D23 Sip and Stroll -- Part 1 of 2
Guest Blogger Cedric Ching is back! This time he has an extensive review of the D23 Sip and Stroll Event!
On Sunday, October 18th, 2009, D23 held its second official member event in Florida: D23's Sip & Stroll at Epcot.
Event Description from the D23 website:
"Join D23 at Epcot® at the Walt Disney World Resort during the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, as we raise a glass to our Charter Members and their friends and family.
This exciting day begins in the exclusive D23 Hospitality Suite, where Members can relax and enjoy engaging presentations from some very special guests, including Marketplace Cookbook editor Pam Brandon, Epcot Vice President Dan Cockerell, and Marianne Hunnel, the woman who leads the team behind the Festival - with some truly magical surprises mixed in along the way! Following these behind-the-scenes presentations, guests will receive a gift card, which they can use to "sip and stroll" through Epcot's Food & Wine offerings to create a personalized Festival experience!
After lunch, attendees can savor one of two Food & Wine sessions - a mouth-watering culinary demonstration or a palate-pleasing wine tasting - exclusive to D23 Members and their guests. Afterwards, with dusk descending, guests will head over to the American Gardens Theatre to enjoy reserved seating for Jon Secada's "Eat to the Beat" concert. After the show, they'll indulge in a private D23 "Party for the Senses" - the Food & Wine Festival's signature event - reserved for our Members and their guests! Each delicious dish will be complemented with its own wine and/or beer pairing, and a live, three-piece band will entertain throughout the meal. After a day of culinary and musical highlights, it's then time to top it all off with a VIP viewing of IllumiNations featuring a mouthwatering specialty dessert, the perfect backdrop for mingling and reminiscing about the day's adventures."
Before I go into the events of the day, I feel like I have to make a quick recap of D23's first official event in Florida - D23's Flower & Fireworks Celebration earlier this summer - as a point of reference:
D23's Flower & Fireworks, also held at Epcot, was an event back in May to both celebrate the D23 members here in Florida and to celebrate the end of the Flower & Garden Festival. The event included reserved seating at the "Flower Power" concert followed by a private dessert party that overlooked the World Showcase Lagoon and the IllumiNations fireworks show. The recognition by Tony Orlando at the concert was envigorating, the selection of Walt's favorite desserts was thoughtful and delicious, and the set of D23 buttons given to us as we were leaving was an unexpected second "kiss goodnight". The event was at no costs to participants - members just had to register online beforehand - and the event's 200-guest limit was met.
That said, D23's Sip & Stroll event was not sold out - actually, far from it - probably due to its seemingly-hefty price of $240 per person. But taking into account all of the experiences and extras involved (plus other, unannounced surprises), I was able to convince myself that the cost was well-justified and signed-up.
This trip report will be given in two parts: Part 1 covers "Check-In" up to the "Culinary Demonstration", Part 2 covers the rest of the evening, from the "Eat to the Beat Concert" to "IllumiNations".
CHECK-IN & WELCOME at the Odyssey Center/D23's Hospitality Suite
The day began with a drive over to Epcot. I arrived at 9:00am and stopped by the Guest Relations window to the right of the park's front gates. There, I showed the cast member my confirmation email, D23 membership card, and driver's license, and received an envelope containing my two complimentary 1-day, 1-park tickets, in case I needed it for admission. But like most of the event's attendees, I was a WDW Passholder, so we'll be able to use these tickets to treat family or friends, as long as we do so before December 30, 2009.
From there, I did stop by Innoventions East and considered checking out The Sum of All Thrills before the lines got too long but decided to just continue onto the Odyssey Center for check-in.
The Odyssey Center served as the hospitality suite for today's Sip & Stroll. Its entrance was roped off, with a cast member stationed nearby. As I approached, she greeted me and welcomed me in.
Inside, the first thing I noticed was how open the area was - there were only nine small tables set up. And although there wasn't a lot of decoration, I felt that it was enough to establish a casual, easy-going tone for the event.
