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The Quiet Kitchen

After sensory overload in the Walt Disney World theme parks, Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is an elegant, award-winning sanctuary of civility. A harpist plays quietly just inside the doors. Frette-linen-topped tables sparkle with Christofle silver, Riedel crystal, and Wedgwood china. Fresh flowers subtly scent the air.


Through the kitchen doors, there’s a different experience---the Chef’s Table, where diners are in the heart of the action in Chef Hunnel’s well-orchestrated kitchen. With up to 13 courses, the dining experience offers small tastes of haute American cuisine with classical influences---everything from caviar to Kobe beef and seared foie gras, paired with fine wine and spirits.

Ironically, the voices of the guestsat the Chef’s Table are the loudest sound you’ll hear in my kitchen. And while they have fun and converse with my staff, we never break our professional code. Even without considering the location of the Chef’s Table, “professional” for me equals “quiet.” When you’re working in the kitchen and have a list of things to accomplish, there’s not much time for casual conversation with coworkers. A high-end kitchen demands concentration, and we strive for perfection in every detail---that’s the style of dining at Victoria & Albert’s.
I demand that my staff look and act presentable at all times. On a busy night, we’ll serve 100 diners, and there can’t be any yelling. Uniforms have to be clean. We still wear toques, jackets, and white aprons, all part of our operation and of the Disney “show.” My entire staff is “on stage” anytime they are in the kitchen or dining room. And the kitchen has to be spotless; everything, right down to the plastic wrap, must be in its place.


Hiring Passionate Professionals

The process of building a professional, composed, and quiet kitchen team starts with hiring. I start by interviewing individuals who have a passion for a career in cooking---those who see cooking not just a job, but as an extension of their lives. The potential employee, or “cast member” as Disney calls its employees, has to understand that it is demanding work.
Part of my job is to help my staff learn and grow, so I look for energy, ambition, and a thirst for knowledge. I’ve found that it’s not necessarily culinary school grads that make the best coworkers and that it’s easier to create good habits than break poor ones.
Once hired, the staff undergoes continuous training. On most nights, there are nine of us in the kitchen, and my two sous chefs, help me run a tight ship; it’s not a one-man show. My key staff and I aren’t perfect, but we teach excellence, stress creativity, and strive for perfection in everything we do. We don’t throw pots and pans. We teach cooks to respect and appreciate the pan and the food they are preparing. Our china and crystal are expensive, so the staff is trained to treat them with care. We have monthly meetings, and professionalism is always a topic. The standard of etiquette in the formal dining room extends into the kitchen.


Reinforcing Lessons

Continuous communication is the key to achieving our high standards. Along with monthly meetings, we have two daily meetings: one at the start of the afternoon, one at the end of the night. We always discuss standards and expectations. The staff has to understand why they are asked to take direction. It’s better to give them too much than not enough.
Each day, we all taste the food that will be served that evening. We sample and discuss caviars, wild game, live abalone, truffles, and varieties of salts. I bring them up to speed every single day so they can answer any question a diner might have. In turn, they’re acquiring more knowledge and gaining a greater respect for the cuisine and the kitchen environment.
I can’t be a nice guy all the time. If a fellow worker is disrespectful, loud, or not acting as a good team member, I ask them if they really want to work at Victoria & Albert’s, where expectations are very high and everyone is under a microscope. I’ve found that some cooks are not suited for a quiet environment, but I hope that the experience gained in my kitchen is valuable in their next job.
I lead by example. I always take care with my apron, my toque, and my attitude. Any kitchen can be a quiet kitchen---it’s all about attitude and training.

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