The doors are open and Jaleo at Disney Springs is now entertaining Guests from far and near. What was once a dream of a small boy who used to watch Mickey Mouse on Spanish television has now became a living, breathing reality. Chef José Andrés has had an interest in opening an authentic Spanish restaurant on Walt Disney World property for decades. March 2019 simply became the moment the magic happened. The question is, with all of its new Mediterranean flavors, how well will the chefs be able to accommodate food allergies?
I was invited as media to attend the Grand Opening Party for Jaleo at Disney Springs. All opinions, however, are 100% mine and mine alone. This post does contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure policy for more information.
The First Look at Jaleo at Disney Springs
Before I dive into the meat of my story, I wanted to set the scene and share with you some of the details about the brand new eatery at Disney Springs. So many of us have been waiting to see the walls come down around the much anticipated restaurant on the West Side. When the news broke in early to mid March that Jaleo would be opening for dinner, everyone’s excitement level began to elevate. Then, when many of us received the coveted email inviting us to the Grand Opening Party? Well ~ I’d be surprised if you didn’t hear how personally elated I was from anywhere in the country.
The Grand Opening Party was held on Thursday, March 21st in the early evening. Invited media and guests arrived in business casual and festive attire to celebrate this momentous occasion with the dreamer Chef José Andrés. When we arrived, we were greeted as if we were walking on to a cruise ship. Servers were lined up on either side of the entry way, trays of welcoming beverages in hand and smiles on their faces.
The outside of building itself is said to be designed to represent that of an artichoke. When you walk into the venue, the take is a contemporary feel that is meant to represent “Spain today.” The colors of the Spanish flag – red and yellow – are prominent and Spanish pop culture and art are seen in the murals, mounted on the walls and hanging from the high ceilings.
What I know about Chef José…
Well, that’s not going to be much, except the fact that there is no doubt that Chef José belongs here at Disney. As noted above, he watched Mickey Mouse on Spanish television as a young boy. He spent time in the Spanish Navy and arrived here on American soil almost thirty years ago. Approximately five years after that, he visited Walt Disney World and quickly noticed there was no representation of his home country. He had an intense desire to change that and pinned that vision to his dream wall, determined to see it come to fruition.
Over time, the opportunity to build in the newly designed Disney Springs entered the potential picture. Five years ago, the planning began and, with a large team of trusted friends, Chef José began to watch what he had dreamed could happen actually begin to develop.
About this particular restaurant…
Jaleo at Disney Springs is the fifth Jaleo location in the country and the largest to date, taking up 22,000 square feet. It is also the first to be built with two stories, the second floor showcasing an open dining area and few private dining areas that overlook the water.
There are several bars and numerous open kitchens throughout the entire facility. These kitchens allow Guests to watch their plates being made right before their eyes. In fact, during the event, we witnessed batches of wood-fired paella being made. When a skillet was ready to be served, the head chef (a long time friend of Chef José) would ring the cowbell, hit it twice and yell (with the assistance of everyone around), “Paella!” Before the end of the night, everyone knew the routine and was joining in the festivities.
Grand Opening Party…
After being welcomed with drinks (I grabbed a sangria rojas, but there were several options available), my friends and I grabbed a table near that open kitchen where the paella was being prepared over the wood-fired pit. Servers were walking around with various plates of appetizers, which included fried calamari, chirizo, liquid olives, traditional chicken fritters (Croquetas de pollo) and sliders ~ to name just a few.
It was honestly hard to stay planted with so much happening, but we had the fortune of an amazing team member approach us and offer any information we were looking to gather.
Now, I have to stop here and really elaborate on how amazing this gentleman was that night. A student pursing a career as a sign language interpreter, Terrell was the true definition of service. He gave us the run down on the menu, answered any of our questions, offered to personally deliver various appetizing options, shared tidbits about the restaurant with us and so much more. He was attentive and authentically engaged in conversation, which meant the world to us as both writers and consumers.
Let’s Chat Food allergies For A Second.
Speaking of being engaged in conversation, Terrell was the first one with whom I had the chance to chat regarding food allergies. My friend, Jen, had started off asking a few poignant questions because she herself suffers from food allergies. Since she was directing questions towards her specific situation, I asked if I could take it a step further. I was hoping to validate the process of dining there with dietary restrictions and gather more details about the more detailed allergy menu.
Terrell brought several vibrant and colorful menus for me to photograph. He opened the one designed specifically for those who have dietary restrictions and allergies and showed me the caption at the top. There I found a system of single letters that each represented a specific allergen. For instance, G is for gluten, P is for peanut, etc. You can see the picture below for more designations.
He also explained to me the discrepancy many are pointing out on social media.
This is important, friends ~ pay attention.
