Epcot's 2008 International
Food & Wine Festival

Profile: Nora Carey

Nora CareyNow that the 2008 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is nearly over, Nora Carey, project manager of the event, can tackle a new assignment.

The 2009 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

That's right -- planning for the '09 Festival is already under way.

"It's basically a full-year project," explains Carey, who has lived and worked in both Paris and London, and has a background in publishing, business and culinary arts. "Just doing laboratory testing on all the different foods that will be brought in during the festival takes about three months alone."

Noting that she and her team of two other cast members (Mary Ann Hunnel, who handles the foods or "solids" and Kelly Block, in charge of beverages or "liquids") have already chosen a theme for next year ("Culinary Adventures"), Carey says that they are partnering with many other Disney departments to help the 2009 Festival take shape.

"It's a huge endeavor," she adds. "We work with a dedicated art director for our artwork, the culinary teams, marketing, business development to help us with sponsorships -- we are like the center of the wheel reaching out to the other areas."

One of the most time-consuming elements of this "huge endeavor" is testing the foods that will be used during the festival, as Carey alluded to earlier. She claims that about 90 percent of the foods brought in for the festival are not on Disney's "core" list -- that is, they haven't been approved yet by Disney's food safety or health services people. This testing, however, is one corner that can't be cut, even if, as in the case of the cheeses, "it takes forever." Carey adds, "Food safety is one thing we don't joke about here."

Aside from the product testing, Carey notes that all the recipes for the meals prepared during the festival have to be worked out in their test kitchens in advance, no easy task when you can't always get the menus from the chefs when you want to.

"We try to have the menus set by September 1," Carey said, "But that's not always possible, due to vacations and other factors."

When asked about what goes into the decision-making process to determine the types and number of seminars and demonstrations during the festival, Carey smiles broadly. "We have such a broad audience. We have some guests who walk into Epcot with no clue that there is a special event going on, and we have others who plan their vacations around the Festival. We have the very novice people who know little about wine to those who are very sophisticated. We have to try to offer something for everybody."

This challenge of striking the right balance has led Carey to constantly search for new things. Unfortunately, as she noted, sometimes when you introduce something new, you have to take something else away. (Although she knows not to take away the creme brulee, or, heaven forbid, the snails from the France food booth -- consistently the festival's number one seller!) For instance, this year, Disney managed to entice the Bocuse D'Or culinary competition to hold its event in Epcot the opening weekend of the festival. The significance of the competition overshadowed many other Festival events, but those who were able to view the daily competition, or attend the extravagant grand gala that concluded the event, found it a new and exciting bonus to the Festival.

"Next year," Carey added, revealing that the Bocuse D'Or will return in 2009, "people will know better what it's all about and we'll add more seating capacity for more guests to watch the daily competition."

Carey pointed out that while she is eager to try new ideas, and is always trying to take a different look at what's been done, she is very mindful that she can't do crazy things that are completely unprofitable. "It's a delicate balance," she agreed, when asked how the current economic climate might affect the festival's future attendance. "We need to find ways to service more guests, while still keeping the events entertaining and informative and giving good value. And we hope that people realize and appreciate that."

One way that she is attempting to do this is by asking some of Epcot's operating partners to think outside of the box, too. One result of this encouragement is the French Regional Lunches held this year in the France pavilion's Bistro de Paris restaurant. Formerly the host of Food and Wine pairings during the festival, this year the restaurant offered a series of three-course lunches, each representing a different region of France.

Squelching rumors that the Food and Wine Festival may be seriously curtailed or even eliminated in the future, Carey says that she is hopeful that 2009, her sixth year as Festival coordinator, will be just as successful as it has been in the past. And, if she and her team have anything to say about it -- and obviously they do -- it will be.

"I try to make sure that everyone is satisfied with the festival," she says. "For the guest, I have to look at whether the events provide value and diversity, whether the speakers are up to par. But the speakers are our guests, too, so I have to make sure that coming here to our festival is a pleasant experience for them as well."

"My goal is to see that everyone comes happy and leaves happy."