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Food & Wine Festival
The 10th Annual Food & Wine Festival at Epcot
Debra Martin Koma
ALL EARS® Senior Editor
article first appeared in the
October 18, 2005, issue #317, of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
My mom always told me that there were two kinds of people: those who eat to live, and those who live to eat. I knew early on which category I fell into and, unfortunately for my waistline, it's the latter. But, luckily for me, once a year I realize that I am not alone -- when I attend Epcot's annual International Food & Wine Festival I know that I am surrounded by fellow gourmands, each of whom is just as happy to eat and drink their way "around the World" as I am.
After my fourth consecutive year of attending the Food & Wine Festival, I can safely say that this is my favorite of Disney's big events. (Actually, I probably could have made that claim last year or even the year before ) From the tastes of the world around the World Showcase Lagoon, to the diverse multi-cultural entertainment, to the special culinary experiences on offer, just about every aspect of the six-week long festival is a winner.
The one thing that surprised me this year, though, was the absence of any big, splashy celebratory events -- given that this is the Festival's 10th anniversary, I thought there might be some special observances. Instead, many exhibits remain unchanged from last year. There are a few new and different exhibits and experiences, but the festival wasn't significantly expanded or changed in any way. Of course, I'm not complaining -- it's still a wonderful event, and there were plenty of "old favorites" that were well worth revisiting.
Around World Showcase, there are 27 food booths representing the cuisine of various regions and countries around the globe. Our random sampling of these "International Marketplaces" this year reinforced our feeling that, as in years past, the food quality really depends on the crowd levels and when you visit. (For example, we found the triangle-shaped spinach pie known as spanakopita at the Greece booth one weekday to be quite tasty, with tender phyllo and a moist filling. The very next day the same dish was dried out from sitting too long under the warming lights.) And as I have reported previously, the samples at the booths are not the best food you'll ever have, but they do give you a general flavor of a particular area's cuisine.
Still and all, our merry band of taste-testers tasted our way around World Showcase and managed to uncover many pleasant tidbits. The offerings at the Greece booth were all above average. I knew what to expect of the spanakopita (see above) and the tomatoey eggplant and ground lamb mixture known as moussaka, having sampled both many times at local Greek church food festivals over the years -- and these both compared favorably to that type of fare. The karydopita, though, a walnut and honey-sweetened cake which came with a dollop of whipped cream, was a rich and delicious surprise. My Polish and Italian roots demanded that I make stops at each of those countries' booths, and my complaint that they only offer predictable representations of those countries' foods still holds -- I know for a fact that they eat more than pierogies and cabbage rolls in Poland, and pizza and cannoli in Italy. Still, I was pleasantly surprised in both locations at the quality of the offerings. The potato pierogies accompanied with kielbasa were at least as good as Grandma's. And in Italy, the Baked Zita Carbonara was a bit dry, but tasty, while the chocolate cannoli was an improvement over the tasteless plain cannoli I had sampled at a previous festival.
Other winning morsels included the Quiche Lorraine and Chocolate Crème Brulee in France, the BBQ and the Sam Adams Stout Cake at the Barley and Hops booth, Conga Juice (lime, orange, and pineapple at Mexico), and the Tortilla (a layered potato and onion tapas dish in the new Castilla y Leon booth). The choices go on and on, with plenty to tempt both the adventurous and the not-so. If you do nothing else food-related during the Food & Wine Festival you must try a bite or two at some of the booths -- those Escargot Provencal in France and the Kheer (rice pudding) in India are waiting for you.
By the way, if you've purchased the Disney Dining Plan to go along with your vacation package, you're in luck. Someone in charge realized that most International Marketplace offerings are in the $1.50 to $4.50 price range, making them ideal candidates for Disney Dining Plan "snack" credits. The selections for which you can use the Dining Plan are even indicated on the booth menus, eliminating the guesswork and making it amazingly convenient for festival noshers.
If you've attended the festival the last few years, you might have seen or experienced the Wine Walkabout at the Australia exhibit -- for $7 (up from $6 last year) you can buy a "passport" that allows you to walk from table to table and have a sample of five different wines, while talking with the wineries' representatives. The concept was expanded this year to the new exhibit showcasing the Spanish region of Castilla y Leon -- $8 for a chance to try four different Spanish wines.
