The year is 1988. The sun is just about to set and Wolfram Huber’s gourmet food preparation class at Joliet Junior College is just beginning. Newlyweds Scott and Marianne Hunnel assume their positions, working side by side in the kitchen at JJC’s Renaissance Center. The rumble of pots and pans, sizzling dishes, and busy footsteps complete the room’s soundtrack.
This is a typical day for Scott and Marianne, who spend the majority of their week taking classes and working as cooks at Chicagoland area restaurants, supporting themselves (and just scraping by) as they finish their last year at JJC.
Fast forward 25 years.
Scott, now the chef de cuisine at Disney World’s flagship restaurant, Victoria and Albert’s, spends an average day creating and testing out new recipes from a plethora of ingredients, as well as overseeing 18 other Victoria and Albert’s chefs, who really are more like his children.
“It was really Marianne’s dream to come and work for Disney,” Scott said, reminiscing back to his last year at JJC when a Disney culinary scout came to the college. To appease his wife, Scott agreed with Marianne’s suggestion to sign up for an interview.
“I always had a dream of working for the company, ever since my dad had taken us to Disney World in ’72,” said Marianne, now the area manager of Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival. “When the opportunity at JJC came about, and there was a scout for cast members in culinary, we both applied, and my dream came true.”
“I had no idea we would be here, all I knew was that I wanted to stay in this business because I loved it,” Scott added.
After the interview that changed their lives, the couple only had three weeks to pack up their home in Dolton, Ill., before beginning their new adventure in Orlando, Fla.
Scott began work as a chef at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, and Marianne worked at Red Lobster. Shortly after, Marianne started her area chef position in the Magic Kingdom, opening up Tony’s Town Square Restaurant.
Scott has been with Victoria and Albert’s since 1995 – which he thinks is a world record in Disney terms. With 240 Disney restaurants in and around the Orlando area, it’s pretty common to bounce from place to place once a chef starts working for the company.
Scott is glad he ended up at Victoria and Albert’s, a five-diamond restaurant, which is one of only 45 others in the nation. He gets to work center stage with ingredients straight from Italy, Japan, and all over the world, creating new recipes each season for guests to enjoy in the elegant dining areas that include extravagant chandeliers, painted ceilings, perfect lighting, and beautiful floral centerpieces.
When he was younger, Scott would invent recipes on the fly with hardly any thought, but now that he works at Victoria and Albert’s, the prestige of being such a high quality restaurant has made him put a little more effort into the elegant dishes he creates.
“With the expectation of being a five diamond restaurant fourteen years in a row, I’m a little more cautious with the dishes before they go on the menu,” Scott explained.
In addition to creating recipes for Victoria and Albert’s, Scott also develops meals for Remy, a restaurant aboard the Disney Dream and Fantasy cruise ships.
But Scott would not be where he is today if it had not been for JJC. And he’s got the sauce to prove it. It’s a sherry and bacon vinaigrette he remembers learning while a student in the 1980s – and with a few tweaks from its original recipe, of course – the sauce has its very own spot on the Victoria and Albert’s menu.
“I took that foundation and I built on it,” Scott said. “The foundation I got at JJC was with the great chefs I worked with. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for going to JJC. That’s without a doubt I can say that. And I think it becomes a part of your destiny as well, being at the right place at the right time.”
Like Scott, Marianne always knew she wanted to be a chef. From the time she was a kid, cooking at home with her Easy-Bake Oven, this was the dream that pulled her to Disney World.
But after 15 years as a chef at Disney, working at many locations from the Magic Kingdom to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Marianne’s dream took a different turn when the operations manager for the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival approached her with a new opportunity.
“I saw myself just staying in culinary,” Marianne explained. “But this opportunity sounded very intriguing and I still utilize all my culinary expertise – but it’s like taking it to a different dimension.”
As the manager of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, Marianne’s job is a little bit tastier. She has judged, taste-tested, organized and planned for the 46-day event that lasts from September until November not only by traveling around the world and meeting chefs from different countries, but by tasting all the eligible dishes. She also gets to decide which foods should be paired with which wines, and how to present the dishes at the festival.
“Everyday I’m learning something new about the products or people, or about culture,” Marianne said. “It’s really exciting to be a part of that and share this with our cast members and guests.”
One of the most challenging parts about the former JJC culinary student’s job is that she has to be patient. Planning for an annual festival is much different from her earlier chef positions in that way.
“Being in the kitchen and cooking something, you see the results immediately,” Marianne said. “With the festival, you organize and you plan, and it takes time, patience, and sometimes months – sometimes years – before
you’ll see the final results.”
One thing Marianne has kept with her from her JJC days is a phrase she learned on her second day as a student: “Mise en place.” This French saying means that everything should always be in its place.
“Mise en place,” came in handy when Marianne was a chef because if she didn’t have all her ingredients in order, it would take too long to prepare a dish because of disorganization. The saying comes into play with her current job for the same reason.
“It’s been a great journey for both of us, in our careers, and it really started at JJC,” Marianne said. “JJC is just an awesome school and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to go there.”
Both Marianne and Scott advise future culinary students to take education seriously, and to not be afraid to continue learning – whether it’s by taking more classes further on in a career or by doing personal research.
Scott and Marianne, now with many years of experience behind them, will never forget their humble beginnings at JJC. In fact, the two have a framed picture from 1988 hanging up in their Florida home, and keep a 25-year-old newspaper article that features the couple as newlyweds, working their way through culinary school at JJC and unaware of the greatness that lay before them.
For more information about JJC’s culinary program, visit www.jjc.edu/academics/divisions/career-technical/culinary-arts.