The 14th Annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival kicks off on September 25th. To help get things started, Disney invited members of the press to preview some of the new and exciting taste-treats being served this year and to provide us with some interesting facts about the event. So when Deb Wills asked me if I’d like to represent Allears.net, I jumped at the chance to cover this gastronomic assignment.
The preview was hosted by Chef Jens Dahlmann, Executive Chef, Epcot Food & Beverage and took place in the kitchen located behind the World Showplace pavilion. World Showplace Pavilion is the exhibition area positioned between Canada and the United Kingdom.
For those of you who haven’t visited Disney World during this six-week festival, Epcot plays host to a culinary explosion of tastes. Surrounding the World Showcase Lagoon, twenty-seven kiosks are erected and dedicated to a number of international cuisines. Each station serves samples of that culture’s best recipes (for a nominal fee -- credit cards accepted). The portions are just large enough to give you a nice sampling, but not too large as to fill you up. This allows you to “eat your way around the world.”
In addition, daily wine and beer tastings are held around the lagoon. Also, a series of special culinary programs featuring a lineup of renowned winemakers, guest chefs, and speakers are available. Wine seminars and elegant dinners are also offered.
This is a hugely popular event that is attended by many locals from the Orlando area, but also by a large number of out-of-state visitors who plan their vacation around this happening.
Besides finding samples from some of your old Epcot friends like Japan, France, and Mexico, you’ll also discover other countries represented like Greece, Poland, Chile, and India. This year, three new stations have been added, Thailand, Brazil, and a Dessert and Champagne booth.
Planning the Food & Wine Festival is a mammoth undertaking. Even while last year’s event was taking place, Chef Jens was already making notes on how to improve this year’s celebration of food. Serious menu planning and recipe creation began earnestly in March and needed to be completed by May in order to make this year’s September deadline. In all, seventy new items were created for the 2009 event. Or in other words, 70% of the menus were recreated. But for those of you who love the Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup, don’t worry. This most popular dish of the festival is still available.
When Chef Jens was asked if the food was “dumbed down” for picky eaters, he gave a definite no. He went on to say that he makes every effort to be authentic and respectful to each culture. In addition, whenever a recipe called for it, the dish would be created at the actual kiosk to preserve freshness. He also hoped that his selections would have aromas enticing enough to draw us into kiosk after kiosk.
Of the 27 food stations, 21 are operated by Disney and 6 are operated by participants. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of additional man power to put on an event like this. Between the International Food Fair and the Party of the Senses (to be discussed later), 400 additional cast members are needed. Disney uses 77 of their own chefs and 117 guest chefs to make it all happen.
In the past, Disney printed one guide book for the Food & Wine Festival. Within its forty pages, you could find detailed information about the entertainment offered and the many seminars being conducted. But it was discovered that most guests only wanted to know the times and places and weren’t all that concerned with the details. So this year, a second, weekly handout is available that only provides the essential information about the event. So try to be “green” and select the brochure that’s right for you.
Chef Jens provided us with eight samples of some of this year’s new offerings. If I tried to describe each dish individually, I’d quickly run out of synonyms for delicious. Just let it be said that all of us at this tasting were gushing over each selection. Below I give you the item’s name and the kiosk where it can be found.
Shrimp Stew with Coconut and Lime garnished with Popcorn – Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Chicken and Coconut Soup with Mushrooms – Bangkok, Thailand
Lobster & Scallop Fisherman’s Pie – Cork, Ireland
Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki – Athens, Greece
Lamb Slider with Tomato Chutney – Wellington, New Zealand
Seared Beef Tenderloin with Sweet Potato Puree and Mango Barbeque Sauce – Cape Town, South Africa
Grand Marnier Parfait with Orange Coulis – Desserts & Champagnes
Warm Chocolate Lave Cake with Bailey’s Ganache – Cork, Ireland
Each Saturday evening during the Food & Wine Festival, Party of the Senses takes place in the World Showplace Pavilion. From 6:30 to 9:00, up to eleven-hundred guests partake in a tribute to gastronomic pleasures. Eighteen, four-sided booths offer a vast array of food and wine – all included in one price of $135. I know some of you are taking a deep gulp at that price, but this is a special event and Disney doesn’t skimp. And if the food isn’t enough to convince you to attend, live entertainment is also on hand.
This year, a couple of things are different. First, each party will have a different theme as listed below:
September 26 – Spanish Cuisine
October 3 – Comfort Food with a Twist
October 10 – South American Cuisine
October 17 – Classical Cuisine
October 24 – Asian Cuisine
October 31 – The Fall Harvest
November 7 – Indian Cuisine
Also new this year at the Party of the Senses is the “Wine View Lounge.” For an additional $75pp, an exclusive area is set up within the World Showplace Pavilion where you will have a reserved table for your party. In addition, a premium bar, an artisan cheese station, and white-glove service will enhance your evening. Note, the Wine View Lounge is already sold out for five of the seven events so you might want to start thinking ahead to next year. Call 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378) for more information and reservations.
Even if you’re not a foodie, you should think seriously about giving the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival a try. If nothing else, strolling the World Showcase promenade is a treat during this time of year. And it’s nobody’s fault but your own if you go away hungry.
The previous post in this blog was Test Track - Epcot.
The next post in this blog is Bistro de Paris - Epcot.