Sunday, September 16, 2012

Day 1: Meet, Greet and Eat with Chef TJ!

Beth and Chef TJ






Over the years, Tim and I have developed this foodie connection where anywhere we eat out has to accustom both of our diets; vegans and omni. If a vegan option isn’t available, we don’t go and vice versa. So I wasn’t concerned when I decided to leave the dinner reservation planning in his hands. Yeah, I had my opinions, but for the most part, it was all him. However, there was one request I did make; I HAVE to have dinner by Chef TJ. Now most of you probably have no clue who Chef TJ is, but for vegans and those with allergies who travel to Disney, he is a major celebrity! Google Chef TJ along with the key words “vegan” and “Disney” and you will be awarded with an array of pictures and reviews of the 3-5 course meals he prepares just to please his special customers! He has been working as a chef for years at Disney World and has built this reputation that I am so sure he will never be able to escape. After making my request, Tim was able to talk to concierge service and get reservations on a day that we knew for a fact he would be there; our first day! Already a perk for paying the little extra for this amazing service! 

Our first day was a bit relaxing. We arrived at the resort Wednesday afternoon and took advantage of all the perks of concierge service. At 3:45, we headed out to the Grand Floridian Resort to prepare for our meal at 1900 Park Fare; my meal with Chef TJ and Tim’s meal with the buffet! (I was secretly bragging inside!). We reached our destination a bit early, so we explored this grand resort; a resort we deem for only the rich and famous. Decked out in Victorian style décor and large enough to have its own stores, restaurants and all day orchestra, the Grand Floridian is any vacationers dream castle. For us, a visit did us JUST fine.

After exploring , we headed to 1900 Park Fare to check-in. Since it is a signature character breakfast, getting our pics taken before our meal wasn't surprising. Thankfully, we had an amazing photographer who absolutely adored us and well, we absolutely adored him back! If there is anything I have enjoyed most so far, its the random people we have met while on our trip! Anyways, he asked for sass, and well I gave it. The results, a pricey set of pictures that we adored so much that we purchased it…or maybe its because we adored our photographer so much! While talking to him, he sent recommendations left and right from the buffet…prime rib, pork, sushi, etc. Then I mentioned I was vegan, excited to see Chef TJ; quiet he gave me a high five and told me “You go girl!”. That was my confirmation. I was DEF in the right place!

Once we sat down, our waitress came over and saw the “Special Diet” stamp on our receipt. She gave me a smile and asked if Chef TJ had come over to speak to me yet. I smiled, extremely hard, I’m sure, and told her no. Her reaction was my second confirmation, I was seriously in for a treat! My heart was racing with extreme excitement! He arrived at my table and I told him I was vegan and gluten-free; he told me “Not a problem” with ease and prceeded to show me around the buffet, pointing out what was “safe” for me to it, which in his words, was  “not much”. He then told me “we can go from there. I’ll have some things coming out for you no worries. I’ll have dessert for you too. Do you have time?” YES! I have time! Plenty of time! And off he went to make his creations…

Options from the buffet
 As I picked through my buffet plate filled with salads, grilled veggies and a flavorful tomato soup I wondered, what he as making and how many dishes I would have to stuff into my small stomach. Not too long after finishing my small plate of well, greens, Chef TJ came out with the appetizer course: Fried Kettle Chips with Black Bean Hummus, garnished with a sprig of thyme. All I could think was, he’s going to kill me through gluttony. I just know it. With hummus being literally one of my favorite dips, I couldn't help but devour the whole bowl. My husband looked at it ith interest, and some envy, and decided he was going to enjoy my meals with me. The kettle chips with fresh and extremely crispy, but not salty at all! The black bean hummus, was light, flavorful, and thick and refreshing when enjoyed with a piece of thyme. It was somewhat palate cleansing. But it was also heavy, so I nibbled on it slowly, anticipating the next course.
Black Bean Hummus with Fried Kettle Chips and Thyme
Grilled Romaine with Pear Chutney and Pappadum


What arrived next was literally the best part of the entire course….okay minus dessert: Grilled Romaine with pear chutney. All I could thing was holy YES! I have ALWAYS wanted to try grilled romaine! The flavors of the dish were seriously out of this world! Smoky and chargrilled refreshing lettuce with a tangy bite from the lemon and balsamic compared with the sweetness of the pear chutney made this dish  major winner! So much so my husband kept on asking for more bites! All I can say is if you ever go, request the grilled romaine.

While I was already feeling quite full, I wasn’t ready to give up. I knew dessert was waiting and my entrée? After cleaning both the bowl of hummus and the plate of romaine, Chef TJ once again brought me out another impressive dish! I looked at it with wide eyes with a bittersweet feeling of excitement and somewhat sickness. A plate loaded with carrots, asparagus, and fried tofu covered in a sweet asian sauce and topped with fried rice noodles. I went right for the tofu, which was cooked to perfection. It was crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside; a sign of perfect preparation. The sauce, which brought the dish from good to great, was sweet, tangy and a bit spicy. Every bit was followed by an “mmm”.  However, after finishing about ¾ of my plate, I had to throw the towel in. I was stuffed and I wanted to make sure I could fit in dessert…which at the moment seemed impossible.
Asian Fried Tofu and Veggies with Fried Rice Noodles

After all three courses were complete Chef TJ came over and asked me how my food was. 

“ You didn’t like it?”

Thinking he must have seen my half full, half empty entrée plate, I shook my head fiercely, and kindly yelled, "No I LOVED it! I’m just full!" He smiled, happy that I was satisfied and told me dessert was coming out next. I waited a while for dessert happily since it gave me time for my food to settle. Then out came Chef TJ with this tower of amazingness…pineapple, banana, strawberry, choco cookie, vanilla ice cream, more banana, a chocolate ice cream cookie sandwich, and another strawberry topped with Mickey shaped sprinkles. When we booked this trip, I knew I would have to throw my raw, organic, non-processed food lifestyle out the window and enjoy for once, as long as it didn’t make me sick…and this was JUST the beginning! He placed the towering dessert in front of me and proceeded to generously lather the tower in Hershey’s chocolate syrup as I sat there literally gawking, mouth wide open and all.

“Enjoy!”

“Haha! Oh, I WILL!”.

Dessert Tower!


Before he left I got a picture with him and thanked him for the deliciously memorable dining experience.  And then I devoured my tower of sugary goodness, down to as much as my stomach could handle…which was practically most of it.

So if you are planning a trip to Disney World and you’re vegan, gluten-free, or have an allergy, I recommend…no I demand that you make reservations at the restaurant that Chef TJ would be cooking at during that time. Not only will his cheeky personality and desire to please you make you feel welcomed and at home, but his food, I promise you, will shock you and send your taste buds into a culinary whirlwind. Even with a stomach so full that combustion is possible with a finger poke, you’ll still be craving for more of his exclusive culinary creations.