by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor
The other day, I had the chance to speak with Marianne Hunnel, manager of culinary programs for the upcoming Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. I asked her if she could "spill the beans," so to speak, about what we can expect at the annual 45-day eating and drinking extravaganza, which runs this year from September 25 through November 8.
"I'm really excited about this year's festival,"Hunnel stated. "We have such an exciting lineup of chefs and programs."
Hunnel, who, along with her husband, Victoria and Albert's chef Scott, just celebrated her 20th year with Disney, noted that they are still adding the final touches to many of the events scheduled for this year's festival. She did, however, share many, if not all, details of what's to come.
"We're going to have three new kiosks around World Showcase," Hunnel said, referring to the international food booths scattered amidst the country pavilions around World Showcase Lagoon. "The first will be right as you enter World Showcase, and it will feature desserts and champagne. You can arrive at the festival and toast the day along with maybe a Grand Marnier parfait. Then if you're hungry for real you can move to straight to another new kiosk -- Rio de Janeiro, from Brazil."
The other new kiosk this year is Thailand, featuring samples of savory Thai food paired with, not wine, but beer.
"We've found that in many countries wine isn't necessarily as popular," Hunnel noted. "And it's sometimes not the best pairing with the food."
While there won't be any big "experiences" around World Showcase, like last year's Louisiana or Australia exhibits, there will be several additions that offer more than just the samples you'll find at the food booths. For example, the Edy's Ice Cream Experience will offer a variety of flavors and interactive activities. The Italian region of Puglia will also be represented for all 45 days of the festival. Located near the Italy pavilion, of course, you'll find demonstrations there on pasta-making and tastings, including tastings of Puglia-produced olive oil, which Hunnel claimed is "incredible in flavor -- fruity, sweet, the aromas." My mouth was watering as she waxed poetic -- I do so love food.
Hunnel also said that by the time the festival starts the new lounge, Cava del Tequila, will be open in the Mexico pavilion, and it will be the site of tequila tastings each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"Spirits seem to be making a comeback," she noted. "There's a timeless tradition, obviously, of people enjoying spirits, but it seems that they are gaining in popularity again. Some guests at the festival like to explore different tastes like this, particularly when the people who crafted the beverages are present. It's an educational journey."
Also in Mexico, at least for part of the festival (the specific dates have yet to be determined) there will be chefs and demonstrations courtesy of the Mexican Tourist Board.
One program the Hunnel said she was very excited about is the new Celebrating with Family and Friends in the Kitchen. The concept is that a celebrity chef will prepare a three-course lunch for the audience, alongside one of their friends, another chef, or perhaps even a family member. The tentative schedule of these lunches is listed below.
Although last year's experimental venture City Tastes is not returning, the ever-popular Party for the Senses will again be featured every Saturday, adopting at least one aspect of City Tastes -- a weekly theme.
"Each week, we'll be celebrating something," Hunnel noted, "from Comfort Foods with a Twist to Classical Cuisine presented in a new way." (Hunnel detailed the themes for each weekend, which I've listed at the end of this blog, along with other info she shared with me about other programs.)
The Party will, however, feature a new twist this year -- an exclusive Wine View Lounge, available for an additional fee, will give a limited number of guests the chance to partake of special amenities: a secluded area; private, reserved tables; and special menu items.
"Guests have expressed a desire to have an exclusive area like this," Hunnel noted. "We think this will be the place to see and be seen."
Also returning are the popular Sweet Sundays brunches, during which a celebrity chef prepares a variety of desserts after guests have a light brunch. Programs like Authors without Borders, the Wine School and other signature dining events, will also return. The Cheese Tastings are being offered again as well, although they'll be starting a little earlier than in previous years -- 10:30 a.m. Hmm, wine and cheese first thing in the morning -- Breakfast of Champions? Could be, could be...
Hunnel said that the final schedule, complete with dates, times and prices, should be available online at disneyworld.com within the next 5-10 days, but here are some specifics that she could share with me:
Celebrating Friends and Family in the Kitchen
• September 26 The Deen Brothers (Jamie and Bobby, sons of Food Network's Paula Deen)
• October 2 Suvir Saran
• October 9 Patti LaBelle (yes, the singer -- she has a cookbook out!)
• October 16 Dean Max and Paula DaSilva
• October 23 Alan Wong with Art Smith
• October 30 Cat Cora (possibly with her mother)
• November 6 Andrea Immer Robinson, M.S. - With husband John Robinson
Party for the Senses
• September 26 – Spanish cuisine/wines (chef Douglas Rodriguez will be on hand this week)
• October 3 – Comfort Foods with a Twist (think macaroni and cheese made with artisanal cheeses and homemade pasta)
• October 10 – South American (including chef Jeff Tunks)
• October 17 – Classical Cuisine presented in a new way
• October 24 – Asian (including chef Alan Wong)
• October 31 – Fall Harvest (including chefs Cat Cora and Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace in New Orleans)
• November 7 – Italian
• September 27 Andrew Shotts
• October 4 Warren Brown & Mary Meyers
• October 11 David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, VA
• October 18 Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
• October 25 Clair Clark from The French Laundry
• November 1 Geraldine Randalsome
• November 8 Jacques Torres
My mouth is watering already! I'll be covering the first weekend of the Festival and returning again later in October with my family for our annual visit. If you have any suggestions of things I should try specifically, drop me a note here and I'll make the supreme sacrifice of "researching" these fun food and wine events for our readers!
The previous post in this blog was A Tribute to Austin Wuennenberg.
The next post in this blog is Mike and Michelle Meet in the Magic Kingdom.