If you missed the EPCOT – First Class video, Chef Valarie gave away prizes; two to random guests who blindly chose the right seat (ones with a hidden sheet of paper marked “winner” under it) and a few to those who could answer questions about her demonstration. At the end of this year’s first cooking demonstration Mini Cherry Pies with Valerie Enters from Golden Oak Summerhouse she mentioned that she was going to be doing two more demos on Sunday and on Monday and gave a playful warning that she better not catch anyone from this class looking under the chairs for the hidden prize sheet. I had remembered seeing that there were a few more demonstrations from chefs at Golden Oak Summerhouse listed on the 2016 schedule but I didn’t think there were any more this soon or with Chef Valarie. Initially I regretted not buying tickets right then before I left but I was in a rush to get back to the parking lot and go pick up my kids from school and I was not completely sure that she really meant THIS Sunday and Monday. When I got home I looked at the official schedule and it said something about allergy friendly cooking at noon and 2 on Sunday and Monday. Chef Valarie said to look her up on FaceBook if we had any questions.
Normally when a celebrity or presenter offers out their email, Facebook or Twitter as a way for guests to contact them in the future, I take it with a grain of salt, realizing that they couldn’t possibly be pen-pals with every member of every audience they ever speak to. This however, was a relevant and time sensitive inquiry so I did follow up on chef Valerie’s Facebook page, sending her a message requesting confirmation that it would be her, and at which times Sunday and Monday. I then took a closer look at who it was on the schedule that was supposed to be there Sunday and Monday and it became more clear.
Thank you twice, Kelly
I knew both days were the same presenter talking about allergy safe cooking but not much beyond that. Although she’s a minor hero of mine now, at the time I didn’t know the name Kelly Rudnicki. I did however recognize the name of the sponsor. It was the wolf in sheep’s clothing of the pharmaceutical industry, Mylan. That’s the company ransoming EpiPens for over $600 while lobbying the FDA to keep competition out. By coincidence I had just written one of my few serious articles about Mylan and the history of the EpiPen. I assumed Kelly Rudnicki must be someone from Mylan corporate or maybe from their “labs”. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Kelly Rudnicki runs a website and blog called foodallergymama.com and was a spokesperson for Mylan. However, on August 24, just two weeks before her two days in the spotlight, she quit. Resignation Letter
I really don’t think that most people out there fully appreciate how difficult and powerful that is, not just quitting but doing it two weeks before one of her most public appearances. When you are a guest of Disney not just at Disney you are treated like royalty among royalty! Disney does VIP so well that everyone says yes, if invited. From what I’ve seen over the years, the celebrity guest, their family and their entourage normally have VIP perks like reserved seating at most shows, private transportation, etc. and are ushered on and off stage and onto rides or attractions through the mysterious labyrinth of Disney back doors. Not to mention the fact that Mylan themselves aren’t known for skimping on corporate perks so it probably would have been a fabulous trip.
I’ve interviewed about a half dozen Star Wars celebrities since Star Wars weekends was canceled and to a last, they lamented over not coming to Disney in the late spring anymore. Now, here you have a successful business woman who runs a popular blog, has multiple cookbooks, done her share of network TV interviews and is mentioned in the same breath as Sarah Jessica Parker in many articles. However, what you also have is a mother of five who quit her position on principle just two weeks before what was likely a long anticipated and well earned family vacation to Disney World as VIPs. If this was part family trip as I suspect then it would have been planned and talked about for a year. All the details would be fleshed out long ago; accommodations, reservations, flights, school absence slips, for that matter, by then the family would have even booked fast passes for specific rides! I think any less noble person would have at least waited until September. I’d like to think I would be so brave and I know that my kids would understand but lets just say that I’m thankful I was not the one put to that particular test.
Primarily for that, Mrs. Rudnicki my family and I applaud you! Secondarily, I thank you for unintentionally giving me two more opportunities to learn from one of my new favorite Disney chefs.
Our magical Sunday
Chef Valarie confirmed via FB messenger that the original sponsor had canceled and that she would, in fact, be doing the 2 PM classes on Sunday and Monday. Of course by then (probably long before then) both days were sold out. Since we had a “bye” week on Karl’s soccer game this Saturday we had planned to go down as a family to Food & Wine on that day. Sold out or not though, I knew there was still a chance (albeit remote) that I could attend another demo (or at least watch from the other side of the ropes) and learn something new about Golden Oak and/or chef Valarie for my blog. So we decided to go down Sunday instead of Saturday. Worst case I figured I could get some establishing footage to salvage my FBLive fiasco.
Since the tickets are nonrefundable I don’t think it would even be possible for Disney to sell more regardless of no-shows at show time and they clearly state that presenters and entertainment are subject to change at any time, so they wouldn’t be compelled to give refunds. However, being Disney (and maybe because this involved Mylan, a potential PR nightmare that Disney was likely thrilled to distance themselves from) it wouldn’t have surprised me if exceptions had ban made to re-book guests for another demonstration at another time, making seats available Sunday after all. On that chance we made our way to the Festival Center regardless.
None of that was relevant however because when we got there, the tickets were, indeed still sold out. So I moved on to plan B.
I had thought that it was possible that Mrs Rudnicki was still here at F&W, perhaps autographing her cookbooks which may or may not have had anything to do with Mylan. If she was here I would love the opportunity to say hi and thank her in person. More importantly I wanted to ask an allergy expert like her questions related to my 3D printed epi-kit project (a potential alternative for parents who cant afford EpiPens anymore.)
I guessed that (officially or not) there was a good chance that she was there at EPCOT. Logistically, I know from growing up with a businessman father who sometimes spoke at conventions and other events that there were sometimes business trips to fun places like New Orleans and Las Vegas where the company paid his way and he booked travel and a place for the rest of us. (Same thing when he went on business to Hawaii but that was just for Mom & Dad.)
