Food & Wine Classic Archives

November 4, 2015

2015 Food & Wine Classic at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin


This past weekend, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort hosted its sixth annual Food & Wine Classic, two evenings of sampling appetizer-size portions of food, wine and beer in an outdoor atmosphere with live entertainment. Each night has a different menu at the 12 food stations that represent restaurants and chefs that are part of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin.


This was my third year covering the Food & Wine Classic for AllEars.Net, and it’s an event I look forward to every year. The atmosphere is decidedly adult, though there aren’t age restrictions for participants, and it feels more relaxed than other nearby events. It’s not as crowded at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is on weekends, and the event lasts for three and half hours (an hour longer than Party for the Senses), which means less rushing from one food dish to another. If you haven’t tried this event, I recommend putting it on your calendar for next year. It’s a great date night! Official dates for 2016 have not yet been announced, but it typically is held the last weekend in October.

Guests can begin the evening with a one-hour, hands-on seminar, if they choose. Topics include wine blending, Italian wines, champagne, beer, mixology, tequila, pasta making, sushi and sake, wine and cheese pairing, and the Brazilian cocktail, caipirinha. Beverage seminars are $45 per person, and pasta-making and pairing seminars are $60 per person.


My husband had attended the “Beer, Please” seminar in the past and enjoyed it so much, he couldn’t wait to go again this year. Presented by instructors Brian Exner, general manager of Il Mulino, and D.J. Robertson, food and beverage purchasing manager at the Swan and Dolphin, the hourlong event featured a sampling of eight different beers and an explanation of what made them drinkable and how to best pair them with the right foods.

The class this year, like the one he attended two years ago, started off covering the basics of beer ingredients, styles and definitions used by brewers. Then the class sampled various beers, starting with the lightest and working their way through to darker and more bitter brews. Their tables were arrayed with various snacks, from cheese to pretzels to bacon and bread and more, and the class participants were taught about how various types of beers were better paired with certain food groups.

A highlight of the session was when one of the brewers from Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Founders Brewing discussed the process for creating their newest Imperial Red IPA called reDANKulous. It was the one of the darkest and bitterest of the selections but also one of the most popular with the beer-loving group.


The session concluded with a beer-lovers dessert of a dark beer poured over chocolate ice cream to create a unique beer float. It might sound extreme, but my beer-loving husband said it actually was a sweet treat that took advantage of the dark brew’s cocoa flavors.

The food and beverage seminars wrap up just as the causeway between the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin opens at 5:30 p.m. for the main event. In past years, we saw consistently long lines at stations for delicacies from celebrity chef Todd English, Kimonos, Cib's Smoke Shop and Shula's Steakhouse. This year, these stations plus eight more returned and the lines seemed much more manageable. Don’t get me wrong: There’s always a line for Shula’s, but it moved quickly!

Among our favorite dishes from the new offerings on Friday night:

Cib’s Smokehouse: Southern Fried Chicken, Creamy Polenta, Pickled Turnips, BBQ “gravy”
Garden Grove: Blackened Salmon, Red Beets, Green Apple, “Sauce Troisgros”
Fountain: Vegetable Slider, Pickled Vegetables, Homemade Ketchup, Caramelized Onion Relish
Todd English: King Crab & Hickory Smoked Mozerella Fritters, Vanilla-Cognac Remoulade
Chef Laurent Branlard’s Desserts: Eclair with Caramelized Banana Cream and Coconut Streusel
Chef Laurent Branlard’s Desserts: S’more Sundae

And, of course, our must-haves from returning favorites:

Picabu: Taqueria-corn tortilla with Barbacoa of Beef or Organic Vegetables
(Topped with cheddar cheese, lime wedge, lettuce, onion, shaved radishes, pico de gallo and hot sauces.)
Bluezoo: Shrimp Cocktail Steamroller
Shula’s Steakhouse: Carved Prime NY Strip, Mashed Potatoes, Sauce Bordelaise

