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July 15, 2017

2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Preview, Part 2

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The 22nd Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is running 75 days this year, starting on August 31 and carrying on until November 13. Booking for the festival's premium experiences starts on July 20 (or July 18 for certain guests). This weekend saw not one but two previews for this culinary extravaganza -- the Media Preview, followed by annual Tables in Wonderland-hosted preview event.

Lucky me, I was able to attend both! Here's my recap of what I learned at the Tables in Wonderland event. (You can find my thoughts on the media preview HERE.)

First things first -- something all of you who plan to visit during the festival this year should know. While booking for the special dining experiences (Party for the Senses, Signature Dining, culinary demos/beverage seminars, etc.) opens to the general public at 7 a.m. (Eastern) on July 20, EARLY BOOKING opens for select "affinity" groups on July 18! On that date Annual Passholders, Golden Oak Residents, Tables in Wonderland Members, and DVC members can book ALL events starting at 9 a.m. (Eastern). In addition, the above-mentioned groups can receive a $2 discount on beverage seminars and culinary demonstrations for Monday through Thursday only. Call 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378) to book these events. (Also, some events may be booked online at epcotfoodfestival.com.)

Among the other important news items that were announced at this preview, Marianne Hunnel, content development manager for the Food and Wine Festival, revealed that changes were being made to the grand tasting events known as Party for the Senses. This year, Hunnel said, the decor for the parties, which are held in the World Showplace in Epcot, will be updated. In addition, there will be seating for everyone, not just those who pay extra for the premium seating areas. There will be five of these parties over the course of the festival, with two themed evenings: on September 23, chefs from Disney Springs restaurants will be featured, while on October 21, chefs from the Disney Parks will be in the spotlight. The other party dates are October 7 and 14, and November 11.

Signature dining experiences once again extend into the Disney resort hotels, with several returning favorites, such as the Trader Sam's Grog Grotto event. There are also a number of special luncheons and dinners at restaurants around the World, from in-park locations like Tiffins to Morimoto Asia and STK at Disney Springs.

Unfortunately, no additional information was available for the culinary demonstrations, beverage seminars, or Mix It, Make It, Celebrat It! workshops -- that is, we still don't know which chef or winemaker will be appearing on which dates or times. We hope that info becomes available soon, since early booking is just a few days away!

The expanded duration of the festival means that the number of Eat to the Beat Concerts has been increased, too. This year, there will be 11 new acts performing, and a total of 32 acts altogether, a figure that entertainment coordinator Stacey Simmons called "the most ever." Newcomers to the festival include country singer Lauren Alaina, the Hooters, 10,000 Maniacs and personal favorites American Authors (you have to love their song, "Best Day of My Life") and '80s legends Squeeze. (Yes, you will find me as close to the front row as I can get during their shows!)

Notable for its absence this year is the Chase Lounge, which for the past few years has provided an appreciated respite for Disney Chase Visa and Debit Card holders. Also missing this year was any mention of the popular Tasting Sampler package, which allowed you to buy eight sample "coupons" in advance to use at will. Last year's Rockin' Burger Block Party and the Yelloween events are also not on the schedule.

But of course there is more about the food! Culinary director Gregg Hannon said that there will be about 39 new menu items at the marketplaces, in fact. There were quite a few more samples at the Tables in Wonderland preview than I'd had at the media preview, and I made sure I found my way to all of them. To wit:

Seafood Salad with shrimp, bay scallops and mussels will be found in the Spain marketplace.

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The Warm Irish Cheddar Cheese and Stout Dip with brown bread was oh so good -- so good that you wanted to drink it like a soup! (And I may or may not have been guilty of that...)

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The Chocolate Picante from the Flavors from Fire marketplace is a very rich, dark chocolate mousse with cayenne pepper, chili powder and raspberry dust. Way better than I expected it to be.

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Also from that marketplace, the Sweet Pancake with Spicy Chipotle Chicken Sausage and Onion Jam, with Maple Butter Syrup, was a mixed bag. Loved the chicken sausage -- it had just enough kick, and its savoriness contrasted well with the sweet syrup. The pancake, however, was heavy and rather flavorless.

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I liked the Banana-Almond Soft-Serve Sundae with berries and crunchy chocolate oats well enough. You'll find in the new Almond Orchard marketplace (sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds).

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It may not photograph that well, but I really enjoyed the Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew with vegan yogurt and quinoa. The entire dish is vegan, I believe, and though it's billed as "spicy" I felt it had just the amount of heat to make it interesting.

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A real surprise was the Pomegranate Beer, made by the same folks (Schoffenhofer Hefeweizen) who brought you the popular grapefruit beer you'll find in Epcot's Germany pavilion (and elsewhere, I'm sure). The pretty pink beverage was light and refreshing, even to this non-beer drinker.

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It's hard to make some drinks look interesting in photos, but for the sake of comprehensiveness, I will tell you that I also tried the Cucumber and Lemon-Lime "Hard" Water (5% alcohol), the Black Raspberry Mead (ick), the Liberated Pinot Noir (meh), the Sparkling Pineapple Wine, the New Zealand Frozen Wine Cocktail (with Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc), and the refreshing RGB: Citrus Apple Freeze, which will be part of the Light Lab (see Part 1 of this blog) and is supposed to turn colors from Red to Green to Blue (RGB, get it?) depending on the lighting.

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So, that's about all we know about the 2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival for now. For more details on the signature dining events and other dining experiences, be sure to check out our collection of Food and Wine Festival pages, and don't miss our reviews from last year to get an idea of what to expect.

2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival General Info

Marketplace Menus for 2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Special Ticketed Food and Wine Festival Events

Culinary Demos, Beverage Seminars, Mix It Make It!

2017 Eat to the Beat Concerts Announced!

The Chew Returns to Food and Wine Festival; Launches Sweepstakes






July 14, 2017

2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Preview, Part 1

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The 22nd Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is running an unprecedented 75 days this year, starting on August 31 and carrying on until November 13. Booking for the festival's premium experiences starts on July 20 (or July 18 for a few events for certain guests). This weekend sees not one but two previews for this culinary extravaganza -- today was the first, the Media Preview, followed by tomorrow's annual Tables in Wonderland-hosted preview event.

Lucky me, I get to attend both!

I thought I'd share a little of what I learned so far with you -- highlights of what's new, along with photos and other details. Later, after the Tables in Wonderland preview, I'll fill you in on the rest of the currently available information.

Our presentation, which was held in World Showplace, began with remarks from Melissa Valiquette, vice president of Epcot, and Epcot's Executive Chef and culinary director Gregg Hannon.

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As they both remarked, this year not only marks the 22nd annual Food and Wine Festival, but coincides with Epcot's 35th anniversary (on October 1). In observance of that, the number 35 comes into play in several ways -- there will be, for example, 35 global marketplaces scattered around Epcot's World Showcase and into Future World. There will also be an exhibit in The Odyssey dedicated to the theme park's 35th that will run the entire length of the festival. By the way, food items in the Odyssey, which houses the Craft Beer marketplace, will be throwbacks to the early days of Epcot. Look for some old favorites to resurface.

Of course the main focus of the festival is the food and beverages!

Based on the sampling of items we were treated to, I have to say I'm really excited about what's new this year. First of all, there are three global marketplaces returning after absences of from the festival for seven or eight years: India, Thailand and Spain. As a big fan of all three cuisines, I can't wait to try everything these food booths will offer. There are also a number of brand new marketplaces, some of which offer dishes that were available at previous festivals (like the returning Nueske's bacon mac and cheese), along with first-time selections.

I sampled a few things already:

From the NEW marketplaces, many of which are "inspired" by ABC's "The Chew", the lifestyle show whose hosts will once again be attending the festival in early October:

Active Eats: This new marketplace features small plates that are designed to boost and sustain your energy level. I had the chance to try the Sweet Avocado Crema with strawberries, yellow cake and a yummy tortilla streusel.

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Coastal Eats: If you're a seafood lover, this will perhaps be your first destination at the festival. I tried the Seared Scallops with roasted corn and butterbean succotash, and chipotle butter sauce. I'm a huge scallop fan, and while I thought this dish was very good, it seemed to be missing something. Or maybe my tongue was already burned out from the curry and spices I'd already had with other samples. I'll definitely have to give this one another try.

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Flavors from Fire: This marketplace will spotlight foods that have been touched by flame. The item on offer was Smoked Corned Beef with crispy potatoes, pickled onions and blonde ale beer fondue.

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The Light Lab: The festival is attempting to be a bit more "family friendly" this year with a number of new activities. (Look for the "smiling strawberry" icon on this year's festival guide maps to find them!) One of these is the Light Lab, which will feature products, both edible and not, that will glow in the dark.

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In this little exhibit at the preview, a bartender was demonstrating the beverage T=C2 (squared), which was vanilla tonic water poured over cotton candy. Yes, it was was sweet as it sounds! Also, this beverage shifts colors depending on where you -- in the dark room it appears to be green. Take it out into the light and it's red! This little science experiment is sure to entertain young and old alike. You can see my short Instagram video of it here:

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Some of the other tasty treats I tried:

From Spain: the savory Charcuterie in a Cone, with Spanish meats, cheeses and olives and the Sweet Olive Oil Cake with powdered sugar and lemon curd. Loved the charcuterie, loved the cake (would be great with a cup of coffee!), but the lemon curd not so much.

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From Thailand: the Red Hot Spicy Thai Curry Beef with rice had a nice kick to it, was one of my favorite "bites" from this preview.

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From India: Madras Red Curry with Roasted Cauliflower, Baby Carrots, Chickpeas and basmati rice was another favorite of mine. This vegetarian option wasn't as spicy hot as I was anticipating, but it just burst with flavor.

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The popular Hawaii marketplace is returning with a dish that is, surprisingly, truly representative of the Hawaiian culture: Teriyaki-glazed SPAM Hash with pototes, peppers, onions and spicy mayo! It seems that the Aloha State loves its tinned meat and now you can try it in an innovatively prepared way:

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The Cheese Studios is also returning, and it has really changed up its trio of cheesy comestibles. There's a profiterole (cream puff) topped with Boursin garlic and herbs cheese and apricot jam; a slightly tangy smoked salmon pinwheel with Boursin shallot and chive cheese; and a strawberry macaron with Boursin pepper cheese. I can't help myself, I love the cheesey goodness!

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I didn't get to try many of the alcoholic offerings -- I was working, after all -- but I did manage a few sips of the new Passport 35 Triple Chocolate Milk Stout from the Florida Beer Company. The aroma of chocolate was obvious, and softened the strong stout -- I think it will be a hit.

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In addition, there was a good overview of the new festival-themed merchandise that will be available. Here's a quick run-through:

I was able to get prices on most of the items mentioned in the video, as well:

The large Dooney & Bourke bags: $318
The Passholder D&B bag: $308
Crossbody D&B bag: $178
D&B WAllet $158

For the Figment fans, and I know there are lots of you out there:

The adorable Figment ear hat is $24.99.
The new Figment-inspired MagicBand, which has an exclusive theme designed by Dooney & Bourke, is $48.
The Figment t-shirts are $29.99.
Apron: $26.99
Mitt $14.99
Ornament $19.99
Mug: $17.99
Pin: $14.99

As for the Taste Your Way around the World shirts, both men's and women's are $29.99. The design is slightly different for both shirts. New this year, the festival is offering the women's shirts in a few different styles. One is a more fitted shirt, which comes in sizes Small to Extra Large. There are also shirts available in a "curvier" style, in sizes 1X, 2X and 3X.

There's also a new lightweight "hoodie", which features the festival logo on the front and the names of the countries of World Showcase down the sleeves. This was $42.99 and even though it's billed as a "men's" item, is definitely something both genders could (and I'm sure WILL) wear.