Also new is the Botswana, Africa exhibit, located at the end of the Rose Walk just before you enter World Showcase plaza. Set up to represent a Setswana village, the display is complete with grass-roofed huts, demonstrations on basket weaving, and performances by traditional dancers and singers.
The Odyssey, the former counter service restaurant located just before you enter the Mexico side of World Showcase, is again home to the "Chef's Showplace" and is the center of much activity. As in the past few years, it's the spot for special, ticketed, cooking demonstrations, such as the Lunch and Learn series and Sweet Sundays. Visiting chefs for these programs come from a diverse range of backgrounds, and include several very well known names, like Cat Cora (Iron Chef America) and Rocco DiSpirito (formerly of NBC-TV's "The Restaurant"). The Chef's Showplace is also the site of many complimentary cooking demonstrations (see the Festival program for times and chefs) -- this is a vast improvement over a few years ago when they held such demos outdoors in a cramped venue in World Showcase out in the Florida heat and humidity. New for 2005, they've also added complimentary "Authentic Taste Seminars" in the Chef's Showplace. Each program focuses on a specific ingredient, such as chocolate or olive oil. Since these 45-minute programs are free, you'll need to check the times and be there early to gain admission -- they're popular and can get very crowded.
There are also free tasting seminars held in the Festival Welcome Center -- as you might imagine, these seminars, featuring wines and spirits from literally all over the world, are in high demand. I was so busy attending other events I didn't get to poke my nose in on any of these complimentary programs, but in passing by the elegantly set tables in the Center, I got the impression that everyone was enjoying themselves greatly -- except for those who had been shut out and were impatiently waiting for the next opening.
In fact, all of the complimentary programs require some advance planning. Last year, I missed the boat and was shut out of the Art of Preparing Tea presentation hosted by Twinings in the UK pavilion. This year, however, I made sure I attended. (Actually, what happened was I walked by the little garden behind the pavilion at the opportune moment, just as a Cast Member was handing out timed tickets for the next presentation. But that's not important -- what matters is that I got in.) What an enjoyable and informative half-hour! Susan Sanders, a representative of Twinings, welcomed us as we sat at little patio tables set for four. Each setting had three plastic cups with three tea bags: Jasmine Green Tea, Lady Grey (a cousin of better-known Earl Grey tea), and Four Red Fruits. Although the pot of water we were given was lukewarm at best, we were able to steep a cup of each refreshing beverage. (We'd also been given cups of ice if we wanted to try the brews cold.) As we sipped, Sanders gave us the history of her company and the uses of tea, as well as a little bit of each tea blend we were drinking, some fun trivia, and tips on how to brew tea. Did you know, for example, that it takes 4 to 4.5 pounds of tea leaves to make one pound of tea? If you're at all interested in learning more about the perfect cuppa, arrive at the garden behind the UK pavilion about a half-hour before the program is scheduled to begin for your free tickets. Seating is VERY limited at this program (there's only room for 24), which is held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, at 11:30 a.m., 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. And don't forget to ask for the free leaflet with tea recipes! Other complimentary programs that require some advance planning are two beer programs: The History of Beer in America (presented by the Boston Beer Company in the American pavilion), and International Beers of the World (hosted by InBev at a kiosk in between the Canada and UK pavilions). I'm not a beer drinker, so I can't evaluate the worthiness of these programs, but I do know that they're extremely well attended. These programs also have set times during the day -- check the program, or at the Festival Welcome Center, and be sure to arrive at least a half-hour early for admission.
Festival posters are available in the Innoventions West Festival Welcome Center -- this year's print is a bold and bright-colored bistro scene. The Welcome Center is also the place to shop for the wines you've tried around the festival events -- there are hundreds of bottles from which to choose. If you want a commemorative festival pin, though, you have to walk a bit further. You'll find them, along with other festival merchandise, in the Festival Gift Shop, located this year between Showcase Tower West and the Canada pavilion.
By the way, if you're looking for the other artists who usually exhibit at the festival, you'll find them relegated to the "Artisan's Circle" in The American Adventure Courtyard. Several artists and their works are showcased in an area on the right side of the America pavilion daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. AllEarsNet® advertiser David Doss, known for his watercolor beach scenes featuring Mickey Mouse sand pails and other Disney images, is among the artists featured there.
