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Taste Your Way around the World! The 2012 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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So, here it is, the beginning of August -- how did that happen? As the summer winds down (to my dismay), it's nice to know that the chefs at Walt Disney World are already prepping for my favorite time on their special events calendar -- the annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

Many details for the festival have been released over the past few days, a sure sign that this annual event, the 17th, is just around the corner. In fact, it starts in just under 60 days, on September 28, and runs through November 12 -- 46 days this year. (Turns out that last day is Veteran's Day -- so why not take advantage of an extra day off?)

In anticipation of the coming reservations "D-Day" (7 a.m. on Tuesday, August 14), Marianne Hunnel, the event's content development manager, recently took time from her rapidly dwindling countdown to talk with me about this year's Festival. I also attended a "sneak preview" of the Festival, hosted by Tables in Wonderland, this past Saturday, during which I was able to sample some of the new tastes that will be introduced at this year's International Marketplaces. I know this is all a lot to digest (if you'll pardon the pun), but bear with me -- if you love the Festival as much as I do, it's all info you'll want to know!


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Hunnel notes that last year's theme, "A Passport to a World of Flavors," has evolved into this year's "Taste Your Way around the World."

"We like that travel element," she admits. "Last year's passport got you here, and this year we think we're taking you to some more adventuresome places."

I like adventure! So just what do Marianne and her team of event planners have planned for us? For starters, there will be two new International Marketplaces included in World Showcase -- one featuring the fresh cuisine of Florida, the other an all-new vegan outlet dubbed "Terra."

It's this latter addition that is creating a buzz among the Food and Wine Festival regulars I've been talking to. Terra (Latin for "earth") will highlight products from the Gardein line of vegan foods, as well as beverages that also use no animal products.

"We have heard from lots of guests over the years who were looking for vegetarian and vegan options at the marketplaces," Hunnel explains. "There were some items in previous years that were vegetarian, but we have gone to great lengths to make sure that everything in the Terra marketplace is vegan -- that is, animal products were not used to produce these items in any way."

The Terra marketplace will offer two savory vegan dishes, both specially created for the festival: Trick'n Chick'n Curry with Basmati Rice featuring Gardein Chick'n Breast, and Chili Colorado with House Made Chips & Cashew Cheese, featuring Gardein Beefless Tips.

The Chili was presented as an appetizer at the Tables in Wonderland event, paired with a vegan wine, Paul Dolan Pinot Noir.


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I guess it's hard to see from this photo, but when I tell you that no one at my table could believe that the "meat" in the dish was not really beef, I am not exaggerating. Some even thought they detected a bit of "fat" as they chewed. The texture and flavor were nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.

And speaking as someone who is not ordinarily a fan of pinot, I found the wine (which I'm told is from a sustainable, organic vineyard in Mendocino County) to be an excellent pairing, offsetting the spiciness of the chili perfectly. [An aside: If being vegan means not using any animal products, how can a wine, which is essentially just grapes, NOT be vegan? Some wines use materials known as "fining agents" to fine, or clarify, the wine. They remove materials that might otherwise stay in suspension in the wine, and in some cases can alter the flavor or color. These fining agents may be derived from animal products, such as gelatin, albumen (egg white) and casein (milk protein). Wines that use these types of fining agent are therefore not vegan. The Paul Dolan wines ARE.]

This experience left me really eager to try the other savory item, the Trick’n Chick’n Curry with Basmati Rice -- here's Disney's photo of it:



The booth will also have a Chocolate Cake with Passion Fruit Sorbet and Coconut Foam that sounds fabulous, and a Berry Smoothie, made with Silk, the almond milk.

The other new marketplace, Florida Local, "focuses on the fresh and exciting things the state of Florida has to share," says Hunnel.

It was also well-represented at the preview, as both of its menu items featured as part of the buffet reception. The colorful Florida Shrimp Ceviche with Fire Roasted Vegetables, Fried Plantains and Cilantro was a treat for both the eyes and the tastebuds. Fresh, plump shrimp were tossed with a very rich red sauce, accented by the aromatic cilantro -- definitely a WIN! as I have scrawled in my notes.