Chef Gregg told me that Saturday's Tables in Wonderland preview will have some additional offerings that the media preview didn't offer, so I'm really looking forward to see what else is new. Also, I'm expecting that the TiW event will provide more details about the premium dining experiences that will be on offer, as well as information on booking, packages and more.

So stay tuned for part 2 of my Food and Wine Festival Preview, coming later this weekend!





September 24, 2016

Shop the Food and Wine Festival

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Those that know me, know that I don't care much for shopping. I know, however, that many of you DO, so I spent a few minutes during opening weekend of this year's Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in the festival shops, checking out some of the event-specific merchandise. I found lots of things that would make perfect souvenirs, or gifts for those that you had to leave at home.

Lovers of the big purple Figment will be happy to know that he has returned as a festival mascot of sorts, and he dominates much of the merchandise. You can find him on t-shirts ($24.99 regular, $29.99 v-neck)

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On mugs ($14.99), salt and pepper shakers ($9.99/ea.), aprons ($26.99), oven mitts ($14.99) and even ornaments ($19.99)...

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And of course Chef Figment is featured on one of the festival's two special event posters ($24.99).

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Figment even graces some of the special festival passholder merchandise this year, like this Passholder t-shirt ($29.99)...

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But it's not all Figment, if for some reason he's not your thing. Some of the other festival merchandise is a bit "retro", borrowing themes and motifs from Food and Wine Festivals gone by.

There are Taste Your Way Around the World t-shirts (the burgundy v-neck is $32.99; there's also a gray-blue short-sleeved shirt, as well as a long-sleeved shirt and blue scoop-neck shirt [not pictured] for around $37 each)

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There are also "Taste" wine bottle ornaments ($12.99)....

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Taste Your Way Around the World housewares include Tea Towels (pair $21.99), Small Plates ($14.99), and Salt and Pepper Shakers ($9.99 each)...

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One thing I thought was a bit different, and practical, was an insulated bottle bag ($34.99)...

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Taste Your Way Around the World is also the design of another 2016 Festival Poster ($24.99):

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There's also a very useful notched plastic plate, perfect for when you're juggling multiple food and drink samples from the global marketplaces. I remember when they first introduced these plates a few years ago -- they were just $4.95. They're up to $6.99 ($7.50 including tax) now.

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If you're looking for a plain ball cap, never fear -- there's a festival cap for you ($26.99)....

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Another design you'll find on a variety of merchangise caters more to beer lovers -- "Brews Around the World." You'll find mugs ($14.99), t-shirts ($27) and caps ($29.99). (No, I don't know why they are more expensive than the other caps.)

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One item I almost always purchase is the Festival Cookbook. This year it's $24.95, and includes recipes from not only the Food and Wine Festival, but from the spring's Flower and Garden Festival as well.

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By the way, Chef Gregg Hannon and Pam Brandon, author of the Festival cookbook, will be on hand for a special signing at Showcase Plaza's Port of Entry on September 27 and 28, after a 3 p.m. cooking demonstration.

For the plush lovers, I didn't see much, but I did spy this adorable Food & Wine Festival Chef Mickey for $26.99:

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Finally, if you want to take home a bottle of wine from one of the festival events you attend, stop over at the Festival Center's wine shop. But if you want something specifically to remind you of the 2016 event, pick up a bottle of the the Festival's special label wine -- both the cabernet and the chardonnay are listed at $22 a bottle:

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You can find all of this merchandise at the Stockpot Shop in the Festival Center. Many of the same items can be found around the other festival shops around World Showcase -- there's one near Germany, one between Morocco and Japan and one near Canada. There are also merchandise kiosks on the bridge connecting Future World to World Showcase, and you may find other related merchandise in the shops in World Showcase Plaza.


July 2, 2016

Sneak Preview: 2016 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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Tables in Wonderland held its annual “sneak preview” of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival for its members this past Sunday, June 26, at World Showplace in Epcot. The festival, which will run an extra-long 62 days in this, its 21st year, begins September 14.

"Yes, we're going to need lots of stamina this year," said Michael Deardorff, Epcot Executive Chef. "This will be a 62-day sprint. We'll have to hit the ground running, but we'll be ready."

Deardorff noted that as the festival has grown "exponentially bigger and bigger" each year, the festival team has become like a machine, with all its parts in sync.

That synchronicity was apparent during the preview, as the various components came together to present a wonderful representative sampling of the new or reimagined food and beverage items that will be featured in the marketplaces (aka food booths) scattered around World Showcase and even into Future World.

Let's start with the food and beverage offerings, which obviously were the stars of the afternoon.

We were greeted at the door with a refreshing cocktail -- Spiked (with vodka!) Orange Iced Tea, which will be introduced at the Hops & Barley marketplace.

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I was eager to try as many of the new food items as I could, and I managed to hit nearly all of them. Here were the stand-outs, at least as far as my tastebuds and me were concerned:

Pork Tenderloin with Cannellini Bean Ragout and a Zinfandel Reduction, which will be found in the Wine and Dine Studio

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This was my overall favorite of the afternoon -- a tender chunk of lean pork atop the flavorful beans, with a hint of the red wine adding a little zing. There's not much else to say about this dish except Yum.

Chicken and Dumplings with mushrooms and spinach, which will be found in the returning Farm Fresh marketplace

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This was a real palate-pleaser for me, even though it's not that photogenic -- nothing really fancy, just juicy white meat with a fluffy light dumpling accompanied by sauteed mushrooms and spinach in a savory sauce.

Grilled Beef Skewer with apricots, romaine and feta cheese, from The Chew Collective marketplace:

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The lightly seasoned meat is accented by the sweetness of the fruit, which in turn contrasts with the sharpness of the feta. I thought it was a nice dish, but my piece of beef was tender. A friend's was gristly and tough, so she didn't rate the plate as highly.

Seared Scallop, Truffled Celery Root Puree, Brussels Sprouts and Wild Mushrooms, also to be featured in the Wine & Dine Studio

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My second favorite bite of the day. Who would ever think that a sweet, mild scallop would pair so well with the sharp, slightly bitter sprout? But it's a match made in heaven, so tasty. Chef Mike noted that to create this dish they took the scallop out of the Scotland marketplace where it had been featured for the past few years, and gave it a Napa Valley twist. A smart move, in my opinion.

Duck Confit with Creamy Polenta and Fire-roasted Salsa

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The duck was tender and perfectly pink, and the polenta creamy as promised in the menu. I didn't get much heat from the dash of salsa that topped the plate, but that was OK -- it was still a tasty morsel.

Loaded Greek "Nachos": Pita Chips, Meatless Sausage Crumbles, Vegan Tzatziki, from the Greece marketplace

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This was the biggest surprise for me -- honestly, I'm not sure I would have known this was a vegan dish if I hadn't been told. I'd just had real nachos the day before (the fantastic loaded nachos at the new place in Disney's Hollywood Studios Echo Lake Eats), so it was interesting to me to compare the two dishes. The pita crisps were a perfect substitute for tortilla chips and the onion, kalamata olives, lettuce, tomato were basically what you'd expect on real nachos. According to Chef Mike, the "sausage" is a Gardein product (Gardein has partnered with the festival for other vegan dishes over the years) and the "feta" is actually specially seasoned tofu. "We think it's an awesome plate. It was fun to do and it turned out great," said Chef Deardorff. I have to agree with him.

Oikos Greek Yogurt Vanilla Cake Soaked in Ouzo with Yogurt Whipped Cream and Pistachios, another item from the Greece marketplace

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This is my kind of dessert. Not too sweet, and a perfect complement to a cup of coffee. Come festival time, I can see myself taking a plate of this dense cake to an out-of-the-way spot with an espresso from one of the coffee stands to watch IllumiNations.

Quesito: Puff Pastry with Sweetened Cream Cheese and Guava Sauce, from the new Islands of the Caribbean marketplace

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I absolutely loved this dessert, too. Crispy light puff pastry with a not-too-sweet cream cheese filling -- it's like it was made with me in mind. The guava sauce was a little too sweet for me, but overall I thought this was a great new offering.

There were a few new items I didn't get to, most notably the Smoked Brisket & Pimento Cheese on Griddled Garlic Toast, which Chef Mike predicts could be the big favorite this year. Calling it an open-faced version of a grilled cheese sandwich, he admits that they developed this dish based on the popular smoked brisket from the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. It will be featured at the Hops & Barley marketplace, where I will eventually try it, I'm sure.

So, what was the other big news coming out of the preview?

First, you may have already heard that the cast of ABC-TV's "The Chew" (Chefs Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Carla Hall, and Clinton Kelly and Daphne Oz) will be returning to the festival, taping episodes October 5-7, which will then air the week of October 10-14.

Other interesting news was the announcement of several new programs that take the festival out of Epcot and into some of the resort hotels.

• Brunch with a Twist at Citricos at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

• Culinary Adventures with a Master Chef at Contemporary Resort's Convention Center

• Behind the Scenes at Trader Sam's Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village Resort

• The Secret of Flavor at Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club Resort

We have details on these offerings, including dates and pricing, on the Festival Special Ticketed Events page.

Other new aspects to the festival this year:

-- Eight new celebrity chefs will be appearing over the course of the festival: Maneet Chauhan; Elliott Farmer; Fabio Bongianni; Masaharu Morimoto; Duff Goldman; Paul Wahlburg; Graham Elliot; and Geoffrey Zakarian.

-- Making their Epcot debut, Wang Chung will be the musical group kicking off the festival's Eat to the Beat concert series this year. Other new acts confirmed include The BoDeans, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Living Colour and Delta Rae. (The full, official schedule of Eat to the Beat concerts has not yet been announced.)

-- Eat to the Beat Concert Packages, which guarantee reserved seating for the nightly concert along with a table service meal in Epcot, are now available at breakfast (either buffet or family-style) at two locations: Garden Grill and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.

-- The former mixology seminars that used to take place at 6 p.m. each day in the Festival Center have morphed into a new program called "Mix It, Make It, Celebrate It!" The program will be offered at 4 p.m. daily and will include other hands-on activities besides mixology, such as cake decorating and garnishing. It will also come with a heftier price tag: $49 per person.

-- The "Boot Camp" concept isn't new to the festival, but the two offerings under this umbrella are. The first, hosted by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, is called "Exploring Wines the Mondavi Way," and will celebrate the 50th anniversary of this well-known winery. The second, "Demystifying Bourbon the Jim Beam Way," will explore bourbon production through the eyes of a master distiller.

For a more in-depth description of these and all the signature and premium programs that will be available, visit the Festival Special Ticketed Events page.

In fact, be sure to check out all our Food and Wine Festival pages, with photos from the preview and other details HERE.

Because this was a "sneak peek," we were warned that there may be changes or tweaks to some of these programs, so take that under advisement. But you don't have long to wait for the final, full schedule of festival offerings -- it will be online at epcotfoodfestival.com on July 11, with booking for the general public opening at 7 a.m. July 21. (Some events MAY be open for booking a few days in advance for Disney Vacation Club and Tables in Wonderland Members, Golden Oak residents, Disney Visa Cardholders and Annual Passholders. Keep checking back to AllEars.Net for updates!)



October 10, 2015

Epcot Food and Wine Festival's Tasting Sampler Package

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New this year at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is the Festival Tasting Sampler package, which includes:

-- 8 entitlements for food or beverage of your choice (with a few exceptions) at the Food and Wine Festival International Marketplaces.

-- priority seating at the 6:45 p.m. Eat to the Beat concert at America Gardens Theatre on the day for which the package is purchased.

-- a limited release 20th Anniversary Food and Wine pin that comes in three colors.

These packages cost $59 per person (total $62.85 including tax) and DO NOT include admission to Epcot.

