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WDW Radio # 782 – My Conversation With Chef Art Smith from Homecomin’ in Disney Springs

Sometimes, interviews don’t always go as planned… and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as is the case this week. I recently sat down with renowned chef (and all-around nice guy) Chef Art Smith, of Homecomin’ in Disney Springs fame. We met at the restaurant to talk about new menu items, Florida Fresh, and more… but the conversation wonderfully turned to so much more. So this week, I invite you to pull up a chair, grab some hush puppies and deviled eggs (maybe a little moonshine if you’re so inclined), and chat with me and the delightful Chef Art Smith.


Summary

Dive into the delightful flavors of Disney Springs with the renowned Chef Art Smith in this mouth-watering episode of WDW Radio! Pull up a virtual chair and join Lou Mongello alongside his very special guest Chef Art Smith at his famous Homecoming restaurant, as she shares his passion for bringing a taste of Florida to the table. Discover how Chef Smith’s experiences from Iron Chef America to cooking in the Magic Kingdom college program in 1981 have influenced his celebrated culinary creations.

In this episode, Chef Art Smith shares insights on upcoming culinary events, his seasonal menu inspirations, and his exciting participation in the Flavors of Florida festival. Food lovers will relish Chef Smith’s stories from his interactions with giants like Wolfgang Puck and Martha Stewart, his humble beginnings, and his innovative approach to comfort food that focuses on authenticity and storytelling.

From touching anecdotes about his friendship with Ambassador Levine over smoky fried chicken to the integration of local produce to reflect the vibrant community, this podcast is a treasure trove for anyone intrigued by the culinary world or planning their next visit to Disney Springs. Don’t miss Chef Smith’s reflections on the legacy of Walt Disney, his commitment to the Common Threads culinary program for kids, and his humble delight at being mistaken for Santa Claus!

Perfect for food enthusiasts and Disney fans alike, tune in to hear why Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming is more than just a restaurant—it’s a celebration of Florida, family, and the fabric of culinary camaraderie. This episode will leave you inspired and hungry for more!

Subscribe, recommend, share, and leave a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify and join the WDW Radio Nation to help support the show… and help make children’s wishes come true.


Takeaways

  • Homecoming at Disney Springs focuses on creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for guests.
  • The menu at Homecoming changes four times a year, but some dishes, like the fried chicken, remain constant favorites.
  • Chef Art Smith believes in the power of food to bring people together and create memories.
  • He values the relationships with his staff and guests, and strives to provide a unique and authentic dining experience. Sourcing quality ingredients and listening to guest preferences are key in creating a menu
  • Homecoming offers a variety of dishes that reflect the flavors of Florida
  • Chef Art Smith is involved in the community through programs like Common Threads
  • Food is a way to connect with people and create positive experiences

Sound Bites

  • “We love the fact that we have so many return customers.”
  • “We have Florida farmers, we use Florida products, and we add dishes that are inspired.”
  • “We try to create dishes that really inspire conversation.”
  • “You have to source ingredients. You don’t put it on the menu unless you can find it.”
  • “Let your guests make their own choices.”
  • “Food is a way to connect with people.”

Timestamped Overview / Chapters

  • [00:00] Florida farmers, products inspire dishes, food reflects life.
  • [05:42] Delicious food initiates conversation, focuses on guests.
  • [08:33] Fond memories of cooking for influential guests.
  • [13:25] Authenticity of personal stories fosters restaurant loyalty.
  • [17:05] Disney’s founders, their vision, and legacy.
  • [20:24] Show love and appreciation in staff relationships.
  • [22:35] Celebrating chef diplomacy on the red carpet.
  • [24:29] Mark wears pickleball shoes for morning game. Paddle sports central in Naples, Florida.
  • [29:42] Adores George, wine, boathouse, unique places, brunch.
  • [31:40] Dislike pretentiousness in food, aim higher, happy.
  • [35:35] Fame, not the goal, despite success.
  • [40:20] Special thigh high biscuits are runaway bestseller.
  • [41:27] Exciting variety of dishes, seafood, pork, chicken.
  • [47:29] Disney Springs’ collaboration brings home flavors of Florida.
  • [48:39] New experiences and connections in downtown Orlando.
  • [52:14] Interest in people’s food and love for restaurants.
  • [56:13] Grateful chef, love your food and company.

What is your favorite item on the menu at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’?

Share your thoughts in the WDW Radio Clubhouse at WDWRadio.com/Clubhouse, or call the voicemail at 407-900-9391 (WDW1) and share your story on the show.


Episode Transcript

Click Here To Read The Full Podcast Episode Transcript

Lou Mongello (00:57.998)
I have always believed that the heart of the home is the kitchen. And for me, some of my fondest memories growing up was gathering around the kitchen table with friends and family. And even now, maybe gathered around the island in our kitchen, just picking on foods that are comfortable and ignite conversation and create memories. And I think...

The heart of the home is the kitchen and the heart of homecoming is Chef Art Smith. Chef, it is good to see you again. Good to see you again, Liz. Thank you for inviting me into a place that, for a lot of us who are locals, feels like home. Like we feel like we're coming back to sort of relax out on the porch. Well, we're really very proud of our local.

people that come here. I mean, I'm always just amazed how many people locally come here. And I remember the very beginning, I think that Disney has always been a part of the Orlando and the surrounding parts of central Florida for so long. But the total intent of Homecoming was to, I mean, I tell someone important, I said, beyond the magical gates, there's a Florida that tastes good.

And that was the epicenter.

That's the main theme mantra of Homecoming that Heather, Guy, and Mark, Jason, and all the team here, they keep that total theme with them because we are Florida. We have Florida farmers, we use Florida products, and we add dishes that are inspired like this wonderful Jasper board. I'm all about sharing food. And one of the greatest lessons we're taught as children is to share.

