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Allergy Magic: Q&A with Disney Chef Gary Jones

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, will be the keynote speaker at the Food Allergy and Celiac Convention (FACC) in Orlando on Saturday, Nov. 22. 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. 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.

Next: Chef Jones’ tips for Disney guests with dietary restrictions.

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