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Spotlight Interview: Meet Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Marc Viallet

by | Sep 20, 2019

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Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, in just a few moments, A Dream Is A Wish Our Blog Makes invites you to join us in the dazzling spotlight as we proudly present Disneyland Resort’s finest. Let us celebrate those who help create the magic inside the Disneyland Resort and truly make it The Happiest Place on Earth.

Welcome to our Spotlight Interview Series. We are delighted to introduce you to, Jean-Marc Viallet, Executive Pastry Chef for the Disneyland Resort. Jean-Marc is the award-winning culinary master behind all the delicious and beautiful pastries and sweets we all have come to love at the Disneyland Resort. He has raised desserts to a new level making these elegant and superb delights a destination all on their own for visiting Guests to the Parks. His career with Disney is going on twenty years and during that time he has been awarded Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional Magazine. Today, we are honored he has decided to share his magical journey with us and we are happy to be able to share it with you.

Where did you grow up? Tell us something about that special place.

I was born in the town Livry Gargan, which is next to Paris, France. However, many of my good memories have to do with the time I spent in Brittany. My grandparents were from there and I would visit them for vacation. We would do things such as shrimp fishing and boat sailing. My time in Brittany was a huge part of my life.
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Raspberry Rose Mickey Macaron

My other set of grandparents were in Paris, France. I spent a lot of time with them as well. They helped take care of me while both my parents worked. My grandfather in Paris had a big garden and grew a variety of wonderful produce. He used the fruits from his garden to make so many delicious things. He had a large apple tree in the back that we were always collecting the apples from. He would put them in this huge wooden press to make apple cider. He grew black currants and made black currant syrup. He also had a little yellow Mirabella plum tree that he would make a liqueur out of. It was over a hundred proof [he laughs]. He would collect all the plums and prepare them for the distillery guy who would go town to town and come around once a year to distill and bottle the liqueur for you. I still have one bottle of his plum liqueur. It is from the last batch he made and is dated 1978. I really regret not learning all his recipes and techniques.
Another fond memory that sticks out in my mind is my mother’s chocolate cake. I remember always getting to lick the remaining batter whenever she would make it. It was soft and molten in the center with a big crust on top. It was so nice. To this day, I have never been able to replicate it fully. [he chuckles]

Did you always know you wanted to be a Chef? How did you start your career as one?

No [he laughs]. To start with, I hated school. During my time, if you were not good at school, you were going to do something proficient with your hands or join the army outside the mandatory one year. I chose to work with my hands.
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Mickey Mouse Face Cookie

In France, this kind of profession is very compartmentalized. Each trade is a profession, and these professions were not revered as they are now. Boulangerie, which is basically a baker, is one trade, one school, and you do one apprenticeship to become a baker. As a baker, you only do bread like baguettes and croissants. Cakes and pastry is another kind of trade with a different school and apprenticeship.
I first started off as a baker at the age of fifteen and a half. I did two years in baking then I became really interested in pastry. So, I would go to work from six in the morning till two in the afternoon as a baker, then from two in the afternoon to six o’clock in the evening I learned pastry on my own time. After two years, I got my certificate in baking, then I did one more year and got my certificate in pastry. Actually, I never did baking again after that.

Right after my apprenticeship in France, I got a job with Club Med. I worked in the Bahamas and Mexico. After my three year extension, I was called back to do my one year of military service – I was about twenty then. When my service was complete, I worked in the South of France in Nice.

In 1986, I followed my girlfriend to America. [He chuckles] – French people. After that, I stayed and never left.

What path led you to work for the Walt Disney Company?

In America, I first worked as an Assistant Pastry Chef. My first hotel was the prestigious Meridian followed by the Four Seasons, both in California. I then went on to the Hyatt Regency in Dallas, Texas. My first position as Pastry Chef was at the Hilton in Atlanta, Georgia. I moved back to California to work at the Beverly Hills Hilton as Chief Pastry Chef. I stayed there for five years. The Beverly Hills Hilton was an extraordinary experience because of all the big events we would host, such as the Academy Awards Luncheon and The Golden Globes. From there I moved to the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena, CA and stayed only a year and a half before I got the call from Disney. They made me an offer I could not refuse
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Gina, Jean-Marc, & Cristina Outside Central Bakery

I started working for the Disney Company in 1999 as Executive Pastry Chef for the Disneyland Resort. I arrived two weeks before they broke ground for Downtown Disney and the Grand California Hotel & Spa. The bakery at that time was located on the second floor of Disneyland Hotel because these kinds of desserts were only available at the resort hotels through their restaurants, specialty brunches, and banquets they hosted. When I came on board, I changed that and started creating desserts for inside the Parks as well.
The more we created, the more demand we had, and soon we were producing desserts for the entire resort. We quickly ran out of room to operate safely at the Disneyland Hotel bakery due to the volume of desserts we needed to produce. After ten years, a new Central Bakery was designed and built.

