Saturday, January 5, 2013

Disney discussion: Shoulda, coulda, woulda, didn't

Wed, Dec 12, 2012

Before I embarked on this incredible journey as a Cast Member and College Program Culinary II intern with Walt Disney World, I had many reservations. So many people were very excited for me to have this opportunity. I appreciated their support and praise, and was thankful for their encouragement and advice.

But I also became keenly aware of the magnitude of responsibility such an opportunity presented. I knew this would be a demanding experience, and that I would likely be taxed far beyond any other employment or educational experience I had been through before in my life.

I was afraid that I would not be up to the task of completing the course or representing my school. Well wishers assured me that I would be fine.

And with a nervous smile, I jumped in feet first with goals for excellence and worst case scenario contingency plans.

The actual experience was familiar yet skewed into new surroundings. I had teammates, we had a set production menu for the day, and Chefs to report to. But the experience continued each day for twice as long as a normal class, instead of once or twice a week for a few hours. The menu did not change from week to week.

I could not familiarize myself with the recipes before or between production with recipe cards. The recipes were locked in the office, and I didn’t want to appear to be stealing company secrets by studying or copying them. Also, only the formulas were written, not the procedure.

But the worst part of all of this was that we didn’t get to taste what we made. The Chefs did not sample our product or critique it so we can learn what we have done correctly and what needs to change.

I had not realized before this experience how much I rely upon that constant feedback to hone my job performance and gain confidence that I am on the right track.

Even more than that, not tasting the product or receiving evaluation and feedback from the Chefs left me adrift without my main asset.

As a Culinary Student I created wonderful working relationships with my Chefs who became familiar with my work and the high quality of my products as well as my work ethic.

I would double check recipes and take precise measurements. I liked to get my mise en plas assembled before production so that I can completely focus on the process and finished product. I may take a few minutes more to get something done than those buzzing around me, but I made fewer mistakes, made consistently superior products, and was generally worth waiting for.

I work clean, methodic, and steady. I’ve always thought that was the most important thing.

Without knowledge of any of that the only knowledge of my ability or performance is based on did I or did I not clock in early. Did I or did I not work as quickly as those around me, who might I add, had been making these same products every day for years. And did I or did I not make product that looked about right. Not that anything I made was held up next to anyone else’s to at least see how the products compare.

So… I was measured and found wanting.

This experience changed my entire perspective of the Culinary Arts profession.

This is a business.
And the all mighty bottom line is more important than anything else as a deciding factor in what goes on in the kitchen.

In a high volume bakery, speed is much more important than accuracy or quality. As long as it looks about right and no one complains, then crank out as much as you can as fast as you can do it. And as long as we have enough product to fill client orders and keep their shelves stocked, then we’re doing a good job.

This experience made me realize a lot of things.

For example, perhaps I don’t want to be a Baker.


While I do enjoy making tasty products, it’s the decoration and crafting of the finished product that excites me.

I like the variety of production that comes with a new challenge each day instead of making the same, undecorated, unfinished, naked products.

I think that was an important thing to realize before considering opening up a bakery of my own where the filled cupcake and cereal treat trays are what makes or breaks the business.

I spent much of my last few weeks fantasizing about what I would do differently if I were given the chance to create a company and run my own kitchen.
I would focus on special orders and food sculptures.
The artistry and challenge would keep me coming back for more.

Those in my employ would be paid by the project like a contractor and not just by the hour. The quality and consistency of their products would determine their pay rate. The better they work, the more money they make.

Also, when they complete their work, they can leave. So those impatient people who want to just get out of there? If they get the work done and get it done right, then they can go home early, and good for them. But if they mess up then they have to do it again.

This will help preserve resources since no one wants to do something over again, so they’ll take the time to do it right.

Also, if they take their time to get something just right and get the product done, or if they are easily distracted and keep wandering off or something, then I won’t be out any additional money while they were screwing around. And since the quality of their work determines their per project pay rate, they will take the time to make amazing products. The all mighty dollar will motivate the workers and that bottom line will be preserved.

