Allergy Magic: Q&A with Disney Chef Gary Jones

in Managing Allergies, Travel & Dining
Published: November 18, 2014

disneyChef Gary Jones
Serving food to people with food allergies and celiac disease requires a lot of precaution and know-how. Yet the chefs at Walt Disney World’s resorts and restaurants manage to safely serve tens of thousands of guests a day safely, and have built an outstanding reputation for allergy accommodation.

Gary Jones, the Culinary Dietary Specialist at Disney, is the keynote speaker at the Food Allergy and Celiac Convention (FACC) in Orlando on Nov. 22, 2014. Chef Jones will be speaking about the scope and size of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, the established processes for guests with special dietary needs dining at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and the Magic of Healthy Living program.

FACC co-host Laurie Sadowski interviews Chef Jones for a sneak peek into creating allergy-aware magic inside the Disney kitchens.

Q. What sort of Special Diets training is required for new chefs?

We use a variety of training tools from computer modules and input from our safety partners to hands-on location training. We also continue to learn from our guests, as they are the ones with the specific needs.

Q. What are your primary duties as the Culinary Dietary Specialist for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts?

I work on the Health and Wellness Integration Team to help lead our strategies around food allergies and moving towards healthier items on our menus, with a special focus on kids’ menus and the Mickey Check program.

Q. Chef Jones, can you walk us through the process of managing a special diets meal?

The first step is understanding the needs of the individual guest with a food allergy or intolerance. A trained cast member is engaged to lead the process of preparing the specific meal through delivery to the correct guest at the table.

We are always striving to improve our processes at the many different styles of service offered within Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Q. Over the years, we are sure you’ve found some fan favorites that would be hard to take off of the menus (such as the Mickey waffles!). How do you choose what mainstream Disney items to adapt and offer as gluten-free and allergy-friendly?

Guest demand tends to drive these choices. We try to adapt as many items as possible from our menus to meet the needs of guests with food allergies or intolerances.

Q. As Disney-lovers, we have noticed an increase in special diets diners visiting the Walt Disney World Resort. Can you talk about how Disney has responded to those changes in needs of the guests?

It’s true that the number of guests with food allergies and intolerances has increased dramatically over the past few years. Our food and beverage teams regularly note the allergen content of potential menu items as a filter for deciding what will be on the final menu.

My role is to help source delicious products for our chefs to use as ingredients or packaged products throughout our parks and resorts.

Q. What are some recommendations that Disney gives guests visiting the parks & resorts with special dietary needs?

Guests with one or even several of the Top 8 common allergens should note their food allergies or intolerances on their reservations, but can then go directly to our restaurants without further notice.

Guests with more than four common allergies, complex allergies or metabolic issues should contact our special diets team approximately two weeks before arrival at [email protected].

Most locations have a designated trained cast member to assist guests with food allergies and intolerances when needed.

Q. Is there anything about dining at Disney with a special diet that you think would surprise guests?

Our goal is to create magical experiences throughout our parks and resorts. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the wide variety of craveable choices from healthful to indulgent that can be adapted to meet guest needs.

Q. What are your top 5 favorite places to eat on property?

There are far more than five great choices at Walt Disney World alone! We have great options in all of our parks and resorts domestically, internationally and, of course, on the Disney Cruise Line.

Those choices can be dictated by where you are in the parks, time of day, the weather, number of family members, and most importantly, remembering that you are on vacation to experience as much as possible during your visit. I encourage you to try many different styles of dining – from a quick-service cart through signature dining.

Q. What do you love most about your job at Walt Disney World?

Simple: It’s the people. I love the guests and the cast members that I have the privilege to work with on a daily basis. I’m still a short-timer – with only 28 years at Walt Disney World. A smiling guest is all it takes!