Make us your home page
Instagram

At Disney's Flavor Lab, chefs invent the happiest food on Earth

LAKE BUENA VISTA

Whether you're dining on a $50 filet mignon at Le Cellier Steakhouse in Epcot, or chowing down on a hot dog at the Magic Kingdom, the inspiration for both come from the same place: Walt Disney World's Flavor Lab, a 7,000-square-foot test kitchen housed in a nondescript building on Disney property.

I recently toured the facility, which opened in December and is not open to the public, for a behind-the-scenes look at how Disney's magic works its way into food innovation.

Our tour guide was director of food and beverage concept development Jean-Marie Clement, an amiable Frenchman who took us past the glitzy show kitchen into a second, state-of-the-art kitchen where pastry chefs were hard at work weighing sugar on a small scale, rolling out ganache and assembling precious cakes. One chef pulled a tray of dark chocolate cookies out of the oven; another created what looked like candy hamburgers. They were testing products for a new high-end, soon-to-be-announced patisserie at Disney Springs.

Clement walked us past a wood-burning oven and through a room of equipment, including a top-of-the-line coffeemaker. In addition to testing food, he said, the kitchen is also responsible for testing products, "things that don't exist on the market yet."

Eighteen full-time employees including chefs, sommeliers and mixologists work daily at the facility, doing research and development for food and drink programs across Disney property. Some days, all they do is test (and taste) food; other days they do reconnaissance at hotel restaurants or host seminars with mixologists.

"We do all the blue-sky stuff for the new restaurants," Clement said, designing everything from the kitchens to the menus.

Months before Magic Kingdom's 2-month-old sit-down restaurant Jungle Skipper Canteen opened, the Flavor Lab was in the kitchen testing rice noodle bowls and the Jungle Cruise-themed restaurant's signature dessert, sugar-crusted congee pudding.

For another new Disney Springs spot, the Ganachery, the test kitchen refined its signature chocolate recipe. And during our tour of the facility, chef Roland Muller presented a trio of items the lab is currently testing for Tiffins, a restaurant set to open in the next few months at Animal Kingdom: coriander-spiced pork ribs, black-eyed pea fritters and a seasonal fish crudo.

In addition to developing food for new restaurants, this is also a space where current Disney chefs can "come to play for a day," Clement said.

"For existing locations, the chef can come be away from the restaurant and get creative," he said. "They come here and they develop menus, they work with our chefs so they exchange ideas, and we end up testing the menu with them."

Recently, chefs at the Flying Fish Cafe at Disney's Boardwalk spent time at the Flavor Lab in an effort to rehab that restaurant's menu. Before this building existed, chefs often took up temporary residence in other restaurants' kitchens, including ones that are only open for dinner, to test new recipes and experiment.

The Flavor Lab also advises other Disney parks virtually, using the overhead TV screens and computers in the large show kitchen to broadcast nationally and internationally. The Flavor Lab recently helped rework menus for Disneyland in California and Disneyland Paris, and it is heavily involved in the company's newest park, Shanghai Disney Resort, which is set to open this summer. Clement said it works both ways, in that Disney's Chinese culinary experts often weigh in on Chinese dishes for Disney World locations.

This includes beverages. Brad Ward and Jason Cha-Kim are behind the Flavor Lab bar helping to craft the spirits and wine programs, respectively, including a recent stint with the wine program at the California Grill restaurant at Disney's resort in Paris.

"It was a bit of a challenge to sell California wine in Paris," Cha-Kim said.

And the building serves as a training ground for Disney employees, particularly servers, who can attend bartending classes and wine tastings to beef up their knowledge in specific areas.

Contact Michelle Stark as [email protected] or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.

At Disney's Flavor Lab, chefs invent the happiest food on Earth 02/29/16 [Last modified: Monday, February 29, 2016 10:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Cast up to the challenge in Richey Suncoast's 'How the Other Half Loves'

    Stage

    Theater has many plays where there are two completely different apartments depicted on the stage, usually split down the middle, one on the right, one on the left.

    "How the Other Half Loves" runs weekends through Oct. 29 at Richey Suncoast Theatre in New Port Richey. Cast members are Christine Stoll and  David Daly (in front) and Bob Marcela, Heather Clark, Mike Worssell and Blake Parker (in back, from left). [Photo by Jess Glass]
  2. Review: Excellent cast delivers entertaining production of 'Young Frankenstein' at Stage West

    Stage

    I went to see the musical comedy Young Frankenstein at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill with some trepidation. I had seen a very good production of the show at another theater a couple of years ago, and I was concerned that I would subconsciously compare the two to the detriment of one or the …

    "Young Frankenstein" plays weekends through Oct. 29 at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill. Keith Surplus, left, performs as Igor and Lynda Dilts-Benson, right, as Frau Blucher. [Photo by Carol Ballard]
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Oct. 23-29

    Events

    R. L. Stine: It's fitting that the week before Halloween, USF's Lecture Series features the popular horror author known for the Goosebumps series. Stine will discuss his career, creative process and sign books Wednesday at the Marshall Student Center in Tampa. Free. .

    ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 09: Singer Anthony Hamilton performs onstage at the 2014 Ford Neighborhood Awards Hosted By Steve Harvey at the Phillips Arena on August 9, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Ford Neighborhood Awards)
  4. Seasoned cast scores an extra-base hit for St. Petersburg Opera with 'Faust'

    Stage

    TAMPA — Charles Gounod's Faust sets the table early. The world-weary philosopher immortalized in a dramatic poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is in his study, lamenting his state of affairs. He's willing to give away everything he has to be young again, even his soul.

    The St. Petersburg Opera Company begins its season with Faust, in a production seemingly aligned with the original intent of French composer Charles Gounod and librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carre. [St. Petersburg Opera Company]
  5. Blake High grad Taylor Trensch lands lead role in 'Dear Evan Hansen' on Broadway

    Stage

    For those who saw Taylor Trensch grow up in Tampa, his rise from promising student to star is heartwarming and entirely predictable. In January, Trensch, 28, will be moving into the title role of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway, one of the hottest tickets in theater.

    Taylor Trensch, a 2007 Blake High graduate, will play the title role in Broadway's Dear Evan Hansen. Courtesy of Frank Trensch.