As the name indicates, the Food & Wine Classic is also all about the beverages. AllEars.Net Founder and Owner Deb Wills also attended the event on Friday, and because she is more of a wine aficionado than me, I asked her thoughts about the offerings. Here’s what she had to say: “One great thing about the Classic is the selection of wines available to sample from around the world. If there is a region or type of grape you want to learn more about, this is your chance. It is impossible to try them all, so I check out the list online, prior to the Classic, and make a list of those that interest me. [There are 40 wine stations, each with at least two selections.] I particularly enjoyed tasting the wines of Italy, including the Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva, and also the wines from Washington state, such as the Canoe Ridge, Expedition Merlot.”


Guests who prefer beer to wine had plenty of beverage options, as well, if they chose to upgrade their Food & Wine Classic tickets to include the Beer Garden for an additional $20. The Beer Garden was located on the Crescent Terrace near the canal with a view of the nearby Boardwalk. The area, under a canopy of shade trees, was populated with various beer and food vendors. My husband enjoyed some familiar beers from brewers such as Sam Adams, Magic Hat and Lagunitas Brewing, as well as some micro-brews from regional breweries, too. Along with the great-tasting beer offerings were warm pretzels and various mustards, and vendors offering German Style sausage and Weiner Schnitzel, too, for a perfect beer-pairing snack. My husband would have been happy to linger in this section of the festival all night, he said.


New to the Food & Wine Classic this year (and included in the all-inclusive ticket, which costs $105 when purchased in advance) was the Carnival Corner. This area, set back behind the promenade, featured five food trucks. Each served a specialty item: Texas-Style Corn Dogs, Funnel Cakes, Nitro Kettle Corn, Cabot Creamery Mac & Cheese, and Wines. My husband and I sampled each of the dishes (minus the funnel cake) and enjoyed them. It was a fun area, but we couldn’t help feeling like we were wasting our calories on these snacks when we could be eating the delectable offerings from the hotels’ restaurants instead! But perhaps we were not the target audience for the Carnival Corner; most of the younger crowd seemed to hang out here.

Regardless of what your taste might be, though, there’s a good chance you’ll find something unique and satisfying at this event, and I definitely recommend that you consider setting aside some time next fall for this food-lovers event.

DISCLAMER: I was a guest of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin at its Food & Wine Classic. This did not affect my review, and my opinions are my own.


October 22, 2013

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin 2013 Food & Wine Classic - Review





Disney foodies are in their element during the month of October. There is, of course, the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which stretches for 46 mouth-watering days. This month also finds the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hosting its two-night Food & Wine Classic.

I attended the event on Friday for the second year, and it really is a fun, and potentially more affordable, event. There are many similarities between the food and beverage celebrations: an outdoor setting, live entertainment, seminars, and lots of appetizer-size portions of delicious foods, as well as samples of wine and beer.


Although children are welcome at both events, there definitely is a more adult atmosphere at the Food & Wine Classic. We saw only a handful of children at the event. (Camp Dolphin, the kids club inside the Dolphin, is a great place for kids to have a night out while you do the same. We chose that option for our children last year.)

Each night has a different menu at the 12 food stations that represent restaurants and chefs that are part of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. Both years we saw consistently long lines at stations for delicacies from celebrity chef Todd English, Kimonos, Cib's Smoke Shop and Shula's Steakhouse.

English was out for several hours greeting guests and posing for photos with them. Meanwhile, his food station offered participants Tuna Tartare with Sexy Scallions, Nitro Aioli Miso Crackling Oyster Shooter, Huckleberry Champagne Vinegar, Huckleberry Foam Rock Shrimp Tacos with Creamy Jalapeño Slaw, Pickled Onion and Micro Cilantro. The tuna dish was a firm, meaty fish that would appeal to seafood lovers, but the Nitro Aioli Miso Crackling Oyster Shooter might take a little bit more exposure before the less adventurous can get acclimated to its unique flavor. Seeing its presentation, though, was half the fun of sampling it.



