Unashamed Old Lady In Training

Last night, during the Food and Wine Festival, where I was stationed yet again in Patagonia (five days straight! I’m an empanada master!) I was able to meet some new Cast Members who were a part of the Disney College Program. We ate lunch together while I shamelessly asked them questions about their Disney experience like I was some sort of interviewer. I love learning about why people come to work at Disney.

Partway through, one of them looked down at my lunch –a large salad with almonds, tomatoes, cucumber slices, mushrooms and dried figs — and asked quite frankly,  “Why are you eating… old lady food?”

“Old lady food?” I repeated. I looked down. My salad looked unassuming. There was a side of tabouleh salad and a cup of coffee.

“Are those prunes?”

“Figs! I like dried fruit.”

There was a beat of silence before, sarcastically, someone asked, “Do you knit, too?”

My lack of response was answer enough. They started to laugh. I tried to elaborate– I can only do scarves. I’m working on hats. But no one would listen. Knitting, to them, meant I was practically a grandma.

I returned to my kiosk, chatting with one of the workers as we plated. “Hey!” I said,  “If you have an empanada-shaped pinata,  is it an em-pinata?”

I was met with blank stares.

“Don’t ever do that again,” he said, seriously but not unkindly. “That wasn’t funny. That was old lady humor.”

So I had to set the record straight. “I thought that was clever,” I said. “I’m not afraid to admit I knit, I eat prunes and I like cottage cheese and I watch black and white movies more than any other kind. My favorite TV show is Bewitched. I bet you don’t even know who Elizabeth Montgomery is, and that’s a shame. I bake cupcakes for people who are mean to me and that’s how I make friends. And if I want to joke about having no empanadas in the window, I totally will.”

(My other empanada joke goes like this: if we have no empanadas plated, we have. … empa-nada! Get it? Nada, as in no more in Spanish, which fits because I’m in the Patagonia kiosk.)

Let’s face it though. I think I am an old lady in training. I jumped light years ahead to the time of life where I complain about Kids These Days and can’t work the internet. My coworkers totally have a point.

But that’s okay. I’ll just knit cozies for my cups of tea and watch The Dick Van Dyke show. If you want to laugh at my jokes and eat cupcakes, come on over! It’s bound to be a wonderfully low – key time. (No shame.)

It’s Festival Prep Week! *Scary Music Here*

It’s all coming back to me now.

The heat! The sweaty grossness! The dirt and grime and long hours!

I have a tendency to romanticize the past, make things that were difficult all so wonderful and rosy in my mind. And the Food and Wine Festival is no different. Only here’s the thing: the festival has a weird effect on Cast Members. Everyone is a walking-talking-working zombie at times, but when the Festival ends, everyone is sentimental and absolutely enamored by the events that have just occurred.

I won’t lie. I am charmed by Epcot. I think the Food and Wine Festival is the best experience in the world.

But it’s so hot. It gets so hot you forget what it’s like to feel A/C. Sometimes you’re so hot that you even forget that you’re hot until someone opens a cooler and you feel a nice breeze and you just want to move to Antarctica on the next available flight.

This year I’m working under a new team of chefs, and they’re… um, intense.

And if you haven’t heard of Chef Jens, the Executive Chef of Epcot, let me just tell you that man strikes fear into my very being. (When he shook my hand today and welcomed me back to the Festival, it was all I could do not to just throw out a slew of, “YES CHEF! HEARD! ALL DAY!” and run across the kiosk. As it was a managed a surprisingly cool, “Yes, Chef, thank you Chef.”)

My new chef team is based out of the Norway kitchen (Akershus, the princess dining in the Norway pavilion, is a name that everyone has a hard time pronouncing, so we just call it “The Norway Kitchen” to keep it easy.) They are, for the next three months, my immediate superiors and nothing that goes on in my work life occurs without their explicit approval. My fellow Cast Members, who will be running the left-hand side of World Showcase with me–that’s Patagonia, New Zealand, Australia, Florida Fresh and South Korea–are my family for the next 53 days.