Because this was a new offering, I wanted to be sure to try it out, so I purchased the package in advance on one of the first days it was available for sale back in late July. I was able to order it in the same way that I booked reservations for my other Food and Wine Festival events, by calling 407-WDW-FEST. At the time it was not available for purchase online, but I see that it is now. You can order the package just as you would book a Walt Disney World Dining reservation at disneyworld.com/dining.

Booking the package was the easy part. More difficult was obtaining the physical credential for the package on the day I wanted to use it, the first Saturday of the festival. Perhaps I should have known that the finer points of distributing the package wouldn't have been worked out by the event's second official day, which was a very busy Saturday to boot.

I headed to the Festival Center that morning, but when I got there, the question became WHERE in the Festival Center could I pick up the package? After asking four cast members and a lot of confusion, I discovered that I needed to go to the right of the Intermissions Cafe, to the shop tucked in the back, where cookbooks and artwork are on display. (After you enter the Festival Center, walk down the ramp to the right and at the bottom, make a hard right. That's the space I'm talking about.)

The lines at the registers seemed to stretch for miles, but then, amidst the confusion, I noticed yet another line of people, way off to the side. At the front of THAT line was a single cast member with an iPad and an armful of lanyards. I overheard her explaining the Sampler Package to the woman standing in front of her. At last, I had found where I needed to be.

While I waited in that cramped space, I realized that many, if not most, of the people in line in front of me had not even purchased the package yet. As they each took their turn with the cast member at the head of the line, she patiently explained the package to them, took their payment and then gave them their lanyard credential and pin. Eventually, another cast member came along and the line moved a little more quickly. Finally it was my turn. Because I had prepaid, my transaction was quick. I heard an abbreviated version of the cast member's spiel and signed the iPad with my finger to indicate I had received my credential and pin.

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They say the pin comes in three colors, but I wasn't offered a choice -- this seemed to be the only color available.

Altogether, the pick-up experience took way longer than it should have, especially since I had paid for the package in advance. Seems to me things could have been expedited considerably if they had had a specific check-in line for those who already had paid.

Once I had the credential in hand, I took a minute to look it over. It was a rectangular plastic card on a lanyard with a soft, wide strap. Those of you who recall Disney's "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion from almost 10 years ago might notice that the credential resembles the "Dream Fastpass" randomly given out to visitors, allowing them Fastpass privileges on a number of attractions throughout a particular theme park.

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Around two sides of the card were eight tabs (four on each side), perforated for easy removal. Each one of these tabs is good for one food or beverage item at the 30 or so International Marketplaces found around World Showcase and, for the first time this year, in Future World. (There are certain exceptions; I'll outline them below.)

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Along the bottom of the card was another tab, marked with the day's date, to be used to gain entry into the 6:45 p.m. Eat to the Beat Concert at the America Gardens Theatre.

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On the back of the card are chefs' suggested pairings of the various foods and beverages and at the bottom there are the terms, conditions, and exceptions that apply to the package. When they say fine print, they mean it. Even with glasses it was hard to read!

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So what does it say? Well, it tells you a few important things.

-- The Eat to the Beat concert coupon can only be used at the 6:45 p.m. show on the day you bought the package for.

-- The food and beverage coupons, however, can be used any time from the day you buy the package to the end of the festival on November 16, 2015.

-- The coupons are nonrefundable and nontransferable, however.

-- The coupons are good for almost all of the food and beverage items at the International Marketplaces with the following exclusions: beers larger than 6 oz.; the tasting "flights," such as the wine flights and the beer flights; champagne; and the Artist's Palette, found at the Wine and Cheese Studio.

When you consider how many options that leaves you, that's really not bad, especially when you take into account that many of the more expensive alcoholic beverages are included. You can maximize the sampler's value by choosing some of the most expensive items at the marketplaces. If, for example, you were to use the coupons for the La Passion Martini Slush in France ($9.95), the lobster roll at Hops & Barley ($7.95), the Le Cellier filet in Canada ($7.50) and the tzatziki martini in Greece ($8.00), you've already "spent" more than $30 (half the package's cost)... and you still have four more coupons to use.

And, by the way, using the coupons is as easy as can be, and really expedites your time in line -- I think paying for your items using the credential is even easier than using the nifty little festival gift cards, or your MagicBand. You simply place your order, present your credential, and the cast member breaks off the coupon tab or tabs needed to "pay" for your purchase.

The final component of the package is the priority seating for the Eat to the Beat concert. This can really come in handy on a crazy weekend night, when the crowd levels are at their highest.
When you're given your credential, you're told to arrive at the America Gardens Theatre about 30 minutes prior to the 6:45 show.

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The line is on the Japan side of the theater, right next to the line for folks with the special Eat to the Beat Dining package. It's clearly marked -- if you can see the sign in the midst of the crowds of people milling about! Present your credential as you enter the seating area, and the cast member will break off the bottom coupon.

Performing the night I was there was former American Idol David Cook. Coming up are even more familiar names, like Hanson, Boys II Men, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Chaka Khan.

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All in all, I really felt the Tasting Sampler was a worthwhile purchase -- essentially, you're pre-paying for your marketplace items, plus you get a nice collectible pin and special seating for the show thrown in for good measure. If they can iron out the kinks with the package pick-up process (and, who knows, maybe by now, two weeks into the festival, they have), then I would recommend it without any reservations.

They say that only a limited number of packages are available each day, although I'm not sure enough people know about this yet for it to be selling out. Still, if you want to give it a try, it might be worth the effort to book it in advance.

If you use the Tasting Sampler, or attend any of the Food and Wine Festival events, we urge you to visit our Rate and Review section and share your thoughts there, so you can help others plan their vacations!

And if you've already "tasted your way around the World," don't forget to take our poll and rate the foods and beverages you sampled.

October 5, 2015

2015 Food and Wine Festival Merchandise and Special Packages

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Even though I am, admittedly, not much of a shopper, I do like to poke around the shops during the special events at Epcot. Last week found me nosing around the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival's Festival Center shop and the other Festival Shops scattered around the theme park's World Showcase to see what new, unusual and festival-specific merchandise was available.

One of the first things that caught my eye was this adorable Figment plush ($14.95)

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I know everyone loves Figment, and it turns out that Figment is the star of the festival character merchandise this year, along with Mickey of course. He is featured on all sorts of things...

This t-shirt ($24.95)...

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(You can also get the same shirt with sparkles for $32.95.)

Chef's toque ($19.95), apron ($26.95) and potholder ($12.95) ...

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You'll find a lot of non-character merchandise that marks the festival's 20th anniversary, too. I especially liked this giant-sized coffee mug ($14.95), which just MIGHT hold enough caffeine to get me started in the morning:

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I also thought these logo trash can salt and pepper shakers ($9.95) were too cute!

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And of course there's the requisite t-shirts ($27.95):

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Caps...

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And assorted glassware (shot glasses, etc.) and other drinking vessels, including this fancy, dishwasher-safe, insulated tumbler that keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot ($24.95):

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If you're looking for something new without the festival logo, you might want to go for the "Brews" line of merchandise. I think this line was started last year, but this year the items are really eye-catching, particularly this cap with a built-in bottle opener for those who never want to be caught unprepared ($24.95):

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Of course, there are t-shirts to go with it ($27.95)...

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Each year, the festival publishes a cookbook with the recipes from the menu items found in the Festival Marketplaces. This year's book is a real item to treasure, though -- it's a lovely hardbound book ($24.95), with a history of the festival over the past two decades. It's going on my cookbook shelf, for sure!

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If you'd like to carry your own utensils with you, the festival has thought of that, too -- the shops offer a branded plastic knife, fork and spoon set in a convenient container ($14.95).

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I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the festival poster ($24.95, or $209.95 signed and framed). I apologize for the glare, but no matter where I went, it was a problem:

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And of course there are Limited Edition festival pins -- this one is $14.95:

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Speaking of pins, you have the chance to get some fun pins if you play the new Remy's Hide and Squeak scavenger hunt. Buy a map at the shop at the World Showcase Plaza for $9.95 then look for hidden Remy's around the International Marketplaces, affixing the appropriate sticker to the map when you spot him. Return the map, and receive your choice of one of eight different Remy pins. (Of course, party-poopers like me who don't have the time or desire to find the hidden Remys can pick up their pin when they purchase the game map!)

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I had the chance to speak with Ashley Taylor of Park Event Operations about the merchandise and some of the festival's special packages, too. You can see our little chat here:

Hope this helps you decide what you're going to be spending your festival souvenir dollars on!

Happy shopping!

July 16, 2015

2015 Food and Wine Festival Sneak Preview, Part 2

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Food and Wine Festival Logo

I'm back with more news from the Tables in Wonderland preview of this year's Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

I only just mentioned in passing the special ticketed dining experiences the other day. I already talked about the new Rockin' Burger Block Party, but forgot to share with you a few photos of the types of sliders that will be on offer at this experience.

There's the Oklahoma BBQ Beef Slider with Mmmhops Pale Ale Onion Fries and Smoked Bologna Baked Beans -- paired of course with Mmmhops Pale Ale, from the brothers of pop group Hanson.

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And we also had a chance to sample the South African Vegetarian Bunny Chow Slider with The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay Watermelon Salad -- in case you didn't know, The Dreaming Tree wines are affiliated with singer Dave Matthews (a personal fave!).

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As I look over the list of other programs for this year, I don't see many additions (and note quite a few subtractions). Still, I didn't mean to give the others such short shrift. There are a few things in this 20th anniversary year that are a bit intriguing.

New for 2015 are a Japanese Craft Beer Tasting and an Italian Food, Wine and Beer Pairing. The latter seems a combination of last year's Food and Beer Pairing with a more traditional Wine Pairing, I'm guessing to appeal to more participants. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but if I get the chance, either of these might be a good way to try to learn an appreciation for the beverage. I'll be seeing if I can make the times for those programs fit into my schedule.

Also, the programs "Sunday Mornings with..." and "Food for Thought" seem to be have been combined into the new "What's Cookin' with..." -- a series of twice-weekly programs featuring a light brunch, and a cooking demo and conversation with a celebrity chef, such as Andrew Zimmern, Robert Irvine or Carla Hall (from The Chew). Most of these chefs have been to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival before, however, as a devotee of the TV shows Chopped! and Iron Chef, I'm interested to see the names Amanda Freitag and Alex Guarnaschelli this year -- hope I'm in town to see one of them, at least.

What I am really interested in, however, is what's happening in the France pavilion.

You may have noticed as you read over the list the France pavilion is no longer offering the Grand Marnier tasting that they've had for the past several years. Instead a new experience is on the schedule: The Parisian Afternoon, Sandwiches, Macarons and Bubbles! To be held in the restaurant Monsieur Paul, this event promises an assortment of finger sandwiches, petit fours and unlimited mimosas -- all for $55 per person. Based on how enjoyable the Parisian Breakfast program they've offered the past few years has been, I can't wait to try the afternoon outing myself.

The team at France is also mixing up its tried-and-true French Regional Lunch program. This year they are abandoning the "regional" theme altogether, and Monsieur Paul will instead host French Family Meal Traditions. This new experience will allow guests to enjoy the chefs' favorite meals from their childhoods, in a long, lingering meal served family style and paired with "perfect" wines. As Eric Weistroffer, general manager of operations in the pavilion notes, "In France we eat like this -- a big family meal that lasts all afternoon, and as we are eating dessert we start to plan what we will have for dinner." It sounds like my kind of gathering!

Some of the other new things for the festival this year:

-- For the first time, the festival has its own private label wines! Called "Festival" the chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon come from California and were just bottled the other day, but we had a chance to sample them -- the red was surprisingly good. And I say surprisingly because it is such a young wine -- but there were notes of vanilla and berries that made my tastebuds very happy.