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I'm not quite as enthusiastic about the other Florida Local item, White Corn Arepa with Mangalitsa Pork Rilette and Zellwood Sweet Corn Salad. Two bites of the dry, heavy corn cake stuffed with a rather bland, stringy pork filling was enough for me, I'm sorry to say.


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The Florida Local marketplace will also offer some locally produced beverages, including Florida Beer Company's Florida Lager and Key West Southernmost Wheat, as well as Florida Orange Grove Key Limen wine. Yes, a lime-flavored wine, which Hunnel says is very refreshing, and pairs perfectly with the shrimp. It's also great with a splash of club soda as a wine spritzer, she notes. I didn't get to sample it at the Tables in Wonderland preview, but I might give it a try come September.

Other new food items that will be debuting at the International Marketplaces that I had the chance to sample at the preview:

-- Lamb Meatballs with Spicy Tomato Chutney -- These tasty morsels are a great replacement for the popular lamb slider the New Zealand marketplace has been featuring the past few years. They have that whole spicy/tangy/sweet/savory thing going on and I think that everyone is going to literally "eat them up!"


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-- Seared Mahi Mahi with Jasmine Rice and "Singa" Sauce -- I guess this is an improvement over the Shrimp Cake that last year's Singapore booth featured. But still, my piece of this usually succulent white fish was dry, oversalted and chewy. The jasmine rice was outstanding, however.

-- "Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce -- This is something new for the Canada marketplace, taking the spot of the perennial favorite, Maple-Glazed Salmon. To me, there's no contest -- the beef is better. Tender and juicy, with just the right hint of truffle -- not overpowering at all.


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-- Yogurt Panna Cotta with Orange Cake, Raspberries and Pomegranate, Lemon Custard Verrine with Blueberry Compote, and Dark Chocolate Mousse with Chili and Salted Caramel -- This mini dessert trio represented the three new items that will be offered at the Desserts and Champagne marketplace. Of the three, the Yogurt Panna Cotta was my favorite -- light, creamy, and not too sweet, with just a hint of orange and luscious red raspberries on top. My only complaint was that the bottom of the dessert cup was so narrow I couldn't dig my spoon into it to get at much of the orangy cake goodness.


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The Lemon Custard Verrine was also good, but VERY intense. I heard some complaints from the other diners around me that they had too much blueberry and not enough custard, but in my case, I had plenty of lemon -- in fact, the dessert didn't just whisper "lemon" to you, it SHOUTED it, in all caps!


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As for the chocolate mousse -- well, I must admit I was a little disappointed. Everyone around me was raving about it, and marveling at the little kick the chili gave it, but for me it tasted just like an ordinary chocolate mousse. Which is to say that it was delicious, but not unusually so. Maybe I didn't get enough spice in my portion? All the more reason for me to try it again during the actual festival!


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There are a few other little tweaks to the food around the marketplaces -- the Black Pepper Shrimp are going to be replaced by Mongolian Beef with Chinese Steamed Bun at the China booth, the Mussels at the Belgium kiosk will be prepared slightly differently -- but the majority of the items are returning unchanged.

So what about other NEW offerings at the festival? Here are what I feel are the highlights:

-- Some of the biggest news surrounding the festival this year is the implementation of a three-tiered pricing structure for the popular Party for the Senses tasting offered most Saturday evenings during the event. For years one of the biggest complaints about this eating extravaganza has been the shortage of seating -- diners are expected to graze on their tapas-sized dishes without a designated place to sit, and are forced to float from table to table, noshing and conversing with strangers. The ensuing juggling act -- plate, wine glass, napkin, utensils -- has resulted in many disgruntled diners.


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The festival tried to address that issue by introducing the Wine View Lounge a few years ago -- it's an exclusive area within the World Showcase venue that guarantees you your own table, along with a number of other amenities, all at an additional fee. This year, the Party takes that one step further and is offering a mid-range tier that guarantees you a seat in a special area, without all the bells and whistles of the Wine View Lounge. Pricing for the Party events is now: General Admission $145/person + tax; Reserved Seating $170/person + tax; Wine View Lounge $270/person + tax.

