Back in the day of Michael Eisner’s reign over the Mouse House, the concept of the Disney Institute was introduced. It was an actual campus on property at Walt Disney World, where guests and businesses could go to learn the Disney way to do things like cook, draw, or build team work. Although the Disney Institute as Eisner envisioned it has long since disappeared, the idea of fans wanting to learn the Disney way is still around.
The newest addition in that vein is the Disney Family Culinary Adventure at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The experience whisks guests backstage for a fun, interactive evening that includes plenty of time with the Disney chefs, hands-on cooking and a festive, five-course dinner with beer and wine served in the kitchen by the professional catering staff.
Aimed at guests 9 and older, the evening starts at 5 p.m. with a friendly introduction to the massive catering kitchen. A maximum of 30 guests put on aprons, hats and gloves and are divided into five cooking groups. And every station has a wow technique, from the ease of making homemade butter (equal parts buttermilk and heavy cream) to a fresh pasta with just three ingredients.
“We want to show them the tricks of the trade,” says Chef Frank Brough. “It’s a guided experience but they do everything from making cheese and butter to rolling out pasta and breaking down a whole beef tenderloin.”
The five stations:
- Garde manger, is the French term for food produced in the cold kitchen, where guests learn how to make farmer cheese, farmer cheese, from-scratch butter, and how to plate a gourmet salad on a rapidly moving electric belt in the professional kitchen.
- Sushi, with sushi chefs teaching the art of rolling sushi and sashimi. (This station may rotate with other culinary ideas.)
- Boucherie, or butcher station, where guests learn how to trim a beef tenderloin to make the perfect filet mignon.
- Pasta, with just three ingredients (semolina, olive oil and egg), guests learn to make tender noodles from scratch, along with fresh basil pesto.
- Patisserie, or bakery, where guests get to play with chocolate, mousse and other sweet endings.
Once the food prep is complete, guests move freely about the big kitchen to chat with the chefs – no culinary question goes unanswered. It takes about an hour for all the prep work, then everyone is seated at a long table in the center of the kitchen to enjoy the five-course meal they’ve just prepared. (Vegetarian, vegan and selections for guests with allergies are options for dinner.)
Lights are dimmed, background music plays, and a toast begins the special meal, where each course is served with wine and beer. At the meal’s end a special molecular gastronomy demonstration wows guests (we’ll keep that a secret), and they receive a special toque (chef’s hat) to take home, along with a Disney cookbook signed by the chefs. A Disney PhotoPass photographer will be on hand to capture photos of the group during the experience, and the photos will be available to view and purchase on DisneyPhotoPass.com.
“We really want them to leave the kitchen with ideas for a spectacular dinner party that they can do at home without opening a can or reaching for something frozen,” says Chef Brough.
The program is planned two evenings a week (days vary), starting at 5 p.m. Cost is $175 plus tax, $125 plus tax for ages 9 to 12. (Younger guests may have their own cooking station.) Complimentary transportation is provided for Walt Disney Resort hotel guests. To book or for more information, call 407-WDW-PLAY.
Am I the only one who wishes that Disney had put more effort into making the Disney Institute work? Hopefully this program will take off and we’ll see similar programs spring to life.