2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival September 27 – November 11, 2013 Festival Review

This article appeared in the October 1, 2013 Issue #732 of AllEars®
(ISSN: 1533-0753)

Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.

The 2013 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival
Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Editor

"Do as I say, not as I do," your parents probably admonished you at some point in your lives as they proceeded to do something they'd scolded you for doing. Well, pretend I'm your mother now, because I'm advising you to NOT try to experience the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival all in one weekend, as I just did!

Yes, in just 72 hours I attended five special wining and dining events, sampled nearly 20 menu items at 15 international marketplaces and walked around Epcot approximately 33,350 steps, which translates into about 13.65 miles with my short legs.

Yeah, don't do that.

I would instead recommend that you savor the festival — don't try to do too much, and whatever you do, pace yourself!

Having said all that, however, here's a recap of what I've found at this year's Food and Wine Festival, the 18th annual one that Epcot has hosted. I'll try to give you the benefit of my acquired wisdom to help you get the most out of the trip if you're going.

(By the way, my trusty pedometer tells me that I burned just 999 calories with all that walking. I can assure you that I consumed more than twice that many!)

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Let's start with the most accessible of the festival's features — the International Marketplaces, or food booths as they are commonly called. There are 30 of them scattered around Epcot's World Showcase this year, spotlighting countries from six of the seven continents, as well as a few other local regions or specific food and beverage items (like the Desserts and Champagnes marketplace).

While there are many new menu items around World Showcase this year, there's only one international marketplace that is completely new — Scotland. The menu at this booth is representative of Scottish cuisine and includes that one item everyone thinks of, that is, if they know anything about Scotland at all. That's right, I'm talking about haggis. But traditional haggis is actually not presented here — instead we have a vegetarian variation (pictured at left) on the classic, which is supposed to be prepared with organ meats from a sheep, mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet and spices, and traditionally encased in the animal's stomach, then boiled. The vegetarian haggis was tasty — it was a "griddled" vegetable cake, and it had the spices right as I remember them from when I sampled haggis during my several visits to Scotland. As tradition dictates, haggis should be served with "Neeps and Tatties," or mashed turnips and potatoes — Epcot's rendition fudges a bit substituting rutabaga for the turnips. (My guess is to add a little color to the dish.) Also at the Scotland booth was a delicious and very fresh pan-seared salmon with creamy cauliflower puree, watercress and malt vinaigrette, and a can't-miss Banoffee Tart, with bananas, Scottish whisky toffee, shortbread crumbles and sweet cream. Rounding out the menu is a selection of single malt scotches, and a Scottish ale. My overall thought on this marketplace? Och aye the noo! (which my Scottish friends tell me means something like, "Oh yes, just now!") In other words, I think it's definitely worth a visit! And be sure to speak to the representative from Visit Scotland who's stationed there, on hand to answer your questions about the country and spread a little Scottish good will.

The Brazil booth is not strictly new, but it's returning after a several year absence with an all-new menu. Having had the good fortune to visit Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo last year, I was eager to try the samples here. The Crispy Pork Belly with black beans, avocado and cilantro is an interesting take, almost a deconstruction really, on one of the country's signature dishes, feijoada. The pork was smoky and savory and I enjoyed it — several times, if you must know. I also tried the frozen caipirinha, a slushified version of the country's well-loved beverage — a blend of a sugar cane liquor known as cachaca and lime juice. It was light and refreshing, a definite must-try.

There were plenty of other very good items on the menu this year — shout out to the lemon-tinged lobster roll in the Hops and Barley Marketplace, and the potato and leek waffle in Belgium — but let me tell you what my favorites were. Keep in mind that I didn't sample all the menu items on offer around the world — I didn't have enough time! Instead I was focusing on things that were new, or at least new to me. In no particular order because I'm finding it really hard to decide which was my absolute favorite:

  • Australia's Garlic Shrimp with Roasted Tomatoes, Lemon Myrtle and Rapini
  • New Zealand's Venison Sausage with Pickled Mushrooms, Baby Arugula and Black Currant Reduction
  • Singapore's Lemongrass Chicken Curry with Coconut and Jasmine Rice

Why those three? Because I thought the portions were a nice size, they were something truly different from what I was expecting, and because I'm still thinking about them — especially the chicken curry, which I'll admit is not very photogenic, but tastes out of this world.

If your sweet tooth demands equal attention, I'd also recommend:

  • Craisin Bread Pudding in the Hops and Barley Marketplace — Not as good as Mom's, but still has that warm comfort-food goodness.
  • Silk Ice Cream Ribbon in China — I had the coconut, which I thought was fabulous. Loved the extra touch of the fortune cookie, too.
  • Frozen S'mores in the Desserts and Champagne Marketplace — Drinkable, and a little too sweet for my taste, but most people seem to think it's better than the ones you made over the campfire as a Scout.

The only item I tried this year that I didn't really care for was the Zapiekanki in Poland. This wasn't a new item — it was introduced last year, but I never had the opportunity to taste it then. It's sort of a Polish version of pizza — caramelized onions and mushrooms on a rustic chunk of bread topped with homemade ketchup that has quite a kick. It didn't really win me over — but I'd love to hear what you think about this item, and all the others. Be sure to take our annual Food and Wine Festival survey to share your feedback!