-- One of the most enticing new offerings, to me at least, is the introduction of Marketplace VIP Access Chef Tours. Held on Wednesday mornings at 10:30, you'll get the chance to wander around World Showcase for two hours before it officially opens to guests with a chef, visiting five marketplaces and sampling their food and beverages. "What a great opportunity for the chefs to share their stories and insights with their guests," says Hunnel. "You generally wouldn't get this kind of experience, so we're really excited to be able to offer it."

-- Remember last year's cranberry bog, situated in Future World as you approached World Showcase Plaza? It's returning, but more than that, there's also going to be a watermelon patch! Sponsored by The National Watermelon Promotion Board, the patch will have actual live watermelon plants where you can learn about growing them and get tips from affable TV personality Mr. Food ("Oooh, it's so good!")



-- From the Bean to the Bar Hosted by Ghirardelli Chocolate Company -- "We've been wanting to do something like this for many years," Hunnel notes. "This is going to be located in the back of the Festival Center -- Walt Disney Imagineering is helping us create a space that will be perfect for this decadent chocolate experience!"

According to Hunnel, guests will have the chance to not only sample gourmet chocolates, but will be able to DRINK it -- the exhibit will be featuring a drinking chocolate that's like a liquid candy bar. There will also be chocolate sculptures created by Disney pastry chefs and informative displays on about the food's origins. From the Bean to the Bar will be open daily from 9 a.m. through park close.

-- Wine Sampling in the Wine Shop -- This is something I've often wondered why they DIDN'T have! Now, you can visit the Festival Center Wine Shop for daily wine samples provided by participating beverages companies. Open daily at 11 a.m., and 1, 3 and 5 p.m.


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Now that I've told you what's new, I want to fill you in on who and what are returning.

"It's such an honor for us that these people choose to be a part of our festival," Hunnel notes. "They could go to any festival in the country, but they come to ours. And for many of them, it's a sort of homecoming -- so many of them have been coming here for years."

Among those returning celebrity chefs is a veritable "Who's Who?" of personalities you might find currently on your television, on the Food Network, Bravo or even the Travel Channel: Keegan Gerhard, Robert Irvine, Andrew Zimmern, Bryan Voltaggio, Art Smith, Cat Cora, and Buddy Valastro (the Cake Boss, who this year will be expanding his repertoire from sweets to savory, presenting at a Kitchen Memories session).


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Other returning offerings are the wildly popular Mixology sessions, presented every evening at the Festival Center at 6 p.m. A certified Mixologist talks about a specific spirit, then shows you how to mix it up into three lively cocktails -- a presentation that is practical AND potable, not to mention highly entertaining and a bargain at $16.

Last year, the festival tried an experiment with its signature dinners, and offered, instead of wine dinner, a BEER dinner. Apparently that was so popular it is returning, presented again by Chef Jens Dahlmann (below), this year on November 9.


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What's missing this year? Well, most notably there will NOT be a First Bites Reception the night before the official start of the festival. There also will not be a Party for the Senses tasting on the first or last Saturday of the festival. Bummer.

Hunnel also notes that they've retired the "Authors without Borders" program, which allowed guests to visit with cookbook and other authors, and have instead increased the number of Authentic Tastes they'll be offering. "These will be presented by people responsible for finding this special ingredients," Hunnel explains. "Ingredients like oils, mustards, vanilla, sugars, different gingers... you'll have the chance to get know more about these ingredients."

The beloved French Regional Lunches at Bistro de Paris are on hiatus this year, also, due to the renovations that will be taking place at that location. Instead Italian Regional Food and Wine Luncheons will be held at the new Tutto Gusto in the Italy pavilion. They'll be Wednesdays and Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. and will be $75 per person. (Also due to the work at the Bistro, the super-fun Grand Marnier tasting is relocated to the Festival Center this year. So glad that's not going away altogether!)

As the August 14 reservations date nears, Hunnel admits that she's starting to get anxious. "Everything starts to resonate now," she laughs. "It's like a Broadway opening, and the ticket sales are like our review, our report card. Did we do good? Are guests interested in what we're offering?"

