As part of our celebration of #BlackHistoryMonth, we’re bringing you stories about our talented cast members, like Demarcus Johnson and Chris Sheppard and the important work they’re doing across Disney to drive authentic representation. We’re also highlighting the events and offerings taking place across our parks. Just last week, we announced “Celebrate Soulfully at Disney Springs” which honors Black culture and heritage while also introducing exciting new offerings like jazz-inspired entertainment, art displays, special limited-time food and more. (I am loving the Motown Mondays live performances!) During our celebration and throughout Black History Month, we are incredibly honored to spotlight our talented Black cast members, artists, and employees one of which is Executive Chef Deaundra “Dee” Rolle.
Chef Dee has an incredible culinary background and has worked at many places across Walt Disney World Resort. Today, she runs the kitchen as an Executive Chef at The Edison where she’s best known for masterfully preparing seafood and putting a Caribbean twist on American delicacies in new and unexpected ways. Though she has had some challenges on her path to success, she’s taken everything she’s learned and applied it to her daily routine, sharing her wisdom and helping all aspiring chefs reach their full potential.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Chef Dee and asked her a few questions about her Bahamian heritage and how she found herself as an Executive Chef at Disney Springs. Check it out!
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
“I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in The Bahamas and decided to attend college at Keiser University in Melbourne, FL about 13 years ago. While in college I spent some time working in various hotels and even participated in the Disney College Program while also attending University of Central Florida to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree in Restaurant and Foodservice Management. Since graduating, I’ve been working all over the Orlando area. I joined Disney Springs about 8 years ago where I helped open The BOATHOUSE and recently just joined the team at The Edison as an Executive Chef.”
What inspired you to pursue a career in the culinary arts?
I’ve always been interested in food and my TV was always on the Food Network growing up. While watching the Food Network stars I would think “I wonder how you make that or I wonder how that tastes?” I also spent a lot of time with my grandmother growing up who always had us picking peas. It seemed like a chore, but after I saw what she did with them I was amazed. I used to help her turn benne seeds (known as sesame seeds in the U.S.) into benne cakes – a Bahamian street food dessert. It all just really piqued my interest and I started asking for opportunities to cook for my family. I consider myself “self-taught” but my family would always give me honest feedback. One year, I took on the challenge of making Christmas dinner – I knew I was biting off more than I could chew but luckily it turned out great!
I know you’re originally from the Bahamas. What brought you to the U.S. and what was that transition like?
“I wanted to have a better life for my family, and I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity I had. Since I have dual citizenship, I knew I could always come home if working in the U.S. didn’t work out. Leaving The Bahamas was tough because I’ve always been very family-orientated but I had a goal in mind and I knew what I wanted. My first challenge was to find scholarships because I didn’t want my college education to be a burden on my family. Once I finally made it to the U.S. the culture differences were definitely a bit of shock. Some of my Bahamian work experience didn’t translate so I started volunteering for work at college and competing in various culinary competitions which really helped me get my start.”
Who are your culinary heroes? Which chefs do you admire and look up to most?
I look up to Chef Tiffany Derry. Her passions are helping people and making sure everyone has a good meal and those align with mine. I have a personal goal of helping cancer patients. My mother is a breast cancer survivor and Tiffany Derry uses her fame and talents to give back to charities. For me, I want to be able to one day do the same. I love that food brings people together, no matter the culture, food is what people use to feel better in good times and in bad.
How do you incorporate your Bahamian heritage into your dishes? What are your favorite Bahamian flavors?
I love spice – not too hot, but herbs and seasonings that make up spice blends. For me, I love to add citrus and fresh herbs such as thyme and vegetables like goat pepper (which isn’t available in the U.S.) I do my best to try to recreate the same flavor profiles so guests can truly taste authentic Bahamian flavors. Our flavors are very simple—we use the same ingredients for everything, and I love to teach people how they can recreate some of their favorite meals when they return from a vacation at The Bahamas.
What advice do you have for others, especially other Black women, who want to follow in your footsteps and become an Executive Chef, running their own kitchen?
Don’t say “no.” Don’t give up. Honestly, the one thing that helped me get to where I am is my persistence. Don’t be afraid to prove people wrong—I was adamant in working in some of the hardest stations in the kitchen because I knew I could do it even when others said I couldn’t. Keep your drive up, remember your passions, and don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do.
I know you have worked at many places across Walt Disney World Resort including EPCOT, Disney Resort Hotels, The Boathouse and now The Edison. Do you have a favorite memory from any of them?
My team at Sanaa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge was so memorable. We all worked together so well even on days when we all were working like crazy to get orders out of the kitchen for bread service. I will forever cherish those people and still keep in touch with many of them who have become friends. We all fueled each other’s passions and I take that same energy we had and emulate that environment in my kitchen to this day.
You’ve got a special dining event coming up on Feb. 25 called “Chef Dee Presents a Taste of The Bahamas” at The Edison. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for menu and your favorite dish?
All of it! The first thing I do when I visit home is indulge in all my favorite foods and everything on this menu is my comfort food from home. My dream is to one day have a restaurant focused on elevated Bahamian foods and this is my own little version of that. With this event in particular, I wanted to take the simple dishes we eat and make them look like 5-star meals (we all eat with our eyes!) I want our guests to experience our traditional dishes but presented in an approachable way. The menu includes snapper, conch fritters, peas n’ rice, and benne cake ice cream paired with incredible cocktails like handcrafted daiquiris.
If you’re interested in Chef Dee Presents “A Taste of the Bahamas”, you can purchase tickets here. (Space is limited, and tickets are first-come, first-served.)
Part of our “Celebrate Soulfully at Disney Springs” experience is spotlighting and telling the stories of our talented Black cast members, artists, and employees of Disney Springs. You were selected as someone we felt represents the pinnacle of Black talent in your field. How does it feel to be featured to share your story with aspiring chefs?
It’s a humbling experience. Never in a million years did I think I’d make it this far. I’m so grateful because all I ever wanted to do was be an example for people who are learning. The fact that you guys chose me makes me think I’m doing it right! I was nervous to be featured because I’m usually in the back and behind the kitchen so it’s a little strange to have the spotlight on me but it’s so exciting to be featured. My mother will be so proud!
Anything else you’d want to share with readers of the Disney Parks Blog?
I want women to know they can always lead by example and they have a voice. If you have a team, don’t be afraid to push them to their full potential. Remember to always look for opportunities to teach and not talk at someone. Lead with a feminine touch, pay attention to the details and just feel empowered in everything you do.
Be sure to follow along as we continue to celebrate our cast members with more inspiring cast member stories and park offerings throughout February. Check us out on social, as we continue to showcase our trailblazers on Disney Parks, Experiences & Products handles: Instagram: @DisneyParksBlog, Twitter: @DisneyParks, and Facebook: @DisneyParksBlog and for all the latest Disney Springs news and updates follow us @DisneySprings on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.