Shula's Steakhouse, known for its pricey cuts of beef, was serving carved prime rib and roasted garlic mashed potatoes with horseradish creme fraiche and watercress both nights. I'm sure it won't surprise you when I say it was delicious!


Cib's Smoke Shop gave guests a taste of flavorful meat with Texas-style beef brisket, brioche purse, rhubarb pudding and garlic chips on Friday and hand-crafted bacon, black-eyed pea puree and maple fluid gel on Saturday. Everyone in our group gave the brisket high praise.


Kimono's, a sushi restaurant, offered a Dragon Roll (crispy shrimp, tuna and avocado) on Friday and a spicy yellow fin tuna with nori seasoned rice on Saturday. I never really have developed a taste for sushi, but my friends encouraged me to try the Dragon Roll. It was tasty, and my friends who love sushi declared it among the best they've ever tried.


A delightful surprise was Picabu's taqueria-corn tortilla barbacoa of beef, braised pork or organic vegetables. These soft tacos could be topped with cheddar cheese, lime wedge, lettuce, onion, shaved radishes, pico de gallo and assorted hot sauces. The pico de gallo added an amazingly fresh taste to the dish, and we all went back for seconds.



My favorite food, by far, for the evening was the Panini Ice Cream Sandwich served at the dessert station. It was toasted sweet Hawaiian bread stuffed with chocolate and vanilla ice cream. The combination of the thick, chewy bread with the cold treat was unexpected and delicious. Chef Laurent Branlard also offered three beautiful and distinctive desserts each night. For more on those, see my interview with Chef Branlard.



In addition to all the great food, there were 35 beverage stations, most with more than one wine or beer selection.


On the Friday night we attended, beer samples were made available from Sam Adams, Tampa's Cigar City brewery and Highland Brewing Company out of Ashville, N.C. My husband enjoyed most everything he sampled from Cigar City, and his two new favorites were the Gaelic Ale and the Kashmir IPA offered by Highland. One of our friends with us said she enjoyed the Black Mocha Stout offered by the same brewery.


The double bock by Sam Adams and the Orchard Hard Cider were praise-worthy, too. Still, my husband returned repeatedly to the Cigar City booth, just as he did at last year's event. Judging from the lines at the booth, others favored it, as well.

On Saturday, beer samples were offered from Gainesville's Swamp Head Brewery, the Colorado-based Breckenridge brewery, New Belgium and Oskar Blues.

My husband did focus more on the beers than the wines, but there certainly is a large selection from various vineyards for sipping while you stroll. He did enjoy the La Crema pinot noir. This year, the Food & Wine grouped its "pink" wines on the Crescent Terrace for a Drink Pink event in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. This festive area offered six rose wines to sample.


Next year, when you're making plans to enjoy a fall festival of food and wine, you might want to consider going beyond Epcot for this annual event at the Swan and Dolphin. Though not as expansive as the better-known Food and Wine Festival, the Food & Wine Classic offers its own smorgasbord of unique flavors, live music, and food and drink seminars. All of this, paired with its beautiful setting between the two distinctive buildings on Walt Disney World property, makes it a one-of-a-kind experience for the senses here in Central Florida.

DISCLAMER: I was a guest of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin at its Food & Wine Classic. This did not affect my review, and my opinions are my own.

October 18, 2013

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin's pastry chef talks about sweet selections at Food & Wine Classic



Foodies who enjoy sampling gourmet foods paired with fine wines and beers likely have already visited this year's Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. But this weekend, they have another opportunity waiting for them at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, where the fourth annual Food & Wine Classic takes place along the causeway between the hotels.

I spoke with the resort's executive pastry chef, Laurent Branlard, about his role in creating the mouth-watering desserts that will be available at the Classic. A native of France, Branlard began his pursuit of a culinary career at age 16 in Paris. He moved to the United States about 15 years ago and has been at the Swan & Dolphin since 2002. During that time, he won the World Pastry Team Championship not once, but twice. Branlard is responsible for the dessert menus at all of the hotel's 17 restaurants and lounges, including Todd English's bluezoo, Shula's Steak House and Il Mulino New York Trattoria, as well as banquets at the Walt Disney World Resort.

