Of all the restaurants in Epcot's World Showcase, the Liberty Inn at the America pavilion disappoints most cruelly. To represent a country with relatively young and yet incredibly deep and diverse culinary traditions, the food-service honchos at Disney serve a menu that wouldn't be out of place at an Applebee's
Diners can take their pick of soggy burgers and fries, limp chicken nuggets, bland hot dogs, and a "Red, White, and Blue Salad" with craisins, pecans, blue cheese, and apples. It's a missed opportunity to honor the roots of American cooking and its melting-pot evolution, and to showcase its ingenuity and deliciousness to visitors from around the world. To attempt to rectify this, we turned to the best-known Disney-obsessed chef in the nation, Bizarre Foods' Andrew Zimmern, to see what he would do if he could design the food offerings at the American pavilion from scratch. Here's his take.
If I could take over the American Pavilion at Epcot, I would have guests enter through a ride experience that would be a cross between The Land and Spaceship Earth. Guests would learn about the history of food, and the last few minutes would focus on the shaping and creation of one of the youngest cuisines in the world: ours. The story of American food starts with the food of our first peoples, and then shaped in full based on European immigration, then Asian immigration and then the impact of the Latin countries on our cuisines and in our culinary workforce. Health and wellness and social justice causes would be explored in a series of dioramas with holographic imagery as guests ride up to the host stand to be greeted, perhaps even getting their bodies scanned and biometrics quantified if they so choose, allowing the kitchen to make a dining suggestion based on the results.
Food would be cooked in a series of open kitchens, a 360-degree educational environment where images of where your food specifically came from would be projected in holograms, and on objects nearby, and on your table itself. The menu would be an object lesson in American culinary styles and traditions, from the taverns of the 18th century to the oyster houses of the 1900's all the way up to the California cuisine of the '80s and its modern applications and descendants that make up most of what we eat today. An entire modernist food lab constructed in consult with my pal Nathan Myhrvold would allow guests to see the latest cutting-edge culinary techniques. Ethnic cuisines from around the world have created our most popular foods, and they would be explored in their traditional forms side by side with the Americanized version of the same dish, in a special area along the perimeter of the restaurant with small kiosks for quick takeaway service.
Most importantly, all the food would be cooked and served by trainees coming out of jails and institutions — the entire complex would be a social justice experiment. With zero waste practices and the full utilization of abandoned and discarded food from elsewhere in the park, the restaurant would be a model for other eateries around the world. All our food would be grown and sourced locally, and anyone demonstrating need would be served for free.
Walt Disney was a progressive and a visionary, and I think he would love to see Walt Disney World's American Pavilion stand for something like that. Eating well in America has sadly become a class privilege. My Disney restaurant would break down those barriers and celebrate our true communal approach to dining, and offer both a historical perspective of how and why we eat the way we do, and a prescriptive approach to remaking our food system and our foods themselves if we only had the chance to start over.
And of course, we would have a salad bar.