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Well, as you know, as a veteran Food and Wine Festival-goer, I like to focus on what's new as much as possible. This year a few of the new events were also one-time events, which is a shame, because they were exceptional. The Chocolate Dinner on the opening night of the festival was quite an experience and I feel lucky to have been there. Course after course of beautifully prepared food, each enhanced in some way with a chocolate product. This event, held in World Showplace, was a winner and I hope that it returns to the festival in the future. (I'll have a more complete review in a few days on AllEars.Net.)

Another one-off was the special dining event, Scotland: Land of Food and Drink, also held in World Showplace, on Saturday evening. Patterned after the popular Party for the Senses tasting event hosted each year at the festival, but on a much smaller scale, this dinner shone a spotlight on all that's wonderful about Scottish cuisine. Perhaps your perception is that it must not be that good since it's from the United Kingdom (which as a frequent visitor to the British Isles I can tell you is a misperception, but I digress). Let me tell you, if that's what you think, you're wrong! Salmon, scallops, lamb, beef — the food was wonderful. Not only that, the single malt scotch flowed freely and the bagpipers and Gaelic dancers were brilliant entertainers. I wish you all could have been there — it was a delightful evening. Again, more on this on AllEars.Net later this week!

By far, though, my favorite of the new events is the Parisian Breakfast featured at Les Chefs de France restaurant in the France pavilion. For just $37 you can have your fill of fresh-baked croissants, brioche, cheeses, pain de chocolat, and other pastries, savory and sweet, mimosas with multiple refills, all accompanied by your choice of coffee, espresso, tea, or thick, rich hot chocolate. This was definitely a great value for the money — and I hope I haven't just condemned it to a price increase if they offer it again next year (which, judging by the enthusiastic response it received, I think they will). This breakfast is offered every Saturday during the festival, so I would encourage you to book a spot as soon as possible if you can. All 200 seats were filled the morning I attended and I have a feeling that may be the case every week. (Full review coming this week, I promise!)

Other new events yet to come are the Hibachi Experience — it doesn't start up until October 8, so I hope that I'll be able to catch it on my return to the festival in several weeks — and Spirits Confidential, another one-time-only event being offered on November 1. If the new events that I had the chance to try this weekend are any indication, I'd say that these new offerings are going to be worth your time. Let us know if you have the chance to attend one.

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Party for the Senses, Signature Dinners, Food and Wine Pairings, Wine Schools, Sweet Sundays, 3D Dessert Party, Cheese Seminars — these events have become the "elder statesmen" of the festival, since they have been around for a number of years now. Their formats don't seem to change much from year to year — and really, why should they? If it ain't broke, don't fix it, as they say.

I had the opportunity to revisit the three-hour Epcot Wine School, which I first tried about three years ago. This particular program, led by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, was equal parts educational and entertaining, due in large part to Robinson's informal approach. Set this year in a curtained-off area of the vast World Showplace, the feel of the presentation was less classroomish and more spacious than the Wonders Retreat upstairs in the Festival Center (which is where it has been held previous years) — a definite improvement.

Other programs also had a change of venue. The French Regional Lunches and the "Taste, Shake and Indulge Like the French" Grand Marnier tasting made their way back to the France pavilion this year. After spending last year in the Festival Center while renovations were being made to what was Bistro de Paris, and is now Monsieur Paul, the Grand Marnier program regained some of the ambience I felt it lacked last year. Having it back where it belonged seemed somehow more intimate and more enjoyable than before.

Back for the third time this year is the Ocean Spray Cranberry Bog, located in the middle of the walkway that connects Future World to World Showcase. Deb Wills and Kristin Ford had the chance to wade around in the bog this year, which really is such an interesting feature of the Festival. You can read their thoughts and see their videos in Kristin's bog blog:

Culinary Demos/Beverage Seminars (all priced at $14 this year) and Mixology Sessions (increased to $15) have returned largely unchanged this year, but are still terrific values for the money. Although the presentations are mostly under an hour, their prices are still reasonable, with some discounts offered to Annual Passholders, Disney Vacation Club and Tables in Wonderland members, and Golden Oak residents. When you take into account that some of these sessions are led by well-known and even celebrity chefs (for example, Carla Hall from the television show "The Chew" hosted a demo this weekend), they really are worth the money. You can book these sessions online as well as by phone, and they hold some tickets back at the information desk in the Festival Center for the day of the session for last-minute walk-ups. If you're on a budget and aren't sure whether the big-ticket festival events are for you, consider trying one of these programs.

Other returning Festival features include From the Bean to the Bar Hosted by Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. This chocolate experience, found in the rear of the Festival Center, boasts an impressive collection of intricate chocolate sculptures in cases around the room. I had complained last year that they were too dimly lit, but it seems to me that this year they are a bit brighter, making it easier to appreciate all the detail and hard work that went into their creation. There's the same historical timeline on the evolution of the chocolate industry in general and the Ghirardelli company in particular, and there's the chocolate bar, at which you can purchase the famous drinking chocolate, compared to taking a swig of a melted chocolate bar.

I've heard from others that there have been little tweaks to the other returning events to improve them as much as possible without detracting from what made them so popular to begin with. I hope to return to the festival in a few weeks to discover these changes for myself.

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There is a lot more to the Festival that I don't have the space to talk about here, but I did want to share some ideas I have that might make your trip to the Food and Wine Festival a little more enjoyable.

— As I said at the outset, take your time as you go around the World. I think that's important for a number of reasons. Remember that it's "a mile and a third around the World." Yes, it's a long walk around World Showcase, and even though it's officially autumn, it can still be quite hot and humid. Not the best conditions for consuming a lot of food and especially alcohol in a short time, so I would definitely encourage you to pace yourself. If you're tasting at the Marketplaces, go with a friend, or friends, so that you don't feel compelled to eat and drink everything all at once. Share! Then if you discover something you really enjoy, you can go back for a single serving for yourself later.

— Don't visit the Festival on weekends if you can at all avoid it. The difference between the crowds on Monday afternoon and the crowds on Saturday night is the difference between getting that tasty treat you were craving and walking away hungry, angry and frustrated.

— Buy one of the convenient gift cards on a wristband rather than trying to juggle your food and drink while reaching for your wallet. In addition to saving you the hassle of pulling out your credit card at every stop, and spilling the contents of your purse, pocket or cup, it can also help you budget. If you load up that card with $25 or whatever your limit is, you'll know automatically when you've hit it.

— Think about spending the $5.95 for one of the new clear plastic trays the Festival Shops are selling this year (see photo at right). It definitely helps when you are trying to carry multiple food samples, plus has a spot for your beverage, too. I think it was a genius idea — and why didn't I think of it before?

— If you're a Chase debit or credit card holder, you are eligible to stop in to the Chase Lounge. (I don't know if that was meant to be a pun on chaise longue, but it works for me.) Located in a new home — the third floor of the American Adventure pavilion — this hangout is much improved over last year. After you take the elevator up (or the stairs if you're feeling spry), you're directed to the refreshment area to the right, the spacious seating area to the left, and the restrooms to the far left. In the refreshment area there are tables and chairs and a bar that serves up cold drinks. There are also two free-standing Coke Freestyle machines. These are the much-lauded devices that allow you to customize your soda experience with multiple flavors. Yes, they are complimentary here! In the seating area, there are charging stations with every conceivable type of mobile device cord — who knew there were so many? You can also pick up wristbands that will get you special seating for the evening's Eat to the Beat Concerts and/or into the special viewing area for the IllumiNations nighttime show. Of course, you have to get there early in the day to get one of these coveted wristbands, but if you're eligible, definitely stop by the Chase Lounge.

— For the last few years, I felt that there were plenty of tables to rest on while I was noshing my way around the International Marketplaces. This year, though, what happened? There were several times I had to really search for a place to alight, and finding a spot in the shade was even trickier. So I'll share with you a few places I found that almost always have a place to sit, out of the sun's deadly rays, even. 1) Look at the temple in Mexico. To the right is the ramp for wheelchair access. It's a very shady path — you can hang out there or go to the top of the ramp, and there's a utility box that you can rest your plate on. Bonus — it's near the doorway, which emits a blast of air-conditioned coolness whenever it opens. Or look over to the left up there — there are a few hidden tables and chairs, but they're usually in full sun. 2) There are a number of tables with umbrellas and chairs across from the Outpost that are often unoccupied. I managed to run up there from China with my coconut silk ice cream ribbon and snagged a seat before it had melted — much. 3) Near the Hops and Barley Marketplace, they have a seating area, under shade, set up with picnic tables and several benches. You may have to share with your fellow noshers, but it's a seat, in the shade! (In fact, never be shy about asking to share a table when you're eating your way around the World. Almost everyone will say yes, and then you can trade notes on what's yummy and what's yucky!)

And that's it, I'm out of room. (And I don't just mean in this newsletter. I haven't eaten at all today, and I'm not making that up.) There's a lot more about the Festival that I wanted to share — as I've said before, it's my favorite event of the Walt Disney World calendar year. But I guess I'll just have to let you discover the rest for yourself. Don't forget to let us know what you find.

And if you want to read more about the culinary events that I mentioned above, remember to check AllEars.Net later this week, and throughout the festival's remaining days. We'll be reviewing the special events we've attended (or will be attending) and we can't wait to share the details, along with many, many photos as well as video.

Now, go and do as I say: Mangia bene! (That is, bon appetit!)


For general festival info:

The guide map for the first two weeks of the festival:

"Eat to the Beat" concert series schedule:

Marketplace Menus with Prices:

First Festival Photos:

Have you been to the Festival already? Share your experiences with others! Visit our Rate and Review section to provide your thoughts on the events.

And remember to rate the items you've tried at the International Marketplaces in our survey:

For more details about the Festival, be sure to check out Kristin Ford's recent posts in her "A Mom and the Magic" blog: