By Michele Gendreau
Director of Food and Beverage
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
Alumna of Cal Poly Pomona
If you work in a magical kingdom, you begin to see a little magic in everything. I certainly see the magic in food. Food grows and sustains life. It can be combined in tremendous ways. To great chefs, food is a work of art – a masterpiece to be devoured.
“Where Dreams Come True” is the Disney motto, and my job is an absolute dream for a foodie.
I enhance the natural magic in food to give it an extra kick. Whether it’s the Mickey shaped beignets or an R2-D2 shaped popcorn bucket, the Disney team and I seek out ways to enhance the story and magic that brings people to the Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts. It takes an appreciation of the food, the business and the story we are creating to get things just right.
Thinking back to my college experience it was the activities outside the classroom as much as my academic work that prepared me for Disney. Cal Poly Pomona is rich with opportunities to demonstrate leadership and creativity. I literally got my hands dirty working in the university farm growing crops and volunteering in the flower fields for the Cal Poly entry into the Tournament of Roses Parade.
One of my first business experiences was running the little Farm Store on campus. To me, this experience exemplified the Cal Poly Pomona focus on practical skills that apply to real life. I also had an opportunity as Associated Students, Inc. treasurer to manage large budgets for the benefit of fellow students. Being active in student government also gave me the chance to see the big picture of how funding and policies flowed in the state, CSU system and campus.
Even with all this practical experience there was always a chance for a little whimsy. Being part of the team assembling the Rose Parade float was amazing. An army of student volunteers covered a wire frame with barrels of petals to bring together a beautiful work of art. In 1983, we assembled a float titled “While the Cat’s at Play.” The float showed a cat entertained by a toy mouse as the actual mice went wild.
Maybe that float should have been a clue that I was destined to work for the most famous mouse of them all. Throughout 18 years of working for Dining Services at San José State and now at Disney, I have carried those amazing memories with me. Thanks to my student experience, I continue to have a life full of whimsy, fun and a little magic.