You’re probably familiar with Homer Simpson and his love of donuts (that’s how Homer spells it). In fact, not only is Homer’s favorite donut the simple glazed variety (topped with hot pink frosting), he’s even got a famous quote for said indulgence: mmmmmmm donuts! Well, I had the good fortune to be able to tour the bakery that turns out those hot pink glazed fried delicacies.
It all started back in February when I attended a dinner at Universal Studios Hollywood and their award winning restaurant, the International Cafe. This is not your typical theme park restaurant. Sure, you can get sandwiches and salads but these sandwiches come on bread that’s made from scratch every day. These same sandwiches are served up with house made pickles and marinated olives as well as freshly made potato chips. Oh yeah, I almost forgot the soups. These soups aren’t poured from some bag that was trucked in from a far away factory – nope, the soups are also made from scratch every day.
How’s this for impressive…the International Cafe won the Santé Award (the only peer-judged national restaurant and hospitality competition in North America) and was the only restaurant, to win, that is located in a theme park. To top it off, Executive Chef Eric Kopelow won the 2010 Chef of the Year Award from Chef Magazine. That’s pretty impressive don’t you think? I mean, considering I thought that the only people involved with making food at theme parks involved hormone afflicted teenagers looking to make a little extra money to buy designer this or that or maybe a car and poured things out of bags, heated things up in a microwave and hooked up the syrup tanks so that everyone could get their sugar high from copious amounts of soda. Color me pink – I was wrong.
A couple of months later, I was able to take a tour of the amazing 50,000 square foot kitchens that are responsible for the food that’s available at Universal Studios Hollywood and any events that are held there. The theme park food that you eat at Universal comes out of this kitchen, not just the food that is served at the International Cafe.
Walking in the doors I was shown several massive ice cream makers, but since it was still pretty chilly outside they weren’t in high production mode at the time. The ice cream that you buy at Universal doesn’t come from a pouch of flavorings and then frozen in a machine…it’s made just like I make mine: cream, milk, fruit, vanilla, chocolate…you get the idea. Oh, and you know that slushy frozen lemonade that goes down so easily on those hot days (especially when you’re walking on hot asphalt surrounded by a zillion screaming kids), they make that in those same ice cream makers with water, sugar and lemon juice. The same process I used to make my adult frozen lemonade. Of course, they don’t put the “adult/vodka” ingredient in there at the park, but they also aren’t using high fructose corn syrup in there either.
Inside the park, there are several food kiosks and restaurants that are owned and operated by the park. The chain restaurants that are found in the park handle their own food.
Walking through the kitchen with Chef Eric was an eye opening experience (considering they feed up to 25,000 visitors in a day…that’s a bit of an understatement). I’ve worked in numerous restaurants and none of those kitchens ran as smoothly as this one. Due to the size of the kitchen and the number of eating establishments that it supplies with food, you can only imagine the magnitude of this well oiled machine. Everything and every operation has its place.
All of their meats come in fresh, never frozen. The ribs and chicken for the various restaurants each get their own house made marinade to bathe in for anywhere from a few hours to overnight. If you thought you bought a huge container of oregano that one time at Costco you should see the quantity of huge spice containers here. Your brain suddenly starts to rationalize the purchase of enough oregano to feed a theme park.
Of course one of my favorite parts of the kitchen was the bakery and pastry area. I was fortunate to have just walked back there as they were cooling a batch of bacon brittle. After scarfing down several golden pieces of the salty sweet confection, we traded notes on how we each make ours and I offered up my recipe for the bacon peanut brittle I had made at Christmas. We’ll see if it makes to the park. The bakery was making rolls (both sweet and savory), proofing bread and pulling it fresh from the oven. They were tweaking some recipes when I was there as they weren’t happy with the results of the combination of ingredients they were using.
The trip to the Universal Studios Hollywood kitchens was an eye opening experience! Going to a theme park doesn’t have to mean you’re relegated to eating nothing but grease laden heavy carnival type food. Quite the contrary. With the emphasis on fresh and wholesome theme park food it’s truly refreshing to know that it is possible to have an enjoyable day riding the rides, checking out the Hollywood back lots and enjoying the fresh air while not having to rely on bringing a fanny pack stuffed with a sandwich from home.
Thanks to chef Eric and the folks at Universal Studios Hollywood for such an informative and enjoyable day.
Oh, and chef Eric was kind enough to share his recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Basil soup with me so that I could share it with you. And you know how much I like roasted cauliflower. Yes, you can find this soup on the menu at the International Cafe (although the soups rotate).
Quit acting so hoity toity. Theme parks aren’t just for kids. Hey, if it’s good enough for Blake Lively and Leonardo DiCaprio to go to a theme park (and they don’t have any kids), it’s good enough for you.
Why not take a day in the middle of the week and go have some fun, like a kid, and hit a theme park. You can find them pretty much everywhere. Hit the rides, have some cotton candy and pretend like your 16 again.
Sometimes you’ve just gotta let your hair down and chill out for a while. When you get back home again you can be all grown up and adult like. Then in your hairiest of days when nothing is going right you can close your eyes and think back to the day you and your partner were screaming like a couple of maniacs doing 180 miles an hour on that crazy roller coaster that fun summer afternoon.
Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower with Basil Soup
- 4 Ounces Butter
- 8 Ounces Onions (rough chopped)
- 8 Ounces Celery (rough chopped)
- 4 Cloves Garlic (crushed)
- 2 Heads Cauliflower – about 2 pounds (removed from the core)
- 4 Ounces Olive Oil
- 8 Ounces Flour
- 64 Ounces Chicken Stock
- 2 Each Bay Leaves
- ½ Ounce Fresh Basil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- **Shredded Cheddar Cheese Optional
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
- Place the cauliflower in and bowl and toss with salt and pepper along with half the olive oil.
- Place in oven and roast for about 30 minutes until golden brown.
- In a sauce pot place the remaining olive oil and butter. Heat over medium high heat until butter is melted.
- Add in the celery, onions and browned cauliflower..saute for 3 minutes and add in the garlic and bay leaves. Sauté for 2 minutes.
- Then stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add in hot chicken stock and bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Using a hand blender puree the soup until smooth.
- Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add in chopped fresh basil.
- After placing soup in the serving bowl you may top with cheddar cheese.
If you don’t have a hand blender, you can also put the soup into a blender to purèe. Just make sure you vent the lid. When blending hot foods, you need to vent the lid or the contents of the blender will explode all over you and your kitchen. Trust me, it’s not pretty.
Preparation time: 30 Minutes
Cooking time: 45 Minutes
Number of servings (yield): 8
Culinary tradition: USA (General)