Lou Mongello (02:46.384)
food and foods and good times, foods and sad times. You know, last night I had a big beautiful meal over at Haleo and I was there just for Jose, you know, and I wanted to be there for him and show him that I loved him. And you know, he'll find out that I was there, you know, but I wanted to, that was my way of showing respect to him. You know, that's very common in our part of the world is that,

We show our respects to people. And again, in good times and sad times, we come with food. We come with, you know, how are you? What can I do for you? You're not hungry? Let me make you something to eat. No, no, no, exactly. You know, we love people to death with food. I mean, and that's simply how we do it. But and that's what I feel so much about is that we that we really.

you know, try to create dishes that really inspire that. And again, it's all about the story. The story has to be as delicious as the food, you know? And so as we add these items, you know, there's some story involved. Like, you know, we call it the Jasper Board Live because I'm from Jasper, Florida, in North Florida, that little town up there that you go by real fast on I -75. And my mother would never have made anything like this, but it's a homage.

to my childhood because all these items from the pimento cheese to the chicken salad to the smoked sausage ham the sweet pickles we eat sweet pickles and we've got some tomato um

jam that's really good, which became kind of popular later. Now we need some cream cheese on here because we spread that on some cream cheese. And we got, of course, we grow pecans up there, pecans as we call them, and we spice them up. They're really delicious. And this is a wonderful, shareable thing that I love. And what I love about it is that it...

Lou Mongello (04:47.086)
It's delicious and it enables, it's like you get things started with it. And that's what I love. I love food that initiates conversation. And I think that's really important. Because as much as we want to focus all on the food, we need to, which we do here at Homecoming, is we focus on our guests. I've never had a restaurant in all my career where our guests say to me, I loved my server and they will,

name the server and they do and they make a really, really they give their hearts out and and do their best to make sure that these wonderful people that come from all over or they may just come down the street have a lovely time and so you know we we get a great return and so that makes me very very proud. I mean we're I mean gosh now we seven years old I think we are seven and to think that but you know every day is a new day and we get families

from all over the world and you know family is universal. It doesn't make any difference if it's American family or it's French family, Italian family or Asian family, whatever. We're all family and under this roof you are. Under this roof this is home and so you know we've tried really hard to really keep things fresh and alive by creating new menu options. You know a lot of people don't know.

that we change the menu four times a year. And we don't change fried chicken. It is the pinnacle. It is the holy grail. You know, it's something that, you know, it's my schnick. And... Well, it's what we fall in love with. Like, we as guests, like, I come here a lot. And I'm made to feel like I'm family. And it's not just me, but I'll have other friends come in and say...

I haven't been to homecoming in six months and my server remembered me from last time I was there with thousands and thousands of guests that matter. The servers can make or break.

Lou Mongello (06:43.662)
It doesn't matter how good the food is. But we often forget that the menu changes seasonally because we have the things that we love. I know what I'm coming in for. Yeah, you have to be careful about changing menus because a lot of people do have their favorites. Like, you know, I get it all the time on social media. I'm coming all the way from Oregon just to have Hummingbird cake. God forbid if we ever took Hummingbird cake off. Chef, you want to make Disney fans lose their marbles? Tell them you're changing something. Oh, yeah. Yeah, exactly. But, um.

We've been very fortunate and you know, there's you know, like there's things about you probably don't even know that when I was starting off as a chef I got made fun of from for doing homestyle food They called me a homie chef

Why? Was it not elegant, refined enough? Was it fancy enough? But I remember my first job when I was Governor Bob Graham's chef and Nella Schomburger, the goddess of deliciousness and caring, said to me, now we don't do that hotel -y food, so we do food that's served in a home. And I was like, I should look at her and go like...

And I had just come out of the Greenbrier, okay? And I was like going, well, and I can tell you some funny stories about like, you know, me cooking out of, there was a wonderful caterer out of New York called Food Glory's Food, and they had this big, big book. And I cooked out of it, and you know who the guest was? You'll laugh, okay? Because I was trying to impress him. He was with the governor, and he was announcing the new studio, Michael Eisner.

No kidding. And I had made tomato sorbet. What's tomato sorbet taste like? Blech! And I was like, and she kind of looked at me and she said.

Lou Mongello (08:32.398)
Now, do you remember when I told that little that for future lesson art, I said, oh my God, the future lesson that comment comes out again. She said we try to keep it, you know, like a lovely like French still pie, you know, with cream on the side and nothing beats a great chicken and wild rice casserole. Lord have mercy. She's going to get me. She's going to get me. But you know what? I love chicken, wild rice casserole. Thank you very much. One of my favorite. I will tell you so that to the menu. That sounds delicious. I will tell you something. The junior.

between them and Southern Living have written. They have chronically become the tastemakers of this part of the world because all these dishes that we enjoy so much, like last night I get this blip from Southern Living all the time and it was how to make biscuits about eight different ways. I'm like, oh my God. And cream cheese biscuits, I saw that one. I'm like, oh, I love that one. But.

But you know, we ain't changing our cheddar drop biscuits with herbs. I'm telling you something. That's another one. We changed that. And we'd have mutiny all the springs. You absolutely can. I say this to people all the time, Chef. I think that no matter what business we're in, we're in the relationship business. We're totally in the relationship business. But you are in a relationship business with your staff, with your customers. And there's this establishment of trust that you've earned with guests. And that's why we do it.

come back, right, because of this trusted relationship. And so when you do introduce something new, we trust you enough to know like, this has to meet up to chef standards for him to be able to introduce it on the menu to us and dare I say even take something off the menu in order to replace it with this. Well, you know, one thing I learned from that lesson and working at that big house was, I don't care who you are. And I'll be honest with you, the more complicated your life.

the more simple you want your food. Complicated people don't want complicated food. It's true. People say like, oh, you cook for her? What did she eat? She had fried chicken. She eats fried chicken? I said, of course she does, because no one else ever offered it to her. I mean, the reality is that we should take pretense out of food and celebrate each other.

