Chef Michael Gabriel has been with Patina Restaurant Group for one year, overseeing the pastry departments for all of the company’s outlets at Walt Disney World and creating out-of-this-world sweet treats.
Those who have enjoyed a gelato at Gelateria Toscana or the Short Cake at Space 220, both in Epcot, have tasted Chef Gabriel’s creations. His handiwork can also be sampled at The Edison, Morimoto Asia, and Maria and Enzo’s at Disney Springs.
Before making the move to Patina and their Walt Disney World restaurants, Chef Gabriel spent 15 years as head of the pastry kitchens at Rockefeller Center’s venues, The Sea Grill, Rock Center Café, and Cucina and Co.
We asked him about his time in New York, the transition to Florida, and how he helps make guests’ visits to Walt Disney World just a bit sweeter.
Tell us some of your fondest memories of working at the Rockefeller Center and some of the creations you came up with for this iconic setting.
One of the fondest memories I have of working at Rockefeller Center is the famous Key Lime pie. It was the signature dessert at the Sea Grill and always the number one seller.
I also had the opportunity to be a part of so many events, from “Sex in The City” season and the “Sopranos” ending parties, to Google and YouTube events. I had the privilege to create specific desserts and specialty cakes for all of these events.
It was fifteen years full of seasonal menus with “build your own” sundaes to having the Summer of Sundaes at Rockefeller center. I worked in a scratch pastry kitchen where we handmade croissant dough, Danish dough for breakfast pastries at Cucina & Co. The best part of it all for me was the Chefs and staff that I got to work with every day.
Was it a wrench to leave NY for a completely new start in Orlando?
It was not a wrench to leave New York for Florida. This was something in the works, but just waiting on the right time. Of course, leaving all my family and friends was hard, and a great sacrifice for my wife and sons, but everyone has adapted and they are settling in nicely.
What did you know about Orlando’s restaurant scene before you got here?
I really did not know much about Orlando’s restaurant scene besides Disney and Disney Springs.
How challenging was it to get your arms around the scope of the Patina Group’s restaurant operations here, and especially the unique set-ups at both Epcot and Disney Springs?
It was a great challenge to get my arms around the operation at Epcot and Disney Springs. The great thing is that the Chefs and all management are one big team and we all work together.
Are there any similarities from the Rockefeller Center to Walt Disney World, in restaurant terms?
Yes, there are similarities between both locations. They both have a good flow of guests, which helps with production and quantities of what is being made.
What have been your best memories of your year at Disney to date?
Some of my best memories so far are opening up Gelateria Toscana and opening Space 220. What I found special about creating desserts for Space 220 was having Space as a theme to create looks for the desserts. It was fun for me because I could play with different textures and shapes. That’s how I came up with the look of the lemon dessert, which had a Saturn look to it, and the Chocolate Cheesecake, which has a futuristic look to it with the large chocolate shards.
What would you most like guests to discover from some of the menus you have worked on?
I would like the guest to discover that my pastry team works very hard and takes pride in producing the best we can. We use high quality ingredients and always strive to make great tasting desserts.
Is there a special menu item you are still waiting to add to what you have done so far?
I am always working on special items to be added to these restaurants. In the next year we can expect some new fun delicious desserts to be added to the menus at our locations.