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-- In addition to the two new "Chew"-related booths that will be in Future World, there are two other new Future World booths making up an exhibit called The Art of Wine and Cheese. Designed to resemble an artist's studio, these two kiosks will be stocked with a selection of wines and cheeses arranged by color, allowing you to have fun will you pick your pairings. According to Chef Mike Deardorff, the cheeses will include an Oregon blue cheese and a chevre, or goat cheese, while the wines will be vintages from California, Oregon and Washington State.

-- The Food and Wine Festival Discovery Sampler Package which includes the following:

* 8 entitlements for food or beverage of your choice at 30 Food and Wine Festival International Marketplaces.

* Priority seating at the 6:45 p.m. Eat to the Beat concert at America Gardens Theatre on the day the package is purchased.

* Limited release 20th Food and Wine pin that comes in three color options.

PRICE: $59 per person, plus tax. Epcot admission is required.

Note that a limited number of packages are available each day.

-- Remy's Ratatouille Hide and Squeak, a scavenger hunt around World Showcase for young and old alike. To join the hunt, you'll have to purchase a map and stickers from a special location, then search for little statuettes of the "little chef" Remy, star of the film "Ratatouille", that have been hidden. Once you've found all the little statues and matched the ingredient stickers to your map, you can take the finished product for a special surprise, compliments of Remy.

I've had a number of questions from readers about the Festival Premium Package that was offered last year, but there has been no word yet whether it will return this year. The Eat to the Beat Dinner Package IS coming back, however. This package, available for lunch or dinner at a number of Epcot restaurants, includes your choice of appetizer, entree, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage (or one full buffet), as well as guaranteed seating at an Eat to the Beat concert on that day. For a list of participating restaurants and pricing, as well as a scheduled entertainment, check our Eat to the Beat page HERE.

Remember:

-- Details about festival programs are available online now (http://disneyworld.com/foodandwinefestival), giving those interested two full weeks to plan before booking starts at 7 a.m. on July 30 at 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378).

-- As in years past, Tables in Wonderland members, Annual Passholders, Disney Vacation Club Members, and Golden Oak Residents will be able to book culinary demos and beverage and mixology seminars early. This year early booking for these programs starts July 24 at 9 a.m. at 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378). A $2 discount is available to the above-mentioned guests for seminars and demos held Monday through Thursday.

-- The cast of The Chew will be filming a week's worth of shows October 7, 8 and 9. They will also be filming segments around Walt Disney World to be broadcast on upcoming shows. The co-hosts will also attend the Rockin' Burger Block Party on October 8.

I think that brings you up to speed on most of what's happening at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival this year. We'll certainly do our best to bring you any more details as they are announced.

Quick Ref Guide:

International Markeplace Menus with Photos

Special Ticketed Dining Events
Eat to the Beat Concerts/Dinner Package

Culinary Demos/Beverage Seminars

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the Tables in Wonderland event. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.

October 30, 2012

2012 Food and Wine Festival Merchandise

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If you're visiting Walt Disney World in the next few weeks, you'll surely be stopping by the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. When you do, you'll be impressed by the number of little specialty items you can take home as souvenirs for yourself or for favorite foodie.

There's a wide assortment of Festival logo merchandise this year, perhaps even more than in previous years. Along with the usual t-shirts (various styles/colors, but the one pictured is $31.95), caps, and tote bags, there are items for those who like to dabble in the kitchen and behind the bar, such as logo aprons ($24.95), oven mitt/potholder combos ($19.95), appetizer plates (four for $25) and shakers ($14.95).

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And of course, there's Duffy the Disney Bear, in his chef's toque, sporting a Food and Wine Festival emblem ($30).


But if you're looking for more unusual items, take a look in the Wine Shop in the Festival Center. There are miniature tequila bottles painted to resemble small "Day of the Dead" skulls for $9.95. The pretty bottle of Bohae Black Raspberry Wine (Bokbunjajoo), with its Asian influences apparent, makes a nice little gift, too, and sells for just $10.95. Another interesting bottle, not necessarily for what's outside, but more for what's on the inside, is that of the Chocolate Crave liqueurs. Made by John deKuyper and Sons, these sweet spirits feature Chocolate Chili, Chocolate Mint and Chocolate Cherry flavors and sell for $21.95. They've only been out about a year, and are distinctively different -- especially the Chocolate Chili. (Just remember, if you're flying home, you'll have to pack these liquid items in your checked luggage!)


If you're a fan of the Disney artist NOAH, you'll want to snap up a few of the Festival art pieces he's had a hand in designing this year. Aside from the Festival poster ($24.95), you'll find his designs, which deceptively resemble photography, but are actually paintings of bottles and wine in warm brown and golden hues, on clocks ($39.95), cutting boards, coasters, mugs, ceramic tile trivets, serving dishes and more. There are even some fine art pieces by NOAH, including some framed artwork that cost more than $1000. (OK, maybe those aren't exactly souven-ears, but they were so impressive I had to mention them -- I even spotted a Hidden Mickey in one piece.)



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In addition to the merchandise specific to the event, the Festival Center has done a good job of bringing together an array of other food-related Disney-designed items in one location. Mickey, Goofy and Donald each seem to have their own distinct lines of items, including aprons, clocks, and cutting boards, all of which will make nice take-home gifts.

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Happy Shopping!

October 19, 2012

Italian Food and Beer Pairing - Epcot's Food and Wine Festival

All Ears team member Linda Eckwerth (who spends hours working behind the scenes) attended the Food and Beer pairing at Via Napoli!

I attended the Food & Beer Pairing in Italy on October 2nd. This event was presented for the first time in 2011. I am not a big beer drinker, but thought it would be fun to learn more about beer and food pairings. This event is held on Tuesdays at Via Napoli from 1:30 PM to 4:00 PM and cost $55.00.

Our hosts for the afternoon were Gabriele, the manager and Jackie, the beer distributor.

Italian Food and Beer Pairing Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Italian Food and Beer Pairing Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Our first course was a Saffron Risotto Rice Ball stuffed with a meat ragu and mozzarella. We were served Amiata Birra, Contessa an Italian Pale Ale from Tuscany. We tasted the beer before consuming any food and it had a bitter, hoppy, light citrus taste. I did not care for it. However, once I started tasting the beer with the food, the beer became much more enjoyable. The bitterness seemed to disappear. The risotto rice ball was crispy and had creamy texture inside. There was very little meat in the center and the red sauce was light and flavorful.

Italian Food and Beer Pairing Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Italian Food and Beer Pairing Epcot Food and Wine Festival

The second course was pizza. It was half margherita, half Quattro formaggi and was an individual size. This pizza brought me right back to Italy. It is not like "American" pizza. It is not heavy with sauce or cheese. The crust is light and is wood fired, which gives it a slight smoke flavor. The beer served was Birrificio L'Olmaia, La Nove. This is an amber ale from the Tuscany region. It had a caramel malty flavor with fine bubbles. This is truly a craft beer as it is a two person brewery.

Italian Food and Beer Pairing Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Italian Food and Beer Pairing Epcot Food and Wine Festival

The third course was a veal dish with onion, potato and a white wine, butter and herb sauce. The veal was tender and the sauce was amazing. I wanted to pick my plate up and drink the sauce, but opted for soaking my bread in it to get every last drop! The beer was Birrificio Grado Plato, Strada San Felice which is an amber ale from the Piedmont region. The big surprise is this beer is brewed with oven roasted chestnuts. This gives the beer a dark caramel color with a nutty flavor. This was my favorite beer of the four.

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Italian Food and Beer Pairing Epcot Food and Wine Festival


Our fourth and last course was dessert. Yes, beer was served with this course. We finished the meal with vanilla gelato, cookie, and amarena cherries. I am always a sucker for good gelato, which this was, and the cherries were an added bonus. The beer was Birrificio L'Olmaia, PVK a golden ale from the Tuscany region. It had a touch of sweetness, like honey, with citrus and floral flavors. I never knew beer could go so nicely with an ice cream like dessert.

Italian Food and Beer Pairing Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Italian Food and Beer Pairing Epcot Food and Wine Festival

In conclusion, I feel this pairing is well worth the $55.00 price. I learned beer is tasted in a similar manner as wine. One must look at the color, bubbles and the smell. All of the tastings were crafted beers from smaller breweries in Italy. Three of the beers were bottled in a larger bottle, similar to wine, known as a Butterfly Bottle. We were told the breweries wanted to stay true to Italy's wine culture.

October 7, 2012

Marketplace VIP Access Chef Tour

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012
10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Festival Center
Epcot

Tour LanyardNew this year at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is the Marketplace VIP Access Chef Tour, a program that promised in its description a walking tour "around the world" through the International Marketplaces, hosted by a festival chef. Whenever there's a new offering at the festival, I'm eager to try it, but this program in particular intrigued me. I was anxious to hear some of the challenges of developing and executing the menus for the food booths scattered around World Showcase directly from a chef, and looked forward to sampling some of the new food and beverage items as well.

The group, which is limited to 12 participants per tour, met at the Spotlight Stage in the Festival Welcome Center (the stage located across from the Intermissions Cafe). After a brief introduction by festival content development coordinator Jerred Stephenson, we were each given a special lanyard to wear during the tour, along with a headset that would allow us to hear the tour guide even if we strayed from his or her side. Each participant received a tall glass of Taittinger Brut Champagne and we toasted the new program and the festival, and then we were on our way.

Led by Jerred and festival content development manager Michael Jenner, we crossed Future World and walked up to World Showcase Plaza, where we were greeted by Jens Dahlmann, executive chef of Epcot, who would act as our guide.

Chef Jens DahlmannBefore beginning the tour, Chef Jens spoke a bit about his background and about how this particular program came about. Having given a similar tour of the International Marketplaces over the last several years to a number of VIPs, like Tom Staggs (chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts) and visiting chefs from around the world, Chef Jens realized that this sort of personalized experience would probably be appealing to Disney guests who were avid fans of the Food and Wine Festival. With some adaptation, the concept was introduced this year for a limited number of dates to a very limited number of guests -- and immediately all dates offered sold out. Yes, you could say the interest was out there.

We embarked on the tour in earnest by walking toward the Mexico pavilion, where we encountered our first stop -- the brand new Terra marketplace, which features 100 percent vegan products. Chef Jens, who has been in his current position for about four years, spoke with some pride about this addition to the festival, stating that many visitors had been requesting more vegetarian and vegan options. He joked that Jenner had wanted to give the new marketplace a catchy name, but he (Chef Jens) had nixed it, deeming it too silly. What the relative Disney newcomer didn't realize (Chef Jens has been with Disney just since 2004) was that Jenner's suggestion -- "Veggie Veggie, Fruit Fruit" -- had some nostalgic value. Instead, after bandying about a few other names (including the also-rejected "Earth") they settled on Terra.

Our first taste of the day was this marketplace's Chili Colorado with House Made Chips & Cashew Cheese, featuring Gardein Beefless Tips. I had sampled this dish back in July at the Tables in Wonderland Food and Wine Festival preview, and at the time marveled at the truly beef-like texture of the Gardein product. This savory sample had a bit of a chili kick to it, but I think most of the other tour attendees enjoyed it as much as I did. The crunchy chips were not overly salty at all and made an interesting counterpoint to the chewy chunks of faux beef, reinforcing Chef Jens' claim that he is "all about the flavor of the food."

After receiving Terra stamps in our Festival Passports, we took a few steps further toward Mexico and came upon the Caribbean marketplace, where we were treated to a refreshing cup of Bacardi Torched Cherry Frozen Cherry Limeade. This fruity, slushy drink was a welcome cold refreshment after the heat of the chili -- it was just a bit too large of a portion to down too quickly, though, especially since it was sneakily alcoholic.