Lou Mongello (10:47.118)
and just have something really delicious. And I'm not saying when you do this food, it should be subpar, no way, because that's a good way to break conversation. Like, you know, the conversation goes from, oh, we were having a great time. Oh my gosh, that food was worse, but we had great conversation. So we don't want that. But simple, simple sometimes. Simple, yeah. And should be calm. And I agree with that 100%. And, and you know, here at Homecoming and really creating that, that mantra that I told you about that.

that fresh from Florida, that feeling of Florida. Florida, you know, I grew up in Florida, it's pioneer state, you know what I mean? And my ancestors were pioneers. And so even though it was kind of rustic and, you know, and I can tell you some stories about growing up on Bee Haven Bay in the swamp and my grandpa was a moonshiner, that's why we had moonshine. You know, it's like, I think he drank more than he actually sold. And daddy grew tobacco and.

Well, all this stuff that you ain't supposed to do, we did it. But I do love and adore it. And as I grow older, I cherish and love my family and my ancestors. They go with me everywhere I go.

And I'm grateful and you know, and the greatest gift was my late mother being able to see the restaurant being built and opened and actually tasting it before our death, but which was truly thanks to Heather and it was just it was it was that was probably the most highlight of my whole and that's why we have Addie Addie Mae's chicken dumpling soup. It's still on on the menu and people love it. And you know, I love that you are sharing these stories and these memories because there's.

One of the things I love about Homecoming is that there is an authenticity to the story. This is not a made up sort of backstory that you're bringing into the restaurant. This is not sort of a story that's being laid over.

Lou Mongello (12:44.302)
the things that you create, not just on the menu, but the names that you give them are here because they're personal. And I think that's one of the things that translates, and it's one of the reasons for not just the success of the restaurant, but I think that, as you know, the loyalty that so many of us have to it. Most definitely. I was, you know, like yesterday, I've been asked to go out to Sun Valley and do a big event for the Sun Valley Culinary School. And I'm going to do a professorship.

which I think kind of cool. And Sun Valley has all my people out there. You know me and all those fancy rich people, I'll be there. They like fried chicken. Anyway. Who doesn't love fried chicken? But I was talking to...

And this goes regardless if it's a Sun Valley or this is Seminole or this is Orange, whatever school in America. And one thing I was telling her that I would tell every culinary student, you can be taught to cook, but the passion comes from within you. And you have to remember when you create a dish, don't forget the story. And that the story is so important.

to your success and focus on dishes that you want. It's like at the end of the day, what do you want on your tombstone? You know, Oprah used to say,

If it's good, we serve it again, and again, and again, and again. So she also taught me like, you know, it ain't about being different, it's about being better. And, you know, these words of wisdom, and I still remember the days when working for all these people, when cell phones came, and, you know, it was very common to have conversation in the kitchen with these people. Now you can't, because their phones are like on, and they're on, and everything, but I'd make them breakfast, and like, I'd slip right in.

Lou Mongello (14:42.768)
there and have my little conversation. But it was really, those are my very sweet special times. And that's why, and why I like that work was because I love interacting with people. Because to me, I love cooking. I'm passionate about it. But I like the serving of people and feeding people. You know, yesterday we had a chef's roundtable.

here at Disney Springs.

Mr. Disney would be really proud. And what we're doing is engaging the chef community here because you know, Disney Springs is quite now well known for restaurants. You know, it's a restaurant destination. And so we had all the restaurants there and it was really wonderful to see a lot of great chefs, you know, and being out. I'll be honest with you, you know, when I first started my restaurant business, it was hard for me to get my chefs who have now been with me 20 years to go out to the dining room.

I mean, they were very insecure about that. And I told them, I said, it's no longer pay no attention about the man behind the curtain. You remember in Oz, you know, people want to know who's behind the curtain. People want to know who creates the magic. You know, when you come, and that's why to me here at Walt Disney World, Walt Disney World, it's important.

that we not forget that behind the magic was a man named Walt Disney, Walt that really had a dream and with a brother named Roy that loved his brother enough, who kept him out of bankruptcy and kept him straight, you know, together financially and with that dynamic duo created all this. And I'm always amazed about how wonderful, you know,

Lou Mongello (16:42.19)
that those two were on the team. And don't forget, you know, Lily and those kids, because he used to take the kids to the park and they'd get on the carousel and the train. He was inspired by a lot of different things. But I told you this, but you know, I'm getting old so I repeat myself. Can you believe now? You ready for this?

Do you know how long I've been associated with Disney? Well, you're younger than you purport to be, but I do know yours, and I love the fact that you share your story in the front of the restaurant through photographs and things like that because Chef Arch Smith's homecoming is not your first rodeo at Walt Disney. No, it's not. I have been here, been in this woods around here. When it was woods, 43 years. Wow.

I was in the first college program. It was called the Magic Kingdom College Program. And I lived at Snow White Village, Seven Dwarf Lane in Kissimmee. And I remember driving my car through the country, through the, oh, and it would be late at night because this was this FSU University student that wanted to bake cake and they looked at me like, why do you want to do that? I said, I want to bake cake. They said, don't you want to work in Magic Kingdom? No, I don't want to work in Magic Kingdom. I want to work where everything's going on. I want to see the action.

Well, I did. And you know what I loved about that was it was kind of a magical time. It was like 1981. And the reason why it was magical because they were building, prepping, creating Epcot. And when they were building World Showcase, all those people from Paul Bacuse to all those different people were there testing. And I got to meet them all. And if I had been like working, I would never have met them. Trust me.

If there's a will, there's a way, I'm going to meet him. Beware of people with Trojan horses. Beware of Chef Art. Bring a gift because he wants them out of it. My first book, I got up early in the morning and we were in the New York City and I was like, when I said...