I imagined that there would to be a larger crowd. When I saw the number of packets on the check-in table, I quickly adjusted my expectations - I later learned that there were only 34 guests (including 2 that managed to sign up day-of).
Anyways, there were a couple of beverage stations set-up for us: one with coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, and one with water and cold sodas.
And these refreshments would be available to us here at the Odyssey Center throughout the day until 4:30pm.
I made myself a cup of coffee then took a look through our guest packet. In addition to the two 1-day, 1-park passes in the envelope from Guest Relations (#1 in the picture below), there were the the following:
2. a Welcome Letter from Steven Clark, Head of D23
3. a D23 Sip and Stroll Itinerary sheet
4. a "Presenter Biographies" sheet
5. a Food & Wine Festival Guide
6. a pair of Sip & Stroll lanyards (as a single guest, I wasn't sure why I received two)
7. a $50 Gift Card
8. two complimentary DisneyQuest passes, and
9. pairs of FastPasses to Soarin', Test Track, and our choice of Maelstron, Mission:Space, or Living With The Land.
Also, when we were handed our packets, we were asked if we would be interested in attending the 2:00pm Wine Seminar, the 2:45pm Culinary Demonstration, or both. Originally, due to the limited number of reserved seats, we would have had to choose one or the other, but because of the actual turnout, everyone was able to to participate in both sessions (the tickets for those events are #10 in the picture above). [Note: Stitch was not included in the packet.]
As other D23 members and guests got checked in, prepared themselves a drink, and looked through their packets, Clay Shoemaker, one of Walt Disney World's two WDW Ambassadors, was going around to each of the tables making sure everyone was having a good time and entertaining any questions guests had. It wasn't much longer before the event began and Clay welcomed everyone again to D23's Sip & Stroll event.
Clay introduced to us our host for this opening session, Barry Jacobson, Director of Corporate Meetings & Events and General Manager of the D23 Expo.
Barry talked about this 30 years with the Disney Company and the D23 Expo back in September. And he briefly introduced us to one of his associates in planning the D23 Expo, Joanna Pratt, Disney's Senior Corporate Communications Specialists who works on the West Coast - it was Joanna's first time at Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival and her first visit to Florida (later in this report, there is a picture of both her and Barry.
During his Q&A portion, Barry was asked about the official attendance number for this year's D23 Expo -although he couldn't say what it was exactly, he told us that it was safely over 30,000. When asked about the location of next year's D23 Expo, he said that it will again be held in Anaheim, mainly because of the size of their convention center. He also emphasized to us that there should be an announcement soon about next year's expo.
Next, Barry introduced Dan Cockerell, Vice President of Epcot. Dan talked about his experience with the Disney Company, including how he starting off in the parking lot at Epcot Center and how he also acquired "parking lot experience" at Disneyland Paris.
During his Q&A session, Dan was asked about the possible return of the Tapestry of Nations - to which he said that Epcot is always taking into account feedback from guests. Then, when asked about the possible addition of new countries to the World Showcase, he says that are frequently approached by various groups who want to support new nations and that Epcot definitely has the land to expand, but they want to ensure that the country would be a good fit into their storyline.
Dan apologized for not being able to stay longer - he had a couple of his children's soccer games to attend - but he did leave us with a few recommendations for the Food & Wine festival: the Lobster & Scallop Fisherman's Pie at Cork, Ireland; the Seared Sea Scallop at Wellington, New Zealand; and (for those of age) the Raspberry Chiller at Krakow, Poland.
Next was Marianne Hunnel, the Event Content Development Area Manager for the 14th Annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.
Marianne talked about coordinating the festival and how, when deciding on which tastes to offer, she and her team tries to take into consideration both guest feedback and emerging trends -- such as the increasing popularity of spirits as food pairings. She also mentioned that her husband was also a chef - he works at Victoria & Albert's - and how, for their last vacation, they actually went to Disneyland.