Chili Colorado Frozen Cherry Limeade

 

As we walked to our next stop, Germany, Chef Jens spent some time explaining how the marketplaces were divided into color-coded zones, each managed by its own chef. Each zone has a central production area (in Norway, Germany, and Canada) that's basically operating 20 hours each day, in which the food is prepared then cooled down to the proper temperature before being transported to the individual marketplaces.

"The volume of food we are preparing here is unreal," he noted. " For example, we will go through 20,000 pounds of pork butt. I can project that we will sell 40,000 pork sliders [in the Hawaii marketplace], but we sold 2,500 just on this past Saturday. So we constantly tweak, tweak, tweak and try to gain speed and efficiency."

When we reached Germany, we were able to park ourselves at some picnic tables (they're celebrating Oktoberfest here!) and try two samples: the Schinken Nudel (Pasta Gratin with Ham and Cheese) and the Schöfferhofer Grapefruit beer from the nearby Brewer's Collection.

Schinken Nudel Chef Jens Dahlmann

 

I'm not much of a beer-drinker, but I found the Schöfferhofer unbeerlike and strangely refreshing -- almost like a citrus-y fruit punch, with a beer aftertaste. It was rather cloudy and orange in color, with almost no head, so it didn't look like much of a beer, either. I had tasted the Schinken Nudel the previous day and had enjoyed it, even though it wasn't quite like the macaroni and cheese it closely resembled. The tender noodles blended with a creamy, cheesy sauce were tasty, although would have liked a few more pieces of ham -- the bits of meat were so tiny that they didn't make much of an impact on the dish's flavor. One thing about this dish: the portion is surely one of the largest among all the international marketplaces.

As we departed Germany, we took a few moments to appreciate the pavilion's miniature railroad village, which was also observing the Food and Wine Festival, down to the detail of its very own cranberry bog.

Oktoberfest Miniature Oktoberfest Miniature

 

The next waystation on our itinerary was the second of the festival's two new marketplaces -- Florida Local. Again, Chef Jens talked about the challenges of bringing his idea for this new entry to fruition. As he noted, taking advantage of Florida's local produce required some detailed planning in order to not wipe out the stock of any particular farmer. More than a trend, he stressed, taking advantage of the bounty of the region, capitalizing on its strengths, "is the right thing to do." In this booth, we were presented with the Florida Shrimp Ceviche with Fire Roasted Vegetables, Fried Plantains and Cilantro. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, which was surprising given the conditions under which they were prepared, and the vegetables in sauce had a nice spice to them. The accompanying plantain, though, was bland and boring, and a bit greasy, adding nothing to the dish. Still, overall I'd rate the ceviche itself worth a taste.

Chef Jens Dahlmann Shrimp Ceviche

 

After walking past a few more food booths, we came to New Zealand where I hoped we might be tasting one of the savory dishes -- either the Seared Sea Scallop with Kumara-Red Curry Puree and Apple Radish Salad or the Lamb Meatball with Spicy Tomato Chutney. Nope. Instead they brought us a small glass of the Kim Crawford Un-Oaked Chardonnay to help extinguish the slight fire on our tastebuds created by the ceviche.

Chardonnay Chef Jens Walking Tour

 

We marched on to Canada, where we were treated to one of the premier food items presented at the international marketplaces this year: the renowned "Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce. The filet was paired with a dark, chewy red wine, Mission Hill Family Estate Syrah. The filet replaces the Canada pavilion's previous perennial favorite, Maple Glazed Salmon. According to Chef Jens, after years of selling the salmon, he "just couldn't smell it any more," and decided it was time to introduce a new taste treat. Looking to Canada's signature restaurant, Le Cellier, for the recipe, the chef discovered that the labor-intensive mushroom risotto the beef is normally coupled with was not practical for production in the limited international marketplace kitchen. Instead, they developed a truffle butter sauce that is a worthy substitution. Chef Jens pointed out that the filet is center-cut, high quality Canadian beef, warranting the comparatively high ($6.50) price tag, but, as he asserted, this is in keeping with his goals of upping the standards of the food found in Epcot. That was hard to argue with, as I found the filet tender and seasoned perfectly, with plenty of buttery mushrooms to compliment it. The syrah, too, was a good choice, and I nodded when Chef Jens called it "the best match found anywhere among all the marketplaces."

"My vision is to provide authentic flavors," he claimed, "but I want you to not only enjoy tasting the food, but to enjoy smelling it and seeing it." He stood in the middle of the promenade at one point and gestured. "Here. What do you smell? Do you smell how good that is? This is what I have been trying to do for the past four years. Hopefully you see the transition."

Filet with Mushrooms Trio of Desserts

 

Our tour concluded, not surprisingly, at the Desserts and Champagne marketplace, where we had the opportunity to try the Moët & Chandon Ice Impérial champagne and a trio of desserts: Yogurt Panna Cotta with Orange Cake, Raspberries and Pomegranate; Lemon Custard Verrine with Blueberry Compote; and Dark Chocolate Mousse with Chili and Salted Caramel. Having tasted these desserts at the Tables in Wonderland event in July, I was not surprised to see them again, and my opinion of them did not change. The intensely lemon custard was my favorite of the three -- even though I am a recovering chocoholic, I can't say that the dark chocolate mousse wowed me at all. The champagne was interesting -- I'd heard from others about how unusual it was, and while it was a novelty to have ice in your sparkling glass, I didn't think it was enough to convince me to try it again.

Epcot Tumbler Food and Wine Cookbook

 

As we wrapped up, our hosts distributed oversized gift bags with an assortment of treats: a Festival Passport, a Festival cookbook (which Chef Jens graciously signed before we departed), a plastic palette plate (a notched dish designed to hold a wine glass as well as your food), and a light-up plastic tumbler with the Epcot30 logo.

So... bottom line? I found this new tour to be worth the $90, if you, like me, are an aspiring foodie who loves and anticipates the annual Epcot food and wine extravaganza with a passion. Even if you are vegetarian, or have other dietary concerns, this tour can be for you -- we had a vegetarian on the tour, and she was offered alternative tastes at every location, even if a food sample had to be obtained from a neighboring marketplace.

Tasting the food with Chef Jens, hearing his stories, and having unlimited access to him for two hours, was practically priceless. He repeatedly stressed how he and Chef Gregg Hannon, Epcot chef de cuisine have worked both consciously and conscientiously to upgrade the quality of the festival's food offerings, and also of the overall festival experience.

In fact, it was a pleasure to hear him talk about anything and everything, not just the Food and Wine Festival, but also the 45 or so kitchens around Epcot that he oversees, and even his own personal preferences when it comes to dining around the World. (He gives Sunshine Seasons in The Land major props.)


That's not to say that I don't have a few criticisms and warnings about the tour:


1. Starting us off with a glass of champagne was a nice touch, but it would have been even nice to have some time to enjoy it. After one sip we were on our way -- very awkward to carry a glass of bubbly at that pace, and even more awkward to chug the champage on your way out the door.


2. The day of our tour was extremely hot and humid. While water was offered at the stops later in the tour, it might have been a good idea to also offer a bottle before we got started.


3. Stamping our passports at each stop was a nice idea, but a bit awkward -- you're juggling a plate and a glass, sometimes without a table to rest on, and then you have to dig in your pocket or backpack
for the passport? It might be a better idea to give out pre-stamped passports to save that little time-consuming aggravation.


4. We were lucky enough to find seats and/or tables at many of our stops, but it would have been nice if we could have been guaranteed at least a table at each location. As I said previously, juggling glasses, plates, cameras, and backpacks became a challenge.


But these criticisms are minor when looking at the overall big picture. I would say that the single biggest complaint anyone might have is that these special tours are so difficult to get into. Chef Jens' time is clearly at a premium during the festival -- he himself said he is basically "living here" in Epcot at the moment -- so I would imagine it would be difficult to spread him any thinner. But I do hope that the festival organizers are able to expand this program in the future, so that others can enjoy such a special VIP Food and Wine Festival experience.

Vital Info:

Marketplace VIP Access Chef Tour -- Taste items from pre-selected Marketplaces and learn behind-the-scenes facts on how these dishes were created. The menu includes five food items and five alcoholic beverage items.

When: Wednesdays - Tour begins at 10:30 a.m. and lasts approximately two hours.

Where: Festival Center - Spotlight Stage, then select
marketplaces around World Showcase.

Price: $90 plus tax - Theme Park admission required.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This tour has sold out for the 2012 Festival. If you take this tour, please leave a review on our Rate and Review page HERE.


August 3, 2012

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?

July 28, 2012

2012 Food and Wine Festival Preview Preview

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No, that's not a typo in my title -- this is my preview of the Tables in Wonderland preview of "Taste Your Way around the World," the17th Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

Tonight's event is a buffet reception followed by a plated dinner, and it's been inspired by offerings that will be featured at this year's festival. Included will be dishes from several of the new marketplaces that will debut around World Showcase, such as vegetarian chili from the new "Terra" location and Florida Shrimp Ceviche. I'm also hopeful that they'll reveal more details about the signature dining experiences and other highlights of this year's festival.

I spoke to Food and Wine Festival Program Manager Marianne Hunnel the other day and plan to share her news, along with what I learn at tonight's dinner, with you all in the next few days. Until then, I'll leave you with a few images of the new food items that Disney has released so far.

Trick'n Chick'n Curry with Basmati Rice


Chili Colorado with House-Made Chips and Cashew Cheese

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Florida Shrimp Ceviche

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Are you drooling in anticipation now as I am? Run and get your bibs -- I'll have more Food and Wine Festival photos and news soon!


October 27, 2011

2011 Food & Wine Festival Bonus: Chef Keegan Gerhard

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To me, one of the most exciting things about the annual Food and Wine Festival at Epcot is the long list of well-known and respected chefs it brings to Walt Disney World to share their expertise with Disneyphiles who happen to be foodies. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to attend demos by a number of chefs I would never have seen in person otherwise. Many have become household names, hosting their own television programs or writing their own cookbooks: Martin Yan, Cat Cora, and Bobby Flay, just to name a few.

Of all the chefs I've seen over the years, though, one of my favorites has to be pastry chef Keegan Gerhard, who has participated in the Epcot Food and Wine Festival every year since its first. His enthusiasm for dessert-making, coupled with his down-to-earth, approachable style make him a delight to watch in the kitchen setting. Widely known as the creator and spiky-haired host-turned-judge of Food Network's live Food Network Challenge Series, Chef Keegan was named one of the nation's top 10 pastry chefs of 2002 and 2004 by both Chocolatier and Pastry Art & Design magazines. Today, he's also Executive Pastry Chef/owner of his own restaurant, D Bar Desserts in Denver, CO.

I first saw Chef Keegan in person at last year's festival, at both the First Bites Opening Reception, and at a culinary demo, during which he prepared a delicious and whimsically named "Dessert Sandwich Situation." This year, I again caught the busy chef as he co-hosted the First Bites Reception, and at another culinary demonstration, where he presented an enhanced version of last year's dessert sandwich, Faux Foster Bananas Impostor. (Recipe at the end of this post.)


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Better than all that, though -- I was lucky enough to have a few minutes with Chef Keegan as he was preparing for the opening of this year's Festival at Epcot. We talked about how the annual event has changed over the years, as well as his thoughts on the state of food and pastry in particular, at Walt Disney World. We also chatted a bit about the impact his Food Network Challenge has had on pastry chefs everywhere, and what's on his horizon.

DMK: You've been coming to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival for 16 years running. What keeps you coming back?