Lou Mongello (18:58.99)
I gotta bake some Mubby Bird cakes. I baked 10 Hummingbird cakes in the Four Seasons kitchen. The only reason they let me do it was because I was Oprah Winfrey's chef, okay? And I baked all these cakes and loaded them up into the back of the car. And every publisher, I say, hey, y 'all today, come have some cake. And then that just breaks the ice. But that's not new.

you know you saw me bringing in donuts you saw that didn't you can be where it does it goes back to the i would talk about the relationship right you know relationship with

your staff, right? You show them that you love on them. And I say this all the time, Jeff. One of the things I love about you, and I say this not just in your presence, but to other people, and one of the things I love about Chef Art Smith's homecoming is you're not just a name on a marquee. You're here all the time, not because you're doing some sort of a PR, book signing thing, because your name is on the marquee. And you come and you interact with guests and you talk to them, not as a quote unquote celebrity chef, but as somebody who's invited them to the home. And it,

It matters what the chefs coming out the same thing like that matters and there's a big deal to people well, you know the rowdy is is like I was having my little conversation with the ambassador and You know where you know, how am I feeling about if you drop names? I have I have I have my own Situation that you know what that is. You could drop them if you know them if you don't know miss tacky. All right Okay, so I was speaking with ambassador Levine

from Lisbon and she's always like, she's like, you are gonna come and they for the Napa situation. I said, yes ma 'am. And you are gonna come and do fried chicken for NATO. Yes ma 'am. And I said, and you know how I met her? I gave a dinner for children with cancer.

Lou Mongello (20:50.03)
and it was for eight people, fried chicken. She bought it for $25 ,000. And I did the dinner in the Hampton Center at Prolacial House. And we became friends over fried chicken 15 years ago. And so, I mean, isn't that funny? And you know, over fried chicken. So she said, and I told her, I was telling her I was just finessed to be a presenter at the Beard Awards, which I haven't done since about 2015. And it's a big deal. It's the Oscars.

But every year that I've done it three times, I have a theme. And two of the times, I'll try to remember the other, but one I remember in particular, I did transgender and I brought the most beautiful transgender woman ever, gorgeous. And it was because I was trying to really make people understand in no better way than walking the red carpet. And then this most recent,

I wanted to really push the importance of diplomacy and chef diplomacy. So I walked with the State Department woman, Lauren Bernstein, who designed the chef diplomacy program for Hillary Clinton. And she was there, and I had this, I didn't tell you about the getup, I had this Manuel who's this.

this incredible entertainment designer who's done from Elvis, you know, the white suit to Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton, the list Elton, the list goes on. It was razzle but dazzle. Okay. And I walked it and we were like, whoo. And so now this year I've where you maybe I should tell you I'll give you what I'm going to focus on. You know, food is a common thread. We all love it. Right? Yeah. What is sports without food?

Nothing. So I'm in a bedazzled, sporty bird jersey with a beautiful, fabulous tux and I'm gonna have some fabulous kicks and I've got two of my finest Chicago hounds riding on both sides of me. We're gonna walk down the red carpet, we're gonna say, remember, when you got sports, you gotta remember food. And, cause it's really huge. I mean, I wanna tell you something, you know, my partner here, Mark Gibson, he got a pickleball court in his front yard.

Lou Mongello (23:09.87)
And that man is so serious. I will tell you, this is how serious this was. We had a wonderful party for one of the dizzy executives that were retiring. Lovely man. He's been a friend of ours for so long. And...

He had these shoes he was kind of like playing with. I'm like, he goes, don't look at mine. Mine are neon green. He goes, these are my new pickleball shoes. I'm like, oh, why are they, Mark? He said, I'm really kind of wearing them so they'll feel better when I play, because I have to play in the morning at 8 o 'clock. I said, oh, really? OK. And I'm like, I mean, serious. And you know.

It's all, you know, it all sounds like fun and everything, but people that play pickle, it is a major serious sport. And the world champion lives in Naples. Florida is like the epicenter for it. That and that and Padel and everything is just, it's really, it's really huge. I mean, you know, anything that gets people out, being active, getting active, eating, I mean, to me, again, you know.

If you gotta watch sports, I don't care if you're watching TV, you put something in your hand, you got food or you got a drink, okay? You know, the same way, you know, like, you know, Heather who does all our PR here, she's a very lovely woman, even though she went to University of Florida, Gator, Gator, Gator, Gator, and I'm of course, go Noles, go Noles, go Noles, you know, we're totally like.

you know, always at each other. But I don't mind. I was actually going to go to University of Florida, but they didn't have a hotel school. And I was not smart enough to be a veterinarian, you know, but I love 4 -H and that was kind of the epicenter for 4 -H. I learned a lot from 4 -H and I'm a big believer in those kind of organizations for kids. It really gives them something to really engage in. You know, I think activities are such an important part, you know, and that's why it's important for families to be active together like we have split.

Lou Mongello (25:01.104)
and we have the bowling alley and people bowl and they eat. It's a big thing because the reality is, you know, it's the only, I don't, well, are you gonna ride the balloon or whatever? You can't eat that balloon, but the fact is, you know, you can drop donuts on people, but let's not do that. Or, you know, ride a boat, but you can sit in there in the, at Splitsville, have a, have you ever had their wonderful,

rolls or sushi rolls? I was gonna say chef, Splitsville sushi is like the secret. Okay hello. Yeah. Hello. It is the most, I have eaten sushi all over the world, okay, and every person of any statue I take over there and they all go like.

Holy, holy, holy sushi. And I'm like, bowling alley sushi is like gas station sushi, but it's not. It's amazing. And I love my neighbors here. Now I don't say nothing. Now we worked together in Iron Chef America. Did you know that I was a judge on Iron Chef America? I was a nice one. Okay. And then the other one was just evil. Evil. You know, make sure you watch me on the new Top Chef Milwaukee. I'm a nice judge. And I do some, and I do so I do a very, very favorite Wisconsin.

thing that I don't, it's amazing what these chefs did with it. My favorite part of going to Milwaukee was eating custard. Have you ever had custard?