O Saint O





The dessert menu at this year's Food & Wine Classic differs each night. Guests tonight can sample O Saint O -- an orange cream-filled puff, milk chocolate covered orange cooked and whipped vanilla cream; Tropic -- passion fruit cream, mango papaya pineapple compote, coconut cake and mango vanilla sauce; and Intense -- flourless chocolate sponge and Arriba 72% chocolate mousse. On Saturday, guests will be offered Dome -- milk chocolate mousse and caramel cream center, hazelnut dacquoise sponge, milk chocolate glaze; Bla -- blueberry compote, lemon creme Fraiche Panacotta, almond pound cake; and Raspberry S'More -- raspberry marshmallow, raspberry compote and white chocolate cream on cinnamon sable dough.





Raspberry S'More

Here's what Branlard had to say about this weekend's event:

What are you most excited about at this year's Food & Wine Classic?

Every year I'm very excited because it's a good opportunity to showcase our desserts not only to our hotel customers but also to people coming from town. For me, it's always great! It's also an opportunity to do the desserts we like to do because it's up to us to decide what we want to serve, so it's exciting.

How do you determine what the desserts will be?

I like to bring some French influence to the desserts. On Friday, we have O Saint O. It's a mini version of a classic French dessert that I tweaked a little bit. So I bring desserts that come from my background but that everyone will recognize. Of course, I always have a chocolate dessert because you cannot do a menu without chocolate. People like chocolate!

In the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin restaurants, do you find that kids like different desserts than adults?

I like to tweak the desserts a little because I know that American kids have a palate that's a lot determined by what they eat every day ... When it comes to sweets, it has a lot to do with what they find in the grocery store. I try to understand what they're used to, so they don't have a shock when they eat my desserts. In a chocolate dessert for kids, I'm going to tone down the cocoa percentage so it's not too strong, too bitter for them. But I will still use a really intense and dark chocolate.

We do it a little bit different, but not too much because that's the way we function. I like to educate about food. Like my son: I always wanted him to grow up very fast as far as taste goes. For me, it was very important that he understand right away what is good food.

Is there a particular dessert that you think is a favorite for kids and also for adults?

That's a tricky question " always chocolate desserts. In bluezoo, for instance, we do a molten chocolate cake. It doesn't matter what you put on the menu, you know that about 50 percent of the dessert sales will be the molten chocolate cake. It's a moist, soft chocolate cake, so kids will order it, too. You can't beat that.

How do you appeal to the palates of tourists not just from the United States, but all over the world?

In general, globally the dessert world has evolved and especially in America these past 10 years. People are more aware of what's going on as far as European flavors. It's all mixed now. I don't think the customer makes a big difference as far as taste choices.

Where can guests go to get your desserts served at the Classic during the rest of the year?

They are not available in the hotel. They are specially designed in smaller portions for the Food & Wine Classic. We [repeat] them sometimes when we have VIP parties and things like that. People that come often to the Swan & Dolphin in our restaurants might recognize what we do, but the way that they are served is very different than what we do in the restaurants.

Will you be out on the causeway or in the kitchen during the Classic?

I will be in both locations. I will be back and forth. Usually I spend a good amount of time on the stations. I always like to spend time with the guests.


Looking ahead, the holiday season is traditionally associated with wonderful desserts and sweets of all kinds. Can you give our readers a preview of what they can expect at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin?

[The holiday desserts] are usually something traditional with a twist for Thanksgiving and Christmas. [The pastry chefs] also put up the display in the Swan lobby and we have very large chocolate pieces -- Santa Claus, a Christmas tree, a fireplace, a train and a nutcracker. We decorate with gingerbread houses everywhere, in the restaurants, to get in the Christmas spirit.