I will do nothing but eat, sleep, breathe and dream of the Food and Wine Festival. I will get to know my team inside and out, and converse with nearly no one else.

“Here are the ground rules,” one of my chefs said to us today. “First, if you have family here, tell them goodbye for the next three months. You’ll get two days off a week if you’re lucky. Two, you’re being moved and placed and judged on your performance. You don’t walk, you stride. You don’t talk, you communicate. Understood? Third, this is your restaurant. You’re inviting thousands of guests over, and you’re their host. Take some pride in your work. And, lastly, don’t try to out-drink the Norwegians, or any of the International College Program Students, okay? They’ll drink you under the table. If you come to work hungover, I’ll send you home. If you come to work drunk, you’re fired. Clear?”

“Heard!”

“Yes, Chef!”

My other chef is a slim, snappy woman who has probably heard the line, “You’d make a great hostess!” as many times, if not more, as I have. But that’s where our similarities stop. She’s tough. She takes no crap. She is the most fierce chef I’ve ever encountered, as if she’s making up for her looks by being as strict and tough as possible. She scares me a little, but I also have tremendous respect for her. I kind of hope she has a little bit of mercy for me–you know, a girl-chef-to-girl-chef kind of way. (We’ll see how that goes.)

Anyway, all I can recall about last year is being thrown into the festival without hope of a life raft. I had none of the on-site training I needed. I just showed up and was told to grill lobster in Hops and Barley, my first kiosk. (Awww.) I learned the hard way last year.

This year, my new area and my new chefs seem to very adamant that we learn the menu back and forth, that we learn how everything is to be produced and that we make no mistakes and have little leeway. I, like the crotchety old grandma I am on the inside, keep thinking things like, look at these newfangled contraptions! as I look at my menu lists and listened to the safety spiels. I was actually given a tour of the kitchen. I was shocked. (Where was I last year? How did I miss all the important stuff like, where do we store the food?)

As the chefs educate everyone on their jobs and the upcoming 53-day culinary boot camp that is Food and Wine, I find myself nodding along like a redundant bobblehead. Of course, the second I realize I’m doing it, I stop, because I don’t want to be that guy” that thinks he/she knows everything. I detest those people.

So I stand, in the front, trying to look both eager and serious at the same time. It’s hard, because on the inside I’m jumping up and down and skipping and singing and thinking, “Yes! I’m back at Epcot! Oh, how thrilling!” On the outside, I’m just trying to keep my, “Yes, Chef,” as even and monotone as possible, because I’m pretty sure everyone would think I was crazy otherwise.

As it stands, folks, there are FIVE days until the official opening.

Less than a week.

Are you ready? I’m ready. I was born ready.

LETS DO THIS THING.

 

It’s Food and Wine Time Again!

All I wanted my whole life was to work at Walt Disney World. That was it. The goal. The shining beacon lighting the way to my career and certain-to-be-perfect life.

So when the pleasant culinary recruiter at the Casting Center shook my hand and uttered the words, “Welcome to Disney!” I thought I was going to up and fly away with excitement. When I donned my chefs uniform with Epcot emblazoned over the heart, I took a shameless selfie because this was it! This was the dream!

My first day of work was a hot, hazy buzz of sweat and lobster butter as I learned the buzzwords of the kitchen–it was my crash-course in culinary etiquette. I learned how to yell, “FOUR LOBSTER ROLLS ALL DAY! HEARD!” and “WE HAVE TO EIGHTY-SIX THE BREAD PUDDING!”

(‘All Day’ is a total count, ‘Heard’ is an instinctive response to hearing an order fired and ‘Eighty-six’ is to remove something from the menu.)

The second day of work was, admittedly, one of the worst days of my life. I was thrown into a position I had no idea how to handle, and I’m honestly surprised I didn’t collapse on the hot pavement behind the Moroccan Pavilion and just cry.

Good news: nobody saw me break down. Because I didn’t.