KG: Yes, I've been to all of them. ALLLLLLLL of them! I think only Bob Waggoner [host of the PBS show "U Cook with Chef Bob"] and I have been coming here since the beginning. It's funny, it sounds set up, but Epcot is my favorite Food & Wine Festival, and there's two reasons for this. The very first year I was at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Florida, I was corporate assistant pastry chef and my boss Norman was asked to go but couldn't, but he sent me. No one thought much about it because it was the first year, and no one knew how it would be. First years of festivals are always sketchy. I liked it, it was great. The next two years were very transitional, and since year three they've made it better every year.

DMK: Do you do many other Food & Wine festivals?

KG: I do a ton of them. I know some chefs don't like to and only do them because they have to, but I enjoy them. I wish I could do more.

DMK: What is it about the Epcot festival that makes it special?

KG: In particular, the three things I like: First of all, the guest access. You're not terribly far removed, you have a lot of interaction with Disney guests, especially in events like Party for the Senses and Sweet Sundays. Sweet Sundays is an uncommon format. You get to make three desserts for people and you spend two hours with them, and you're eating a meal -- there's a little more camaraderie, a little bit more of a connection you can make with the audience than in a 30-minute demo. The obviousness of what Disney's created with Party for the Senses -- the interaction, the action stations, the cooking, the wine, the food, it's just a big event. There's a buzz in the air about it, so I love that part as well. The demos themselves are my passion, that's what first drew me. I have a big passion to teach people that dessert should not be intimidating. Dessert should be fun, you shouldn't be afraid of things you don't know in baking and pastry. You just have to learn a few tricks to build your confidence. I think the key in food is If you can teach people a few tricks and they build their confidence, then they can start to be creative. If you're afraid, if you're nervous, if you have anxiety in any occasion you can't really unleash your creativity, right? But once you gain some confidence, you make something 10 times, you think, 'Hey, what about this twist? What about that twist?' And then that's when your passion gets included, that's when you have a story about the food you're making. So in a demo, I get to tell stories about why and how I make things. That's probably my most common question I get: What inspires you to create food? I love to tell those stories. I always have stories about my desserts. I like to share those.


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DMK: Are there any special challenges to cooking here at Epcot's Food & Wine Festival?

KG: There are a few. In the beginning it was very challenging, because I don't believe that Disney realized how quickly it would grow. If you know the Odyssey, the entire festival happened in that building the first couple years. And there were 30 of us, and one oven. But once they realized what was going on they began to correct that. The Epcot Catering Center, where we work now, didn't even exist back then. So they grew it grew it grew it... But the challenge is always just cooking in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar equipment. But you know, I like that.

DMK: What about that makes it enjoyable? It seems that unfamiliarity would make things really difficult.

KG: My role on TV is kind of an odd one, if I'm being honest. I created the competition that became Food Network Challenge. I'm not a TV guy. I'm just a pastry chef. So to be on TV and get quote-unquote famous as a great pastry chef, but nobody had ever seen me make anything in nine years, it's kinda weird. So I much prefer the format of my restaurant, because at night I make desserts in front of you, like if you would go to sushi, but instead it's dessert, every night -- we can sit there and talk. It's like a live demo all night long. I'm sitting and interacting with people while I'm cooking. I prefer that, but in a situation like this, where you're a guest chef, you don't know anybody, you don't know where anything is, you have a couple of options. You can hide in a corner, or you can get involved. I believe that the oddity of that position on TV -- there's some responsibility there. Whether it's warranted or not, people look up to you. Whether it's warranted or not, our show has changed the industry some. I feel like I'm representing the pastry industry, Food Network, my show, and I'm certainly representing myself. So I try to set an example of how I think culinarians should be. I introduce myself to everybody. It used to be really easy -- there were only four guys. Now it's 70 people. It took me 45 minutes this morning. But you know what? If you just look somebody in the eye and say good morning to the dishwashers, to the stewards, to all the guys who worked really hard before you ever got here to get your ingredients together and they're curious to meet you, and they don't know how you'll be, you can put everybody at ease.


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I believe that food is a connection, and when you say that, it's usually about me to the guest or it's me at a demo, and you realize, hey, I'm a normal guy, and so we have a connection. It's the same in the kitchen, there's the same barriers to break down. I have to put them at ease. So I show them and cook with them and I teach them and I let them taste my stuff and I make it myself. There are some chefs that are so busy they just turn in their recipes, they don't have the time to stay here. I've always made the time to come and make my own food. I don't want to bring my own staff to cook, I want to cook with the guys who are already here.

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One exception was last year. Lisa, my wife, and I both were guest chefs, so we shut our restaurant down for three days and put a sign up that said, "Gone to Disney World." We brought our whole staff as a kind of reward for having been open two years. Oddly, 75 percent of our staff had never been here before, so they were wearing their 'First-Time' buttons -- It was life-changing for them!

All my passion for what I do, whether it's a food festival or TV or my restaurant whatever, I believe that food is a connection and I believe that the possibilities are limitless. I've been doing this for 16 years and I do at least two events, sometimes four. I like it that way, I like to work, and play at the end. It's special. People are already excited to be in Disney, and now Disney has made Epcot Food and Wine Festival an added attraction that some people plan their vacations around.

DMK: Having said that, have you had a chance to walk around the Food Booths around World Showcase?

KG: Not yet this year, but yes, I'm always intrigued to see how people react. I don't think that everybody understands that Epcot Food & Wine is going on. There's some people that come for it, and there's some people that don't. The people that just randomly come during festival are like, "Wow! Epcot really IS cool!" I always think, what about the people who come back in the summer and it's not the same?

DMK: Since you've been coming to Walt Disney World a while, you've probably had the chance to try a lot of the different restaurants. What are your favorite desserts here? And where do you like to eat when you come here?

KG: Oh, that's a good question. I can't be impartial because I know a lot of the chefs behind the scenes and a lot of time the personality is a draw for me to the restaurant itself.

I think Disney is extremely fortunate because they have a couple of really great pastry chefs. For example, if I look to dessert first, Erich [Herbitschek] at the Grand Floridian is amazing. When you go to Victoria and Albert's, it's over-the-top, crazy, amazing dessert, but everything that he makes is great. Another guy I think is a complete genius, and I actually just admire to no end, is Stefan Riemer. He's gotten promoted now into a corporate position in development with Disney's cruise line, but he turned the food and beverage situation and that buffet and pastry area at the Yacht and Beach Club around, and Boardwalk as well. So it's really exciting to see the food come up, because I was here when there wasn't really much of a food scene here, and when they really started to get serious about it, with California Grill and Spoodles and Flying Fish. It's evolved, and the emphasis has always stayed on great food. I consistently eat at Flying Fish, every time I come. (Chef) Tim Keating is a friend of mine -- my wife worked as a pastry cook for him at the Four Seasons Houston. I love Jiko. I think Jiko is so unexpected and uncommon for Disney. Who would think you could take a really cool, almost fine dining South African restaurant and put it at Disney? And if I'm being super-duper honest I always race my wife or my sous chef or my pastry cook on the [Kitchen] Sink at Beaches and Cream. Our plan of attack is Party for the Senses, sneak out and watch IllumiNations, and then run over and try to get to Beaches and Cream before it closes.

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DMK: Is the winner whoever feels sicker from eating so much ice cream?

KG: (laughs) It's hard to determine who wins, but it's just the fun of it all... You know, I like corny. I don't ever tell anybody this, but you know when I finally get to play in the park, after I've done everything? I always eat at Prime Time Café for lunch, always. And I never believe that they'll correct me, and they do. I didn't finish my peas last time and the server airplaned them to me before my dessert. Oh, and I love to eat at that weird little drive-in in the Studios [Sci-Fi Dine In Theater], where you watch movies. I mean, come on, even if you're grumpy and you sit in there, you're going to feel like a little kid, so I think it's cool.

DMK: So overall you enjoy dining at Disney World?

KG: A lot of the higher-end outlet chefs, from places like the [Yachtsman] Steakhouse, are chefs now in the Epcot Catering Center, so inevitably the level of the food that's put out -- even in the kiosks -- just kind of increases in quality. It's got a very symbiotic relationship, I think, because you have these great chefs from all over the country, and all over the world, coming to the Festival. Fortunately, Disney doesn't ignore that. They see what these guys do at Party for the Senses and they adapt that, and try to make that possible in the park for guests all the time. Disney has a big advantage because they're seeing some of the best culinary talent in the world come here. It would be easy to ignore and just stay on the same track. I'm proud of Disney that they kind of push the envelope a little bit. They don't do what's been done for 20 years, they're always doing new stuff.

DMK: So after Epcot's Food and Wine Festival, what's next for you? More Food Network Challenge?

KG: Well, we have done all of our holiday shows, so there's seven new episodes for Challenge to come that have not come on yet. I don't know yet if we're going to get re-signed. You find out every year. Maybe, maybe not. Who knows? But at the end of the day we've shot over 300 shows so they're going to be on for... EVER! Probably. I've done a couple other fun little things, made a couple of appearances on some other Food Network shows... I did an episode of Chopped All Stars, which will come on next year. I just shot two fun little random things for DIY Network for a show called Disaster House... And then a big focus for us will be to keep D Bar in Denver great and to get D Bar in the Hillcrest open in April.

DMK: You're opening a second restaurant?

KG: Yes, we're about to open in San Diego, in Hillcrest. Our favorite people in San Diego are these two brothers, Jon and Adam Schlegel, who own a restaurant called Snooze -- a cool breakfast place. They're like the breakfast version of D Bar. We're opening up side-by-side with them, on 5th and University Avenues. I'm known for pastry, but I was a chef for seven years before I was a pastry chef. D Bar is a restaurant, we do lunch and dinner, but we're very dessert-focused at night. In San Diego, at Hillcrest we'll be even more so. It will have 120 seats, it's a much bigger space. But we don't want to do a bunch of restaurants. We just want to do Denver and San Diego and --

DMK: And Disney World?

KG: Listen, I would do Disney -- but you gotta be a hotshot to do that, and I don't know if I'm big enough yet! But then we're looking for Austin (Texas) and that's all I really want to do. That will be enough, right?

For more excerpts from my interview with Chef Keegan, see the video below:


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Recipe for Faux Foster Banana Impostor

Nutella Panini

your favorite egg bread, such as Brioche
Nutella spread
unsalted butter, melted
vanilla bean
Method:
1. Cut crust off of bread to end up with a perfectly square shape.
2. Spread Nutella to make a sandwich.
3. Scrape vanilla bean and whisk seeds into the butter.
4. Brush vanilla butter on both sides of sandwich.
5. Use a Panini grill or toaster oven to toast the sandwich to golden brown crispiness.

Caramel Sauce

1.5 ounces water
8 ounces granulated sugar
1/2 ounce light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream, hot
1/4 ounce vanilla paste
pinch of salt
Method:
1. Cook water, corn syrup and sugar to a deep amber.
2. Combine cream, vanilla paste and salt. Bring to just a simmer or light boil.
3. Stop the cooking process of the caramel by adding the hot cream mixture.
4. Whisk until the mixture is smooth.

Banana Sorbet

10 ounces water
4 ounces granulated sugar
1.5 ounces Trimoline (which is inverted sugar, or use honey)
18 ounces roasted bananas
1/2 each lemon juice
rum to taste

Method:
1. Peel and slice bananas lengthwise. Lay on a sheet tray with a silpats and roast in overn 300F until the sugars begin to caramelize.
2. Combine all other ingredients and bring to a boil.
3. Put the syrup and bananas in a blender and blend until smooth.
4. Strain, cool, chill, then process in ice cream machine.

Plantain Chips

Plantains
Granulated sugar
Method:
1. Slice the plantains lengthwise to about 1/4-inch thickness.
2. Place each slice individually into the deep fryer at about 350F.
3. Once golden brown and crispy, remove and toss in granulated sugar.

