Sharing my Native and Korean Heritage Through Food as a Disney Chef

My name is Daniel “Duke” Brown, I am a member of the We Wai Kai band of the Laich Kwil Tach people and I’m honored to kick off the celebration of Native American Heritage Month at Disney Parks.

Like so many Native and Indigenous people, my story is unique. Growing up in a Korean American household, I struggled to feel accepted. I never knew about my Native roots until later in life. I met my grandma’s family for the first time at her funeral, and that’s when I learned of her Native heritage. After meeting that side of my family, I made the scary but exciting decision to connect with this newly found culture. I visited the reservation in Vancouver Island for the first time 14 years ago, where I learned about my grandmother’s lineage. I continued learning about the proud history of my heritage by visiting museums, landmarks and talking to people in the community. I felt nervous at first because I wasn’t sure if my family would accept me, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I was welcomed with open arms. I am now a registered Native in Canada where my reservation is, and I continue to learn from my family every day.Duke tossing food in a frying pan.

One part of my Native culture I’m excited to learn more about is food. My earliest memories are of helping my mother cook Korean food. Food to me is more than just sustenance but a feeling, an experience, a memory. It’s how I share my heritage with my children. During one of my visits to the reservation, I went on fishing boats to experience the harvesting process and the vast amounts of seafood provided by the land. My tribe always pays respect for the land and what it has to offer when it comes to food. Sharing is an important thing, and all catches are shared amongst the community. Catching salmon fresh from the waters off my ancestral lands gave me a whole new respect for the craft. One of my cousins on the reservation is also a chef, and I’ve learned so much about Indigenous food techniques from her too.

I am a chef at Disney California Adventure park, where I oversee Food and Beverage locations in Cars Land, Hollywood Land, Buena Vista Street and Avengers Campus. I’ve worked at Disney for three years, but I have over 25 years of culinary experience. My family and I are avid Disney fans and love the food festivals. I thought, what better place to have the freedom to work across multiple different cuisines? From that moment, it became my goal to create my own menu items inspired by my culture and journey at a Disneyland Resort food festival. I’m proud to say I’ve achieved this goal and have created menu items during both the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival and Lunar New Year celebration. Passing down traditions from both my Korean and Native sides is very important to me.

Duke standing in the kitchen in a traditional Korean vest.

I’m grateful to Disney for providing a community of support and learning through the Native Americans & Allies Together with Vision employee resource group, NAATV. Within this group, I’ve had the opportunity to hear stories about people just like me and learn even more about myself. It has helped me realize that I am indeed a part of this community. I am also a Disney Aspire alumni, and I think it’s special that Disney encourages us to get an education regardless of age. The program made it easy to focus on work, family and school, while pushing me to achieve my goals. Because of my background, diversity and inclusion have always been interests, and my courses helped me learn how to apply these concepts in my role here at Disney.

To me, food is a love language. As a chef, being able to share my experience, passion and hard work through food is the ultimate reward. Heritage and culture are so important to me and being able to represent that at Disney is my way of giving back.