It's not only the rides and attractions at Disney's theme parks and properties that keep people coming back for more. When it comes time to sitting down to eat, the magic continues.
Buffet meals are some of the most popular dining choices among Disney's countless restaurants and dining halls. And while it’s a small world after all, you would need a big appetite to savor all of Disney’s 6,000-item repertoire. Whether you're planning an elegant meal, or want to grab a quick bite, the dishes are designed to please every palate.
You may be curious how your favorite foods are invented. It all starts with a dream, says Lenny De George, Walt Disney World Executive Chef, who's been cooking up the magic for 20 years.
“We have this department called Imagineering, so the imagineers would dream up what a new restaurant would be,” De George reveals. “The storyline is very important, it would tell us when and where the restaurant is set.”
The imagineers’ vision drives the dining setting and the menu. For example, inspired by Beauty and the Beast, the soon-to-be-open Be Our Guest, will have a French ambiance because the story is set in France. “So our inspiration from the start was a bistro-type experience,” De George says.
Although the storyline defines the menu choices, there are surprisingly few dishes named after Disney characters.
De George explains the reason behind that: “We deal with guests visiting from all over the globe,” De George explains. “Some of them may not recognize the Pooh or the Mickey.”
Making them at home has been the passion of many Disney fans, which has resulted in several blogs like DisneyFoodBlog and countless cookbooks.
Pam Brandon, who writes Disney cookbooks and annual Epcot Food and Wine Festival guides, describes a cookbook compilation as “a big sifting process.” After studying hundreds of recipes, the team selects the best yet reasonably easy ones, which are then tested in a home kitchen. “We want our readers to be able to recreate the Disney memory at home,” she says.
We asked Disney chefs and experts to tell us the inspiration behind some of the signature dishes, and how to recreate them at home. Here are 10 of the most popular dishes and the secrets behind them.
Pooh’s Breakfast Lasagna
Fans love Pooh’s Breakfast Lasagna, which surprisingly skips the honey, but includes everything from waffles and pancakes to berries and cream. “It’s a multi-layered miracle,” states A.J. Wolfe, editor of the Disney Food Blog and author of several books about her gastronomic experiences at Disney resorts. It's a tiered concoction of pastry, pancakes, waffles, pound cake, custard and more -- better made in stages. (To get a recipe for a dish you’ve fallen in love with, just ask the chef, Wolfe says. “They will email it to you.”)
Menus are continuously updated, but some old-time classics never go out of style. Tonga Toast is a sugar-cinnamon encrusted sour-dough French toast stuffed with bananas. It is served at Walt Disney World's The Polynesian Resort, and has been a breakfast favorite since the 1970s. It is also featured in Brandon's book Delicious Disney. She says the tricks to making this classic at home are to get the oil the right temperature for frying and to make sure you don't over stuff the bread with bananas.
Canadian Cheese Soup
If you're lucky enough to score a reservation at the popular Le Cellier Steakhouse in Epcot's Canada Pavillion, a must-try on the menu is the Canadian Cheese Soup. Disney foodie John Saccheri, a.k.a chef BigFatPanda, who recreates many of his Disney favorite meals on DisneyFoodBlog, says this is one of his favorites. “It’s not too difficult to make,” he says. “And it’s really good.” The key to this recipe: BACON.
Crispy Duck Breast and Marquise Potatoes
Disney diners are becoming more sophisticated. “When the parks first opened it was more about the attractions,” says Brandon. Now patrons pay close attention to the food. “Twenty years ago you got the question: ‘What’s Balsamic vinegar?’” De George says. “Today you get the question: ‘Is this Balsamic vinegar truly from Modena and who made it?’” Served at Lumiere’s on the Disney Magic cruise ship, the Crispy Duck Breast and Marquise Potatoes comes with a Pomegranate Jus and potatoes crafted into artful pancakes. But don't be intimated by trying to make it at home. It's worth it.
Disney also grows its own food. More than 30 tons of fruits and vegetables from The Land Pavilion in Epcot are served in the restaurants, says De George. “The majority of fruit and vegetables go to The Garden Grill.” The new Veggie Burger made from beans and corn and topped with fried green tomatoes is now a favorite at The Landscape of Flavors. “You have this warm crunch on top of the vegetarian patty,” De George shares his professional opinion of the dish. “It’s a really nice experience.”
Diao Yu Tai Cucumber Salad
Guests are also hungry for ethnic foods and bold spices. “We have Indian, we have African, we have Greek,” De George says, adding that The Landscape of Flavors now features four tandoor ovens. Ready to spice up your experience at home? Add some Sichuan peppers to your salad.
Artist Point Berry Cobbler
No magical dinner is complete without dessert and Disney’s are truly spectacular. This easy to make Berry Cobbler served at the Artist Point restaurant at Wilderness Lodge is another old-time classic. The dish like many at Artist Point specializes in cuisine from the American Northwest.
Recipe: Artist Point Berry Cobbler
Chocolate Lava Cake
Not all recipes are easy. “Some of them are quite challenging,” says Saccheri, like this sweat treat served at the California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort. What makes this special is the chocolate that oozes out in a stream of goodness. “If you overcook the chocolate lava cake, you’ll end up with a brownie. The lava won’t flow.” De George recommends a clever trick: putting a chocolate truffle inside the cake. “Then you’d have to really overbake it to make it solid.”
Recipe: Chocolate Lava Cake
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Gluten-free food is gaining popularity at Disney resorts and properties, De George says. Here is a celiac-friendly flourless chocolate cake, served at The Brown Derby restaurant in Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Mickey’s Caramel Apple
No trip is complete without snacks, and who could pass on this irresistibly colorful Mickey’s very Caramel Apple? You can find them at Marceline’s Confectionary in Disneyland's Downtown Disney District. Here’s how to recreate this big-eared orange delight back home.