I figured that if this had been a family adventure for the Rudnickis then refund day passed long before Kelly’s Mylan mic-drop, so if her corporate sponsor had only ever paid for her part of the trip then it was possible that she came anyway with family. I saw no signs of her mentioned, the days brochure had been printed with the now-correct presenters and I didn’t spot her books anywhere at the festival gift shop so I decided to tactfully inquire about Kelly’s possible presence at F&W. I spotted a Disney cast member in an outfit that told me she was more in charge than most in the building and a confident, friendly look that told me she was an old-school “guest focus” kind of Castmember. I could tell immediately that she was quite familiar with the current ‘Culinary Demonstration shuffle’ subject and without showing allegiance to any side but Disney she confirmed that “the sponsor withdrew so if Mrs. Rudnicki were here, it was no longer in any official capacity and therefore she had no more information she could offer me.” – On to plan “C”
Since I lugged the good camera with on Sunday I decided to at least get some establishing shots of the festival center and especially the culinary demonstration area.
-Sidebar- I went through a new experience at security where the guard recognized my equipment as professional and had to clear it with someone in a suit. “Friendly Suit” gave me the O.K. and his only request when using a broadcast quality camera was not to film buildings that are under construction or refurbishment. Interesting, but O.K. – I have actually heard of ‘bloggers’ getting a lifetime ban from Disney after repeatedly breaking this request.
I got most of the footage that I wanted and was debating the merits of sitting or standing outside the ropes in a walkway for 45 minutes with hot, hungry kids, trying to get another demonstration on film. Normally I’m of the opinion that it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission but with the security event fresh in my mind, I realized that I wasn’t just a guy with a smart phone today and it might be a good idea to clear things with someone officially. I strolled up to the entrance of the demo area and with the show about to start I didn’t spot any faces that said, “what crazy request can I satisfy for you today sir?” So I strolled back looking for that “old-school Disney” or more appropriately “on-stage” look from a cast member somewhere else. Sure enough, as I was nearing where the rest of my family was patiently sitting, indulging my crazy, I saw ‘Ms Disney’ herself (from earlier) heading this way. I let her know that I tried to get tickets and that I really enjoyed Chef Valarie’s Wednesday presentation and continued that I knew that people were allowed to watch from where we were standing but would it be ok to video the demo as well, intending to post it, even though we didn’t have tickets. She said that it should be fine, but give her a second, she would be right back. She seemed high enough up the ladder to say yes or no to filming so I wondered just what she might be checking on. My hope was that they were going to release no-show tickets and I could get in to watch and film from a seat and then meet up with the family after.
When she returned, she asked how many of us were there hoping to attend. I said that really if we could just buy one ticket that would help but Karl had expressed interest ever since a complimentary demonstration he saw on Himalayan salt, so two would be great! She smiled, dismissed my sheepishness with a kindly wave and said, “aw, come on. We’ve got a place for all of you if you like, follow me.” Not 100% sure what was going on, we followed. She ushered us to the entrance and the ticket takers smiled and waved us in ticketless. Realizing that we were just given something we couldnt buy, we floated through the room like real Disney Royalty.
Dopey grin still not retreating from my unshaven face, we were brought to our choice of great seats and selected a table at center rear (better for filming). In true Griswald style I changed seats a couple times and fumbled with the equipment to get the best mix of holding the camera steady at eye level for 45 minutes without a tripod and not being obstructed by people shifting in front of me while simultaneously not blocking the view of those behind me.
I got some good footage, we had some great cookies, and I’ve got another recipe for the home collection. Best of all, chef Valerie adapted her macaroon recipe to fit the day’s originally intended theme, allergy safe food. So now I have a gluten-free macaroon recipe that (if I can duplicate) would win big points with my mother-in-law who always makes us wonderful desserts that she can’t eat. I know that she likes coconut (I’ve made coconut ice cream for her before) so she probably likes macaroons and this was one of the first Macarons I would have eaten more of if I could. Check out my review of the cookie demonstration itself for more.
It really was one of those days that we’ll not soon forget!
So in conclusion…
Thank you Chef Valerie for being so generous with your recipes, time and talents.
Thank you Golden Oak for sharing your exclusive chefs
Thank you ‘Friendly Suit’* for letting me bring in my video equipment
Especially Thank You ‘Ms Disney’* for reminding me that “guest focus” is not just part of Disney’s history
Thank You Kelly Rudnicki for having the guts and integrity to walk away from what must have been a lucrative and otherwise enjoyable position
And last, and certainly least, I guess thank you Mylan CEO Heather Bresch (who joins the ranks of Martin Shkreli in turning pharmaceutical companies into hedge funds) for being a real life Disney villain and making this all possible.
*I know the names of the cast members involved but normally I don’t use them without explicit permission for fear of the adage that sometimes, “no good deed goes unpunished.” In fact, I have asked especially helpful cast members frequently if they would mind repeating themselves so I could film them being so helpful. In the past it was always a blushing, “yes, please!” Now more often it is a regrettable, “I probably shouldn’t. I might get in trouble.”
It is really too bad though, I would love to brag about and champion the cast members who really still go out of there way to make every guest’s experience magical. That gesture from ‘Ms Disney’ pretty much wiped out an untold weight of memories of minor customer service frustrations from the past year. At the moment I honestly can’t remember a single specific time that I had a complaint about subpar treatment at Disney but I remember that it has become more common and there were several examples just this past year.
So thank you again, “Ms Disney” for making this day Magical for my family and for recharging my blind faith in Disney Cast Members once again. This is now my current goto Disney anecdote. People like you are getting fewer and farther between but its nice to know that some of the good ones are still running the show.