Direct from Studio 1A at NBC Studios is Universal Orlando Resort’s incarnation of the TODAY show, The TODAY Cafe, which happens to be my favorite place to eat in Universal Studios Florida.
To learn more about why this spot is worthy of a visit for any trip to the theme park, I interviewed three of the culinary visionaries behind the incredible cuisine at the cafe, Chef Robert Martinez Jr., Chef Christian Markussen and Chef Christopher Colon.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: Thank you for meeting with me. So, I have been to the 30 Rock building in Manhattan a couple of times and noticed design elements from the TODAY set carried over to the TODAY Cafe. I love that immersion and continuity of storytelling from Studio 1A in New York City to the TODAY Cafe at Universal Studios Florida.
CHEF ROBERT MARTINEZ JR.: We at Universal Orlando Resort are great at immersing our guests in the atmosphere and experience. I think that’s what you get when you go inside the TODAY Cafe: the feeling of being on the actual set of the show, as if you were inside Studio 1A. We wanted guests to have that behind-the-scenes experience as they’re eating their avocado toast, having a muffin or a delicious hot coffee while getting ready to go out to the theme park.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: I’m very interested in the architecture and the thought that goes into a good design. How did the layout and furnishings come to be at TODAY Cafe?
CHEF ROBERT MARTINEZ JR.: We worked alongside our creative partners at Universal Creative and gave a lot of input in the culinary items at the cafe. We, as culinarians, really have more say when it comes to those things — for example, what kind of dessert cabinet we might want and the features of the cabinet and how guests will see it.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: It is great that your team has given so much thought to this spot — to all locations really! But particularly this one since it is at the front of the Universal Studios Florida park. Is there anything cool about the TODAY Cafe that guests might not be aware of?
CHEF CHRISTIAN MARKUSSEN: In the mornings, we have the ability to play live that day’s TODAY show, something you can’t get anywhere else in the theme park.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: Are NBC and TODAY part of the conversation when it comes to developing any of the dishes?
CHEF CHRISTIAN MARKUSSEN: For any of the seasonal items, we work with the producers and anchors of the show. And whenever we roll out a new food option and the team in NYC is able to make it to Orlando, we do a tasting with our executive chef, Steve Jayson, as well as with one of the show’s hosts, such as Al Roker or Dylan Dreyer. When that happens, we get to produce a live feed from our TODAY Cafe.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: Something that people may not realize is that you are constantly updating the menu. Can you tell me about that?
CHEF ROBERT MARTINEZ JR.: We definitely keep an eye out for the hot foods and trends that are happening so we can see how that comes to life at the TODAY Cafe. We’re always changing our options to keep up with the seasons and the trends and to give guests the best experience that we can. We consistently add new salads, for example.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: One of my favorite things to do in the park is grab a salad! The quality of the salads at the TODAY Cafe truly exceeds anything you would expect to get outside of an upscale restaurant.
CHEF ROBERT MARTINEZ JR.: Which one is your favorite?
CHRISTIAN FULTON: It’s hard to pick one because I like so many, but I’m typically enjoying the Chinatown Chicken Salad or the SOHO.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: It’s interesting to learn about the thought process behind the cuisine options. Are there any items exclusive to the TODAY Cafe at Universal Studios Florida?
CHEF ROBERT MARTINEZ JR.: We have a signature blend of coffee. Here, guests aren’t getting standard coffee, but a very cool blend of Peruvian dark and Ethiopian.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: Wow, that’s definitely something guests would want to know as they are planning their day, especially those coffee drinkers out there looking to get a fresh start to their morning.
CHEF ROBERT MARTINEZ JR.: TODAY Cafe is the first place that our guests will come to when they walk through the gates in the morning, especially if they’re hungry. So, we’re just always on top of the venue itself. And we do take our time to craft the perfect menu options for them.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: Shifting gears a little bit: a lot of people are becoming more conscious about the ingredients they eat and food establishments are becoming more cognizant of this. For someone coming to the cafe with a member of their party with dietary restrictions, how can they find out about food allergens?
CHEF CHRISTIAN MARKUSSEN: Something we do now is put allergens on our menu boards. We try to create food items that can be adjusted to a dietary need, a restriction or even a lifestyle change for that matter.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: Bravo. That is so essential.
CHEF CHRISTIAN MARKUSSEN: We actually partner with a lot of the Annual Passholder groups that reach out to our food safety teams who ask them for suggestions of easily modifiable items — you know, remove this one ingredient, now it becomes gluten-free! So, we’re very conscious while creating all the food items so they can be modified.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: I love hearing how conscientious and involved you are in accommodating those with unique dietary needs. Can you give me an example of a dish that can be easily modified?
CHEF CHRISTIAN MARKUSSEN: When we’re making overnight oats and want to keep it vegan, we choose to go the agave route instead of adding honey, which we would normally do.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: Is there anything, like a signature dessert, that is the embodiment of the experience that guests should look out for at the cafe?
CHEF CHRISTOPHER COLON: There are definitely signature items, but I think the best part about TODAY Cafe is the dessert display case because the desserts change so often. We almost want to invite people to keep coming back because you never know what you’re going to get. Who knows? You might even see one of our desserts on TikTok.
CHRISTIAN FULTON: Speaking of social media, the cafe itself seems so Instagram-worthy. I’m sure the great desserts paired with the vibrancy of the cafe make it an influencer’s dream.
CHEF CHRISTOPHER COLON: Yes, the TODAY Cafe marquee is a great backdrop to put in your photos. You might have seen something on Instagram and you’re now coming into the cafe like, “Oh my gosh, this is where I saw this dessert the other day and now I’m here at the TODAY Cafe!”
CHRISTIAN FULTON: As we wrap up, are there any big takeaways to know about the TODAY Cafe?
CHEF CHRISTIAN MARKUSSEN: For me, it’s that we bake fresh bread right here on property at our central bakery everyday. It’s the freshness of the product and partnering with our creative partners on the look and feel so that when you walk in, it’s a really great immersive environment to be in. That’s TODAY.
CHEF CHRISTOPHER COLON: At the TODAY Cafe, we make everything ourselves. We have all the ovens in the back baking fresh croissants, muffins, cookies constantly. Everything is made fresh.
CHEF ROBERT MARTINEZ JR.: I agree, I think the main takeaway here is freshness, which goes with all our locations, but especially here. I think the word “today” for us means it’s made TODAY.
What menu item are you interested in trying at the TODAY Cafe? Let us know in the comments below.
I tried the cookie and it was good