Located on the Disney Studio lot atop the Team Disney building (above that famous frieze of the Seven Dwarfs) the Rotunda is the Walt Disney Studios’ executive dining room, where the business of magic-making takes place over plates of delicious cuisine. It’s a quiet haven where great creative minds at Disney and their guests can blue-sky the next Theme Park attraction or talk over a script — surrounded by the bustle of the Studio Lot, but feeling a million miles away. Diners might include a producer pitching a product to a film star at one table, while a Disney Legend lingers over coffee with old friends at the next.
While we at the Insider can’t get you an invitation to the Rotunda, we can take you behind the scenes with Chef de Cuisine Ed Arai. Ed has even given us an exclusive recipe to share with you, so you can bring a taste of Disney to your own dining room.
Ed has been helming the Rotunda kitchen for about two years. Although his career has taken him to a number of high-profile restaurants, he says that this one is something special. “The minute I walked on this lot for my job interview, I knew I wanted to work here!” he laughs. “Working on the Studio lot makes it a lot of fun. The Lot is like a little city in itself. There’s a gas station and hair salon and squirrels running around. Outside my building there are seven dwarfs holding the roof up – if you can’t get inspired here, I don’t know what you need!”
And that’s crucial because inspiration is key to Ed’s job. The Rotunda menu changes constantly, and he’s the one who keeps it fresh and exciting. “We write menus every other week that cater to our regular customers. We try to keep it as varied as possible because a lot of people dine there four or five times a week – they don’t want to eat the same thing day in and day out.”
As the menus rotate with the seasons – heavy with soups in the winter, focused on salads in the summer – some things remain constant because Chef Ed knows what his guests prefer. At the Rotunda, the menu gravitates toward California cuisine with some Asian touches. “It’s like a fish market up here!” he says. “And nice vegetables. After all, if you’re going to eat somewhere every day, you want it to be on the healthier side. Our menu changes, but there are some classics that are always popular. We’ve had a Cobb salad on the menu since before I got here – we use a Maytag blue cheese and instead of romaine we use a sweet gem lettuce. In season, we’ll add heirloom tomatoes – but only when they’re at their best!”
The key to every dish Ed serves is the best and freshest local produce. “I go to the farmers market and pick out my own vegetables. We use the highest-quality products possible to create the best dining experience we can. Some restaurants might feature produce that is not in season, that might be shipped long distances. It looks good, but the taste is not there.” Choosing local products is also good for the environment, so everybody wins. “The trick is being seasonal and also using sustainable products. At Disney we try to do what’s right for the planet.”
Because the Rotunda is in the Team Disney building, yards away from the offices where his guests work, Ed gets immediate feedback on his creations. “I’m always running into people in the elevator, and it feels good when they say ‘Oh, I really liked this today.’ I’m naturally a very chatty person, so I enjoy talking to guests and seeing what they think. We often get legends dining in here — really accomplished people. Sometimes people I grew up admiring will come into the kitchen to thank me for their lunch, and that blows me away a little bit.”
The best thing about his job? Ed doesn’t hesitate. “I get a lot of freedom to do what I want. Repetition makes me a boring chef, so I try to keep it creative and fun.” And that, he says, is also the key to becoming a great home cook. “Cooking is just adding heat to food. You have to be really free and not be scared. You can always add, but you can never take away – so it’s always better to add things like salt slowly. It never hurts to read. Learn the proper technique and work on your knife skills and practice with temperatures. Once you get that down, you can be the grill wizard at any party.”
If you want to take a little bit of the Walt Disney Studios Lot experience home with you, start with a recipe from Chef Ed. In the spirit of the Rotunda, this dish is simple, light, and showcases ingredients that are perfect this time of year. Bon appétit!
Ingredients, makes 2-4 servings
- Locht Duarte salmon, (any salmon) 2 lbs
- White miso 1 cup
- Mirin ¼ cup
- Sugar 2 tablespoons
- Dried red chili 1 ea, stemmed and seeded
- Ginger 1 tablespoons
- Sake or white wine 3 tablespoons
In a food processor, combine miso, mirin, sugar, chili, ginger, and sake. Puree until you get a fine blend. Add ¼ cup of water while blending to loosen marinade.
Take the marinade and separate ¼ cup and sit to the side.
Preheat the oven to 375
Spackle the marinade onto the salmon after cutting the salmon to desired sizes. Let the salmon sit in the marinade out on the counter top for 2 hours to 3 hours.
Heat pan with olive oil and wait for a light smoke to appear off the surface of the pan.
Gently place the salmon on the pan for a light sear (aprox. 1-2 minutes)
Flip fish to the other side and place in the oven for aprox. 8-10 minutes