We broke ground in September 2008 and it opened on March 9, 2009. It took about six months to build but a year and a half to design and get approval. One of the great advantages I had was being able to participate in the design process. Obviously, I had a big wish list [he laughs]. Not all of it was possible but I did get some wins for my team.

I was able to get all stainless steel cabinets and surfaces plus the workspace layout I wanted. One big thing that I got – that I really wanted was the cake room. The cake room is a room that is isolated from everyone else. There’s no noise, no steam, no heat – a completely different environment where you can concentrate. It’s very difficult to make wedding cakes with the heat and loud noises from the baking ovens being continuously used. The second big wish was for a second floor for storage but we weren’t able to get that.

We opened the bakery with one assistant, one manager, forty-five cast members, and myself. Ten years from that time, we now have one pastry chef, four assistant pastry chefs, two managers, two secretaries, one-hundred and forty cast members, and myself. We have grown quite a bit and are starting to outgrow this new facility already. I think because of where Disneyland is located and the foodie culture here we get to approach deserts differently than other Parks. We have more freedom to experiment and create sophisticated pastry – in fact, our guests expect it now when they eat at the resort. I believe this local culture is why our department is successful and continues to grow.

What does your average day look like?

The first thing I do when I arrive in the morning is I change then go into the kitchen and say hello to everyone. And it’s not a general ‘good morning’ to the room – I go from person to person. I do this every day. Then my secretaries show me the calendar and schedule. A typical day is busy, long, and varies. No two days are the same. There’s a lot of planning, tastings, and adjustments that go into staffing, training, designing, preparing, and producing for all the areas and events we service.

What are your favorite desserts to create?

More and more, I am able to give leeway for my team to create. I am more of an adviser in helping them learn and find better ways to approach things. I provide ideas and give direction. I am always thinking of new things – at home, at work, in the car, when I wake up and before I go to bed. My favorite is not any particular dessert but the process of creating something new.

I would like to continue to expand the availability of some certain baked goods throughout the Parks which are currently only available to the specialty clubs like Club 33 and Royal 21. At Club 33 we make a Rosemary and Sea Salt Brioche. At Royal 21 we make a special Brittany bread called Kouign-amann which is currently offered as a ‘take-away’. It’s equal parts of bread dough, sugar, and butter. It’s a million calories but so good. [he chuckles] I think it would nice to have these things available at more locations for guests to try.

What are some traditions or desserts you have had the pleasure of creating for the Disneyland Resort?

Mickey faced shape cookie

I had the pleasure of bringing hotel quality desserts into the Park. This cookie was the very first item I created. It was and still is a huge success. It remains available in the Parks today.

 

The Birthday Bucket at the Plaza Inn on Mainstreet

It was a decorative bucket with a little cake and a small plush toy. It had everything for a birthday celebration. It was very popular but is no longer available.
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Disneyland Resort Birthday Bucket

[Courtesy of Disney Media]

Mickey Raspberry Rose Macarons

The original I created is still available at Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe on Main Street in Disneyland. They became so popular we now have seasonal flavors and other Disney Resorts now make them as well. The original Mickey Raspberry Rose Macaron has also been merchandised into trading pins, magnets, scented plush toys, and things like that.

The Yule Log on Main Street

The Yule Log, or bûche de Noël, is a traditional French Christmas cake shaped and decorated to look like a Yule log. It’s available at the Plaza Inn on Main Street in Disneyland only during the holiday season.

Recipe released from Disneyland Resort Central Bakery. 

Video of Jean-Marc demonstrating how to make the cake. [Disneyland Media 2009]

Grey Stuff Gâteau

This dessert which was created for The Red Rose Tavern in Fantasyland has an amazing story. It is a White Chocolate Mousse and Red Velvet Cake with a raspberry center. When this dessert debuted, there was a two and a half-hour line just to purchase it. Never anywhere could you fantasize about selling 1500 desserts in one day at a quick-service style restaurant. It remains popular today.

Jack-Jack Cookie Num Nums

There are three cookies available. A Brittany Shortbread, a gluten-free Blackberry Jam-Filled cookie, and a Warm Chocolate Chip cookie. For the gluten-free cookie, we use Cup-4-cup gluten-free flour. The Warm Chocolate Chip recipe took me three months to perfect. The secret to its goodness is the 83% brown butter.