Those Wisconsin people, they know themself about cheese and custard and it's called Coops. And it was a cops or Coops is delicious. And what happened was they had all this fancy food. And then I kind of looked at Gail and Tom and I said, and Kristen, I said, y 'all don't be eating fancy food all night. You know, confess up, confess up. Tell me what you're going to do. Tell me, okay, you've got your, they'd be going down to cops and eating burgers and having, having custard. Okay, come on. That's what I'm telling you. It's a simple comfort food that we've all come back to.

Lou Mongello (26:58.862)
Most definitely. And that's why what I love about Disney Springs, you know, we have a wonderful festival coming up called the Flavors of Florida.

and they worked really hard on it and they're making it the festival for food here at Disney Springs. And that's what's great about Disney Springs is that it's not a theme park, but it's a park that'll make you feel good because there's a lot of delicious food that you... I think this is the fifth theme park. I spend more time in Disney Springs Chef than I do in the parks. And look, I have the physique to prove it. Trust me, I've wanted to go visit all my neighbors. You know what I mean? I was...

Jaleo last night and I think I ate half a pig and and then I and I had this and you know bless their hearts it's hard being chef art you know usually they I used to get like a little plate of pie like this they brought the whole damn pan it was this big and and I was just celebrating.

Jose, but it's just it was so I love the fact because you've mentioned Haleo. You've mentioned more moto. You've mentioned splits. Well, I love the fact that because not everybody does this, chef, that you don't look at them as competition. No collaboration. You can't eat fried chicken every day. And you know, and I'm so proud of our donuts at Everglades. Today is National Caramel Day. What? You better get your caramel donut. I have myself a caramel latte here. Okay. Okay. But if this is national

Carmel Day. And yeah, I'm a big believer in that. And I love I love my friends over at Gideon's. Oh my gosh, I've never seen I've never seen such a mass hysteria over a cookie. But and then and ongoing, like it's not it's not a spike like exactly all day every day. And I and I adore George over here. And you know, and he's, you know, he knows more about wine than I don't know anybody else does. And, and then, you know, the boathouse, you know, I, you know, everything has.

Lou Mongello (28:54.734)
a right occasion, right time. It's all about, you know, the reality is this. All of these places share something unique. And for the Disney guest who's coming to Disney Springs, there's a right time and a right place for all of us. And one of the things that we do exceptionally well, I don't know if you ever had our brunch? I have. On more than one occasion. We put the bee a brunch.

They ain't no better. Hello?

I've come here to Springs. I have gotten up out of bed and put on pants just to come here for brunch. Stretchy pants? I have a stretchy pants. All my pants are stretchy pants. I have all stretchy pants on now too. I remember I did a show with Oprah and it was all about stretchy pants food. I'm like, oh God, where'd that come from? And so yeah, it is really, really delicious. And one of my most favorite meals is brunch or breakfast. I call it breakfast because we eat like it's brunch.

and in the morning it's really incredible but I'm so proud of the fact that

You know, we change our menu. We've got great new menu items and seasonally and the chefs getting together and celebrating together. And most importantly, this Flavors of Florida, which is coming up, which will celebrate all the great deliciousness of Disney Springs. I mean, I've got Food and Wine Festival. I have worked with that for now 20 something years, but it has always been such a major, you know, it's the world's largest Food and Wine Festival. And what I always loved about it was there are a lot of Food and Wine Festivals and I've done them.

Lou Mongello (30:36.688)
taste something. It's the least pretentious one of all of them. And it's not even pretentious. That's not the point. It's like, you know, that's the other thing. I don't like pretentiousness in something that we put in our mouth every day. You know what I mean? Come on. You know, it's like, why give our food attitude? You know, people got enough attitude. Why give the food attitude? But it's like, oh my gosh. But it was like, um.

It's been a wonderful journey and I've been very, very happy that the journey continues.

I'm excited, you know, expect to see me taking fried chicken to higher places. I told the ambassador, she said, well, Art, what would you love? I said, well, what would I love? I said, we're going to do fried chicken in the White House, not in the executive offices. I've done it in the executive office three or four times. I know you're cooking for them, but I want it in the White House, right in the White House. I'm 64. I'm one of the grandpas like Emerald and Wolfgang. They'd kill me. I called them that.

You know, but we all the same age, but you know, you see how Emeril's got his son all doodied up and everything. Lord have mercy. They put that child in finishing school. Boy, he redid Emeril's and I look at him, I'm like, how did you do that? And can you take all of my four kids and do the same thing to them? But I mean, they're so, he's such, he's a sweet man. I love him and you've met him, sure. I have not met Emeril, just for a moment. He is the most sweet. Hey, how are you?

The most, we are great. He's the most unpretentious man I've ever met. He's, you know, the world knows him. He's lovely. You know, I spent a week with another very unpretentious man. He was in the most outrageous situation, you know. You ever heard of Francis Mollman? Francis Mollman, okay, let me tell you about this chef. He owns his own island in Patagonia. And I wanna tell you something.

Lou Mongello (32:41.614)
When I walked on that island, it was six hours near the city, and it was an hour from the shore to the island, I said to myself, how much fried chicken must I sell to buy myself an island? It was amazing. And what was great about it was everything was cooked by fire.