For her Q&A session, she was asked about the possibility of the return of a large exhibit (like those for Louisiana, Oklahoma, or Australia in recent years), and she was asked for any plans for having "hands-on" cooking seminars. Marianne didn't say much about a large pavilion exhibit for next year except that she and her team are always open to the possibility. As for "hands-on" cooking seminars, she said that they're looking at possibly offering activities such as sushi-rolling and cake-decorating.
Then, before leaving, Marianne made a couple Food & Wine recommendations of her own: the Seared Barramundi from Melbourne, Australia and also the Fisherman's Pie at Cork, Ireland.
The last presenter of the morning was Pam Brandon, an award-winning journalist and author, who worked as a senior publicist for Walt Disney World Resort and who helped produce several cookbooks for Disney Publishing. In setting up for her portion of the presentation, she brought with her a stack of cookbooks she's worked on.
She quickly touched on each one, sharing the idea behind them - for instance, with the Food & Wine Festival recipe binder, she and her creative team imagined guests returning to the festival year-after-year being able to purchase more recipes for it, but that idea didn't really take off. Also, Pam admitted how, for the first couple Disney cookbooks, the recipes were more-or-less untested (so if they don't turn out quite right, you'll know why).
Of course, they have thoroughly tested each recipes ever since - though she did share with us a funny anecdote of someone calling her up out of the blue to tell her how one of the recipes for chateau briand never said to put the meat in the oven. I found this presentation to be the most insightful and enjoyed her openness and enthusiasm.
A self-taught cook, Pam told us that with each dish, she tries to share a story - the central idea behind the only non-Disney cookbook she brought with her, her "Culinary Confessions of the PTA Divas". We then experienced an Oprah moment as she told us that we were each going to receive a copy of the cookbook and that she'd sign it for us. And that concluded the morning presentations.
After I received my autographed copy of Pam Brandon's cookbook, I made myself another cup of coffee, mingled with some of the other D23 guests, then headed out to the next adventure.
Everyone was all on their own to explore the Food & Wine Festival, etc until 2:00pm, when we were to meet up at the Festival Center for the Wine Presentation and Culinary Demonstration.
BREAK #1: THE SUM OF ALL THRILLS & EXPLORING THE WORLD SHOWCASE
The first thing I did after leaving the Odyssey was head over to Innoventions East to visit The Sum of All Thrills. I met a couple of fellow Sip & Stroll-ers in line, and we went through the process together.
I won't go into detail (just check out Jack Spence's article about the attraction) - but I'll say that I would've gotten right back in line and could've spent the rest of the break in both Innoventions. But the focus of this trip was the D23 Sip & Stroll, so I made my way to the World Showcase to scout out some food.
I've been to the Food & Wine Festival these past couple weekends, trying a few samples each time -my favorites so far being the Tostada de Pollo at Mexico City, Mexico, the Beef Empanada at Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the Escargots Persillade en Brioche at Paris, France. This time, I wanted to continue to try some new tastes, including a couple of the ones the presenters called out as their favorites:
First, I went to Santiago, Chile to sample their Rock Shrimp Ceviche. The interaction between the flavors of the buttered popcorn and the ceviche wasn't as well-defined as I'd hoped, but I was pleased with the amount of shrimp in it. Anyways, it was at this booth that the cashier saw my Sip & Stroll lanyard and gave me an extra smile and nod.
Next was the Seared Sea Scallop with Vegetable Slaw and Lemon Oil from Wellington, New Zealand - one of the items Dan Cockerell recommended. Unfortunately, I didn't care for it. My scallop had an uneven sear, I happened to bite into a chunk of salt, and I found the slaw to be just too tangy.
The last thing I tried this time around was the Lobster & Scallop Fisherman's Pie at Cork, Ireland - recommended by both Dan and Marianne. And this has to be my new favorite dish. It had really good flavor and textures, plus my sample had a generous portion of lobster and scallops. I will definitely have this one again.