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Jack-Jack Cookie Num  Nums

Disneyland Haunted Mansion Holiday Gingerbread Houses

Two great traditions came out of this project which started in the year 2001. The first is the large gingerbread houses that are displayed annually on the dining table inside the ballroom scene in the Haunted Mansion Holiday attraction. The second is the party we throw for the patients at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

The event at CHOC came about when we didn’t want our three to four foot scaled gingerbread house model used for the concept and approval process to go to waste. We decided to throw the patients at CHOC a holiday party. We made Mickey Gingerbread cookies and put the names of the kids on them and hung them off the gingerbread house at the party. We also made a huge Yule log cake to serve. The first year we expected about a hundred people to show up, but it ended up being closer to five-hundred. The year after, we redid the event and about a thousand showed up.

Both the gingerbread house and the CHOC event turned into yearly events with the design of the Haunted Mansion gingerbread house changing yearly in size, moving pieces, and characters. We also started creating a second model to display in The French Market in New Orleans Square in Disneyland.

The first gingerbread house was 6-7 ft tall and was assembled at the Disneyland Hotel Bakery. We ran into the issue of not being able to get it inside the Haunted Mansion. It didn’t fit. It was too big. [He laughs]. We ended up having to fabricate a lift with wood and rope in the shop were they repair all the Doom Buggies to lower it down. We then spent the next three days decorating it inside the ballroom listening to the music and the knocking door just on the other side of the wall going off every few seconds. That was crazy – I could not sleep at night during that time. [he chuckles] Since then we build it in parts and reassemble it in the ballroom.
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Disneyland 2019 Haunted Mansion Holiday Gingerbread House – Themed for the Haunted Mansion’s 50th Anniversary [Courtesy of Disneyland Media]
The 4 Now Questions ~

What is your Favorite Attraction?

Favorite attraction … I have a lot. If I had to narrow it down to my top three I would say Haunted Mansion, Star Tours, and the one that is no more – Country Bear Jamboree.

What desserts do you recommend Guests try at the Parks?

  • Always the seasonal desserts like themed cakes, Seasonal Macaron, and seasonal pastries.
  • Jack-Jack Cookie Num Nums
  • GF Blackberry Num nums – if you have a gluten sensitivity or allergy
  • Classic Raspberry Rose Macaron
  • Classic Grey Stuff Gâteau

Who is your favorite Disney character?

Grumpy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I like him because he is just like me – a nonconformist. He’s a black sheep and does not want to be like everyone else. I love not being standard.

What would you like to share with Guest’s that is a special recommendation, a tip from you, or not well known?

The biggest thing I think most people don’t realize is that 95% of baked goods and desserts available throughout the resort, and especially in the Parks, are made from scratch at the Central Bakery. We are actually working on a branding initiative to make that known. Something simple like ‘Proudly Homemade by Disneyland Central Bakery’ or something like that. Everything we do and have done, from putting the location of the bakery closer to the Parks, the design of the facility, our attention to the quality and care of ingredients, preparation, recipes, and presentation are purposeful so we can produce the best quality and freshness for our Guests.

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Fun Haunted Mansion Holiday Facts from Jean-Marc:

* Gingerbread houses have ranged in size from 5 feet (the smallest) to 15 feet (the tallest) – almost touching the chandelier in the Haunted Mansion Ballroom. The same model was also too tall for the display area inside the French Market in New Orleans Square. We had to remove the chandelier inside the restaurant to accommodate the height of the model that year.

* The Oogie Boogie Roulette Gingerbread piece from 2003 was the only year we did not do a house. The Oogie Boogie body shell was made out of resin. To give it the green glow effect we covered it in 10,000+ gummy frogs. The roulette wheel and all the rest of the sculpture were out of gingerbread.

* The average amount of time it takes to build and decorate a Haunted Mansion gingerbread house is about 16 days.

* It takes a team of 4-6 pastry chefs and culinary castmembers from the Disneyland Resort Central Bakery to create each gingerbread house, three of which have been part of this tradition since 2001.

 

This year’s 50th Anniversary inspired gingerbread house is:

* The 19th Gingerbread House created for the Haunted Mansion Holidays attraction

* 10 feet tall

* Took 13 days to build and decorate

* Has over 30 pounds of gingerbread, 120 pounds of frosting and icing, 75 pounds of powdered sugar, 140 pounds of fondant…and more!

 

2 Comments

  1. Pat Georgoff

    I am really impressed! Loved the blog! My husband and I wanted to wander through Disney just to look at Christmas. It may be the most magical time at Disney for me. So filled with nostalgia and feel good displays of Christmas.

    Reply
    • Cristina and Gina

      Thank you Pat! It is so beautiful at Christmas especially with the special fireworks and snow!! We hope you will get to enjoy it this year!!

      Reply

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