"We want to make sure our guests are happy," Hunnel adds. "We listen to what our guests say, and I think that's one of the reasons we're so successful. I think our guests' expectations are so much higher here, than they are at other similar festivals, because people know we also offer the Disney experience."

I know that's part of the draw for me -- not just the amazing culinary delights I know await me, but that they will be presented with the quality and care I've come to expect from Disney. That's why I've already set the alarm on my iPhone for 6:45 a.m. EDT on August 14 -- I don't want to miss the chance to make my reservations!

What looks good to you? What will you be booking this year, as you Taste Your Way around the World?

The previous post in this blog was 2012 Food and Wine Festival Preview Preview.

The next post in this blog is Frankenweenie 3D Preview.

Comments (21)

Adam August:

What's missing, sadly, are the French luncheons with wine pairings, IMO the best event of the Festival, possibly because of renovations to the upstairs dining room. Too bad they couldn't have done them somewhere else.

DebK replies: Ooops! I forgot to mention that! I'll go back and add it in.

But yes, they HAVE replaced the French regional lunches, which are not taking place due to the renovations at Bistro de Paris. They instead are having Italian Regional lunches over at Tutto Gusto.

This was a great article! I'll be there the opening and closing weekend this year and I am so excited to see the new things and old favorites!

Lisa:

Hi Deb! Thanks so much for all your outstanding info about the fesival. After discovering it quite by accident 2 years ago it is now my favourite thing to do in the "world"! We will be coming from Australia so I must remember to convert my time and set my clock so I don't miss out on booking (Aug 14) all the exciting experiences lined up this year! The Italian lunches sound amazing and the chefs tour is a MUST do!! Thanks again for the sneak peek!

DebK replies: Thanks so much, Lisa! And yes, don't forget to set your clock -- I know a lot of these events will sell out quickly!

Judy:

As someone who is required to eat gluten free for medical reasons, I truly appreciate the effort Disney's chefs have made to help me avoid illness. I'm looking forward to a time when the Food Fest catches up and is safe for Celiacs.

Stephanie:

Question about the Le Cellier filet mignon. Are the mushrooms on the side only or also in the sauce?
Thanks
Stephanie

DebK replies: Well, Stephanie, it's a truffle butter sauce, so if you have a problem with mushrooms, you may not want it. I don't recall any mushroom pieces in the sauce itself, though. Not sure how easy it will be for them to leave the sauce off the filet when you order it a the marketplace...

Ali:

Great blog! Can't wait for the festival! Thanks for always providing awesome info and getting us all hyped up :o) I'm hungry already...

Bob:

Are the food items at the wine festival a dining plan snack?

DebK replies: Most of the International Marketplace items will be available as snacks on the Dining Plan -- the exceptions will be things like the lobster roll and all the alcoholic beverages. When the official menus with prices are released we will try to include the DDP snack icon for you.

Betty:

Is there a list of gluten free items for the festival and if so, are there many? My daughter and I would love to come back but now that she found out she's Celiac we are not so sure.

DebK replies: I don't know of any specific gluten-free list, but I will ask --I've actually had a few questions about this.

Liz:

Thanks for all the great info, can't wait for my October trip!
One question for you. I have been before to the festival and I seem to remember a more detailed description of of the seminars. Do you know if Disney will have that again this year? I would love to know what chef will be leading the seminar before I book it. We did a great one with Andrew Zimmern last time.

DebK replies: I expect that there will be more detailed info on the culinary demos and beverage seminars, since you will be able to book these online starting August 14 (August 10 for Tables in Wonderland members). I'd look for it to come online in the next day or two.

Kate:

I have a question as well - is there a schedule of what chef will appear when yet? I'm sure my mom would love for me to get a book or two signed by a couple of the people mentioned!

DebK replies: You can see some of the chefs' schedules by looking at the special experiences. For example, Buddy Valastro is going to be there the weekend of November 9, Robert Irvine is there around October 26. But some chefs will only be doing the culinary demos and those schedules haven't been released yet. Check back to AllEars.Net periodically, as we'll get the info online as soon as it's announced.

Patti Hricak:

Great review Deb! I was wondering, if the mixology sessions are something that you should book in advance? Or can you just go the day of the seminar and get in?

