Fine Dining Disney Style

May 14, 2008

Last Wednesday I was invited to attend a dinner at the James Beard House. I am kind of an idiot. And had never heard of James Beard. Or his home. And just figured it was the name of a restaurant. And then I arrived at the Village address, walked into the brownstone and realized it was in fact a home. The former home of James Beard. Still very homelike.

From what I could gather from the other attendees, James Beard was the first real voice to say: Hey! American Chefs and American Cooking should be great and celebrated. And now there is a foundation that bears his name and give awards to the best American Chefs each year. In fact, I was told receiving a James Beard award is like getting an Oscar for cooking. So that’s James Beard.

Now back to his house. After his death, the foundation made the brilliant decision to use his home for special meals. If I understand correctly, great American chefs (from all over the country) are invited to come to the James Beard House to show off their mad kitchen skillz. And then an assortment of press and foodies and such are seated throughout the main floor of the house and get to enjoy the meal. Very cool. I can’t believe how enamored I am with the image of all these amazing chefs coming to the same small kitchen to prepare their best recipes. Lovely.

But enough with James Beard. Let’s talk about the meal I attended — cooked by the superstar chefs from Disneyland and Disneyworld. I should clarify right up front that I was not worthy of this meal (no one that shows up at the James Beard House with no knowledge of James Beard could be worthy of the gourmet-ness of this feast).

There were 6 courses. Each one prepared by a different chef from Disney’s signature restaurants. And each course with a distinct style:

Hors d’oeuvres by Chef Gloria Tae of Golden Vine Winery at California Adventure. There were 3 different kinds. I liked the Shrimp and Sweet Pea Tartine with Candied Garlic and Lemon Relish the best.

First Course by Chef Jens Dahlmann of California Grill at Contemporary Resort. Did you know asparagus comes in white and can be whipped to the texture of mashed potatoes only about a thousand times lighter? Yummy.

Second Course by Chef Tim Keating of Flying Fish Cafe at BoardWalk Resort. I have to spell this one out because it was my particular favorite — Fennel Pollen-dusted Wild North Atlantic Turbot with Maine Lobster, Celery Root, Leeks, and Fennel with Tahitian Vanilla-Hazelnut Emulsion and Montegottero Hazelnut Oil. It was so, so yummy. I had to use all my willpower not to lick the plate.

Third Course by Chef Andrew Sutton of Napa Rose at Grand Californian Resort & Spa. He served sonoma duck with roasted baby vegetables. This was my first duck. (Weird that I hadn’t tried duck before, no?) It was amazing. And I wanted to sneak some into my purse so that I could share with Ben.

Fourth Course by Chef Scott Hunnel of Victoria & Alpert’s at Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. This was a veal tenderloin with golden tomatoes and garlics roots and shoots. And I should note here that these 6 courses were not tasting courses — these were full, generous servings. So you can imagine by the time the gorgeous and delicious tenderloin arrived that I was realizing I should have paced myself earlier on. Because it was so flavorful, and satisfying, and I hated to leave even one bite on my plate.

Dessert by Master Pastry Chef Erich Herbitschek of Grand Floridian. What can I say? There was cream. There was bittersweet chocolate. There was sorbet. There was caramel-chocolates with sea salt. And more. And even more. And I loved every spoonful.

For those of you who grew up eating nothing but churros and fast food hamburgers at Disney Parks (like me), it might be kind of a revelation that there are 5-star dining options at Disney complete with celebrated Chefs. But there are. And there are lots of them — there’s even a Zagat guide dedicated solely to Disney restaurants. If you want to try them (and you should so try them), I recommend calling ahead early for a reservation. Because these restaurants are hot. And fill up fast.

Anyway. The meal was such a treat. Treat as in yummy and treat as in a cool experience. I was seated with wonderful people — seated in the very spot where James Beard kept his bed. (And yes, there were mirrors on the ceiling over the bed area. Not kidding.). The conversation was great.
I was able to meet the Chefs and compliment their work. And I was sent home with a gorgeous Disney cookbook. What more could I ask for?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dana May 14, 2008 at 11:04 pm

Dang. I am so jealous. I worked in the wine industry for years and go to meet some of James Beard award winning chefs, but to have that many collaborating on a 6 course meal?

