A Conversation with Marianne Hunnel: 2009 F&W Festival

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor


The other day, I had the chance to speak with Marianne Hunnel, manager of culinary programs for the upcoming Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. I asked her if she could “spill the beans,” so to speak, about what we can expect at the annual 45-day eating and drinking extravaganza, which runs this year from September 25 through November 8.

“I’m really excited about this year’s festival,”Hunnel stated. “We have such an exciting lineup of chefs and programs.”

Hunnel, who, along with her husband, Victoria and Albert’s chef Scott, just celebrated her 20th year with Disney, noted that they are still adding the final touches to many of the events scheduled for this year’s festival. She did, however, share many, if not all, details of what’s to come.

What’s New?

“We’re going to have three new kiosks around World Showcase,” Hunnel said, referring to the international food booths scattered amidst the country pavilions around World Showcase Lagoon. “The first will be right as you enter World Showcase, and it will feature desserts and champagne. You can arrive at the festival and toast the day along with maybe a Grand Marnier parfait. Then if you’re hungry for real you can move to straight to another new kiosk — Rio de Janeiro, from Brazil.”

The other new kiosk this year is Thailand, featuring samples of savory Thai food paired with, not wine, but beer.

“We’ve found that in many countries wine isn’t necessarily as popular,” Hunnel noted. “And it’s sometimes not the best pairing with the food.”

While there won’t be any big “experiences” around World Showcase, like last year’s Louisiana or Australia exhibits, there will be several additions that offer more than just the samples you’ll find at the food booths. For example, the Edy’s Ice Cream Experience will offer a variety of flavors and interactive activities. The Italian region of Puglia will also be represented for all 45 days of the festival. Located near the Italy pavilion, of course, you’ll find demonstrations there on pasta-making and tastings, including tastings of Puglia-produced olive oil, which Hunnel claimed is “incredible in flavor — fruity, sweet, the aromas.” My mouth was watering as she waxed poetic — I do so love food.

Hunnel also said that by the time the festival starts the new lounge, Cava del Tequila, will be open in the Mexico pavilion, and it will be the site of tequila tastings each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Spirits seem to be making a comeback,” she noted. “There’s a timeless tradition, obviously, of people enjoying spirits, but it seems that they are gaining in popularity again. Some guests at the festival like to explore different tastes like this, particularly when the people who crafted the beverages are present. It’s an educational journey.”

Also in Mexico, at least for part of the festival (the specific dates have yet to be determined) there will be chefs and demonstrations courtesy of the Mexican Tourist Board.

One program the Hunnel said she was very excited about is the new Celebrating with Family and Friends in the Kitchen. The concept is that a celebrity chef will prepare a three-course lunch for the audience, alongside one of their friends, another chef, or perhaps even a family member. The tentative schedule of these lunches is listed below.

What’s Returning?

Although last year’s experimental venture City Tastes is not returning, the ever-popular Party for the Senses will again be featured every Saturday, adopting at least one aspect of City Tastes — a weekly theme.

“Each week, we’ll be celebrating something,” Hunnel noted, “from Comfort Foods with a Twist to Classical Cuisine presented in a new way.” (Hunnel detailed the themes for each weekend, which I’ve listed at the end of this blog, along with other info she shared with me about other programs.)

The Party will, however, feature a new twist this year — an exclusive Wine View Lounge, available for an additional fee, will give a limited number of guests the chance to partake of special amenities: a secluded area; private, reserved tables; and special menu items.

“Guests have expressed a desire to have an exclusive area like this,” Hunnel noted. “We think this will be the place to see and be seen.”

Also returning are the popular Sweet Sundays brunches, during which a celebrity chef prepares a variety of desserts after guests have a light brunch. Programs like Authors without Borders, the Wine School and other signature dining events, will also return. The Cheese Tastings are being offered again as well, although they’ll be starting a little earlier than in previous years — 10:30 a.m. Hmm, wine and cheese first thing in the morning — Breakfast of Champions? Could be, could be…

Hunnel said that the final schedule, complete with dates, times and prices, should be available online at disneyworld.com within the next 5-10 days, but here are some specifics that she could share with me:

Celebrating Friends and Family in the Kitchen

“¢ September 26 The Deen Brothers (Jamie and Bobby, sons of Food Network’s Paula Deen)

“¢ October 2 Suvir Saran

“¢ October 9 Patti LaBelle (yes, the singer — she has a cookbook out!)

“¢ October 16 Dean Max and Paula DaSilva

“¢ October 23 Alan Wong with Art Smith

“¢ October 30 Cat Cora (possibly with her mother)

“¢ November 6 Andrea Immer Robinson, M.S. – With husband John Robinson

Party for the Senses

“¢ September 26 – Spanish cuisine/wines (chef Douglas Rodriguez will be on hand this week)

“¢ October 3 – Comfort Foods with a Twist (think macaroni and cheese made with artisanal cheeses and homemade pasta)

“¢ October 10 – South American (including chef Jeff Tunks)

“¢ October 17 – Classical Cuisine presented in a new way

“¢ October 24 – Asian (including chef Alan Wong)

“¢ October 31 – Fall Harvest (including chefs Cat Cora and Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans)

“¢ November 7 – Italian

Sweet Sundays

“¢ September 27 Andrew Shotts
“¢ October 4 Warren Brown & Mary Meyers
“¢ October 11 David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, VA
“¢ October 18 Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
“¢ October 25 Clair Clark from The French Laundry
“¢ November 1 Geraldine Randalsome
“¢ November 8 Jacques Torres

My mouth is watering already! I’ll be covering the first weekend of the Festival and returning again later in October with my family for our annual visit. If you have any suggestions of things I should try specifically, drop me a note here and I’ll make the supreme sacrifice of “researching” these fun food and wine events for our readers!

