Last month I wrote an article titled, “A Good Time To Be Gluten-Free”, and then I went to Disney World. Let me begin by going back to an event we attended last year in Colorado, The Gluten-free Culinary Summit in Copper Mountain. The event included many guest chefs including an Executive Chef from Disney World, Joel Schaefer. Joel participated in the demonstrations but was also there doing research on gluten-free foods and cooking for Disney World. I remember being very impressed that a corporation as large as Disney was interested in learning about gluten-free cooking but had no idea at that time to what extent.
Fast forward to last month. My family and I traveled to Florida and had an opportunity to take my grand- children to Disney World. I guess I have become somewhat cynical because in contemplating the day I had already mentally guessed the days meals; popcorn, drinks and probably salad somewhere. Sadly, I did not even think to ask if foods were gluten-free, as most theme park fare is fast-food oriented. I expected most of it to be heavily processed and probably not gluten-free, not to mention the cross-contamination factor. Needless to say, I didn’t eat much until dinner time. We searched our Disney World map for restaurants and chose the restaurant most closely resembling fine dining, Cinderella’s Castle restaurant, complete with photo ops with Cinderella. We were politely asked upon reaching the Cinderella podium if we had reservations. No, we did not but we were prepared to wait. Unfortunately, the wait would be six months. No kidding, the Cinderella restaurant is booked six months in advance! So, the Cinderella in training hostess, called other restaurants to try and accommodate us. She located ‘Tony’s', an Italian restaurant that could seat us sometime the same evening. OK, Disney World, Italian restaurant, now what are the chances for an adequate gluten-free meal? Zip. When we were finally seated, I realized that this was the restaurant that Lady and the Tramp shared that romantic spaghetti strand, so how bad can it be? A quick scan of the menu and we’ve got spaghetti (of course), pizza and a few entrée type dishes. The waitress asked us for our drink orders and the adults in our party all order the house cab. Oops, Disney doesn’t do alcohol. OK, how about sparkling water? Now for the fun part, I give my ‘serious allergy to gluten’ speech and ask the server if she could please ask the chef what he/she would recommend. She takes everyone else’s orders and disappears. A few minutes later the chef arrives at my side. He asks, “Who is the gluten-intolerant person?” “I am”, I answer. He then asks me what I would like to order. I am now guessing that he really doesn’t completely understand ‘gluten-free’ and am preparing to go into my in-depth version of my speech, when he says, “I can make almost anything on the menu gluten-free.” I receive this information as a challenge that I am confident I will win. “Alright, I’d like spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, and I’ll have the spinach and artichoke dip with crostini for an appetizer.” He answers, “I would suggest the spaghetti and sausage, as our gluten-free meatballs are not as good as the sausage and I’ll bring your order right out.” No one at the table spoke. My husband, daughter, son-in-law and I just stared at each other. I don’t know who said it, but finally someone said, “Wow”. My daughter and I do almost all the cooking for Glutenfreeda.com and consider ourselves somewhat snobbish on good gluten-free food. After absorbing the impact of our chef’s statement, we revert to our skeptical selves and guess that even if they can do it, it probably won’t be very good.
The meal is served. My spinach and artichoke dip is surrounded by warm halved rolls. They were soft and delicious. Everyone at the table tried them. OK, now for the spaghetti. I took a skeptical bite and looked up with a big smile on my face, it was great! And the chef was right, the sausage was delicious. I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a spaghetti dinner as much. It’s so funny how such simple things can mean so much, either that or I am just easily amused. Halfway through the meal the chef came back to the table to inquire how I liked it and what would my preference be for dessert? You’re kidding, right? He wasn’t. My dessert for the evening was a warm brownie topped with ice cream, fanned strawberries and drizzled with chocolate sauce. It was the perfect finale to a perfect meal.
I applauded the chef and I praise Disney World for truly giving me ‘A Magical Day’.
I have since spoken with Joel and was told that Disney World carries over 40 gluten-free items throughout the theme park. One can even get gluten-free baked goods in their bakeries!
It is indeed a good time to be gluten-free and a magical time to be gluten-free at Disney World.