One aspect in which the Festival falls short is in family-related activities. There are some things for the kids to do -- if they stop at the Kidcot Stops in the country pavilions around World Showcase, there's a specially themed Food & Wine Fest craft for them to work on -- but it's clear that this is mostly Mom & Dad's festival. However, if you take the kids over to the Land pavilion (and who doesn't go there now that Soarin' is open?), they can see a special exhibit with familiarly shaped produce. There are a few other "child-themed" displays -- the Buzz about Honey on select weekends, and Nuts about Peanuts in Future World, but unless your child is a very adventurous eater, they may prefer to skip World Showcase's food booths for another go-round on Test Track.
Besides the exhibits, kids (of all ages) might enjoy the Eat to the Beat Concerts at the America Gardens Theater (showtimes are 5:45, 7 and 8:15 p.m.). During my stay, the featured entertainment was the Edgar Winter Band. Not wishing to relive the '70s (I didn't enjoy it that much the first time around), I avoided these shows, but ALL EARS® Team Member Linda Mac caught a few sets of Winter and of the band Kansas, which was on hand during the opening weekend. You can check out her photos in our Food & Wine Festival Photo Gallery. Still to come to Eat to the Beat are a number of former hitmakers, including the Beach Boys, Chubby Checker and Three Dog Night.
MOVING ON UP
If you're thinking about splurging on one or more of the festival events that come with a price tag, don't overlook the Party for the Senses. I've raved about this fine wine and feasting extravaganza for the past couple of years, and my opinion hasn't changed after this year's event. Surprisingly, this year about half of the 25 chefs in attendance were from Disney properties, an unusually high ratio. That said, the quality of the food did not suffer, with several of the evening's clear winners (most notably the Ginger-scented Pork Tenderloin prepared by Chef Debbie Midkiff of Disney's Vero Beach, and the Kobe Beef Stroganoff by Chef Alan Peters of the Contemporary) coming from Disney kitchens. The distinctive combinations of ingredients was truly a treat for the tastebuds, with such delights as Parmesan Crusted Sea Bass paired with Mushroom Risotto, Duck Breast accented by a Tamarind Mole Sauce, and Scallops married to Serrano Ham and Cannellini Beans. For those of us with sweet teeth, there was an impressive chocolate fountain overseen by Disneyland Hotel chefs, Dulce de Leche Dumplings with vanilla bean ice cream, and Coconut Panna Cotta coupled with Mango Sorbet. As usual, there was also a variety of cheeses from around the world, with the welcome addition of dried fruits and nuts and a special selection of dairy products from the Irish Dairy Board.
The wines and spirits offered this year ran the spectrum from known quantities, such as those wines from Penfolds (Australia), Concha y Toro (Chile), and Silverado (California), to the new (at least to me) and exciting: Wynns (Australia again), August Kesseler (Germany), and Bodegas Nieto Senetiner (Argentina). Champagnes from Pommery and cognacs from Remy Martin were also available, as were a variety of beers from Samuel Adams. Rounding out the evening's sensory delights were the breathtaking performers from Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba, who performed aerial ballet, tightrope walking, and other gravity-defying feats. You'll find more on this affair, as well as many other Food & Wine Festival experiences, on AllEarsNet® later this week.
So, if you haven't yet joined in on the feeding frenzy known as the Food & Wine Festival, it's not too late -- it runs until mid-November. And if you can't make it this year, it's not too soon to start planning for next year -- the 2006 Food & Wine Festival starts September 29. You know that I'm already ready -- living to eat
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Epcot's 10th Annual International Food and Wine Festival runs daily through November 13, 2005. Admission to the festival is included with your park admission, but there are several special events that are an additional (and sometimes hefty) charge. Many events are already sold out, but some openings remain, particularly for the Party for the Senses. To make reservations, contact 407-WDW-FEST. And if you're thinking ahead to next year, remember that reservations for many of the ticketed events go fast -- be sure to watch AllEarsNet and ALL EARS® for an announcement, probably sometime in July, concerning reservations for the 2006 Festival.
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The AllEars.Net Team hopes you enjoy our other reports and photos on the Food & Wine Festival -- check the links in the left-hand column!