INTRODUCTION TO ALL WHO COME TO THIS HAPPY PLACE . . .
ONE HUNDRED YEARS. It was October 16, 1923, when Walt Disney signed a contract at his uncle’s modest Hollywood home for a series of silent film cartoons that would become the foundation of The Walt Disney Company. And what a joy it has been to look back over the decades of Disney storytelling this year and gain a greater appreciation of how the company’s legacy was crafted layer upon layer. In particular, what a delight it was to realize how food played an integral role in Walt’s life—both before and during the evolution of his original theme park, Disneyland.
Walt’s tastes were modest—his favorite chili recipe is included in this book—and when he opened The Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California, in ¤±€, characters from his movies would soon be central to the menu at the Studio Restaurant, with eventual specials like “Minnie’s Delight,” “Snow White Special,” and “The Little Pig’s Salad Bowl.” The food back then was straightforward (the “Artist’s Special” was fried ham with country gravy, applesauce, and french fries for 40 cents), but the Disney characters added a little whimsy to the dining experience for Walt’s employees and guests.
When Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt declared that food would be an important part of the entertainment. “Like Adventureland and Fantasyland, the new ‘Kingdom of Good Eating’ at Disneyland is another great attraction,” he said in July of that opening year. Walt praised the blend of food options that would become the hallmarks of Disney dining we know today—fine restaurants, themed refreshment stands, and story-driven lunch spots. Be sure to check out the commemorative piece by Marcy Carriker Smothers on page 65 for more on that, plus all of the fun and fascinating sidebars from Marcy and the staff of the Walt Disney Archives throughout the book.
In working with the Disney Food & Beverage teams for much of my career as a Disney publicist, I got to spend a fair amount of time at the Disneyland Resort, even though I grew up (and then raised my own family) on the East Coast. While the Walt Disney World Resort is my home base, Disneyland became my place to immerse myself in Disney history. Walt Disney World is where I remember my kids growing up eating their favorite Tonga Toast at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort on many Sunday mornings, before we headed over to the Magic Kingdom, of course. Disneyland is where I personally find the most meaningful connections to Walt himself. I can still remember how smitten I was with my first lunch at Club 33, and with being just as happy eating the pot roast at Plaza Inn, imagining the days when it was Swift’s Red Wagon Inn and Walt had a small private room in the back.
From just over ten eateries on Opening Day to dozens throughout the park today, dining always has been an essential part of the Disneyland experience. Over the years, Disney California Adventure has added a whole new level of themed dining—from fancy Carthay Circle Restaurant to Flo’s V° Cafe, where we always head for fried chicken (and have included the recipe in this cookbook). Now the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival further expands the diversity of what a theme park menu can be, celebrating the cuisine of the Golden State. It contributes some of our favorite recipes to this volume, too.
Looking back, during my earliest years with Walt Disney Press & Publicity, I was privileged to spend time at Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, California, learning about new projects. I met artist Herb Ryman, spent quality time with John Hench and Marty Sklar, and heard about Opening Day at the Disneyland Resort from my boss, Charlie Ridgway, who had been there as a young reporter and recalled how he and his wife, Gretta, “found a prime spot on the verandah at the Red Wagon Inn, Swift Premium’s best in-park restaurant, and had a great prime-rib dinner.” I learned firsthand the attention to detail in every element of the parks, and that awe-inspiring legacy influenced the way I have looked at the importance of culinary storytelling ever since.
With a cookbook commemorating the Disney100 Celebration at the Disneyland Resort, it’s almost impossible to include every recipe we wanted to share. We go way back with “Gone but Not Forgotten,” where we share recipes like the bright Ginger Dressing from Tahitian Terrace and the rib sauce from Big Thunder Barbecue in Disneyland, along with the silky Popcorn Soup from Ariel’s Grotto in Disney California Adventure. Recipes from these iconic restaurants will surely strike a nostalgic chord with longtime Disneyland fans.
And then there are those enduring restaurants where we return for our favorite tastes: the Mint Julep, the beignets, and the Monte Cristo Sandwich—all in New Orleans Square at Disneyland. Or the Roasted Corn Chowder at Storytellers Cafe at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. These dishes have never left the menu. At the same time, the Disney Chefs love creating new masterpieces for their menus to surprise and delight guests, so we’ve included plenty of contemporary dishes to jump-start new celebrations, too.
Many of Walt Disney’s simple philosophies are still what drives our amazing culinary team today: the importance of storytelling, the spirit of adventure and discovery, the wonders of the world around us, and the excitement of experimentation and innovation. From a cool sip of Trader’s Sam’s Pago Pago Cocktail to a juicy bite of a Thick-Cut Ranch Pork Chop with Grilled Summer Peach, Blackberry, and Corn from Carthay Circle Restaurant, we hope this book will spark memories of happy times at the Disneyland Resort and inspire new ones for the years to come. —Pam Brandon Fall 2023
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