At the end of the day, they put me in charge of training another Cast Member on a job I had no clue how to do myself. But you know what? I did it.

And after that, it was easy.

Highlights of the 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival include (but are not limited to):

– Rocking out to Sugar Ray, live, as I plated up food in the Hops & Barley Kiosk

– The time I got to meet John Lasseter and give him a Bratwurst in the Germany Kiosk. I will probably never lose excitement over the fact John Lasseter was eating the food I made.

The time a Cast Member who totally deserved it accidentally melted a bottle of caramel all over the hot box and had to clean up the mess by hand. (Hehe. That still makes me laugh.)
– Of course, the time I spilled the Godiva alcoholic coffee drink all over the pavement behind Morocco, which turned out great, because that’s how I made friends with the food runner, Stephen, who is now one of my best Disney buddies (and, coincidentally, my neighbor.)

– Every single night, singing along to Illuminations.

– Being given free Mickey Ear popsicles for breaking an all-time Food and Wine record.

– Making Guests birthday waffles in the Belgium Kiosk. They had extra whipped cream Mickey ears, and made people’s day.

– Every wonderful, amazing Cast Member I met. I’m dead serious. I love every single one of them.

Maybe there’s not really a way to express what a wonderful, meaningful experience the Food and Wine Festival last year was. I learned so much about the kitchen.

And, most importantly, I realized that Disney may not always be pixie-dusted behind the scenes (staying late after the dishwasher broke to wash every single Biergarten dish and Food and Wine dish by hand was less than fun) but it is so worthwhile, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

All of this sentimentality, I’m sure, will go right out the window when I get slammed as a Food Runner on a Saturday in the middle of Orlando’s “autumn” season (upwards of 90 degrees, in full uniform) where I will be running in and out of the Conex Boxes, sweating and swearing in my head at Mickey Mouse.

Which reminds me, I haven’t come outright and said it yet, but I am officially working the Festival this year. Woohoo!! Please feel free to clap and cheer along with me. I’m thrilled. My next three months will be free from Columbia Harbour House and I will be submerged in the seasonal excellence and insanity of Food and Wine 2014.

I really just don’t know if this year can top last year.

But I’m definitely going to try.

(Also feel free to virtually high-five me for reaching my one-year mark with Disney. I can’t believe it’s been a year! It’s been magical.)

More details to come on my location for this year’s festival. Stay tuned. You will not want to miss all the shenanigans.

Saturday Lunch Musings In The Mouseketeeria

I am a functional human being today, which is shocking. Its just one of those days where everything is going like it should: I woke up on time and wasn’t tired. I made a perfect pot of coffee! (I love when that happens). My breakfast was both delicious and nutritional (delicional? New word. Mental note: work on that one) and I didn’t leave for work over-caffeinated. Which does occasionally happen, and ends with me bouncing up and down while working the grill, jittering around the kitchen like a jumping bean on steroids.

And even at work today’s kitchen prep isn’t daunting. In fact, I dare say its…easy? No, I’m going to jinx myself. We’ll just say its “ahead of schedule.”

The only imperfect piece of the puzzle was my unsatisfying,  watery turkey lunch wrap. It sits, taunting me, next to the current copy of Eyes & Ears, the Cast Member magazine.

But a bad lunch does not a bad day make.

Instead, I am kind of enjoying my day, which is weird for a Saturday at work during the crazy summer tourist season.

Last night at Downtown Disney,  the musical group Nova Era spent their break chatting with my friend and me, sharing their Italian recipes and insisting the ONLY way to make risotto was with hot stock and very thinly sliced onion. They are Italian, so they would know.

I love when people share culinary advice, because everyone thinks they’re right.  That’s what makes cooking so great and so personal.

And they’re really cool musicians with great hair,  so that was fun.

If I am lucky, the rest of my day will be just as smooth sailing as the morning has been. Disney, work your magic!

(As if on cue, Peter Pan just walked by high fiving everyone.)

Here’s to hoping your weekend is just as magical. Cheers to Saturday!