And I met him here in Florida, in Naples, at the wine auction. The Naples wine auction is one of the biggest wine auctions in the world. But he cooks everything by fire. And it was so great being in Patagonia, having this wonderful food and everything. But that was a very experience. And I'll never forget Wolfgang. And he was making me his wife, former wife, Barbara Blenzes. They were great.

literally there in Beverly Hills and that fancy Beverly Hills Hotel he he were pretty woman was was in he was sat there and made blimpses for for me and I table and I was like going okay I feel fancy now I wasn't with podman I wasn't with

with Tom, but I was with a couple of chefs from Top Chef and they were real sweet, but he was so sweet of him. I mean, like, and you know, and he's also a nice judge and we've worked together and I like him a lot. You know, Wolfgang's over here and I love him and you know, and the meat, you know, it's just opened over here too from Chopped. I love her too. She's nice. The whole Chopped bunch are really, really nice. You know, it's interesting too that television and food has, I also think that it's kind of leveled off. You know, the whole celebrity chefs,

because, well America only needs so many, but the fact was, it was also kind of messing up kids that would go to culinary school, they'd go to culinary school and say, I want to be a star chef. Well, not everybody can be a star. And the reality is, I'm not saying don't try, but don't make that your objective, because it doesn't work that way. And...

Lou Mongello (34:47.918)
To be honest with you, to this day, at my age, I don't feel that famous, okay? I know I've made a lot of people happy and they know me, but I ain't the president. I ain't the pope. I'm just a guy who grew up in North Florida, Jasper, who ate Jasper boards, but they weren't assembled that beautiful, on a tobacco farm. And I was very, very grateful because I was a horrid, horrid student at FSU. And the dean said,

All right, you're a bad student, but I think you can cook. Why don't you go over to the governor's house and help him out? And Martha Stewart had come out with a book called Entertaining. This is how long ago it was. And I could do that. I could make it pretty. And then one day they said, you know, we have a guest and we don't think the chef's going to show up. Because then...

There was, you know, the whole chef situation has changed a lot. You know, there were days when chefs would show up drunk. I mean, and that kind of stuff, okay? I mean, I'm serious. We don't, oh no, no, no, no, no, okay. No. Not here, not here. Have his good life. Have his good life, oh my God. But this was a - No, homecoming. Honey, this was, okay, if I was dissing at 43 years, this was almost 50 years ago. Okay, well, my point I'm trying to say is, is that they weren't very dependable. Right, right. Okay, regardless of whatever their issues were,

And a guest was coming, and they said to me, they said, we have a guest. Could you cook for them? I said, and this is a very important lesson, you have to know your audience.

if you're gonna be a good business person. And that's why I'm partners with Guy and Mark and Jason and Buzzy and Heather and all these great people, because they know their audience. Why this restaurant makes so much sense where it is in the heart of Walt Disney World. Exactly. You know, I ain't stupid, I'm telling you, I'm telling you, I know that for sure. So anyway, they said to me, they said, I said, who's guest? They said, Mikhail Baryshnikov, I'm like.

Lou Mongello (36:52.75)
and he had just done White Nights with Gregory Hines. Okay, I'm like, hello, I know him.

And but you know what I never realized is that you know he did the whole white oak series up outside of Jacksonville where he you know there was there was you know this multi billionaire from in New York that had a big place a piece of land is still called white oak and now it's a game preserve and the guy who owns it now also owns the Dodgers. He said we know all this little hidden jewels right and he he built a studio from the cow there and the cow used it as a workshop for his ballet but he was in Florida.

he came to talahassee talahassee it you know it it it has some beauty and some love and stuff and there's some stuff that i don't like you know

All I can tell you is the seasons change just like the politicians change. I won't say anymore. And like the menus change, right? And like the menus change. Sometimes you have bad weather, sometimes you have good weather. Sometimes you have sunshine and sometimes you don't have sunshine. But guess what? We make it all feel better with food. So anyway. So let's talk about menus changing, right? And seasonal changes. Again, you have

to sort of balance the fan favorites that they come in for. Tell me where for you the inspiration comes from, right? As the season starts to change, do you base it on ingredients that are available? Do you think back to cooking with your grandma? Like where for you does the inspiration come? And talk about the process of getting it out of your head and onto a menu. One.

Lou Mongello (38:33.966)
you have to, first before you create something, you have to source ingredients. You don't put it on the menu unless you can find it. So we go to our farmers, we go to our purveyors to find those ingredients. Second, we speak with our people here, the people that work the tables, the management and everything, and they can tell you where our audience is headed in terms of things that they like, okay?

If you don't have the ingredients and you don't have your audience behind you, why are you putting on the menu? So you're not trying to serve your s -

It's sort of a dual meaning when I say serve. You're not trying to serve your audience what you want. You're serving the audience what you know that they are starting to lean towards you, that you know that they would like. Most definitely. You know, when we put thigh -high biscuits on there, why do we do that? Because one, you know, we're not a hot chicken kind of house, but we wanted ours to be special. And so with the team here, we created thigh -high biscuits, which are a runaway bestseller, like crazy. And with our biscuits, which everybody wants to eat, I was feeding the ducks biscuits.

yesterday but they like our biscuits too and so I'm like here little ducky you need some biscuit the guests were going like look at him feeding them biscuits but we have the great biscuits and with the fried chicken and that wonderful sweet spicy chili sauce it's really good people like spice but may God strike me I will never dump my chicken in hot sauce I will never

I like the fact that we serve our hot sauce here on the side and that you can also buy it and that can guests love that because I come from a place that's about choices and so don't make the choices for your guests. Let your guests make their own choices. You know what I mean? And so I like that very, very much. And don't drown the flavor and exhaust the flavor of the chicken by overwhelming it with the heat. But the thing about like, you know, we can tell that people are leaning more towards seafood or leaning more towards pork or maybe they're leaning more towards

Lou Mongello (40:35.664)
towards everything we know and beef and we know they go eat chicken. But we've taken that too like you know we did a wonderful paillard and that's really delicious really really delicious and then we have chicken fried steak that'll like take you to another level and it's a lot and I look at that thing and first thing I you know I was like I said I was in Argentina a month that looks like that's our version of Southern Milanese you know what I mean this big palatial piece but you know there they throw it in.

