This marks the beginning of a three part series: A backstage look into the world of two Maine-based chefs who thrive on the culinary Disney magic that is the “Food & Wine Festival.”
I love great comfort food. Even more so, I love trying new ways to enjoy the comfort classics: reverse root beer floats (vanilla soda with root beer ice cream) or a personal-sized meatloaf with a sauce made from black truffles and ginger are two of my favorites.
Take me to new places where food combines a sense of tradition with fresh and exciting viewpoints?
I will be eternally grateful.
That’s the gratitude I feel when I eat the food from Chefs Brian and Shanna O’Hea of Kennebunk, Maine.
The O’Heas are a cornerstone in the lauded food scene of Southern Maine. Their comfort-food-with-a-twist draws a regular stream of New England diners. Over the past decade, Brian and Shanna’s culinary creativity has attracted the likes of Oprah Winfrey, The Travel Channel, The Food Network, and ultimately the attention of Executive Director Marianne Hunnel of Walt Disney World’s Epcot International Food and Wine Festival Presented by Chase (F&W). Their unique point of view and original style was recognized as a perfect match for the signature parties at Epcot F&W.
The duo are not only food innovators: they are also devoted Disney fans. Brian and Shanna jumped at the chance to combine these two passions when they were first asked to fill-in for chefs at the 2010 festival.
Fast forward to 2015: This autumn marks the the fifth year that the O’Hea’s have been asked to showcase their food at F&W. Walt Disney World‘s signature culinary event runs for nearly seven weeks and brings in worldwide talent. The O’Heas regularly cook at the festival’s Culinary Demonstrations and at Party for the Senses.
So when did the magic begin for the O’Heas?
For Brian it began when he was an extern at Walt Disney World‘s Culinary Program at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Brian had attended the Culinary Institute of America and sought out an externship that would help him gain what he terms as, “a lot of real-world experience.”
Brian states, “I saw what an amazing operation they had [at Disney World], working in the back and front of the house. I ended up working at Narcoossee’s and learned about major food operations and how to cook for hundreds, even thousands of people. I worked my butt off but learned so much. I made a good name for myself here and Shanna and I have had a great relationship with Disney ever since.”
As participants at their first Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in 2010, Brian and Shanna were “wowed” by the focus on detail and the support they received from the Disney staff.
It was as a participant that year, that the magic spark ignited for Shanna. “We knew we wanted to be asked back, again and again. We were really given a lot of free reign to create the kind of food that inspired us,” says Shanna. “I loved how much fun we could have.”
True to their comfort-food-with-a-twist style, the couple regularly showcases their favorite dishes at F&W– like their version of lobster pot pie: creamy lobster meat topped with homemade puff pastry, and their tuna melt: fresh seared tuna loin served atop an avocado and apple slaw, crowned by a parmesan crisp. The O’Heas dishes have consistently met with Disney fan praise.
The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is regularly a part of the cooking season for the O’Hea’s. “We like to go and promote the Kennebunks and to share in the magic. We see attendees year after year, and the more they are familiar with us, the more they consider coming to spend time in Southern Maine,” stated Shanna.
“We like to be inspired when we attend Food & Wine. We run into chefs we know and see the new and exciting things other cooks are doing. It gives us inspiration to bring back home,” says Brian.
We will track the process of cooking at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival through the eyes of the Chef’s O’Heas. Over the next two months, the O’Heas will share their behind-the-scenes stories, chef secrets and recipes for the dishes they have created for the Party for the Senses.
(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)
Have you been to a class at the Food and Wine festival? What did you think? We would love to hear your thoughts.
Kristin Fuhrmann-Simmons is a food writer and social media marketing manager in the great State of Maine. When she is not seeking out the next-best-thing-she-ever-ate or planning her next cooking class, she is busy scheming for her runDisney vacations and cooking with her family. She can be found at @kennebunkportmaine and @kafcooks on Instagram and at kristinsimmons.com and www.tablemaine.com.