My daughter and I ate lunch at the Carnation Cafe earlier this year. As first time annual passholders, we no longer feel the need to cram in as many rides as possible. We enjoy the people watching just as much as the thrills. After securing a prime patio table with a view of Main Street, she ordered baked potato soup and I chose chili, in honor of Walt.
After a few bites, the chef approached us. Small in stature, possessing a grin wider than the Cheshire Cat, he extended his hand and introduced himself as Oscar. Five minutes into our conversation I realized that he was The Oscar, the longest employee at Disneyland. A legend. We chatted for another fifteen minutes before I realized I wasn’t the only guest in the restaurant. (I admit I get goofy when it comes to food.) As we parted I vowed to see Oscar every time I came to Disneyland. It’s a vow I share with legions of other fans. Our mutual mantra: It’s just not a day at the park without visiting Oscar.
Six months later I sat down with Oscar in a corner booth at the Carnation Cafe. This time it’s an interview. Although technically more formal, it’s as if we are at home, chatting over coffee.
My first question was the obvious. I wanted to know what brought Oscar to Disneyland in 1956, one year after the park opened. With a twinkle in his eye he told me that is was his then girl friend Shirley Ann. She was working at Disneyland and he followed her to California where they were married. Shirley Ann has the distinction of being the person that made Walt’s milkshakes. “Chocolate was his favorite and he liked them a little runny.” Oscar added, “I don’t know if he ever paid for them.”
Oscar arrives to work very early, long before the Carnation Cafe opens. The cast members who work alongside him treat him like royalty. The mutual affection is obvious. When the park opens, Oscar steps outside and waves to the guests on Main Street.
It’s more than a ritual. It’s part of his business. “When they see me, the place fills up.”
With someone as beloved as Oscar, I am surprised there is only one item on the Carnation Cafe menu with his name on it, an all American breakfast featuring the usual suspects of eggs and bacon. That observation seemed to hit a spot deep in his heart.
“A lot of people, I think they want something special from me, with my name on it. It’s only on the breakfast menu, not the lunch menu. They want something special from me. They’re always looking for something with my name on it, but it’s not there.”
What was named for him in the past that he misses now? “A long time ago, in the 60s, there was a lunch item called Oscar’s Choice. It was a spinach salad with Roquefort and fruit. It sold really good,” he recalled.
Flashing forward, I wondered what item he’d like to see on the Carnation Cafe menu as his legacy. His answer was swift, simple and consistent, “A salad.”
And so I decided to create a salad fit for the man that has given so much to others.
First I looked to another iconic Oscar, the Swedish King for whom Veal Oscar was named. I included many of the standard ingredients in the recipe (although I omitted the veal.). Crab was a natural. Oscar shared that when he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a Disneyland employee at Club 33, there was a bountiful seafood buffet – he loves seafood – however he was hesitant to eat anything from it. “It’s too expensive.” It was only after the urging of one of the executives, insisting that it was for him, that he indulged.
Next I borrowed the other classic component of the dish – asparagus.
Lastly, I turned the traditional Bearnaise sauce into a vinaigrette using the key elements: White wine vinegar (with a lemon option – my preference), shallot and tarragon. The yolk, usually used to thicken the sauce, is replaced here with hard-boiled eggs.
Salad Oscar with Country Bearnaise Vinaigrette
One of Oscar’s favorite Disneyland attractions is the Country Bear Jamboree.
- ¼ cup white wine vinegar or lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon shallot, minced
- 1 tablespoon tarragon, minced
- ¾ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- 2 cups chopped romaine
- 6 cups mixed greens
- 8 asparagus spears, grilled or steamed
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, halved
- ½ pound crab meat (when crab is not in season, substitute with grilled chicken)
To make the vinaigrette
Put vinegar or lemon juice in mixing bowl. Add shallots and tarragon. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
To make the salad
Mix romaine and greens. Separate into four equal servings, two cups each, on chilled plates. Make an X with two spears of asparagus on top of lettuce. Place egg halves on the sides of the plate. Form an O for Oscar with a portion of the crab meat. Drizzle vinaigrette on top of all. Serve immediately.
As retirement nears (there is no set date), Oscar hopes to be remembered with a permanent display of his trophies and recipes. Perhaps a Main Street window with his name on it, however he was hesitant to count on that. I took him outside and pointed above the entrance to the Carnation Cafe. Together we giggled. Yup, that would be the perfect place. Fingers crossed. After all, Disneyland is the place where dreams come true…