Homemade Crème Fraiche

1/2 ounce buttermilk
2 cups heavy cream
Method:
1. Mix ingredients together thoroughly and place into a sealed container.
2. Keep contained out at room temperature for about 24 hours or until mixture has thickened to the point where it seems to resemble jelly.
3. Keep refrigerated after this point.

NOTE: In the photo above Chef Gerhard substituted cocoa nibs for the plantain chips.

September 30, 2011

2011 Epcot Food & Wine Festival: The First 36 Hours

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Well, it's happened again this year. I fly into Orlando for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, and hit the ground running... I love this event so much, I always try to cram too much into too short a time.

Even though I've only been here about 36 hours so far, I already feel like I've lived a whole other lifetime... and food-wise, I really have. I've had the chance to sample so many savory and sweet delights, I thought I might give you a quick update. I plan to do more in-depth reviews of most of these experience over the next week or so, so be sure to look for those in the AllEars Newsletter and, of course, on the AllEars.Net website. But until I'm done feasting at the fest, here are my quick impressions via some photos that will hopefully speak a thousand or so words on my behalf.

I started out yesterday by interviewing pastry chef and Food Network star Keegan Gerhard. Chef Gerhard is just as down-to-earth and charming in person as he is on television, and we spent quite a while talking about the work he's done at Epcot's festival over the past 16 years, as well as what's next on his own agenda. (I'll share some video from the interview later this week.)

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I followed that interview with a quick trip around Epcot's World Showcase, where the Food and Wine Festival's International Marketplaces (aka Food Booths) were open in "preview" mode before Friday's official opening. I sampled a few items but wanted to make sure I didn't overdo it, since I knew I would be attending the Festival opening event, the First Bites Reception.

The Chicken Chipotle Sausage with Polenta from the Canada booth, a winner I remembered from last year -- It's a winner again, in my opinion, even if it's not the most photogenic dish:

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The feijoada (bean and pork stew) in Brazil -- definitely rated a "meh" from me:


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But the rice pudding with berries -- YUM! So creamy, so good!

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The First Bites Reception in the Festival Center was a nice preview of ALL the different sorts of activities you can experience during the festival's 45 days -- the food booths' offerings, culinary demos, wine tastings, HGTV personalities, and live entertainment. I found it ran a lot more smoothly this year, but still, I'm still contemplating whether it's worth the hefty price tag. I haven't quite made up my mind. (You can read my review of the 2010 event HERE.)


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My first Food & Wine Festival event today was "Kitchen Memories" featuring Victoria and Albert's chef Scott Hunnell, and pastry chef Erich Herbitschek. The three course they prepared for us were, in a word, fantastic.

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I followed that with a culinary demo hosted by Keegan Gerhard -- I *know*, more desserts! But someone has to do it. And so I muddled through, as Gerhard presented his take on the classic Bananas Foster -- a "dessert sandwich situation" that featured the chocolate-hazelnut spread known as Nutella, that he called "Faux Foster Banana Impostor"


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And all of that doesn't include the various wines that were paired with all of these delightful dishes!

As you can see, it's been an intense 36 hours of eating and drinking! Tomorrow, Saturday, I'll be taking the morning off from festing to head over to the Magic Kingdom to help it celebrate its 40th anniversary! But I'll be right back to Epcot later in the day, trying out some more food booths, and attending one of the new Mixology demonstrations -- I understand that they'll be featuring the pear cognac called Xante, and that they'll be showing us how to make three different cocktails! Sounds like fun!

I'll be posting updates all through the weekend on Twitter (follow me @dcdeb_allears) and on my Facebook page: facebook.com/DebraMartinKoma. If you have anything in particular you'd like to know, leave me a message here or tweet me and I'll do my best to come up with an answer for you.

OK, better get ready for tomorrow... I think the next 36 hours may be as whirlwind as the first were!



July 14, 2011

Passport to a World of Flavors: The 2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival Preview

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Each year, as the middle of the summer approaches, my thoughts start to turn to... no, not time at the beach, or an exotic vacation abroad. My thoughts turn to what the autumn brings -- the annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World! (Yeah, I'm kinda odd like that!)

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I love the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot -- as my waistline can attest. It's a six-week-long event filled with so many diverse experiences: a chance to sample food and beverages from around the world presented both in fancy dinners and informal tastings, celebrity chefs, cooking demonstrations, seminars, not to mention an impressive array of live entertainment. This year's festival, Epcot's 16th, starts September 30 and runs through November 13, sporting the theme of "A Passport to a World of Flavors." I recently had the chance to speak with Marianne Hunnel, who as Event Content Development Manager, is responsible for overseeing much of what goes on during this culinary cornucopia of eating and drinking events.

"It's so much fun to find these little discoveries and then share them with our guests," Hunnel enthuses, as she talks about what's new at this year's festival. "This year especially I'm excited to see the hard work of so many people showcased -- things that we have been talking about for several years have finally come to fruition, and it's very exciting to watch that happen."

So what are the new things that Hunnel is most excited about?
You may know that for the duration of the festival, a couple dozen food booths, known as International Marketplaces, are placed around Epcot's World Showcase Lagoon. Each of these marketplaces represents a country or a region and offers small portions of dishes indigenous to the area, along with native beverages as well. In the Italy marketplace, for example, you may find ravioli and chianti, while in Morocco you might find a kebab and mint iced tea.

This year, there are several areas that have never been represented at the festival before: Portugal, Hawaii (inspired by the new Hawaiian Disney Vacation Club, Aulani) and the Caribbean.
The Caribbean marketplace will feature a braised beef dish over rice called Ropa Vieja, as well as Jerk-Spiced Chicken Drumstick. Beverages in this booth will be tropical -- a frozen Rock Coconut Mojito and a frozen Dragon Berry Colada. (One of the sponsors here is Bacardi.)

Hawaii also will not have a "wine presence," but will instead offer Kona beer and a rum-based Seven Tiki Mai Tai to accompany its tuna poke (cubes of tuna sashimi, aka uncooked) with seaweed and Kalua pork sliders. Note: don't confuse Kalua with the liqueur Kahlua -- Kalua is the barbecue method used to cook the pork!

Portugal's booth will offer a wine bar, as well as calamari salad with olives and smoked paprika.

"We've been talking to people in Portugal about doing this for many years," Hunnel explains. "They've wanted to break out of that paradigm, that Portugal just has port wines. I'm excited to see this come about."

Hunnel notes that even returning marketplaces are going to be changing things up a bit -- in France, for example, they're going to offer Coq Au Vin.

"We talked to the managers and chefs at our operating participants," she says, "and they're doing a lot of other fun new things, too, including quite a few new dining events that they've not done in the past."

("Operating participants," by the way, are those locations around World Showcase that are not owned and operated by Disney, including the restaurants in Mexico, France and Italy.)

In France, for example, they will again be holding the French Regional Lunches as they have done the past few years, but they are also introducing a dining experience called, "The Best of Bocuse." Hunnel says this dinner will be "all about Paul Bocuse," the famous French chef who had a hand in developing the restaurants in the France pavilion. Mexico will not only continue with its popular Tequila Tastings in the La Cava tequila bar, but will add a tequila tasting plus lunch at its new La Hacienda. Not to be outdone, the Italy pavilion will offer beer and pizza tastings from 2 to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays in its newest restaurant Via Napoli, as well as an Italian dessert and wine pairing, and a special dining event on October 23 featuring Italian white truffles.

If it seems like you're reading about more than wine at some of these programs you're not imagining things. The last few years there has been a growing shift to include spirits at the festival as well as beers, especially hand-crafted beers. This year that trend continues, with mixed drinks also being added to many marketplace menus.

"There has been such an incredible spin in the food and beverage world regarding beer," Hunnel notes. "It's almost being treated similar to wines now -- there are even certifications you can get for learning about the various beers."

wine

To follow that trend, Hunnel says that they are featuring eight craft beers from around North America in one of the marketplace booths. Brews from Canada, Lousiana, New Hampshire and Colorado will be included. But if crave an imported ale or lager, fear not -- you'll still find plenty of international beers at other marketplaces like Germany.
If beer and wine aren't to your liking, but you're still interested in an alcoholic beverage, you might want to swing by the Scandinavian marketplace, where they'll be featuring a Xante Sunshine Cocktail -- an aromatic concoction of pear liqueur made from cognac, lime juice and elder flower. Or maybe you'd prefer the sparkling sake from South Korea that will be offered at the First Bites reception and some of the beverage seminars. Or there's always the mixology seminars that will be offered each evening at 6 p.m. in the Festival Center.

But wait... there's more! (I sound like an infomercial, but it's true!) The special dining experiences will extend beyond the borders of Epcot, and spill out into restaurants around the Walt Disney World Resort. There will be an assortment of dinners at several of the Downtown Disney restaurants -- Bongo's, Wolfgang Puck -- as well as dinners at The Wave, Victoria and Albert's and two opportunities to partake of exclusive dinners at California Grill. Over on the BoardWalk, Cat Cora's Kouzzina will host a number of special events as well, many attended by the Iron Chef America champion herself.

Speaking of celebrity chefs, they will be out in force this year -- names you might recognize if you're a fan of Top Chef or any of the cooking-themed Food Network and Travel Channel shows include Alan Wong, Robert Irvine, Art Smith, Suvir Saran, Jamie Deen, and Keegan Gerhard. In fact, Gerhard is returning to host the kick-off for the festival, its "First Bites Reception," held the evening before the festival officially begins in the Festival Center (formerly known as the Wonders of Life pavilion). Buddy "Cake Boss" Valastro is also appearing at this year's festival. He'll be hosting a culinary demo on October 8 and a Sweet Sunday event on October 9. Other famous names you might spot in the festival's program are Andrew Zimmern, Bryan Voltaggio and Chris Cosentino, three chefs who are also dads, who will be sharing the spotlight with their offspring for a special event in the Festival Center to be held on October 29.

"This event comes under the umbrella of Disney's 'Magic of Healthy Living'," Hunnel explains. "These chefs were tasked with creating an incredible, healthy meal paired with a non-alcoholic cocktail. I've always wanted to do a very family-oriented event like this, and these kids cooking with their dads should be special."

Does it seem like I'm overusing the word "special"? Well, maybe I am, because there are a lot of new and unique offerings this year, and the word just fits. Take for example another "special" new event -- The Discovery of Chocolate. Offered on three Sundays (October 9 and 16, and November 6), this is a tasting that explores the many forms our favorite cacao bean can take.

"Each of these tastings is going to be very different," Hunnel asserts. "You'll have the chance to listen to experts talk about the origins of chocolate, while tasting different types -- maybe Mexican versus Belgian, or white, milk and different types of dark chocolate. You'll be tasting them with a cocktail or maybe wine, and at the end of the program you'll have the chance to try two tapas-sized dishes made with chocolate, one savory and one sweet."

chocolates

Mmm, chocolate! I can hardly wait for that one!

In addition to all the new culinary programs, the Food and Wine Festival is pairing with HGTV for the first time this year to bring a series of entertaining programs on... entertaining. Well-known HGTV personalities like Vern Yip and Lisa LaPorta will be appearing every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Festival Center, presenting home entertaining seminars with plenty of tips for the upcoming holidays. These seminars will take place at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays.

And finally, kids might enjoy checking out the Cranberry Bog (sponsored by Ocean Spray) that's going to be on display near the World Showplace. I'm anxious to see this myself after seeing the latest batch of commercials featuring those two guys standing out in a bog. I wonder if we'll be able to wade in it ourselves?

