Welcome back, Mousekefriends! This week we have an exclusive interview with author, Ashley Craft. Ashley has written several cookbooks, including The Unofficial Universal Theme Parks Cookbook and The Unofficial Disney Parks Cookbook: From Delicious Dole Whip to Tasty Mickey Pretzels. We are so excited to talk to her about her upcoming cookbook, The Unofficial Disney Parks EPCOT Cookbook: From School Bread in Norway to Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches in France.
A Little About Ashley Craft
Ashley grew up in Anaheim, can recite StarTours by heart, doesn’t need a map to find her way around a Disney park, and would fall asleep to the sound of Disney fireworks outside her bedroom window as a child.
After two internships at Disney World and many more visits to the Disney Parks, she was one of the leading experts on Disney parks, and runs her own blog, Ashley Crafted. She writes recipes inspired by Disney Parks foods so that people can bring the magic of Disney right into their kitchen.
Ashley Craft now lives in Minnesota with her husband Danny, and three kids, Elliott, Hazel and Clifford. She still makes time to visit the mouse as much as she can.
Check out her Blog here!
We love that you focused in on EPCOT. How long has this been on your "To-Do"?
I think for everyone Epcot stands out as the premier food location at Disney parks. If you just look at sheer number of restaurants, it just towers over all the rest of the parks. Everything you eat there is good, it’s always good. The festivals just are on top of that, like all the food that’s regularly there is good and then you add the festivals that’s always incredible so the bites are continually refreshing. There’s always something new to try there so if you’re a foodie it is your jam.
I feel like as soon as I realized that I might be able to write more than one book this was this was it. Honestly, I feel like this one came naturally.
In this book we noticed you guys broke everything up differently. What was the thought process behind it?
When I write a cookbook, I have different phases so I start out with like kind of a sketch phase where you come up with ideas and are putting it down into a rough table of contents. I actually did start by having it broken down my country because I wanted it to be balanced and wanted to make sure that it was representative of the countries and the three festivals that I highlighted and so that was how I how I originally broke it down. My publisher was actually the one who decided who said, “let’s break it down by food type so it’ll be easier to navigate and then we can have a map on the back that has the pavilions so that it can break it down that way”. I thought that was a great idea and that’s how my books have gone moving forward as you’ll see- I have a Universal book coming out in a couple of months and that one is broken down also the same way by by food type instead of by part of the park.
I just think it’s it’s easier for the home cook to find what they want but there’s also lots of of cues in order to tell you which pavilion it came from. I don’t know if you noticed that there’s little icons, so if you’re searching for something there’s a lot of easy ways to get to it in the book. These icons, along with a map in the back of the book, help you find which pavilion inspired the food.
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A lot of the recipes in this book are from the festivals. Do you have a favorite festival?
I really have a place in my heart for the Festival of the Arts. I think it’s so special I love all the color. I love seeing all the paintings- I haven’t ever actually bought one, but one of these days I’m going to take my checkbook and get something great for my house.
I love the last time I was there I got to see the Broadway series and that was really cool so I like that a lot. The only thing I do not like about the Festival of the Arts is that it is so short.
This book is filled with so many beautiful photos. What is the photo process like?
The photographs are done by a photography firm called Harper-Collins. They’re out of California. They actually take my recipes and create the food in studio and then photograph them, so it is amazing. They have such great resources- one of my favorite days in the publication process is that I get mood board and they send me a PowerPoint presentation that has all of the inspirations for each of the photos so I get to see what it’s gonna look like for each of the photographs. I just love it because every time I’m just thrilled out of my mind- like insanely excited! They do such a good job, I feel like they hit every time. One of the major feedback from the first book was that there wasn’t enough picture so this this book has a third more pictures than the first book does.
Are there any items that did not make the book that you wanted them to- or did everything you wanted make the final draft?
I don’t think so. I’m trying to think- I always start with my favorites so you know I make sure I get that in. I wrote this like a year ago it’s hard for me to and so many books down the line now it’s hard to even remember what I was considering.
