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How do they make blue milk? What's kaadu meat taste like? Director behind Disney Parks's hugely anticipated attraction tells all.
At the Disney park Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (opening May 31 at Disneyland and Aug. 29 at Walt Disney World), fans will have the opportunity to eat, sleep and breathe George Lucas’s universe. Michele Gendreau, director of food and beverage at Disneyland Resort, is responsible for the eating part. For the new attraction, set at the Black Spire Outpost on the fictional planet Batuu, Gendreau was charged with developing a menu of food items and beverages that seem otherworldly enough to be part of the Star Wars universe, but taste familiar enough to keep the Disney Parks’s eclectic visitors coming back for more.
That’s a tall-as-a-tauntaun order, even for someone with more than 40 years of experience in hospitality. But Gendreau has some practice marrying crowd-pleasing foods and drinks with Disney’s highly detailed, immersive worlds. In previous years, she’s driven down Route 66 to get food ideas for Cars Land, developed Disney’s character-themed popcorn buckets and helped bring Starbucks coffee to Disney parks and resorts.
Now she and her team have used Earth-based ingredients to create entrées made with fictional meats (actually unique cuts and preparations of pork and poultry), vegetarian cuisine from sci-fi plants (like the oi-oi berry, glimpsed in Maz Kanada’s castle) and beverages milked from animals (banthas and thala-sirens) that exist only in the movies. The cuisine in Disney’s concept photos is full of unusual shapes and wild colors, and Gendreau promises bold flavors to match. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment, Gendreau (who began her career as a director of college dining halls) explained how the Galaxy’s Edge recipes were created, which foods came directly from the films and why Porg isn’t a menu option. She also revealed the (still tentative) names of three new snacks: savory Nuna Jerky, the raspberry-based pastry called the Oi-Oi Puff and the rich chocolate dessert called the Batuu Bon.
Yahoo Entertainment: I’m going to ask you a question I’ve never asked anybody: What does Star Wars taste like?
Michele Gendreau: The reality about Batuu is, we went after the full range of palate. When you think about smugglers and bounty hunters and pilots, they all have a different palate. So our job was to really create products that enhance the entire experience for whoever you were in the galaxy.
Is there one fundamental difference between food from that galaxy and food from ours?
There’s more freedom, galactically, in the development of food and flavor.
So how does this whole process of developing the Galaxy’s Edge menu begin?
We’re a very story-driven company. Our team is from all different educational backgrounds, creative backgrounds and culinary backgrounds. So when our team gets together, we start with the storytelling. There’s a lot of brainstorming that goes on. And we sit down in a room after we've expanded our understanding of the story, and we go deep into the story. What is Black Spire Outpost? What is Batuu? What are all the things that feed into that? Who visits this galaxy?
And then on a side note, what are the trends that people are eating today within our parks and outside of our parks? And then how do you marry all of those pieces together? There's no boundary here at this point. We don't get into how we can do it until after we have said, what can we do? And then it starts to narrow down, like any process. But it's understanding the story that gets us there.
What are some of the broader food trends that you've incorporated into Galaxy’s Edge?
People are eating more, their palates are broader, they're willing to take risks. There's a lot of social media food: People are taking pictures, they’re eating with their eyes and their senses. The other thing is that generationally, and creatively, our guests are willing to try something new. So there's more license to go out and push the envelope.
Is there a particular flavor palate, like certain spices or seasonings or produce that are specifically used or not used on Batuu?
Well, each of those planets have a little story. So if you're a visitor from Takodana, you’re more vegetable focused. If you are a visitor from another planet, you might be more meat or bantha-focused. So I think it's really about how the storytelling comes to life. But the galaxy is filled with a broad, rich palate of offerings, some unique, some traditional, some morphed.
You talked about the team that works with you. How many cooks are in the kitchen, so to speak, when you’re developing foods?
Specifically on this project, I would say there were probably well over 100 cast members that you would bring in at different places. The core team was probably led by a dozen people. But each of those people worked with a wide variety of people. And sometimes it's an idea that comes out of our sourcing team; they say, “Hey, we've got a new product, or a new ingredient, maybe we can look at this.”
So one of the most interesting things about this menu was that you have to include fictional meats.
Are you talking about that Endorian Tip-Yip?
Yes, but also you have kaadu, and you mentioned bantha. So how did you determine which creatures are edible?
[Laughs] You know, that’s a very good question. I'll just talk about the Endorian Tip-Yip. That is a type of galactic chicken. It was just a breed of the chicken from Endor, so it worked out great. Bantha, we don't eat the bantha meat. We actually milk the bantha. So these animals, the creatures are all a major part of our story. You know, not too many people would want to eat Dok-Ondar [an Ithorian trader who has a shop in Black Spire Outpost]. So certain ones are edible and certain ones are not.
I was thinking about scenes of characters eating in the Star Wars movies. In The Last Jedi, Chewbacca tries to eat a roasted porg, which I noticed is not on the menu.
Porgs are cute! I think that's a very loving creature. We will honor the porg through the drink called the Cliff Dweller.
And in The Force Awakens, Rey goes to Maz Kanada’s castle and eats some kind of fruit that the props department made with an apple and Romanesco broccoli. Do you remember considering any menu items like that?
I will tell you today that we are not using that particular fruit or vegetable or whatever we're calling that in the menu today. But I can work on that. Romanesco is great, and it is little Galactic-looking.
Are there any foods that you knew right away, “This is something Star Wars fans are going to expect?”
Well, I think a Star Wars fan would expect to taste blue milk. And then green milk was introduced in Episode VII.
What was the process of coming up with those drinks? I understand they’re non-dairy, but did you ever think about doing more of a milkshake kind of thing?
It has a very iconic look, first off. And we started off with saying, how do you make this quenchable and appealing and repeatable? If we say, “I'm going to make a glass of milk,” how do you make that refreshing in the hot sun? And then, how do you make it appealing and refreshing to the market and to our guests and to the smugglers and the bounty hunters? So that was kind of part of it. We wanted it to be milk, basically, but milk is a hard one for a lot of people. And so doing a plant-based dairy was a really important piece to us.
Tell me a little bit about just the foods that you are most excited about people trying.
I would say everything we're going to offer at our Docking Bay 7, which is our quick-service location. There's a wonderful broad menu that offers everything from our Endorian Fried Tip-Yip, which I think will be one of the favorites of our guests, to the Smoked Kaadu Ribs, which are sticky pork ribs with a blueberry corn muffin and a really bright slaw with it. I think those will be very, very popular dishes. We have an Ithorian Garden Loaf, which will be a plant-based meat loaf with a roasted vegetable mash and a four-type mushroom sauce that I think is very good, and these are unique mushrooms from around the galaxy.
I think the other thing that we will see a great amount of is the Ronto Wrap. The Ronto Wrap has got a beautiful roasted pork collar with a very sleek crisp-casing sausage in it, with a “clutch sauce” which is kind of a Sichuan peppercorn sauce — it's not hot on the tongue, it’s got a little bit of flavor and bite on the backside — topped with a slaw that I think will be a favorite, and it's in a pita wrap. It's a walk-around item and I think our guests will just love it. And then of course the Nuna Jerky will be a wonderful surprise and delight for guests out of the Ronto Roaster. And it comes in two flavors, teriyaki and spicy.
When I was looking over the food photographs, there were two desserts that did not have names yet. Are you able to reveal the names of those?
I'm going to take a risk and say yes, because I believe I have clearance here. So the Oi-Oi Puff is our raspberry puff. And that's a very fun product. And then the Batuu Bon is a chocolate item with some coffee cream. It’s a beautiful, luscious, rich chocolate bon-bon.
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