I was able to make only a little dent into the gift card and halfway through the World Showcase before I decided to make my way back to the D23 Sip & Stroll Hospitality Suite for another cup of coffee and to sit down and relax before the next event.
Perhaps I could've been more aggressive with the sampling, but I knew that I needed to save some room for the culinary demonstration and "Party For The Senses" dinner to come. I enjoyed talking with another couple of Sip & Stroll-ers at the Odyssey Center, and when the time came, we walked over the Festival Center together.
WINE SEMINAR & CULINARY DEMONSTRATION at the Festival Center
As participants of D23's Sip & Stroll, we were given priority seating at both the wine seminar and the culinary demonstration. This was a nice perk, and it did feel very VIP.
Wine Seminar w/Kate MacMurray
At the wine seminar we attended, we were able to sample three varieties of wine from the MacMurray Ranch - the MacMurray Pinot Gris, the MacMurray Russian River Pinot Noir, and the MacMurray Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
The presenter for the seminar was Kate MacMurray, daughter of Disney Legend Fred MacMurray (The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor).
Kate gave us some background, telling us how her father in 1941, at the age of 32, purchased the large parcel of land in Sonoma County, California that became the MacMurray Ranch. She told us how her father had wanted to but was unable to enlist in the military because he was deaf in his left ear from years of shooting guns without hearing-protection. He still wanted to help out efforts, so, as advised, they diversified their farming and raised a variety of animals/livestock. Then, every couple weeks or so, a truck would come by to pick up the surplus crops to support the troops. She noted how the crops they supported evolved, and how the history of the ranch was really the history of agriculture in Northern California.
Kate also mentioned other facts about their operations. For instance, they employ the services of a falconer to fend off birds instead of netting their crops which could damage the plants. And she also said that they used other natural techniques such as planting red clover on every other row to attract good bugs.
Kate also spoke of her father's close friendship with Walt Disney, and how Walt personally asked her father to star in The Shaggy Dog. She shared her memories of being with her father at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that opened Epcot Center in 1982. It was an honor just to have attended this particular session. Kate was well-spoken and listening to her, it was like being in the presence of a Disney Legend.
Here's a picture of Barry Jacobson and Joanna Pratt at the Wine Seminar.
After the wine presentation, D23 event cast members escorted us directly to the culinary demonstration, where we were also given priority seating.
Culinary Demonstration w/Chef Andy Trousdale
This session began with a brief presentation about the 2005 Jack London Cabernet, the wine-pairing for the dish that was going to be prepared.
Then, the host of the culinary demonstrations, Pam Smith, made mention of the D23 club and acknowledged us before introducing everyone to Chef Andy Trousdale from Le Bistro Restaurant in Lighthouse Point, FL .
In this session, Chef Andy prepared his Roasted Beef Tenderloin "Diane".
Chef Andy started off the hot pan with shallots & garlic then added veal glaze/stock which provides a meat flavor to the sauce. He mentioned how cooking was about building up flavors and how it required a level of intuition - because sometimes measuring ingredients takes more time than just cooking. And he told us how these cooking demonstrations were always a pleasure to do because all the ingredients are already prepared and so beautiful, like the variety of mushrooms provided. He added some more ingredients to the sauce, but pointed out that he let the mixture cook and reduce further before adding the cream to the sauce.
To prepare the beef tenderloin, Chef Andy demonstrated a couple techniques for tying up the meat. He then seasoned it with salt, pepper, and oil before browning the beef in a heated sauté pan.
I've attended a number of these culinary demonstrations at this year's Food & Wine Festival, and this session took the longest before sending out the food for us to sample, or it just seemed that way - we were all getting hungry watching him cook, but when we got our food, it was quite a treat. The beef was very juicy and the mushroom sauce worked out wonderfully to compliment.
And that ended our events at the Festival Center. I went to get Chef Andy's autograph and a picture with, then had about an hour of free time before the D23 group was to regrouped at the American Gardens Theatre for the "Eat To The Beat" concert.
Coming Soon, Part 2!