Q&A with Executive Pastry Chef Michael Gabriel

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Chef Michael Gabriel has worked with Patina Restaurant Group for a year, overseeing the baking departments at all of the company’s outlets at Walt Disney World and creating out-of-this-world treats.

Photos courtesy of Disney

Those who enjoyed ice cream at Gelateria Toscana or the Short Cake at Space 220, both at Epcot, sampled Chef Gabriel’s creations. His work can also be sampled at The Edison, Morimoto Asia and Maria and Enzo’s at Disney Springs.

Prior to moving to Patina and its Walt Disney World restaurants, Chef Gabriel spent 15 years leading the pastry kitchens at Rockefeller Center locations, The Sea Grill, Rock Center Café and Cucina and Co.

We asked him about his time in New York, the transition to Florida, and how he helps make guest visits to Walt Disney World a little more enjoyable.

Tell us about some of your fondest memories of working at Rockefeller Center and some of the designs you’ve come up with for this iconic setting.

One of the fondest memories I have of working at Rockefeller Center is the famous Key Lime Pie. It was the Sea Grill’s signature dessert and still the number one seller.

I also had the opportunity to participate in many events, from the “Sex in The City” season to the “Sopranos” end parties, including Google and YouTube events. I had the privilege of creating specific desserts and specialty cakes for all of these events.

It was fifteen years full of seasonal menus with “build your own” sundaes to have the Summer of Sundaes at Rockefeller Center. I worked in a pastry kitchen where we handcrafted croissant dough, Danish pastry for breakfast pastries at Cucina & Co. The best part of it all for me was the chefs and the people I worked with every day.

chef michael gabriel's chocolate cheesecake
Chocolate Cheesecake

Was leaving NY for a brand new start in Orlando a key?

It was not a key to leave New York for Florida. It was something in the works, but I was just waiting for the right moment. Of course, leaving all my family and friends was difficult and a great sacrifice for my wife and my sons, but everyone has adapted and they are settling in well.

What did you know about Orlando’s food scene before coming here?

I really didn’t know much about the Orlando restaurant scene other than Disney and Disney Springs.

How difficult was it to understand the extent of the Patina Group’s restaurant operations here, and in particular the unique facilities at Epcot and Disney Springs?

It was a big challenge to master the operation at Epcot and Disney Springs. What’s great is that the chefs and all the management are one big team and we all work together.

space 220 short cake
Space Short Cake 220

Are there any similarities between Rockefeller Center and Walt Disney World, in terms of dining?

Yes, there are similarities between the two places. They both have a good flow of guests, which helps with the production and quantities of what is made.

What have been your fondest memories of your year at Disney so far?

Some of my fondest memories so far are opening Gelateria Toscana and opening Space 220. What I found special about creating desserts for Space 220 was having Space as a theme to create looks for desserts. It was fun for me because I could play with different textures and shapes. That’s how I came up with the look of the Lemon Dessert, which looked like Saturn, and the Chocolate Cheesecake, which had a futuristic look with the big chocolate chips.

What would you most like guests to discover from the menus you’ve worked on?

I would like the guest to find out that my team of pastry chefs work very hard and take pride in producing the best they can. We use high quality ingredients and always strive to make tasty desserts.

Is there a special menu item you’re still looking forward to adding to what you’ve made so far?

I’m still working on special items to add to these restaurants. Over the next year, we can expect fun and delicious new desserts to be added to our establishment menus.

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