I have a hard time remembering the names of chefs in my hometown of Nashville, much less one located in a completely different state. I’m not proud of this; in fact I hope to be on a first name basis with the people behind the food at my favorite haunts at some point soon. But when it comes to Disney World dining, I’ve noticed that I am not alone in sometimes choosing a spot to eat based upon the chef alone.
Look at any Disney dining blog, forum or website and you’ll notice a trend. Where special diets are concerned, there is an overwhelming majority of people who will heed one man’s name above all other qualified candidates. Chef TJ cannot be beat when custom-creating a menu that not only exceeds expectations, but goes well beyond the quality that a Disney table service restaurant is known for.
A native to Indonesia, Tjetjep Sudiswa, otherwise known as Chef TJ, has been impressing resort guests at Disney World for more than 15 years. Starting at Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, TJ then moved to Ohana, where he has been stationed ever since. The teaming of chef and restaurant here was magical, to make even more use of that well-loved word.
At Ohana, this chef had a following of Vegans, Vegetarians, and Special Diet diners (Gluten, Lactose, and Tree Nut intolerance being high on that list) that seemed almost cult-like in their devotion. Mothers raved about the attention given to their children, and twenty-something couples celebrated anniversaries at Ohana just to be fed by the man they deemed worthy of the special occasion.
The uproar of fans occurred just over a month ago, with message boards packed with topics such as “Where oh Where has Chef TJ gone?” and blog headlines screaming “Chef TJ – No Longer at Ohana!”. As rumors gave way to truth it became clear that Chef TJ was in fact no longer employed at Ohana; but where had he gone?
No fear to all Disney-goers; TJ had only transferred to another resort. Now located at the Grand Floridian’s 1900 Park Fare, and perhaps spending some time at the Grand Floridian Cafe as well, the chef will be devoting most of his talents on the popular Character buffet. One Disney vacationer from New Hampshire put it well when she said, “I know he’s trained the chefs at Ohana and now he’s moving on, but what a bummer. I have 3 reservations at Ohana for my upcoming trip. I was hoping to meet him. It was like I was going to meet a celebrity.”
I for one am glad of the changes, however. I had made reservations well in advance for 1900 Park Fare during our last vacation, eager to show my husband why this was my favorite breakfast location in all the World. However, when the meal was over, I was the one left feeling utterly disappointed, after the chef on duty presented me with a plate of “alternative eggs” that looked more like the Swamp Thing than an omelette. Chef TJ will be able to bring this classic Character Dining experience back to its glory days; hopefully rising to the challenge of competing with Cinderella’s Royal Table once more. After all, breakfast in the wonderland of the Grand Floridian Resort, surrounded by Alice and the Mad Hatter himself, should only be accompanied by the highest quality of crumpets and jams (or whichever edible delicacy Chef TJ decides to put on the menu).
Chef TJ has a true devotee in me, and it’s my hope that he will be as much of an asset to the Grand Floridian as he was to the Polynesian Resort. I will sorely miss his South Pacific food at Ohana, but I also know that Ohana is one restaurant that can take care of itself. This particular dining venue, with it’s picturesque fireworks view and endless portions of food for all, will not suffer by the changes. But 1900 Park Fare can only benefit immensely by the addition of a Disney “Celebrity” chef.
This blog is part of the Ninth DisMarks.com Disney Blog Carnival; Click on the link for more great Disney Articles.