For now, guests can sample Branlard's desserts at the Food & Wine Classic, which begins at 5:30 tonight and Saturday and goes until 9 p.m. Wristbands, which allow unlimited food and beverage tastings on the causeway, are about $80. Guests also can choose to purchase a la carte tickets as $2 apiece; most items take two to six tickets each. The Food & Wine Classic also is offering one-hour beverage seminars, plus a new pasta class, beginning at 4:30 p.m. The cost of those is $60 per person.

The Food & Wine Classic will feature plenty of alluring samples of main-course selections, and different wine and beer pairings, too. But the desserts alone just might be the sweetest part of this delicious event.

October 20, 2012

Parents can enjoy night out while kids have fun at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin's Camp Dolphin


Walt Disney World Swan


Walt Disney World Dolphin

Parents visiting the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin can enjoy an evening to themselves while their children have their own special kind of fun. Camp Dolphin, located on the lower level of the Dolphin building, is designed just for kids ages 4 to 12.

The concept of a kids club in a large resort is not foreign to my own kids, who have enjoyed themselves at The Sandcastle Club at Disney's Beach Club on several occasions. Until recently, they had yet to visit Camp Dolphin, though. Their opportunity came last weekend when my husband and I attended the Food and Wine Classic at the resort.

Camp Dolphin operates a little differently than kids clubs in other Disney World hotels. That's because the Swan and Dolphin belongs to the Westin hotel chain, even though it is located on Walt Disney World property.

There are similarities, though. Both experiences begin with parents making reservations for their children, though the clubs will take walk-ups if space is available. Camp Dolphin opens at 5:30 p.m. each day, an hour later than the Disney World clubs, but they all close when Cinderella's coach turns into a pumpkin (which we all know is midnight).

Miss Thelma

Perhaps the most obvious comparison comes when families see the physical size of Camp Dolphin -- it's quite small compared to The Sandcastle Club. Camp Dolphin can accommodate up to 18 children with two counselors present. Thelma, who has been a camp coordinator at the Dolphin for 19 years, explained that during busy periods, such as holidays, the camp moves to one of the ballrooms.




Still, Camp Dolphin has all the basic components for kid fun: Video games, movies, crafts and counselors who will supervise and entertain youngsters in an environment where parents will not worry about their well-being. On the night my children visited, the theme for the crafts was "A Very Merry Unbirthday," which included card-making and birthday tiaras for the participants. Blackout Bingo was played for prizes, and when we arrived to pick up our children, they were just settling down with a mound of pillows for movie time.

Dinner at Picabu

Dinner is included for children who are in Camp Dolphin from 7 to 8 p.m. Counselors take the kids to nearby Picabu (Peek-A-Boo) restaurant, where the meals they have pre-selected from a menu of traditional kid favorites, such as cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, chicken fingers and hot dogs, are served. Then, they are treated to ice cream from The Fountain ice cream shop. (At The Sandcastle Club, parents help children place dinner orders when they are dropped off and the meals are served in the club. They are served cookies and milk later in the evening.)

Ice cream from The Fountain

Pricing varies slightly between the five Disney World kids clubs and Camp Dolphin, as well. At The Sandcastle Club, parents pay $11.50 per child per hour, with a two-hour minimum. At Camp Dolphin, the price is $10 per child per hour with no minimum. Plus, each adult who orders an entree at Shula's Steak House, Todd English's bluezoo or Il Mulino New York Trattoria in the hotel earns two complimentary hours for a child at Camp Dolphin. This offers also applies to an adult who purchases a spa service at Mandara Spa.

Our children enjoyed Camp Dolphin, and my husband and I appreciated the ease of checking them into a safe environment so nearby as we enjoyed what the resort had to offer. It's not hard to imagine that we will return, giving the kids a night out and enjoying the same ourselves.

October 18, 2012

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hosts 3rd annual Food & Wine Classic




At a time when many are relishing the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, a nearby venue recently offered guests another opportunity to sample foods and wines they might not usually try. The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, within walking distance of Epcot, hosted its third annual Food & Wine Classic this past weekend on the walkways between the two buildings.

