Two years ago, on July 10th 2012, You would have found me in a long winding line at the casting office at Walt Disney World, awaiting my fate. I cannot believe it’s already been two years since my Culinary Internship experience at Walt Disney World, because it seems like it was just yesterday I was meeting my new roommates, and training at my new job.
I had learned about the program during my high school culinary classes. During our senior year, we were required to present a report regarding a secondary learning institution regarding culinary arts. I was hooked when I read through the brochures and surfed the web, deciphering all the information I could find. I created a goal for myself: That I was going to intern at Walt Disney World.
A week after my high school graduation I started attending summer classes at Cascade Culinary Institute– a school I would earn my degree from two years later. I signed up for a wedding cake decorating course and fell instantly in love with my school. Our small class sizes promoted one-on-one peer and instructor learning. I became friends with my teachers and my fellow classmates quite easily; each class was four hours long, four days a week for a month and a half. I loved my culinary school with such vigor, I applied myself to extra activities such as: social media director of the junior ACF club , and an active participant in various competitions. I had a plan since high school: Graduate culinary school and intern at Disney.
One truth I have to share with culinary students looking to apply to Disney: 9/10 participates do not work in fine dining. You know, the dining that was stuffed into our brains during our stay at culinary school. I worked in my school’s restaurant for two years, and was nominated as a student chef of the year by the ACF in 2012. I was one of the four students to be given this recognition of the western thirteen states. I was beyond excited to work in a restaurant at disney, working on the line and prepping for fantastic chefs. Instead I told them I would be open to work with quick-service. I just wanted to make a good impression and get to Disney. When I heard I was working in quick-service, I was devastated. I knew I wouldn’t be working at a fun, fancy restaurant, but at least I was still at Disney.
When my family and I had moved down to Florida from Oregon, my grandfather had been living here for a few months, soaking up the sun and flirting with all the ladies. A few weeks into my program, my grandfather passed away. My grandfather was my culinary hero; he taught me how to make caesar salad from scratch ( with anchovies!) and crepes. We would sit together and watch the food network together, while flipping through the pages of Cooks Illustrated. I miss him dearly. It’s still surreal when we receive mail to his name; like he’s on a long vacation.
I worked at All-Stars for a month and a half diligently, making burgers and baking muffins. I was surprised to find out I was selected to work at Epcot for their food and wine festival. I was completely overjoyed. I had met friends at All-Stars, but I was never challenged food-wise. I was challenged everyday production wise — breading 2 cases of chicken breast a night in an hour– but I never left work feeling fulfilled in the terms of making a great dish.
I started out working in Epcot in the country’s booths. During our orientation however, I got severely dehydrated and overheated from standing in the direct heat. I still wasn’t used to the florida weather compared to that of Oregon. A few days later I was working and it happened again. I kept getting tunnel vision, and would break out in severe sweats. This job was making me sick, and I wound up seeing a doctor, who advised me to seek a different job setting. I called the head chef and set up a meeting, and was thankful he saw potential in me to continue working. They placed me in the production kitchen (air-conditioned!) and I found my new calling; this is where I needed to be.
The production kitchen produced all of the food and drinks for the food and wine festival. It also ran the celebrity chef parties on certain nights. I was in heaven. I met friends, and challenged myself daily making new recipes and preparing a wide variety of dishes. I met some great people, and awed at the celebrity chefs who visited. Some friendly, ( Michael Voltaggio is a babe!) and some not so friendly (Andrew Zimmern was so rude!). Earlier in the year I had met Rock Harper, Hell’s Kitchen winner, at my student chef of the year competition. He had told me he was working at Epcot for a party and to get in contact with him during that time. I got to work with him during a “Taste of the Senses” party, which happened to be a huge highlight of the program for me.
After the food and wine festival was over, I was sent to Chef Mickey’s to work the buffet line. My entire schedule had changed to mornings, where my food and wine schedule for the past months had been late night shifts. My friends had left. My new boyfriend was moving back home. I spiraled into a depression and I terrified myself one night, sitting in my room contemplating what to do with my life. I called up my parents crying and went home for a few days to recuperate. I decided my time at disney had been fulfilled, and that I would no longer benefit anything from working at Chef Mickeys. I was in a dark place, and I always have pulls of regret not finishing my program fully. Most programs are 3-4 months, however my program was to last 9 months. I lasted 5 months before I quit my time short. I spend the day with my family at Animal Kingdom and moved out the next day. I became isolated from my other friends that were still on their programs for another three weeks — mainly my roommates whom I never got to spend enough time with. We had completely different schedules and I feel like I had different goals during this program than they did. I looked at the program as my career first, fun second. I was trying to grow up faster than I needed to. I pressured myself to be the best, and was let down when I looked upon as a failure when I quit, even when I needed to for my mental well-being. Although that depression took a little while to let go of, I finally got rid of it when I started back at school. I knew my education was not done yet, and I guess this was the universe telling me to further my education and go to a University; a school that I had never even thought I could attend because of anxiety problems.
Looking back now, I would have never been where I am now if it wasn’t for the Disney Culinary Program. I would have never moved to Florida, and I would have never taken a few months off to reevaluate my life goal. I began writing about my experiences and felt happy when I finished reading a great story, or wrote a fun article.
Today I am happy; which means the world to me. I am pursuing a different goal, a goal which suits me better both mentally and physically. I can challenge myself with words and phrases, making the story the best it can be. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” And by pursuing new goals, I am happy.