DebK replies: They are very popular, Patti -- I would suggest booking in advance. I know I'm going to!

Anne:

2 questions. I still don't see any details about the wine seminars and mixology events. Passholders can make reservations as of Aug 10, but how do we know what is scheduled? (2)
One of the best parts of the Grand Marnier presentation was the French service and atmosphere at the Bistro. Do you think the French waiters will be doing their magic at the Festival Center for the presentation there?

DebK replies: Hi Anne! I don't know about the French servers at the Grand Marnier tasting -- I rather doubt that they will be there, but I guess you never know.

As for the details of the culinary demos, etc. -- I'm not sure why they aren't available yet. I really thought they would be by now! Let's hope they get online today!

Danielle L:

Thanks for all of the great info! I see that you mentioned that there is a growing interest in beer tastings and pairings. My husband and I are some of those people. I was just wondering if you forsee at any future food and wine fests maybe bringing in different brewmasters to do seminars. Also have you ever considered having a small hop garden? I think alot of people would be interested in learning more about beer.

DebK replies: Hi Danielle! There are a few beer-centric events this year -- if you take a look at the special ticketed events, you'll see there are beer and pizza lunches in the Italy pavilion, as well as a special Beer signature dinner, hosted by Chef Jens Dahlmann in November. There is also a special marketplace that will feature craft beers. I hope you'll be able to find some events that will suit your beer-loving palate!

Heather Macdonald:

Ahh here it is the night of 8/8 and the wine tastings and culinary demos that open up for TiW members on the 10th have still not been released. How on earth are we to plan!

Stephanie:

I have never done any of the events during the Festival before. If I order tickets for events(like the VIP Tour and Dessert thing), are they refundable if I need to cancel? And, if so, when do I need to cancel by? I hope you can answer this. Thank you
Stephanie

Hi Stephanie,

Deb K replies: No, sorry, these events are not refundable -- or transferable. So you really need to be sure when you book!

Kitty:

Thanks for the awesome preview, Deb! Hubby and I haven't been to the festival in several years, so I am so thrilled that the year we decide to go back is the one when they plan a whole vegan kiosk. And your review has more excited than ever! I am one very happy vegan. :-D

Elizabeth:

The Festival now is a mere shadow of its former self. No Reserve Dinners. No Exquisite Events at Epcot. No Vertical Tastings. Sigh.

Lisa:

The lobster roll is no longer considered a snack this yr? It has been every other yr

DebK replies: I don't know for certain exactly which items will or will not be considered snacks with the dining plan (except for the alcoholic beverages, which are definitely not included) -- I just threw out the lobster roll as an example of a higher priced item that may not be included. Sorry for the confusion.

Troy:

This event has become a "drunk" around the world fest.
I would recommend to any family that would like to attend this event, get there early and leave early. By sundown, the event reminds me of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Why has Disney allowed this to happen?
Enjoy any drinking and eating but remember where you are. Epcot does not stand for BAR!
When I'm at Octoberfest, I know what to expect.
This is Epcot at WDW!
Also, I would bet that over half of the drunks are under age.
This event is becoming a time that my family avoids Epcot all together.

Beth:

Although my boyfriend and I have visited WDW many times, this year will be our first time to experience the Food & Wine Festival AND Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party! We're both very excited and we appreciate all the great info!

Two questions: if we each get one of the wristband cards (so we can "divide and conquer" by standing in two food lines at once), how much would you suggest putting on them? We'll be at the festival for two days. Also, if we have any money left on these cards, can we use them on a future trip, or get the funds put onto a regular Disney gift card?

DebK Replies: The wristband cards are, for all intents and purposes, a regular Disney gift card. They can be reloaded whenever you want to put more money on them, and they can certainly be used at future visits. They just have the Food and Wine logo on them with the wristband for convenience.

As for how much you should put on them, I guess it depends if you will also be sharing the food? If you are each going to get your own portions, then you may want to start with $25 each. You can always add more.

Have fun!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 3, 2012 9:26 PM.

The previous post in this blog was 2012 Food and Wine Festival Preview Preview.

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