Under salads, there is one that labels walnuts as being included in the dish. However, the allergen label says it is “tree nut” safe (having a “T” next to the item). I talked with Terrell about this and he was quite clear. The allergen letters simply mean that this particular item CAN BE MADE to accommodate individuals allergic to those ingredients. So, for the Manzanas con hinojo y quoso Manchego, though it says walnuts in the description, it can be made WITHOUT them and in a safe manner.
Does that make sense? It did to me. However, I understand how that could be confusing. It will be up to you, however, to inquire further and the server / chef / manager to clarify.
I was actually pretty impressed with the menu and look forward to bringing my family, including my son who has life-threatening food allergies to eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. In fact, I had a second conversation regarding food allergies later in the night with the restaurant manager, Darclee. She herself has a severe, anaphylactic food allergy. Darclee insists that her staff and chefs know how to manage and accommodate such restrictions and situations appropriately and meticulously. She is actually directly involved in the training process, as well. Speaking with her was even more enlightening because of the directness of her tone, the genuine compassion I saw in her eye to eye contact and the authenticity of her own experience.
Now – something did actually happen that night……
Yes, a friend of mine did actually have a mild to moderate reaction that evening. Why am I telling you this? I don’t want to hide anything from you, but I also want you to see this in perspective.
The night was all about servers delivering various appetizers to guests roaming around in a very crowded restaurant. This was not a typical evening. Now, this is not to say responsibility can be waived. No ~ however, the entire scenario has to be taken into account.
My friend is allergic to seafood, had anaphylaxis to it as a child. She has been able to avoid issues for years. She simply asked a server what was in a particular item and she was told pork. However, with one bite, my friend knew it was seafood.
Yes, the server should have known.
Absolutely – no question there. However, the immediate response was what impressed us. The assistant general manager, several servers and other staff members quickly came to ensure my friend was okay. They offered to call paramedics, brought her water and even offered more allergen safe items. It was handled with dignity and poise. Ultimately, after some tingling and swelling, my friend recovered and was able to avoid a trip to the hospital. Phew! Those of us with her were very happy she was going to be okay.
Now ~ I share that story for two reasons. One – the staff’s response was immediate, complete and compassionate. Throughout the course of the evening, they would check in to make sure she was okay and if she needed anything. No – she personally had no desire to visit the emergency room, but they did offer to do whatever was necessary.
Second – and this is THE most important thing. If you have food allergies, DO NOT EAT UNLESS YOU HAVE AN EPINEPHRINE AUTO-INJECTOR AND/OR ANTIHISTAMINE ON HAND!! I even felt guilty, because, as a food allergy mama bear, I could not believe I didn’t have my extras with me.
I cannot stress the following enough:
- Always speak to the chef or manager, not just the server! Having multiple individuals know your situation makes for better communication and more watchful eyes.
- Do not eat if you do not have epinephrine or at least an antihistamine on hand to use or take with a reaction.
- Do not be afraid to get checked if you suspect a reaction is occurring. It is more important to KNOW you are okay, rather than suspect and the experience prove otherwise.
Hearing From Chef Himself.
The evening’s highlight, however, was when Chef José Andrés took to the stairs to share his thoughts, accolades and encouragement. He shared pieces of his childhood and his journey to America. He shared with us the backstory behind his vision and a little about how that picture became clearer and clearer over time. In front of the large crowd in attendance, he lauded praise and gratitude onto the many people who helped bring this dream into reality. It was an inspirational speech. It actually had us all thinking about those who have taken the time to help us make our own magic happen.
What to expect when you dine at Jaleo in Disney Springs
Expect quality and excitement! Chef José Andrés brings flavorful and authentic cuisine from Spain to life here in Central Florida. You will dine in a festive atmosphere and find everything from traditional to contemporary on the menu, including tapas, paella, sangria, an assortment of embutidos and quesos.
They even have oysters, as well as the José Taco, which is a thin strip of jamon with a dollop of caviar in the middle (Wow! That was good!)
Is this brand new restaurant in Disney Springs on your Disney Foodie Bucket List? Have you visited any of the other Jaleo locations around the country? Jaleo at Disney Springs is now open 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 5 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Lunch IS coming “soon,” as noted in the current menu. If you’re looking to make reservations, you can go to jaleo.com or call (321) 348-3211.
Where The Magic Happens
Chef José Andrés pursued a dream he had pinned to his wall. What dreams do you have pinned to yours? Furthermore, what are you pursuing and hoping to accomplish in life? Share your big dreams below and let’s see if any of them come true!
Looking for more food allergy stories and experiences at Walt Disney World?
- Our Food Allergy Experiences at Walt Disney World
- Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Kitchen
- Satul’i Canteen
NOTE: As a reminder, please note that I am not a medical professional, nor do I pretend / claim to be. Simply put, I am the mother of a child with severe, life-threatening food allergies who desires to show him the best kind of life he can live in the safest way possible based on his medical condition. I share our stories to provide hope. It is up to you to make a well-informed decision as to whether a situation or meal is safe enough for you or your loved one based on the severity of your / their condition.