Whew. I think that's all that's NEW this year, but that doesn't even take into account all the returning programs. For example, the First Bites Reception, Sweet Sundays, 3D Delicious Dessert Discoveries, Grand Marnier and Tequila Tastings, Cheese Seminars, Signature Dining Experiences, French Regional Lunches, Food and Wine Pairings in Morocco and Japan, Wine Schools -- these are all returning this year. Also returning is the Friends and Family in the Kitchen series, renamed Kitchen Memories. (Hunnel's husband Scott, of Victoria and Albert's fame, will be featured the first weekend in that series, by the way.) And of course, what would the Food and Wine Festival be without the Party for the Senses, the signature Saturday night grand tasting event? These will be back, but not, unfortunately for every Saturday of the festival. There will be no Party on the first Saturday, October 1, nor will there be one on October 29.

Complimenting all the eating and drinking is the chance to make merry with the Eat to the Beat Concerts. This year, there are a number returning acts, like Hanson and Howard Jones (who I WILL see this year, I promise!), as well as new-to-the-series performers like The Pointer Sisters and The Orchestra (which is former members of ELO).

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Now I know you're all wondering what all the details are -- times, dates, prices, how to book, etc. Unfortunately, these sorts of details are still being finalized, so Hunnel couldn't really be specific about everything.

"We hope to get everything online by the beginning of August, if not sooner," she says. "But we want to make sure we have everything accurate -- we know how people plan their trips around a certain event or chef, and we don't want to disappoint anyone by announcing something too soon."

So... we have to be patient a little while longer.

Hope I've given you something to mull over while you're sitting on the beach, or taking that vacation abroad this summer, and dreams of the Food and Wine Festival are dancing through your head.

Remember 407-WDW-FEST -- that's the number to call beginning at 7 a.m. on August 16 to make reservations.

RELATED LINKS:

Official Press Release 2011

Special Events (more details to come)

Eat to the Beat Concerts

2010 Festival Overview

Read other Readers' Reviews of Previous Festivals


August 5, 2010

Festival 15: The 2010 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

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Fifteen years is a pretty long time, no matter how you slice it. And that's why this year Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival is shaking things up a bit. It's the 15th anniversary of the culinary event, which takes place October 1 through November 14, 2010, all around Epcot, even branching out to several other locations around the Walt Disney World Resort.

I recently spoke to Marianne Hunnel who, as area manager for Park Event Operations, has been charged with coordinating this year's event, and asked her to share some insights, particularly as far as what's new and different.

For the first time, guests actually have a chance to get a "sneak peek" of the festival, dubbed "Delicious Discoveries" this year. The Thursday night before the official opening guests can attend the "First Bites Opening Reception" in the Festival Welcome Center. The evening will be co-hosted by pastry chef Keegan Gerhard, of TV's Food Network, and Pam Smith, a registered dietician, cookbook author and perennial host for numerous Food and Wine Festival programs.

"We're very excited at this opportunity for guests to see a preview of this year's festival offerings," Hunnel says. "We'll have culinary demos, beverage seminars, marketplace tastings, and even a special cake from Mike McCarey of Mike's Amazing Cakes. It will really set the stage for what you're going to be able to see at the festival this year."

Hunnel adds that while they are still working out the details for possible "meet and greets" with the chefs, they do plan to keep the event to under 500 guests, to make it a "really special night." But don't worry -- this preview is just that, only a "taste" of the festival. "We're not giving the whole festival away," she notes. "This is just to whet your appetite."

So once whetted, how can you satisfy your appetite? What are some of the other offerings making their debut ?

For one thing, there's the rather unusually named "Taste, Shake and Indulge Like the French", which will be held on Saturdays in October. After a Grand Marnier tasting, guests will learn a bit about mixology, then have a chance to sample crepes suzette and more in the setting of the elegant Bistro de Paris in the France pavilion.

This emphasis on spirits was also present last year, when the festival introduced tequila tastings at its Mexican location La Cava del Tequila (the program returns this year).

Hunnel notes that the festival is not only providing opportunities to sample spirits, but also beers, particularly microbrews. In fact, right at the entrance of the World Showcase Plaza will be a special experience, "15 Beers for 15 Years," which Hunnel calls a "fun selection of beers from Oregon to Florida." She notes that you'll also be able to purchase bottled versions of the brews you find especially pleasing to the palate. (The Brewer's Collection marketplace will return this year, offering a variety of German beers, such as Rudeberger Pilsner.)

Another addition to the program listing is the "3D Disney's Dessert Discovery," to be offered each week of the festival on either Thursday or Friday evening at the World Showplace.

"This evening is all about desserts," Hunnel stresses. "It's different from the Sweet Sundays program (which is again offered this year) in that you are not served a meal. There will be some action stations (where food is prepared) and there will be some showy elements, but this is really about the desserts themselves."

The evening, which includes cocktails and cordial pairings, is capped off with a VIP viewing of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. Says Hunnel, "It's a great way to end your day... or rather, embellish it!"

Historically, the Food and Wine Festival has been centered in Epcot, with the occasional program or dining experience held at a resort. This year, however, there are 15 special "signature" dining experiences, 14 of which are located outside of Epcot.

"We've had a lot of feedback from guests that they are looking for dining events during the weekdays, not just weekends," Hunnel explains. "We decided to reach out to our other restaurants, particularly those in the Downtown Disney area, to see if they'd be interested in participating."

Their efforts were clearly successful. There are signature dinners planned at Downtown Disney's Portobello, Fulton's Crab House, Raglan Road, Bongo's Cuban Café, Paradiso 37 and Wolfgang Puck's. Other non-Epcot locations offering signature dinners include Victoria and Albert's and Citricos (Grand Floridian), California Grill and The Wave (Contemporary), Flying Fish Café and Kouzzina (BoardWalk), Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) and bluezoo (Walt Disney World Dolphin). In a number of cases, the celebrity chefs attached to these establishments, such as Cat Cora (Kouzzina) and Todd English (bluezoo), will be on hand.

While those signature dinners will be on the high end of the price spectrum (ranging from $125 to $450 per person), you can get a taste of what's new at the festival for a decidedly more modest cost. Amidst the returning international marketplaces located around the World Showcase Lagoon are a few ones, notably booths representing South Korea and Belgium.

"We've tried to keep everything as traditional as possible for these countries," Hunnel explains. "We're even bringing special beverages from South Korea that are indigenous to the area -- a black raspberry rice wine called "bokbunja joo" and honey ginger tea -- to go along with the BBQ short rib and lettuce wraps that will be available."

The Belgium booth, too, will feature specialties of the region not found at Epcot before. The kiosk for the small country, home to world-famous Godiva chocolate, will feature a special Godiva iced coffee, along with steamed mussels, and waffles with a berry compote (but not all mixed together!).

The festival would not be complete without its popular Eat to the Beat concert series, which features bands performing nightly at the America Gardens Theatre. There are a number of performers new to the festival schedule this year, including Howard Jones, Rick Springfield, Air Supply and Hanson, along with popular returning acts Starship featuring Mickey Thomas and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (I saw them last year -- don't miss them!). And of course every Saturday night will see what Hunnel terms the festival's "pinnacle event," the tasting extravaganza known as Party for the Senses.

Last year's Party for the Senses evenings sported a different theme each week, a concept that has been abandoned this year. Instead, guest chefs will be "providing the flavors they want to create," Hunnel says. "If they have a specialty or something in particular they want to do, they'll be doing that." In addition, performers from Cirque du Soleil will be joining in the Party for the Senses again, after a several year absence.

When you add what's new to what's returning -- Food and Wine Pairings, Wine Schools, French Regional Lunches, Cheese Tastings, Tequila Tastings, Culinary Demos, Wine Seminars, and more -- this 15th anniversary festival shapes up to be 45 delicious days.

"It's so exciting to see how this festival gets bigger and bigger every year," Hunnel concludes. "We have something for everyone, whether you're novice or epicurean. I think everyone finds our festival to be not only a very credible event, but very magical in Disney's own special way."

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many of the special dining experiences mentioned in this blog sell out in advance. If you're interested, call for reservations as soon as possible: 407-WDW-FEST.

Also, you will be able to book certain culinary demonstrations and wine seminars online. These 45-minute programs are held several times each day and require a fee of $8 to $13 (tax included). If you've attended these sessions in previous years, you'll be happy to learn that this year's portion sizes will be a bit larger. According to Hunnel, they are still finalizing details on these programs, but they will be available for online booking before the end of August.


September 27, 2009

Epcot's Food and Wine Festival - Day 3

Debra Martin Koma is in Walt Disney World this weekend covering the opening of Epcot's Food and Wine Festival.

Her photos will be posted here :

You can also follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dcdeb_allears


Tequila tasting

Tequila tasting


Front of Epcot

Front of Epcot


Getting ready for tequila tasting!

tequila tasting


Potstickers in Shanghai. Mmmm!

Potstickers in Shanghai


Panna cotta w/yuzu granita at Sweet Sunday!


Panna cotta


Great breakfast @ sweet sunday!

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Beautiful eh? But it's hotter than heck!

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September 26, 2009

Epcot's Food and Wine Festival - Day 2

Debra Martin Koma is in Walt Disney World this weekend covering the opening of Epcot's Food and Wine Festival.

Her photos will be posted here :

You can also follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dcdeb_allears

Final note of the night: walked 18,523 steps (7.30 miles) just in Epcot and to/from Dolphin. Must. Soak. Feet. Good night

One of the evening's standouts -- beef w/roasted potatoes and beet salad w/manchego and serrano

Party for the Senses

The entertainment for the Spanish-themed evening:

Party for the Senses

Party for the Senses was awesome and ended with a spectacular thunderstorm! Back in the room after dodging the raindrops and lightning!

Party for the Senses

My table in the Wine View Lounge at Party for the Senses

Party for the Senses Wine View Lounge

Waiting for Party of the Senses

Waiting for Party of the Senses<br />

Gaaah, I'm melting, it's so hot! Back to the room to get ready for tonight's Party for the Senses - Spanish theme!

Pointing out the way to the Festival Center

Food and Wine Festival Signage'

More Signage

Food and Wine Festival Signage'


Approaching World Showcase

Food and Wine Festival Signage'

Just a few shots of the signage -- approaching World Showcase

Food and Wine Festival Signage'


Lamb chop in Australia is outstanding!

Lamb chop in Australia '


Crowds are moderate probably because it is sooo hot!
Moderate Crowds'


A break from F&W. Soarin! Love the feet!

Soarin'

Pierogi & kielbasa at Poland

Pierogi & kielbasa at Poland

Spanish cheeses at tasting. Yummy!

Spanish Cheeses

Ready for cheese tasting

Ready for cheese tasting

Love this year's Food and Wine posters & merchandise!

Early in World Showcase


World showcase so quiet in the morning

Early in World Showcase

September 25, 2009

Epcot's Food and Wine Festival Day 1

Debra Martin Koma is in Walt Disney World this weekend covering the opening of Epcot's Food and Wine Festival.

Her photos will be posted here :

You can also follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dcdeb_allears

Misc notes as the evening winds down:

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy puts on an awesome show - hope the video I took turns out.

EDIT: Here's the video:

Did you know? You can only get full Food & Wine programs at turnstiles & a few other places, instead they have weekly guides at most locations.

Longest lines at the festival food booths that I saw were for the Lamb Chop at Melbourne, Australia.

Here's an interesting tidbit -- I walked 18, 776 steps today (7.4 miles). Yes, my feet hurt.


Caymus wine seminar

Caymus wine seminar


More shopping at Festival Center

Festival Center Shopping


Shopping for Wine at the Festival Center

Shopping for Wine at the Festival Center<br />


For dessert creme brulee! Yum!
creme brulee


Tonight's concert Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Concert


Rava masala dosa

Rava masala dosa


Food & Wine has officially begun!
Epcot's Food and Wine Festival

Hello Walt Disney World!

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin

Return to Blog Central

About Epcot Food and Wine Festival

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in the Epcot Food and Wine Festival category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Disney Springs is the previous category.

Limited Time Magic is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.