proper temperature. I then place them in pans for holding in the cooler. After I clean up the ice I start breading chicken breasts with panko. This process can take over an hour since I usually bread two cases of chicken, which is about two hundred pieces. My next assignment is prepping hot italian sandwiches and then making potato chips for the pizza station. Throughout the shift I am always checking inventory to make sure we have a par stock of all of our items. I organize the store room and then help the pizza shop if they need someone to give out orders. At midnight I close the shop by cleaning the warmer, cleaning the pasta warmer, and taking the spoilage. We weigh out every item we spoil to keep a detailed record on food waste. Sometimes we can be lucky and have no waste, and other times we could have twelve individual pizzas go in the bin. This helps us understand how much we need to prep for the next day. Next I close up the main kitchen by taking items our of the blast chiller and wrap and date the items. I then clean out the walk ins and sweep and mop where needed. We do a final check to make sure everything is put away, and the third shift can start their cleaning duties. I clock out at one AM, which is quite peaceful. The stars are in abundance in the sky as I walk to the cast parking lot. The other day though I got a scare when I heard rustling in the bushes. An armadillo popped out right in front of my feet! I hope I didn’t wake guests up in the rooms near me from my scream.
I had three weeks of training which I have recently finished. All of my trainers were very helpful, and would always answer any questions that I had. By the second week I had started to get to know the kitchen more, and when the trainer asked for equipment I would be able to locate it. I feel confident in the kitchen with the stations I have performed on my own. My manager even stated that it looked like I had been doing it for years!
Everyday is a new learning experience, and I look forward to what the next day will bring. I had recently been scheduled for grill. The grill station is pretty basic; as I flip burgers for my entire shift. Although I do not learn any new culinary skills from this station, I do learn how to work efficiently and effectively. I am able to forecast oncoming orders when the line starts to grow. Skills such as simple knowledge of HACCP are present in this shift, and every shift as a matter of fact. Working on the line in Elevation had prepared me for the dance in the kitchen. I have started to learn routines in the kitchen to lower the time it takes me to cook. For example, cooking the burger. I spray the flattop, open the reach in under the grill and slap the patty on the grill. I take my gloves off, shake the salt and pepper on the patty and shut the clamshell. After returning gloves to my hands I place the bun in the toaster and when the toast conveyers out, the patty is ready to flip. The clamshell is then applied once again and within minutes the burger is up to temperature and cheese is added onto the patty. Placed on a bun then run over to the window to the hungry guest. Burgers are not the only item we serve at the grill station. I am also in charge of grilling chicken for the grilled chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, and philly cheese steaks. The Philly cheese steak is the most time consuming item in the shop that requires constant attention. The grill is sprayed then the peppers and onions are portioned out and scooped onto the grill. The meat is then added and shredded on the grill. Provolone cheese is added and melted then transferred to a toasted hoagie roll.
There are a few hazards that one must be aware of on the grill. The first is the HACCP temperatures of the foods which are holding. Every four hours we dump and restock our food which were held in our coolers underneath the grill. The next hazard would be the grease building up on the flat top. If you close the clamshell and there is a pool of grease underneath, you will be splashed. And nobody likes oil burns. Another hazard would be the hot temperature of the station itself. With the average temperature at one hundred degrees, I sweat my entire shift. I have to always remember to drink water and eat so I do not get dizzy or dehydrated.
Disney is currently switching over to healthier options for our guests. We now offer a variety of choices and healthy options for our children’s menu. Quinoa and rice were added and other options such as a coleslaw and grilled chicken tenders are now a static item. I was very happy to see Disney switching over to new food items which will not only be better for people to eat, but be more flavorful for our guests. We have a new roast beef sandwich with balsamic glazed onions which are to die for. I could eat those onions alone and be happy.
My culinary skills from school unfortunately are not being used to their full potential at my location. I would love to transfer to a full-service restaurant where my knowledge will be challenged. I came to florida to learn and push the culinary boundaries. I want to come home at night exhausted from all the work and sheer knowledge I acquired that day. Alas, this is still a tremendous learning experience. I get to interact with people from around the world every single day. I get to make guests smile just by carving them the juiciest portion of turkey. Our resort is the second biggest food producer on property, the first being Cosmic Ray’s located in the Magic Kingdom. We feed thousands of guests daily. I have recently talked to managers about switching my location half-way through my program. I was granted a deployment to another resort recently. Even though I only be worked there for two days, It was a huge change of pace. Caribbean Beach is the largest resort on property and is moderately priced. Guests are usually busy with activities around the resort so the restaurants are slower than at All Stars. It was nice to slow down for two days!