And the need to keep clients coming back will encourage growth and change. And that will keep me coming back as well. And at the end of the day, if you don’t like what you do, or you don’t have room to grow, then you’ll quit and do something else.

And no one wants to start all over again. So I’d better take the time to do things right.

And that is okay with me.


  1. There are people that do what your talking about: The Beautiful Finished Product and get paid for it. My friend that works at Classic Cakes, and you probably know her, is a true artist, and that's all she does! She's amazing! Maybe you could talk to someone like her that is really all about the artistry. Not that you haven't talked to someone already, but you sound disheartened.
    I know exactly what you mean. I am an artist, a musician, yet, my job is completely based on the bottom line, even though it's a job... with insurance, which is what my physical health depends on!

  2. Thank you for posting about your experience at Disney! I just got accepted into the Culinary Program for Baking/Pastry, and I've been thinking about whether to accept it or not. I found your blog very helpful! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Dear Anonymous,

    I would like to thank you for your feedback. As hoped, lableing the blog posts with the Disney College Program made it possible to be found by others who might be wanting to know more about the program from someone who has been there.

    Before I embarked on my own journey, I scoured the internet for videos, letters, articles, blog posts, anything that I could find that might give me some idea of what I was getting myself into. While I found several "apartment tour" videos by generic CP cast members, I found very little about the culinary porgram itself.

    And that was why I vowed before I left that I would put something out there for those that follow to find; which was intended, of course, to be helpful.

    I don't know if you will read this reply, or if it matters to you, but reading your response made me immediately think, "Ack! Wait, what did I write?? Did they get good advice?? I don't want to mess up someone else's opportunities or expereince!!"

    So, with that in mind, I hope that you were able to read in to all of my dosclaimers and caveaughts about how my particular experience turned out, and that it doesn't reflect necessarily negatively on the Disney College Porgram itself.

    I was the first and only Baking & Pastry student from my school accepted into the CP program, and it was difficult to know what I was getting myself into. Though I had completed all of my B&P courses, and worked in two bakeries previously, obviously Disney is a whole new level of excellence.

    The work itself was not difficult or overly demanding. But I was not in the best place in my life to go when I did. So, if you have two small kids and a husband in a strained marraige waiting at home and you find yourself pregnant while trying to do this... then I'd seriously suggest you reconsider if this is really what you want to do right now. But, that would be a HUGE coincidence, and and not likely how your experience would go.

    Of the other Culinary CP that arrived when I did, there was one other B&P student. She was placed where I had wanted to be and doing what I had hoped to do, and she did spectacularly. She came from a stronger background, having grown up in her mother's bakery. She also graduated from her school. And, she clearly did much better on her interview because her experience was better, so she was placed better.

    I am so very proud of her. She is living the dream with three of my other roommates from my CP days who all became full-time Cast Members.

    Also, there has not been a single day that has gone by that I havn't felt anxious and remourseful about how things turned out for me. I spent most of January in shock. I couldn't believe it was all over, and I kept replaying every moment over and over in my mind; wishing I could go back and get it right this time.

    And, I miss everyone I worked with in that Bakery. They are some of the most talented, kind, hard working people I have ever had the pleasure of associating with. And if I was given the opportunity to work there again, I would be there at the drop of a hat.

    So, bottom line, I think anyone who has an opportunity to do so, should persue participation in this program. I'd advise them to evaluate if they want to do it at that time or not. Because, you can always reapply or go as an actual intern instead of a CP later. But if you're in a place to do it, then I encourage you to try.

    It was one of the hardest, most amazing, life altering expereinces of my adult life. I wish circomstances could have been tweaked better... But I wouldn't trade it for anything.

    Incidentally, I plan on going back once I'm finished with Culinary School. And since I'll be taking my family with me, there won't be anything left to keep me away.

    Besides, that's where dreams come true.