Simply sublime….

PS – the James Beard foundation also awards food and wine journalists for their high calibre of writing in the industry.

Glad you had an amazing time. Thank you for sharing!


2 Mom in Mendon May 14, 2008 at 11:14 pm

How great! Was this a follow-up to your Disney World adventure?


3 Design Mom May 14, 2008 at 11:23 pm

Sort of Mom. I think I was basically filling in an empty seat. I assume that because I’m in New York and because Disney’s event people knew me from the recent trip, I got the invitation.

And I couldn’t have been more delighted.


4 Dansie Family May 15, 2008 at 12:04 am

now that sounds super fun. thanks for the yummy descriptions.


5 Stephanie May 15, 2008 at 1:02 am

What a wonderful experience. I much prefer gourmet restaurants to fast food hamburgers. :)


6 Adventures In Babywearing May 15, 2008 at 1:36 am

Oh my goodness- you described your night perfectly! It was as if I was there, too. Must try this white asparagus you speak of!



7 dcrmom May 15, 2008 at 5:51 am

How fun!!! It sounds divine.


8 Lauren May 15, 2008 at 5:52 am

Ooo! I guess sea salt and “sweet” is all the rage now. Sounds amazing!

When I’m shopping for cookbooks, I always pay attention to which one has won a James Beard award.


9 Jennifer, Snapshot May 15, 2008 at 5:56 am

I agree with Steph–a perfect description of what sounds like a great night.


10 Jenny Wren May 15, 2008 at 6:05 am

Oooh…sounds divine. You’re getting me prepped. My sister is cooking at the James Beard House in a couple of weeks

and I can’t wait!


11 Cafe Johnsonia May 15, 2008 at 7:12 am

(tears in my eyes)

I’m so jealous!!!


12 Blogging Mama May 15, 2008 at 7:15 am

Ok, my stomach is GROWLING at 7:15 am and it’s not looking for cereal! What a cool experience!


13 Me May 15, 2008 at 7:32 am

Ok, now that I’ve wiped the drool off of my keyboard, I just have to say that everything sounded absolutely wonderful. I wish I had been there; I would have licked the plate, or at least swiped up everything with my finger & licked my finger.


14 Just Pure Lovely May 15, 2008 at 9:22 am

I think Queen Elizabeth dined there when she visited America recently. I think. I know of it from somewhere, and that might be it … or maybe the Food Network.

Either way, I’m right there with you, being clueless. I’d have also been all thumbs. But you are so elegant! I’ll bet you pulled it off charmingly.


15 Naomi May 15, 2008 at 9:35 am

wow, your own personal Top Chef episode… fantastic!

and not a chicken nugget or juice box in sight. priceless.


16 Erin May 15, 2008 at 9:58 am

When are those top chefs coming to Boston? Glad you found time for this despite the relaunch of kirtsy.


17 R-Eight May 15, 2008 at 10:56 am

So much fun!!


18 flinfam May 15, 2008 at 3:03 pm

your photography is amazing!


19 Kate May 15, 2008 at 11:08 pm

White asparagus makes amazing soup as well. I had white asparagus soup with a langoustine flan in it at the Ritz in Atlanta, GA about two years ago. They brought the bowl to your table with the flan in it, then poured the soup over the flan at the table. It started to melt the flan as it was poured. Oh, it was so good.

As far as the James Beard house goes, I bet it’s amazing. A local chef is nominated for a James Beard award this year, so he went to cook up there a couple of months ago. I wish I could have been there!


20 Stephanie May 16, 2008 at 9:50 am

Oh Gabrielle, it’s good to know you aren’t completely flawless :) That gives the rest of us hope!


21 CountryMouse May 16, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Long ago my mother gave me a cook book called “Beard on Bread,” which for years I cluelessly thought was a reference to a scary-sounding recipe. After finally looking through it I realized it was James Beard, writing on the subject of bread. So you are not alone!


22 JessK May 16, 2008 at 5:20 pm

For anyone traveling to Disney World: if you’re staying in Disney resorts, you can get a dining plan for about $38/day. It includes a snack, a fast-food type meal, and a sit-down meal that includes an appetizer and a dessert. Such a fabulous deal, especially considering you can use your dining plan at many of the “fancy” Disney restaurants.


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