The Food and Wine festival starts in September, and I am very excited! My chef came up to me the other day and told me I was scheduled to work at the festival! I could not believe I would be working at one of Travel Channel’s must see food festivals! The festival runs about one and a half months, so I do not know if I will return to All-Stars after the festival, or be transferred to a different location. I am really hoping I get to experience another kitchen while on my program, one which lets me work the line. I do not know where I will be working or doing at the festival, all I know is that I will be at EPCOT. Culinary superstars will be flocking to the park and who knows, I might get to rub elbows with them! I already made a reservation to attend a culinary seminar with Rock Harper, whom I met at the Regional competition in Reno! I want to attend many more but I need to find out my time off first.
I have been expanding my culinary knowledge by writing food reviews on my blog when I have free time. I really enjoy writing and eating, so it’s a perfect match! I have eaten at some restaurants on property and I have had some amazing experiences. One of my favorites was Teppen Edo, a japanese restaurant in the Japanese pavilion located in EPCOT.
The servers were from Japan and had exponential knowledge on the cuisine and the culture. Our chef for the night cooked our food in front of us and was very entertaining. I loved the food because of the whole dining experience and the freshness of the food being cooked right in front of you. I would eat there again. I recently ate at “Les Chefs De France” The white linen table clothes made me miss Elevation and the wonderful food I got to serve there. I ordered the duck breast with a duck leg confit and pureed sweet potatoes. I was sad to say it was not properly seasoned and the duck breast was over cooked. I was quite sad. Why would they do that to such a beautiful protein?!
There are many lessons I learned from my on the job training that I did not learn in the classroom. One, which is not culinary related, is living with new people. I have had the most amazing experience so far with the people I live with. If I work morning shifts, I usually make the whole apartment dinner. I even made my friend a birthday cake and we served it at one of the restaurants on property. A Chocolate cake filled with a toasted marshmallow frosting, and topped with a raspberry buttercream and a chocolate ganache. I offered the general manager of the restaurant and our waiter a slice, and the general manager wanted to offer me a job. I guess the cake was really good! Too bad I was unable to transfer due to company policies.
Another lesson I did not learn at school would be food waste. At school we could make a huge pan of chicken and then throw half of it away. We never kept up to date with our stock and when I worked in Elevation I saw an immense amount of food waste being tossed into the garbage can. At All-stars, we must record every single piece of food that spoils. Food is money, and if a business wants to make money, they need to keep a very close eye on their waste. We weigh out our spoilage at the end of our session and record it. This helps let the managers know how much food we go through, and how much we prepared and had to be thrown out.
Overall I did not require any extensive training onsite on my culinary knowledge. The hardest tasks were usually when I was asked to fetch a pice of equipment and I had no idea where it was kept. After a few days though, I learned where certain items were kept.
I am currently enjoying my externship here at Walt Disney World. I am able to experience working with a large company, and mass produce food for our guests. Disney helps provide lectures from Chefs from the resorts. I attended one from the Head Chef at the Grand Floridian.
He demoed dishes for an hour then we all got samples and he held an open forum for questions. I really enjoyed hearing him speak about how he started fairly low in the company and after years of working hard he made his way up the ladder. He was very interesting to listen to.
My managers are very pleased with my strong work ethic and how fast I picked up my training. My head chef even told me he would miss me around the kitchen when I leave for Food and Wine. I have worked a few days now alone and feel quite comfortable in the kitchen. I have not made any huge mistakes, yet, and I enjoy the people I work with. I would like to improve my speed and efficiency, but I know that will come with familiarity of my surroundings. Once I have worked a few shifts alone I know I will pick up my speed.