on it and cheese and whatever it's it's it's delicious but um again it's a great wonderful dish that people can share but um and we you know in the when it comes to the more vegetable side which was very important because that you know everybody has this feeling you know you know Florida's got a great new vegetarian cookbook coming out that I'm excited about I just did some stuff for and and what's the name?

that cookbook? The Florida Vegetarian Cookbook. How appropriate is that? University Press of Florida.

who's a PBS correspondent over in Tampa. It's a beautiful cookbook, art help, actually he read the final manuscript and wrote a book on it. Well vegetarian food isn't just for vegetarians anymore. No, and I think, you know, in our mothers, all our, most mothers always said to their children, or grandmothers or aunties or whomever said, eat your vegetables. No, the thing about it is, is that, and this is a misnomer too, people assume that with all this food that we're known for, we only eat vegetables, raw.

I mean we eat so I mean we eat greens until we're green we eat peas until we're just like I say peed out

Lou Mongello (42:29.39)
But we love some beans. And now we eat broccoli. You want to love about? We have this wonderful side. We have great sides here. Some people tell me, like, what is your favorite thing? I said, eat sides. You know, I have a very famous saying that goes, fried chicken takes no sides.

And I'm not talking about the sides, I'm talking about the politics. Don't put politics in your food, keep it out. Anyway, it tastes better. So you know where I'm going with that one. So all you other, this fried chicken place with politics in your food, get away from here, stay. And so, yeah, I'm very opinionated about that kind of stuff. And so, but what I was gonna tell you is just, we really have...

a wonderful.

bounty of delicious vegetables that are there. They're delicious. I mean and We find that our customers are always searching for more great vegetables We brought in this wonderful broccoli salad is a classic of every potluck in most of America That's delicious and it's even better if it sits overnight Remember overnight salad and layered salad and all that kind of stuff. I mean I was at the airport convention. I was looking at all these layered salads. I'm

thinking like who would have thought layer salad but you know they didn't put the mayonnaise dressing on top of it so because you're supposed to go down deep down it was interesting how they did it but I I love salads and I and we have a lot of different salads and and we also you know prepared to do those without any kind of animal protein or you know I love Caesar I don't need my I don't need grilled chicken on my Caesar salad or fried chicken I just like Caesar salad but this is how I like it I find the old

Lou Mongello (44:19.312)
the more simplistic I am about what I eat. And that's the same way, and people still want a little dessert, and I'm a big believer in sherry dessert. We have big desserts here, and we encourage people to share.

I know it's always about, in the restaurant business, about building a ticket up, building a ticket, building a ticket. But the reality is this, is that if you don't push people, because if people order too much, they're going to blame you. And the other thing too is that if you let people just kind of make those choices, and you feel like something's weird, you don't have everyone here, you don't push, they'll come back. And they'll come back and come back and come back again. And so that's what's important, is that, important that you...

Do we allow our guests to make choices and not push stuff on them? And so, very important. You know, when you're talking about choices too, when you were talking about salad, yes, you may not guess it by looking at me, but I actually do enjoy, I love being able to come here and say, and the servers and the...

back of the house staff is so willing to accommodate, whether it's a special dietary requirement, or you say, hey, can you give me iceberg lettuce instead of mixed greens, whatever? What's on the menu is the way it's designed, but you're so accommodating and wanting to make sure that the people have the experience that's going to make them happy. Most definitely. It's all about the customer.

And you know, except if they want to drown the chicken in hot sauce, right? Then that's well, then they can do that. They can do that. But I don't need to do it for them. You know what I mean? I'll keep mine on the beach and they can go in the hot sauce ocean. You know what I mean? But no, but. Nothing wrong with it, but it's just not my my it's not my chicken. But anyway, I think that letting the guests.

Lou Mongello (46:12.238)
You know, I come from a place where no wasn't an option in the private world. You don't say that word. We'll figure it out. We'll make it work. How are we going to do it? Say yes and then build your wings on the way down. Yeah, I had flown by the seat of my pants so many times. And they always look at you like...

It's so sweet of you how you got that. I'm like if you only knew, you know, but you know it's. I will tell you this for all that we do here. You don't take a village. It takes a nation because. We probably had the smallest kitchen of all of Disney Springs, but it it takes our collaboration with Splitsville and with Everglades and all these different people from here. You know our our.

our sisters or brothers to bring homecoming to what it is. And thanks to Patrick Steele, who's the executive chef of the whole Shmoley and his team, they're able to make a dream that I had, which I wrote, was about let's give Florida, let's get people at Walt Disney World a taste of Florida. Because not everybody, they come off the airplane, they come here, and they have no idea what it tastes like outside. All there is is chains.

and things like that. But it's better now. But you know, you can't assume that people are like yourself, where they'll go to the markets and stuff like. I was like, you know, recently I stayed downtown and I had never been, and I had to go see Trina at Seven Bytes. What a line to bountiful.

And she came out the door and said, hi honey, come on in. All them people looking at me like, who is he? Who is he that just broke the line? And God bless her. I love her. And some other great people. That's what my goal is now, is to get more out.

Lou Mongello (48:14.062)
in the Orlando area, because there's a lot of great people there cooking their hearts out. Because, quite honest with you, we're one big family, we're all connected. And again, it's a time and place for everything. And there are people that are in downtown or in the surrounding areas that will come here under the reference of one of those great chefs or everything. You know, I'm telling you, that's just how it is. You know, I went to a...

that brewery that has all the food trucks and everything like that. That was one of my adventures. And I had to try out all the food trucks. And I had some noodles that set me on fire. But that was kind of fun. But anyway, what's the name of those noodles? It's a popular one. I forgot the name of it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But it was really good. But anyway, it was fun. And I'm a huge fan of hot dogs.

