Interview with Jean-Marie Clément, Food Product and Purchasing Service Director
The Christmas season is already in full swing with decorations, shows and mouth-watering dishes galore. So we took this opportunity to talk with Jean-Marie Clément, who was excited to tell us about this season’s trends, and the immense talent behind the design and making of these dishes and festive specialities.
Jean-Marie, can you tell us about the trends this Christmas season in terms of the food & beverage offering?
That’s an interesting question – easy, but at the same time complicated. Because Christmas is, above all, a tradition, you’ll find some iconic products every year, so Yule logs, tasty chicken with morels and comforting hot drinks for example.
But we also try to find unique products, by drawing inspiration from a film, show or our Merchandise colleagues’ creations, in keeping with the same trends. This year, for example, we focused on gingerbread, in keeping with the Mickey and Minnie gingerbread that can be seen in Mickey’s Dazzling Christmas Parade!
We also know that our guests want products that they can eat while wandering around our Parks, so that is why we developed, for example, the Christmas Maca’Reindeer, which is a lollipop-shaped macaroon.
For some time now Victoria’s Home-Style Restaurant is a must because of the specialities it offers every season, and particularly this Christmas.
It’s a lovely little restaurant which is very popular. Every season, we introduce new products. And our pastry chefs and my teams love working together, to come up with all these sweet treats on different themes: Halloween, Christmas, etc. We have an extraordinary chef who draws these pastry projects we are talking about in real time, because it is very important how they look. They must look good and be appealing. Then our pastry chef goes back to his oven so that a week later he has 12 or so small, different themed pastries to offer us. He presents them to us and we choose between five and seven. We look at the theme, how appealing the presentation is and the colours. What we are looking for is the right balance between chocolate, fruit and cream, so that we have a very diverse and appealing offering. Sometimes, like for Halloween, we get our guests involved. Last season, we posted eight products on social networks and asked users which ones they liked the most. We also conduct lots of surveys internally to find out what our guests’ preferences are, to make sure we cater for everyone. Thanks to all this, Victoria’s Home-Style Restaurant is now packed every day, as soon as it opens!
This year, the 30th Anniversary is also being celebrated at Christmas.
For our anniversary, we launched an extremely popular product offering and our guests really wanted the products to be there for Christmas, particularly as not everyone has visited the Park yet for the occasion! We did, however, make a few changes in keeping with the season. For example, we kept the Celebration Cake, but we changed the colour, from white to pink, with a little Christmas bauble marked with the 30th Anniversary logo, and we named it “Strawberry Snow Delight”.
For themes as big as Christmas, how do you and your teams manage to reinvent yourselves every year?
The secret is that our teams are constantly setting themselves challenges. We do a lot of research and look for new products.
DREAMS ON THE PLATE
From inspiration to the plate, how do you go about creating the dishes that we can enjoy at Disneyland Paris?
It all depends on the theme, whether it’s an event or a season. If you have to draw inspiration from a Disney film, you’ll spend lots of time watching and studying it in detail, even if it’s a film you’ve already seen. What we will be looking for is that food & beverage moment which you didn’t necessarily notice at the cinema and that will inspire us to create a dish or a speciality. Sometimes we can discuss it with the creators of the film. I had the opportunity to do this when I was working on Pandora – The World of Avatar, when I had the chance to work directly with John Landau, or on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, in which case, I went to San Francisco every three months to meet the Lucasfilm teams for inspiration.
Next, a culinary experience doesn’t just involve the chef; it’s an entire experience. There are the people who design the restaurants, architecture, décor and everything that has to do with culinary art. That’s why we all get together afterwards and discuss what we could do, what type of products we could use, how to present them, in what context, in order to create what atmosphere, etc. When we are getting ready for a season like Christmas, we also get together with the Marketing, Entertainment and Merchandise teams so that there is continuity in our stories. Then we let the chefs show their creativity and come back to us with their creations. Some we like, while others not so much. In that case, we talk some more, present the products which I approve and then we can finally offer them at our restaurants, kiosks and carts in the hope that they will make our guests’ dreams come true in the same way as they did ours. What we always look for is uniqueness. We must help our guests become part of our stories, and we try to let them experience things they will not see anywhere else.
In practice, how long does this take?
For a season like Christmas, it can take six months. What takes a lot of time is the product approval, in terms of food safety, franchising, purchasing, etc. We also focus a lot on the environmental aspect, particularly in terms of traceability and origin. It’s a long and complex process.
For a new park or a new Land, we launch the first concepts three years in advance and we really start developing the menus one year before the opening.
Based on your international experience, what do you think makes Disneyland Paris special?
What makes it a particularly interesting resort is the diversity of our European guests, but also elsewhere. Depending on where they are from, their meal times are different, as are their customs and snacking habits. But one thing that never changes is that no matter what the season is or the audience, people want to try new foods, snacks and drinks.
AN EXCITING PROFESSION
Your creations really convey the passion which inspires you and your teams.
What’s important to us are the people who work with us, the talent we recruit and those we train. We don’t always realise how many different professions are represented in food & beverage, with all sorts of bridges between them. We have Cast Members who have truly unique careers and experience. It’s a wonderful working environment. It’s also the reason why I’m still here.
Your career with the company goes back to the very beginning of our resort.
Correct. It all started in 1990. I was a chef at Pavillon Ledoyen on the Champs Elysées and I heard that Disney was opening a new resort near Paris. I thought it would be an interesting experience to work for a US company for a while before trying something else. I had no idea that 31 years later I would still be there! So I applied and was lucky enough to be hired to develop the menus for all the Disney Hotels and Disney Village, which was called Festival Disney at the time. We had a test kitchen in Torcy, about 15km from the site, and it was there that I developed the menus and recipes for this new project. After that, I had the opportunity to work at Walt Disney World in Florida, and at Tokyo Disney Resort and Shanghai Disneyland. I had so many fond memories of my early days at Euro Disneyland that I was delighted to return. That will be just two years ago, on 20 December next.
What memories do you have of the opening of Euro Disneyland?
I’ll never experience anything like it again: opening five hotels plus Disney Village on the same day was incredible and very emotional! And on 12 April, I was dying to see the first guests at Disneyland Park, which was also very emotional. Everyone was crying tears of joy. That’s when you realise that you are there to captivate people; to wear the magic. When I have moments of doubt or feel stressed, which can happen in any profession, I get away and go for a walk in the Park. It helps me to get things straight and reaffirm why we are here: to create this magic. We really have a wonderful job!