THE team chefs for the Shanghai Disney Resort are all experienced in the kitchen but this is the first time for some of them to work for Disney. They find the new challenge exhilarating.
Alan Orreal, an Australian, is culinary director for the resort, while Chinese chefs Dong Yan and Bao Xu are responsible for dining in the theme park and in the two themed hotels, respectively.
The team’s mission is to devise and execute menus that combine Chinese and Disney characteristics.
For the past year, the team has been working on preparing kitchens to handle the multiple restaurants in the resort.
“Freshness, food safety and authenticity will be the three key factors of catering in the resort,” said Orreal.
To that end, the culinary team sources as much fresh food as it can from China, paying close attention to quality control. For example, they compared the seafood in different markets in Shanghai as well as in neighboring provinces, trying to pick out fish, shrimps, shells and other aquatic delicacies with best texture and taste.
“We found that China has among the most modern food standards in the region,” said Orreal. “So if we can find ingredients in China that are safe and meet Disney standards, why shouldn’t we use them?”
The team well understands the importance of food and dining in Chinese culture. It wants to ensure that the resort is a showcase for the best Chinese cuisine.
Dong and Bao, both master chefs in Chinese cuisine, will have chances to demonstrate their skills.
Dong said his specialty is authentic Shanghai cuisine.
“I promise you there will be Shanghai-style dishes on the menu,” he said, “Or my families would never let me hear the end of it.”
Orreal said the team will be able to recreate Disney characters in food product to surprise and delight the guests, and there will be a wide diversity of food products on their menus catering to people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.
“We will bring together on the plate Disney storytelling and quality and weave it with the astounding diversity of Chinese cuisine, delivering to our guests a delightful array of highest quality Chinese dishes with a Disney touch,” he said.
Although Orreal is not an Asian native, he has a passion for regional cuisines and has long experience working on the continent.
“Most of my fellow cooks thought they should go to Europe to learn French cuisine or pastries or something, but it didn’t make sense to me,” he said. “As an Australian, I think I should know what our neighbor Asia is doing, and I see my future here.”
Orreal is the only one of the three who has had experience working for theme parks. He was with the Universal Studio park in Singapore before coming to Shanghai. His two Chinese colleagues have worked in luxury hotels their whole careers. They well know the biggest challenge they face: visitor volumes.
“I once cooked a buffet for 1,100 people,” said Dong. “It’s a big challenge to balance efficiency and quality.”
Meanwhile, the high demand of standard operation in the Disney kitchen is also new for him.
“Before we cooked according to our experiences and feelings, but here, there are standards for everything, such quantity of seasoning for every dish,” said Dong. “Therefore the quality of the dishes can be strictly controlled.”
Although the menu is still under discussion, the three chefs promised that the food will be something unique for the resort.
“We definitely will create our own star dishes,” said Dong. “And they will be very Chinese.”
Bao said the menu in the hotel restaurants will contain Disney elements.
“We are now discussing the style of each restaurant and every dish to be served in the hotel,” he said. “There will be tasty surprises for everyone.”
Q: All three of you joined Disney about a year ago. How did that come about?
Orreal: I had always been expecting to work on the Chinese mainland, and I knew my present boss Paul Chandler through industry contacts. So when he invited me to interview for the position, I was happy to accept.
Dong: I visited Disneyland in Tokyo in 1998. In 2007, when the Shanghai Disneyland project was announced, I said to my wife: “You know what? I’m going to work for Disney.” Fortunately, I grabbed the chance to get the position.
Bao: I chose Disney because the corporate culture of the company resonated with me, and I believed working for Disney presented a unique opportunity to improve myself.
Q: What is your impression of Disneyland?
Orreal: Compared with theme parks around the world, the thing you get with Disney is “quality.” They pursue excellence in everything they do. Disney is not just a story-telling company, and it also carries the story of its history with it.
Dong: I had a training session in Japan when I went to Disneyland in Tokyo. The details, including catering arrangements and even the cleaning work, left a deep impression on me. The dining service was very efficient, and the quality of the food was very stable.
Bao: I went to the Disneyland in Hong Kong once with my family. I remember my daughter was very fond of the colored popcorn sold in the resort. My daughter is very important to me, and her joy left me with a deep impression.
Q: What do you think is the biggest achievement in your career?
Orreal: Creating a television show a few years ago. It was about teenage kids in developing countries, who are homeless or orphaned and interested in cooking.
Dong: Being a chef in the first place is my biggest achievement. In the beginning, my parents didn’t agree with my career choice. In their opinion, working in kitchen is not a decent job. But they have since changed their minds, seeing my success.
Bao: Sticking with my decision to become a chef. We had 30 students in my class back in the culinary school, and I’m the only one who is still doing what we learned then.