I would also like to improve my language skills by learning common phrases in spanish. Our guests come from all corners of the world, and the most frequent foreign language is spanish. Plus, a lot of employees speak it in the kitchen and I would like to understand what they are talking about. My co-workers are so diverse, I love it. I sat down with one of my co-workers the other day for lunch and I learned how to say a few phrases in Thai. I love the diverse culture, I am always learning about new cultures and new ways of life. Meeting these people only ignite my passion to travel even more.
Recently I have endeavored a death in the family. My grandfather passed away and when I heard the news, I called the head chef and explained the situation. I was granted a week off to go home and spend the time with family. This death was unexpected as we thought he was getting better after leaving the hospital.
My grandfather was the man who introduced me into the art of food. As a child I would help him in the kitchen, making his famous Caesar salad and crepes. When he moved in with us after his extensive hospital stay in 2005, I would make him lunch everyday. His favorite was radish and cucumber salad with cottage cheese. I didn’t like it, but I still made it whenever he requested it. I was working on my knife cuts as young as thirteen years old! The television would always play one of three channels; The baseball game, the history channel, or the food network. I would sit with him and watch the chefs on television with him. We had a special bond that we shared. He was so proud of my accomplishments with the cooking industry. His dream was always to open up a jewish delicatessen. I think about him everyday when I cook, knowing I will always have my mentor with me.
I feel like since I have gotten this job, I have matured so much. Recently I signed up to be an extra in a latin music video that was being filmed in the Magic Kingdom.
I arrived at the gate at four am and danced until the park opened at nine am. I seize every opportunity to try new things, and the confidence I have acquired from this job has helped me immensely. Cast members are prided on the amount of magical moments they can provide to guests. Sometimes I can provide these at work. If a special request is asked, I will try my very best to make it happen. Allergies? Of course I will make something special just for you. Birthday? Expect to be showered with celebration.
Other times I provide magical moments outside the work place. For example, the other day I was riding the monorail when a little princess climbed aboard with her parents. I looked out the window and saw a few characters out below and pointed them out to her. She looked with excitement and she then informed me she was going to Chef Mickey’s for breakfast to meet all of them. I wished her a magical day and off the monorail they went. Another guest I interacted with was at the Grand Floridian. The family was taking a picture together, but the mother was unable to be in the picture due to the fact she was the one taking the picture. I approached the family and asked if I could take a group picture for all of them, and they were delighted to be able to capture the moment together. They then asked where the character breakfast was located and I gave them directions. It felt nice that even though I was not working, I was still able to make magic happen.
Recently I was deployed to the Caribbean Beach Resort for two days. This new experience has opened my eyes about the major differences between my current location at All-stars, and more upscale restaurants. I arrived in the kitchen and introduced myself to the Chef. I was told I would be an extra hand to help out in the kitchen.
I was placed in bakery, and I was beyond excited. The chef I worked with was fairly new to Disney, her last job was at the Nickelodeon Hotel as the Pastry Chef. After talking for a few minutes I had found out she had won numerous awards on the Food Network Challenges! We talked about the ACF and she invited me to help her at the Florida Restaurant Association with a culinary demonstration. She is also going to be entering a gingerbread contest and she is going to let me help her with the project. I felt extremely accomplished for my networking skills!
We started the day by making chocolate blackberry cake. I was thrilled to be able to make items from scratch in the bakery. It was an extreme change of pace from All-Stars. The employees were very easy going and the sous chefs were very hands on with the fellow co-workers. The Sous chefs at All-Stars are either on their blackberries, or in their office. I never see them helping the employees.
We then scooped ice cream and made tres leche cake. We made several sauces and prepped all of the deserts for the sit-down restaurant, Shutters. I made several trays of pastries. I filled each with either a pastry cream, a coconut pastry cream, or a cheese filling. Then each got topped with either chopped pineapple, sliced mango, or pureed guava.
Another cake I got to make was a roasted banana peanut butter cake. This cake was so good! I was able to sample almost everything we made, and I loved everything. It tasted so fresh and flavorful. Shutters serves authentic Caribbean dishes and I need to visit the restaurant soon to see how everything ends up on the plate.
Overall I have been having the time of my life here at Disney. In my future I see a possible career here, or networking opportunities. I have about seven months still here to experience more adventures. As they say in Disney, “We hope you have a magical day!”.
* I wrote this paper in August 2012. I finished off my program at EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival.