General Review
We Came, We Ate... and Ate Some More!

2003 International
Food & Wine Festival

Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, ALL EARS®

This article first appeared in the
October 21, 2003, issue #213, of ALL EARS®.

Foie Gras. Go ahead, say it with me. Fwah Gwah. It's French, you know, so you must say it with an outrageous French accent, a la Monty Python.

No matter how you say it, though, it means just one thing. Liver. Duck or goose liver.

I hate liver.

Or at least I thought I did, until I paid a visit to this year's 8th annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival which opened this weekend at Walt Disney World. I ate -- and loved! -- more foie gras in the last few days than I have in my entire life. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

You don't have to like foie gras or savor champagne to enjoy the Food and Wine Festival, which runs until November 16 this year. You just have to be a little bit adventurous, willing to try some new tastes while revisiting old favorites, be open to all the experiences that the festival has to offer. And believe me, it has a lot to offer, from complimentary demonstrations and tastings to high-priced, fancy-schmancy six-course dinners with wine pairings.

Just let me tell you about the Food and Wine Festival this year.

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Most of the festival is, as usual, centered around World Showcase this year, although there are a few little "family" events down at Future World's Land pavilion. There are close to 30 booths ringing the World Showcase lagoon, complementing the country pavilions with their cuisine samplings, which are all just a few dollars. The taste treats offered this year don't vary significantly from the offerings of past years: the Canada booth still ladles up the popular Cheddar Cheese Soup, you can still mangia Pizza and Cannoli at the Italy stand; Ireland again offers up the Whiskey Flan (among my favorites from last year); the Polish booth continues to speak to my roots with its Kielbasa and Pierogies.

Like last year, the foods offered at the booths are fairly fair -- not outstanding, in other words -- but they do offer you a hint of what the cuisine of a particular region is like if you've never tried it before.

Also like last year, the first weekend of the festival was fairly chaotic. Crowds were extraordinary, in the tens of thousands, and lines for the food booths were steady, nearly two dozen people long from about noon until 8 p.m. Some of this was also due to the confusion at the cash registers -- for some reason, many Cast Members were unable to take credit cards or room charges for the sample purchases. When I tried to have my purchases at the Australian exhibit sent back to my room I was told that they just weren't equipped to do that on that day. Unfortunately, confusion seems to be the hallmark of every kick-off weekend.

Instead of spending a lot of time on the tried and true, though, this year I focused my energies on things that were new (or at least new to me) and the special culinary events that have become synonymous with the Food and Wine Festival.

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New this year was an enlarged section dedicated to the wine, food and culture of the land Down Under. One of the big draws to this exhibit, which is situated between the African Outpost and Germany (on the site of last year's Spanish exhibit), is its Wine Walkabout Passport. For $5 you can buy a pass that allows you to sample five different Australian wines, possibly one of the best values of the entire festival. Since Australian wines are among my favorites, it saddened me to not be able to take advantage of this savings -- but I knew I had too many other special eating and drinking events in my future, and I had to pace myself. Instead, I satisfied myself with wandering around the makeshift displays (nothing anywhere near as substantial-looking as last year's Spain area). There were several Aborigine craftspeople on hand to show and talk about their handmade items -- boomerangs ($10 and $25), dot art (think pointillist or Seurat), and the musical instrument, the didgeridoo. I listened with great interest during the demonstration of this unusual musical instrument, from how they are made (the center holes of the wood are started by termites, then burned hollow), to how they are played (it takes a lot of practice!), to why women don't play them (it's a fertility thing). There's also a good selection of merchandise on sale from various Australian wineries (t-shirts, corkscrews, glasses), and Aboriginal dancers performing several times a day, making this an interesting stop on your tour around the World.

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Although South Africa was represented at last year's festival, one aspect that was new to me here was the impromptu Meet the Winemaker Session, held several times a day. The particular session I stumbled upon was presented by Jan Paddock of False Bay Winery, south of Capetown. Not only was the presentation entertaining and informative, the wines -- a light, yet fruity Sauvignon Blanc and a very dark red, very dry Pinotage -- were just as enjoyable. This setting, with its comfy chairs under shade, made for a nice break as I strolled the World Showcase. There are also allegedly live South African performers at this location, but this was one of the opening day glitches I encountered -- no one knew exactly when the performances would be. Cast Members promised they would figure the schedule out in a day or so.

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If you know me, you know that the word "chocolate" will always stop me dead in my tracks -- I once made a trip around World Showcase with friends, looking for something chocolate in each of the pavilions. Well, this exhibit doesn't disappoint. Located in the Italy pavilion itself, you can start by watching some chocolate-making demonstrations. As I looked on, trying not to drool, the chefs poured melted chocolate into molds and talked about how they can create these bite-sized bits of heaven. Outdoors you can hear Gianduja, a character storyteller who relates Italy's chocolate traditions several times a day. Be sure to sign up at the Piemonte booth, just at the entrance of the pavilion, if you want to attend a special chocolate culinary demonstration in Alfredo's. I was lucky enough to watch as Hugo, a chef from the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners, prepared a dish from the Piedmont region that featured marinated beef tenderloin cooked in butter and onions, served with a sauce of wine and chocolate, with a hint of cinnamon, cloves, and other spices and herbs. (Click HERE for the recipe!) Best part? We got a small sample to taste! It was amazing -- and free!

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I admit it. I didn't actually visit this new seminar, held several times a day next to the Rose & Crown Pub in the UK pavilion, at all. I love you guys, but not enough to drink beer for you. Sorry. But I hear from folks who DO like beer that this seminar had some great complimentary tastings of beers like Stella Artois and Boddingtons. OK... if they say so.

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Um, the beer thing again. Sorry.

Seriously though, the Germany pavilion itself looks wonderful, decked out in fancy blue and white decorations for the festival. Special Oktoberfest entertainment (not Oktoberfest Musikanten, which performs inside the Biergarten Restaurant) is featured several times a day in the courtyard, as well -- look for a trio of musicians and a separate accordionist. And I'm sure the Oktoberfest brew that's supposed to come direct from Munich is very good.

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In years gone by, I've tried to get a seat for one of these demonstrations, held at The Terrace, a special stage set up between Morocco and France. The trouble is, seating is limited and you have to be there at least an hour a head of time to get a seat -- if you're standing, your view of the main area is almost sure to be obscured by the latticework they have set up. This year was no different, especially because the chef of the day was television celebrity Martin Yan, of the Food Network show Yan Can Cook. I did manage to catch a few minutes of Yan's presentation, which was humorous as well as educational, but if you want to read more in-depth details about his demo, remember to visit later this week -- Deb Wills and Dotti Saroufim will be filing a more thorough report.

Upcoming celebrity chefs to be featured at demonstrations on The Terrace include Paula Deen of Food Network's Paula's Home Cooking, and Todd English, who will soon open his new restaurant bluezoo in the WDW Dolphin. A cadre of well-known Disney chefs are also scheduled to appear, including Anette Grecchi-Gray of Jiko, Mark Mattern of Cinderella's Royal Table, and Tony Marotta of the Yachtsman Steakhouse.

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There are a few small displays strewn along this pathway that might be fun for the kids, including "The Buzz about Honey", presented by the National Honey Board. I was treated to a private sampling of several different honeys by Jami Yanoski and I found that fireweed honey, produced from blossoms of the fireweed plant, doesn't have quite the cloying sweetness of traditional clover honey, while blackberry honey does actually have an unexpected fruity quality. I also got to meet Lawrence Cutts, a third-generation beekeeper who I've seen featured on TV -- you know, he's the guy that wears a buzzing beard of honeybees. I'll bet you've seen him, too. He told me that he's been a beekeeper since he was a boy and that he expected his blood was half bee venom. Kids can check out his photos and beehive and also decorate their own "bee" cookie.

The main reason I explored the Rosewalk, however, was to check out the "new" exhibit called "Kitchen Karnivale," which promised the return of the Kitchen Kabaret Players. Many of you may remember them from Food Rocks' predecessor, Kitchen Kabaret, which featured the ever-popular tune, "Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit." The exhibit is geared to inform kids about the merits of good nutrition by employing some hands-on activities, like a ring-the-bell-with-a-sledgehammer game, an area where you can make a mask, and boxes that play sounds when you lift the lids. Except that they weren't working when I was there -- the Cast Member assured me they'd be fixed soon. The catchy tune was playing over the loudspeakers, however, by the time I exited the display, munching on the free fruit cup they handed me as I left humming... Veggie Fruit Fruit, Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit...

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Now, about that foie gras -- It seemed to be everywhere! At the Party for the Senses at World Showplace, at the Lunch and Learn Series event we attended, we even had it twice at the Reserve Dinner, Gems of Germany, which we enjoyed Sunday night.

The foie gras at the Party for the Senses showed up on the mouthwatering Venison Tenderloin with Terrine of Foie Gras, Caramelized Shallots and Truffled Fig Glaze prepared by chef Michael Ginor of Hudson Valley Foie Gras. It also made an appearance on the Seared Tuna with Foie Gras, Leek Puree, and Black Truffle Madeira Sauce by Mark Franz of San Francisco's Farallon restaurant. That latter dish, with its foie gras the consistency of whipped butter, was again featured on the menu at the Lunch and Learn held at Spoodles and led by Franz and his partner pastry chef/chocolatier Emily Lucchetti. And Ginor had the chance to wow me again with two other foie gras dishes at the Gems of Germany dinner: a cold Terrine of Foie Gras with Tropical Fruit Jam, Micro Green Salad and Truffle Vinaigrette (yum) and a hot Whole Roasted Foie Gras with Caramelized Shallots, Apples and Double-Apple Smoked Bacon with Fig Glaze (yummier!).

Is your mouth watering yet? I know mine is at the memory. As someone who has always turned her nose up at liver, pate, foie gras and all its incarnations, these special experiences did exactly what they were meant to do -- expose me to tastes and flavors that I would normally shun and broaden my horizons (not to mention my waistband!).

Would you like to read more about these and the other special, higher priced culinary events that are a part of this fabulous food fest? Well, we're out of space here, and besides, we just got back and haven't had time to put our pencil to the paper, but remember to check later this week -- Deb Wills, Dotti Saroufim, the Czarina and I will all be writing up in-depth reviews of the very special events we attended and we can't wait to share the details with you!

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Epcot's 8th Annual International Food and Wine Festival runs daily through November 16, 2003. Admission to the festival is included with your park admission, but there are several dining events that are an additional charge. To make reservations for events such as Party for the Senses, contact 407-WDW-FEST.

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Food and Wine Festival General Information

Food Booth and Price Guide

Food and Wine Festival Photo Gallery

Exhibits and Experiences

Other articles by Deb Koma HERE.

Live Entertainment Schedule: Steve Soares' Live WDW Entertainment Guide



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.