It’s National Barbecue Day: what are you eating to celebrate? If you’ve visited Walt Disney World Resort recently, chances are you’ve chowed down on some tasty eats prepared by Chef Assistants Conrad Thelwell or Rich Morrow. With a combined 36 years working at Disney, they’ve made an enormous impact on our culinary community — and I had the opportunity to sit down with them to learn about Walt Disney World Resort’s best-kept barbecue secret.
Barbecue: You Can’t Eat or Make It Alone
Conrad, chef assistant at Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts & Barbecue in EPCOT, shares, “Nobody is meant to eat barbecue alone. It brings people together.” After working for 9 years at The Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom Park and contributing to the culinary teams at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort before settling at Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts & Barbecue, he’s developed a close network of cast members. As a chef assistant, his favorite part about the job is collaborating with cast. “I don’t even think about it as a job,” he explains. “I get to help train them and motivate them to push ahead, and that transitions to the guests at the end of the day.” The team bounces ideas and knowledge off each other, collaborating to serve the highest quality dishes.
It’s no coincidence that his tight-knit team is Rich’s favorite part of his job, too. He jokes that he stepped into his first role at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort “not knowing how to even boil water,” but through teamwork and mentoring, grew into his current role as a chef assistant at the newly-opened Roundup Rodeo BBQ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. He’s loved being on the opening team because it’s been a reunion of sorts with the family he’s built working at 84 restaurants around Walt Disney World Resort. These powerful connections among cast members are the heart of daily operations. It takes a community to prepare and enjoy barbecue: after all, you can’t eat it or make it alone.
The Art of Precision
When you dine here, the passion for the food is evident in every bite you take. The restaurants are busy — Roundup Rodeo BBQ alone whips up 1,000-1,200 pounds of brisket, 900 pounds of ribs, 900 pounds of chicken and 1,300 pounds of coiled sausage in a single day – but incredible care is taken in the kitchen. Rich explains, “It’s a process. It’s an art.” After showing up at 3:30 a.m., he gets to work firing the smoker. “We’re very much hands-on,” he explains. He’s in tune with the smoker all day, ensuring the oak is burning correctly and changed, the temperature is maintained and the brisket and ribs are mopped with a vinegar mixture each hour. “You go from one step to the next step — you can’t juggle around,” he shares. “It just falls right in line.”
The precision of the art of barbecue required careful training — yet another example of collaboration in the world of Disney food. Chefs from Roundup Rodeo BBQ visited Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts & Barbecue before their restaurant finished construction, to be trained on the smoker by none other than Conrad. “It was like 20 people in the smokehouse at once, just speaking one language,” Conrad says. “You come home smelling like it, and then you get up and come back and do it again.” While training, both teams put emphasis on constant improvement, a philosophy that resulted in distinct offerings between the two restaurants.
“What’s unique about barbecue is that everyone does it a little different,” Rich shares. So while Roundup Rodeo BBQ and Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts & Barbecue both serve up incredible eats, you’ll notice a few differences. Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts & Barbecue uses a Memphis-style rub on their ribs, while Roundup Rodeo BBQ employs a Carolina rub. The nuances come down to the way the meat is seasoned and salted. But Conrad and Rich both agree that a tell-tale sign of a perfect rib is that clean bite-through. “The smoking process changes every day,” explains Conrad. “You just want to get to the point where we’re all producing the best content possible.”
Disney’s Barbecue Secret
Ultimately, family is at the heart of Walt Disney World Resort’s barbecue restaurants. Conrad shares that working together to build up the barbecue community is “truly just the best thing ever.” It’s a close circle that lasts a lifetime. A recently-retired friend told Rich, “The reason why I worked hard was for you,” to which he responded, “The reason why I worked hard was for you.” When you sit down at one of our barbecue restaurants, you feel the tangible heart and spirit of family.
So, what are Conrad and Rich enjoying for National Barbecue Day? Well, family and barbecue go way back — there’s tradition there. Rich is choosing sausage as a nod to his German-Polish descent, with a side of Roundup Rodeo BBQ’s plant-based beans. Meanwhile, Conrad’s making ribs, which remind him of the birthday meal his mother always used to cook him in their oven in Queens. Conrad comes home from work and shares his barbecue with his neighbors; Rich picks up extra shifts to spend more time with his culinary family. “I wouldn’t have been at Disney so long if I didn’t take pride in the work that I was doing,” he says. Passion, art and family — Disney’s best-kept barbecue secret — truly are at the heart of cooking, this National Barbecue Day and every other day of the year.
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