For those who wanted to learn a bit more about adult beverages, seminars were offered in the Swan during the hour before the festival started. Guests could taste wines, mixed drinks and beer paired with various foods to bring out their best flavors. My husband attended "Beer -- please," which was an entertaining and informing session.




The seminar was designed, instructors said, to explore beers beyond the typical Budweisers, Coors and Miller Lites. Brian Exner, general manager of the resort's Kimonos, led the discussion for about 22 participants. The group first explored the major ingredients of beer-making and the different styles of beers. Then the seminar launched into what the participants found the most enlightening - a tasting of different styles of beers and some of the foods they complement. Some of the choices: a Czech-style pilsner, Mama's Little Yella Pils, an Innis & Gunn aged ale and a Mountain Livin' Pale Ale brewed in Colorado. The highlight, though, was enjoying samples of Einbecker schwarzbier and slices of crispy bacon. For those who wanted something sweet, there even was a Rogue Chocolate Stout sampled over chocolate ice cream. Yes, you read that right - beer over chocolate ice cream.


Meanwhile, out on the promenade, booths with food, wine and beer samples from the hotel's restaurants and lounges were ready for hungry guests to start nibbling at 5:30 p.m. There were twelve food stations, and our group made it to most of them during the three-and-a-half-hour festival without having to rush.

Shrimp Cocktail Steam Rollers


Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Sliders

Fried Pickles

Among my favorites were Shrimp Cocktail Steam Rollers from bluezoo, Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Sliders from Garden Grove, Fried Pickles from Cib's Steak House and the s'more dessert from Laurent Branlard. The steam roller is an individual serving of shrimp cocktail served in a glass tube that you consume all in one shot. It's a fun and clever way to serve a classic appetizer. Fried pickles were a novelty for me and quite yummy. If the line weren't so long for the popular Cib's booth, I would have gone back for another serving. The desserts looked like works of art, but the adult version of a s'more was what captured my tastebuds. Just like at a Fort Wilderness campfire, s'mores are tough to resist!

S'mores dessert (right)


Dragon roll

Kimonos restaurant came highly recommended, so I was persuaded to try sushi for the first time. I had a Dragon Roll with crispy shrimp, tuna and avocado, and it was delicious. On Saturday, Kimonos was serving Spicy Yellow Fin Tuna, Nori and Seasoned Rice. Most of the food booths have different menus for each of the two nights, so guests can attend both nights and have different experiences.

Oysters and a Bloody Mary shooter
Chef Todd Engish and me

We stopped by the Todd English booth so some of the people in our group could try oysters served with various sauces and Bloody Mary shooters. I didn't try them, but my husband enjoyed both. The outgoing celebrity chef was present to greet guests, sign autographs and pose for photos. (Chef Michael Mina also joined the outdoor festival this year with his Hamachi Parfait, Crispy Rice Cake and Wasabi Tobiko.)

There were 32 beverage stations, most of which served wines, but a couple had beer, and even sake. Plus, a recurring class, Cocktail 101, was offered on the terrace. Throughout the Food & Wine Classic, guests enjoyed live music from three bands on a stage in front of the Dolphin.


Wristbands for the festival, which provided unlimited access to food and beverages, were $80 per night. Guests also could choose to buy a la carte tickets for $2 apiece; most dishes cost 2 to 4 tickets each. Beverage classes before the festival cost $40 per person. The hotel also offered packages for guests who wanted to stay the night after sampling the beverages.

Perhaps the best part of the experience is that if you find a food or beverage that you love, you won't have to wait a whole year to sample it again. Most of the Food & Wine Classic menu items are served year-round in the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin.

One further note: Although children are welcome to attend the Food & Wine Classic, we did not see many there. Our own children had a great time at the hotel's Camp Dolphin kids club, which I will be writing about in another blog post.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin for its Food & Wine Classic. This did not influence my review, and my opinions are my own.

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About Food & Wine Classic

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Food & Wine Classic category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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