You know, we have a hot dog concept in Tampa that's really... What? Yeah, sure do. Joe dog. Joe dog, yeah. You have it? No, the partners have. I'm sending a road trip in my near future. I'm happy to put my name around it because I love a hot dog. And I was just happy to... Like I said, the airport thing, I was saying like...

Everywhere I travel in the world, they got a hot dog. I was in Bora Bora.

And all I remember is we came into Bora Bora and I heard like an orchestra of roosters. It was like the whole island was alive with roosters. And you know, you had those beautiful pigs and you're going over and then all the Polynesians and you know, et cetera. And I see this little shack and I'm looking at it and I'm like, wow, that's kind of cool. And they go and they were serving these kind of Polynesian, kimchi, Korean kind of hot dogs. And they were delicious. And then,

Lou Mongello (50:10.414)
With all the Venezuelans we have here, Venezuelan hot dogs are really good too. They put crunchy stuff on top of them. They're delicious also. And you know, oh my God, my favorite in the world. I was in Stockholm. And I was out late. I went to a drag show, the most fabulous drag show on a boat in the harbor of Stockholm. And we get out with one of our friends, Connie and I were there. We were there because I had written a book for...

was that was that was a bread and and I was there with them. You remember the whole story how she talked about was and sock went up. Yes, I got invited to Sweden because Oprah talked about was a bread and so I went there and we got out of the show is really amazing.

and I see these hot dogs, I'm like, wow. So what they do is, it's like French bread and very small, and they hollow out the center and they take the dog with the mustard and they put it inside of it. And it is, you will see the Jesus of hot dogs when you eat it. It is so delicious. I mean, that's what I'm trying to say is like, I love.

I love being around the people. What are the people eating? I mean, what are all like, you know, we have amazing people here from the Orange County Police Department that they're here and I always wonder like, what are you eating every day? Where are you going? What tastes good to you? You know, they tell you a lot. Like I'm real friendly with the semi fire department and I always ask them, like, what are you eating? Do you know they have a pickleball court behind their fire station? And they pay pickleball. Did you know that?

You tell Mark that. It's like everybody's playing pickleball. I'm like a fireman playing pickleball. But, and I ask him something, but I always find it really strange that the firemen have to cook their own food. But anyway, you know, so I always like to know what people are eating. You know, you'll see people with their little lunches like, what's in there? What you got in there? So most importantly is to love restaurants, to love food is to love people.

Lou Mongello (52:16.654)
And I'm a big believer in humanities and it's really important. Common Threads is my program I started with over 20 years ago. 20 years? And I was looking at our thing and that we have served, I think, like half a million kids. Wow. And served four million meals. That's amazing. It's crazy, yeah. And it started.

a grass -roofed effort in the basement of an old church, which hadn't been cooked in a long time. In my days, churches used to have potlucks and stuff like that and everything. But anyway, we're very, very happy that we believe, my husband believed the importance of teaching children.

Art and he said you're gonna teach them cooking and common threads was born and so we're very pleased with that our we have a big big Group of common threads down in Miami, but anyway Don't be in the restaurant people don't be in the restaurant if you don't like people yeah, yeah, like we said at the very beginning You know you you were in you're not in the Cooking business you are in the relationship business, and that's one of the things that

I've always believed, Chef, that you can taste love in food. You know, there are some restaurants that they're just pumping out things and it's just an assembly line.

and then you can taste when there's love in the food and it comes from the recipes and everything comes from, you know, you are the heart and the soul of this restaurant and it absolutely comes from you. And if the people are nasty, you can tell it, you could taste it in the food too. No angry food. I don't want no angry food. You know, my favorite movie, like Water for Chocolate, remember she'd cry and then people would eat the food and then they cry. I mean, I feel like that energy is all in there. And so it's very important, you know, I think.

Lou Mongello (54:16.142)
Well, I will tell you that homecoming remains of a fan favorite, not just for visitors to Walthus World, but locals alike. I know it's a place I like to come. We're looking forward to seeing whatever sort of culinary magic you are working on behind the scenes as the menu changes. Then you talked about, you know, Florida flavors. This is where to come to get the flavors of Florida. And then this summer in Disney Springs, everybody sort of really leans into it. And when does the festival start? July 1st.

through July, 1st of August. And I'm making an appearance too. It's going to be in July, so I'll be out, try to be cool. But it's a great thing. We're doing a brunch, a really wonderful brunch. We're not doing brunch. Oh, I don't know what we're doing. I didn't say that. Pay no attention to me. Pay no attention to me. I don't know. You're doing something special. You're doing something special. Hopefully this is edited. Exactly.

But there you have it.

Well, chef, this has been this has been wonderful. I appreciate your time today. I appreciate the love that you put into the food. And I love and I appreciate seeing you again here at the restaurant all the time and the way that people respond, not just to what you're cooking for them, but the fact that you're here again, not just on the not just on the side, but in person as well. And you are a treasure. And I love and appreciate. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

you very much. It's so nice to be called a treasurer, not Santa Claus. I checked in a hotel downtown, they were saying, is your last name Claus? I'm like, no, you did not say that. And there was a kid in the seat over here that was having a little, little little something something. And I said, maybe maybe my beard is scared him to know he thinks you're Santa Claus. I'm like, oh, Lord, Jesus, God. So I have a fried chicken chef, maybe Santa, Santa chef.

Lou Mongello (56:10.574)
And you were saying something before about these other celebrity chefs and celebrity. And I'm like, if you ever had any doubt of the celebrity of Chef Art Smith, here's just an idea I want to throw out for you. Dinner with Chef Art, some sort of special dining experience, forget it. The line would be out the door to have dinner with you. So this is a huge treat for me. Well, it's a pleasure. Well, it's a pleasure. And I hope to get to see people and thank them all from the bottom of my heart for supporting us here at Homecoming.

Thank you so much. Thank you, love. Thank you.


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