This year's Disney California Food and Wine Festival includes additional Premium Events that weren't a part of last year's Festival. One of them is Sweet Sundays, which was a part of the original Festival. I've attended these events at both Epcot and DCA's Food and Wine Festivals, and I was happy to see it return this year.
Sweet Sundays starts with a light breakfast and features a guest celebrity chef who demonstrates the preparation of several desserts. All guests receive their own desserts to sample. In past sessions I've learned several interesting techniques and ways to make some desserts even better.
The cost is $79/person plus tax and gratuity. There are three Sweet Sundays events this year, featuring Duff Goldman, Emily Ellyn, and Keegan Gerhard. We saw Emily Ellyn. I have to admit I'd never heard of her before. She's been on a number of Food Network shows, like "Food Network Star", "Cupcake Wars", and "Cutthroat Kitchen." She's known as the "Retro Rad Chef", and wears vintage clothing styles and trademark cat-eye glasses.
The events are held in the Festival Showplace - Stage 17 in Hollywood Land. It started at 10:30, and check-in was supposed to start at 9:45. But no one was there at that time. We wandered around a bit and went back about 10:00 and there was a short line. Unfortunately the check-in process was very slow - it took 20 minutes until we were seated. I had made the reservation and pre-paid so all the cast members had to do was verify my last name and then check our ids and give us a wristband. It doesn't seem like that should be a really slow process.
We were seated at a table rather than choosing our own seats. The event is fairly small - there were 15 tables, each seating 6 people. Half the tables were already full. Servers came around fairly quickly and offered us glasses of sparkling wine. There were carafes of orange juice and cranberry juice already on the table so that we could help ourselves. I was surprised that we were not offered coffee or tea. We later asked for coffee and tea, and eventually it was brought to us, but it was very difficult to get a refill. I wish that a beverage station had been available so that we could've gotten our own hot beverages.
There was a basket of assorted pastries on the table for us serve ourselves.
In past events there's been a breakfast buffet, but this year we had a "light breakfast" that was pre-plated and served to us at our tables. It definitely saved a lot of time to do it that way, but there wasn't the selection there has been in the past. We received scrambled eggs, bacon, and a potato cake. The scrambled eggs had some salmon in them, we think. I didn't think they were cooked quite enough, and they were too soft for me. The bacon wasn't crispy, and the potato cake was just ok. I was pretty disappointed in the breakfast.
Emily Ellyn came out while we were still eating. Rather than staying on stage and starting to cook she came out into the audience. She told us a lot about her background and her cooking philosophy - like taking tried and true recipes and make them your own. It was entertaining, but we were there for a cooking demonstration.
Finally she went up on stage and started working on the different parts of her desserts with the assistance of the host, who is a Disney chef. I was really not excited about her desserts at all. "Candied Fennel Upside-Down Cake served with Citrus Chocolate Pudding, Toasted Fennel Sesame Brittle and Orange Ash." Does that sound like dessert to you? I do not like fennel - I can't stand that licorice flavor. And as far as I'm concerned citrus and chocolate should NEVER be combined. Sigh.
Her presentation was enjoyable, but there wasn't a lot of substance to it. As I mentioned earlier, I usually learn something from these sessions - I really didn't learn much from this one. And these recipes are nothing that I will ever make. (Fennel desserts???? Did she think she was competing on Chopped?)
I will say that she's the first person that I've ever seen who engaged with the cameraman to make sure that something she wanted us to see was going up on the big screen - she was often talking to him as she showed things to him.
The desserts themselves...I took a bite of the Citrus and Chocolate Pudding but couldn't eat it, and the Fennel Sesame Seed Brittle on top was just nasty.
The Upside-Down Cake was not as bad as I thought - the cake itself was moist and didn't have any fennel flavor to it as long as I stayed away from the pieces of fennel that were on top. I still have no idea what the Orange Ash (the black stuff) was supposed to add - it simply tasted like ash.
When she finished and we'd eaten our desserts she took a few questions. By then it was 12:00, and time to leave. They needed to get us out of there since they were going to have to completely re-set the area for the 2:00 Culinary Demonstration. Those use rows of long tables and not the round tables we had.
Ms. Ellyn was available afterward for photos, but we didn't wait in line for that.
While I was happy to see the return of Sweet Sundays, this one wasn't as good as those I have attended in the past. The desserts were really out there, and just not very appealing to me at all. I think this is the first one I've been to where the presenter was a "celebrity chef" rather than a recognized chef who is not necessarily famous. I would have preferred to see less personality and more demonstration of skill.
In contrast, here's the review I wrote about the last Sweet Sundays event I attended in 2010:
I think that's more like it.
In other Food and Wine Festival news...we sampled some additional menu items from the various Festival Marketplaces, and also tried one of the full-size menu items at the Paradise Garden Grill Beer Garden.
As I did in my previous blog on the food items, I'm going to assign grades to each for Taste, Presentation, and Value. "Presentation" combines a number of factors such as creativity, interesting use of ingredients, and the way it looked. GIA denotes whether or not I would Get It Again.
From I (Heart) Artichokes: Creamy artichoke and dark chocolate cake pop. $4.25
GIA: No way
Comments: When asked about Festival food items, this is one that almost everyone mentioned that they liked and that we should try. (The fact that Emily Ellyn raved about it should've warned me.) There was nothing "cakey" about this at all. The inside was a sort of firm artichoke mousse. I thought it was tasteless, but Lee said it tasted vaguely of artichoke, which he doesn't really like. Even the chocolate on the outside didn't have much flavor.
From Garlic Kissed: Grilled beef tenderloin slider with chimichurri sauce. $7.75
Comments: Lee tried this and really liked it.
From Bacon Twist: Smoked bacon mac and cheese with barbecue-seasoned crispy onions. $7.50
Comments: Lee really enjoyed this. He's more of a mac and cheese fan than I am. I thought it was fine - I liked the crispy onions on top the best.
From Bacon Twist I also tried: Bloody Mary Cocktail with candied caramel bacon strip & blue cheese stuffed olives. $11.25
Comments: This was yummy. A little bit spicy, but not too much, and the bacon was very good. A reasonable amount of alcohol in it.
From Seafood...Sustained: Verlasso sustainable salmon tataki with avocado-wasabi puree and Furikake dust. $7.50
Comments: The salmon was completely tasteless.
From Off the Cob: Sweet corn nuggets with beef chili, spring onion and sour cream. $6.25
Comments: Lee described this as "a bite of awesomeness." I tried one of the corn nuggets and it was very good - a bit creamy inside with a nice fresh corn flavor.
From Sweet & Sourdough: Milk chocolate sourdough bread pudding with vanilla bean sauce. $4.50
Comments: This was good bread pudding, but where was the chocolate? When the name starts with "Milk chocolate" I expected it to be chocolatey, but there were just a few small pieces.
From Paradise Garden Grill Beer Garden: Beer-braised pork tacos served with pickled apple slaw, black beans and queso. $10.99
Comments: The tacos were quite tasty. The pickled apples on top had a nice vinegary zing. The items at Paradise Garden Grill are full-size dishes, and as such are a better value than those at the Marketplaces.
Still more misses than hits in this year's food items. I may get back to the Festival one more time before it closes on April 16 - though I think most of what I really want to try is either desserts or the full-size items at Paradise Garden Grill.
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