Some pavilions do have more than others and my publisher was very adamant about balancing them so that was a little tough because I think that there was a lot of like French recipes that I wanted to put in and had to balance it out with recipes from other pavilions. I’m not sure I even have an example in my head of what that what that what that would be but I think we can all agree that some pavilions have food that we prefer more than others so it’s just trying to trying to balance. I think sometimes I had to do that- like pick one over another just because of balance but I do think I got my favorites when I was writing the book.
I visited Epcot a lot- I probably went four times just for this book. I went to every festival at least once and I did a lot of research. I also went to the cast members who were working in each pavilion and asked them personally what the most popular food items are in the whole pavilion- either out of specific restaurant or in the pavilion as a whole. I think that gave me a lot of great insight that I might not have been able to understand without having that on-the-ground knowledge. I really think that something that makes my book special is the amount of work that I put in, and really trying to understand what everybody loves and not just me. I don’t want to put my own biases in, I want to make a book that everybody wants and everybody loves- and has all the food that that people like.
Is there a popular item that you ended up putting in the book that you were not initially wanting to- but people love it, so it made it in?
There might have been some that felt that way. Like I said, I do a rough table of contents and then I go to the parks and refine it. I taste the food that I have on the list and then I try foods that are outside of the list and then sub in and out ones like that. For instance, I had had the like Impossible Hot Pot from Rose and Crown on the list and I think I expected to not like it because I don’t actually like shepherds pie or like casseroles that have meat and potatoes. I was like on the fence about that one, and then I ended up loving it- like so good I thought it was one of the best bites of the day. I’ve made it at home obviously a few times and it’s always a favorite. You never know- you gotta try it and see. But that was an example of something that surprised me how much I liked it
Do you have a favorite- either a favorite that you like to eat from this book or a favorite that you like to cook from this book?
I do make the pizza pretty often. I like making pizza at home. I did a TikTok video making the pizza– I mean nobody follows me on TikTok so nobody has seen this video, but you look me up on TikTok and you can see me making the pizza.
Also, the Caramel Apple Oatmeal cookies with pecans from the Germany pavilion. It has the Werther’s caramel- that one is so great because I feel like people make cookies all the time- to take to an event or a house or to drop off to someone and you just kind of go for chocolate chip or whatever you have and this is honestly like it probably has one more step than a chocolate chip cookie. Not that much harder, but it’s such a surprising, delicious flavor and it really like throws people off. It’s so good, it’s got like chewy caramel and it has dehydrated apples in it, so just a flavor of apple comes through without really changing the texture.
So what can what else can we expect from you- anything else in the works?
I do have a Universal book coming out October 25th, so it actually got moved up, which is exciting. We will have it squarely before the Thanksgiving shopping season, so hopefully we’ll have it in stock and not out of stock at that time. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan so we’ve got a lot of Harry Potter recipes in there- a good chunk of the book is Harry Potter recipes. We also have Jurassic recipes, Minions, Simpsons, Dr. Seuss- so all of your favorite Universal properties. I think that Universal has really upped their game with food. I think they’re trying to get to that level that Disney has. They also have festivals and things so they really have upped the ante lately. I’m super excited to bring this book, which doesn’t really exist at all to the market.
I am currently writing a book another Disney themed book so you can look out for that I think summer 2023.
This one is no surprise- super easy. Buy Ashley’s book. You know that one of our favorite topics is Disney food and drinks! Epcot is our favorite, so this book is an absolute must for everyone! it’s all already being sold on Amazon and so go ahead and pick that one up and you can make all your favorite dishes at home too, just like us!
Check Out Ashley's Books Here
Preorder her new Book: The Unofficial Disney Parks EPCOT Cookbook: From School Bread in Norway to Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches in France, 100 EPCOT-Inspired Recipes for … Around the World (Unofficial Cookbook)
If you have tried some of the recipes from Ashley’s unofficial Disney Parks Epcot cookbook you can share those on our Facebook page.
For the full interview, with lots of laughs, and more info, listen to our Mousekemoms Podcast here.
To read about the last time we got to sit down with Ashley, click here.
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Alyssa is a Blog Contributor for MousekeMoms Blog. She lives in Florida, is an Annual Passholder and visits the theme parks frequently. For information about booking a vacation at a Disney destination, visit us at www.kingdomandcruise.com