We have been visiting Walt Disney World as a food allergy family for over a decade. Throughout the years, we have learned how to ensure that our son’s meals are prepared as safely as possible by Disney Chefs. However, we have always had a hesitation when it comes to the outdoor kitchens during the Epcot Festivals. Just recently, I learned a few tricks that just may grant us the peace of mind we have needed.
I attended a media event as the guest of a friend invited by Disney. As a guest, I received compensation in the form of park entrance and food. While I am grateful to Disney, the opinions and experiences in this post are mine and mine alone.
MEETING THE RIGHT PEOPLE
I had the privilege of attending Media Day for the 25th annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. My friend, Angie from This is the Motherhood, had invited me as her “+1” and I could not have been more elated ~ or nervous! A few days prior to the event, I sat myself down and constructed a plan. I wanted to make sure I at least looked like I knew what I was doing. Not only was I going to graciously enjoy the plethora of delicious tastings offered and gather “intel” on new merchandise and the concert series, I was determined to find a Chef who could answer a few food allergy questions for me.
During the private tasting and informational session, we had the opportunity to interview a handful of Cast Members . Still a newbie at this, I took a deep breath, put on my big girl pants and boldly made my way to the front. There, I introduced myself to Chef Daniel and asked if he would be open to a food allergy interrogation. No, not really ~ but I’m sure it may have felt like it. He graciously took a few minutes to chat with me. The primary topic of conversation involved the steps an individual with food allergies should take when contemplating a visit to one of the 15 outdoor kitchens during the festival.
STRAIGHT FROM THE CHEF’S MOUTH
Chef Daniels’s first piece of advice , without hesitation, was to:
** Make sure the Guest’s allergy is mentioned immediately at the time of placing the order.
At each outdoor kitchen, a Guest walks up to the register and places his/her order. It is at THAT exact time the Guest should clearly and without fear mention any allergy (or allergies). I sometimes carry around index cards listing our son’s multiple allergies. This way, I don’t stumble over my words, things don’t get lost in translation and there is something tangible to which the Cast Member and/or Chef can refer.
In addition, Chef Daniel also recommended to:
** Be very clear if the allergy is severe!
In a case such as this, the Cast Member at the register will automatically call for the Chef, who may be on site in that outdoor kitchen or backstage in a traditional one. The Chef will come out to discuss the food allergy with the Guest and suggest what may or may not be a safe option for the individual with the restrictions. If the allergy is so severe that potential cross contamination may be an issue, the Chef will most likely and graciously prepare the ordered plate back in the main kitchen.
Chef Daniel did point out that the potential for cross contamination would obviously be greater in some kitchens versus others. For our son, we have to avoid eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. Some of the kitchens have plates or desserts that have nuts manually added as garnish. For instance, The Berry Basket kitchen has spiced pecans sprinkled on top of their Field Greens salad. Should this salad be something our son would want to try, the Chef would make it in the traditional kitchen away from and without the spiced pecans.
There was one particular tip Chef Daniel gave to me that made my heart skip a beat. I had no idea they could or would do this. Then again, I have no idea why this would shock me (I mean, Disney Chefs rock!).
Chef Daniel said I could visit any of the Disney affiliated outdoor kitchens (such as Mexico or China) and ask a Cast Member to call him (or any Chef). If time and patience allowed (on my part), he would personally go through the Garden Passport with me and identify some of the foods that may be safe for our son to enjoy.
**Seriously – only a food allergy parent / guardian / individual can understand how I felt at that very moment.**
Any time we have visited an Epcot Festival in the past, we have brought our own food into the park for our son in order to avoid the potential for a reaction. No one wants to experience anaphylaxis while at a Disney Park (or anywhere else for that matter!). Prior to our arrival, I have diligently tried my best to look at the foods being offered and attempt to create a meal similar to something that intrigued him. To learn the simple fact that Disney Chefs are willing to go the distance and create a scenario where someone with severe dietary restrictions could potentially enjoy something new and unique at these festivals just makes visiting Walt Disney World that much more magical.
HOW DO YOU FEEL?
This year’s Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs from February 29th to May 28th. If you are planning a visit to Epcot this spring and you or a family member are managing food allergies, I would LOVE to hear whether or not you enjoy something from one of the 15 outdoor kitchens. Let me know if you decided to employ any of the above advice and if it helped. Please feel free to share your story in the comments below!
Disclaimer: Just a quick little note. I am not a medical professional ~ just a food allergy mom with a son who loves Disney. I would never advocate the ingestion of potentially dangerous foods without meticulously assessing the situation. Each family has to make a well-informed decision based on their own comfort and severity of allergy. This piece was written to encourage the asking of questions and to share that Disney Chefs do try their best to accommodate Guests with all forms of dietary restrictions.