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Debra Martin Koma wrote about food, travel and lifestyle issues for a number of local and national publications before she fell in love with Walt Disney World on her first visit — when she was 34! She's returned to her Laughing Place more times than she can count in the ensuing years, and enthusiastically shares her passion with readers of AllEars.Net and AllEars®. Deb also co-authored (along with Deb Wills) PassPorter's Open Mouse for Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line, a travel guide designed for all travelers to Walt Disney World who may require special attention, from special diets to mobility issues.

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44 Replies to “A Conversation with Marianne Hunnel: 2009 F&W Festival”

  1. Deb-My husband and I have attended the Party of the Senses since it began. In this year’s description of the general price it seems like foods are not being paired with wines as in previous years. Is this the case? Can you only obtain the wines with the additional fee?

    Deb Koma replies: Hi Carol, I’m not sure I understand your question — the Party for the Senses is pretty much set up as in years past. There are stations that have food samples, and right next to them are wine stations, just as before. You don’t purchase the wines separately. The only thing that’s different this year is that there is an option for an exclusive seating area — for an additional $75 you can be seated in the “Wine View Lounge” which guarantees you a seat, with a few other little benefits.

    Hope this helps!

  2. The Food and Wine Festival is one of my absolute favorite events!!! The last time I was there was October 2007. All the tastings were wonderful. I hope to attend again next year. Have fun to all of you going this year…

  3. We make an “annual trek” around the countries about twice during each Food & Wine Fest. Will be there the weekend of Oct 16th with S & BIL and the weekend of Nov 6th with parents. May even try to squeeze in a “day trip”. As always – can’t wait!

  4. we’ve never experienced the f&w festival at epcot! Looking forward to this experience next month – can’t wait to be there. Is there a best time to visit? We are there 16th to 24th.

  5. So far…execution of the seminars is great. Being able to sign up early and at a discount is wonderful. Even if I can not atend a few that I already paid for (went a little nuts and signed up for 20 over 10 days) not having to wait in line is well worth the price of all 20 for my husband and I over 10 days. Nice job so far Disney.

  6. I was pleased to learn that the Disney Dining Plan “snacks” can be used at the F & F Festival kiosks for certain items. Beats eating popcorn and pretzels!

  7. Stumbled upon this blog. Great info.. Time is money at Disney World. $8 is worthwhile expense to avoid spending 2-3 precious hours waiting for a free experience… Thanks R

  8. If the fee for the wine seminar will save me from waiting in a very long line, I may still go to a few. If I have to be at EPCOT at rope drop to get a ticket, it will not make for a good vacation. Much will depend on how Disney executes this one.

  9. Hi all, Deb Koma here again — wanted to address a few more of your comments:

    To Denise: Unfortunately, as good as Disney is in general about dealing with special diets, they haven’t historically been so great for the Food & Wine Festival events. The best thing I can recommend is that you phone Disney directly to find out about gluten-free options at these events. The more advance notice that you can give them that you have special dietary needs, the more likely they’ll be able to accommodate you.

    To Jody: About the Deen Brothers — I, too, was disappointed yesterday to discover that they were not going to appear on 9/26. The cast member I spoke to, though, didn’t realize they had rescheduled, but thought they were already sold out and so not appearing on her computer screen. 🙁 In any case, I opted to add some other events, since I, like you, can’t reschedule the trip. Hope things work out for you!

    About the $8 fee for the seminars: I understand your concerns about having to pay for something now that has heretofore been free, but I think there’s more at play here than Disney just trying to grab a few extra dollars from us. Those free seminars have been EXTREMELY popular, and there is only limited space — many disappointed visitors have been shut out time and again, or have had to wait in ridiculously long lines to get in. I think the fee is partially to discourage the casual festival-goers, and limit the crowds in some way. Yes, there is an opportunity for Disney to defray the cost of these seminars somewhat, but $8 does not really cover what you get at some of these seminars — several samples of really nice wine, or a nice entree prepared by someone like Rock Harper. Just a thought.

  10. This is such an exciting time at Disney!! I am wondering if there are any “gluten free” options available and might someone post some options so all could participate.

    Gluten free is foods without wheat, rye, barley, and for some oats. People with Celiac Disease, as I have, or gluten sensitives are when individuals can’t eat/digest any of the listed grains. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease and 1:100 people are believed to have this disease, and 97% of them do not know it.

    FYI – Most Wines are gluten free

  11. I just tried to book the Deen brothers for our 4oth birthday trip and was told they have re-scheduled for Oct 3rd. Now we have no way of changing our plane tickets to see them. This was the highlight of our trip 🙁 So, people please call and confirm your event before booking plane tickets. Now I have to figure out a different birthday surprise for my best friend for our trip. Disney has not scheduled anyone to take their place on the original Sept 26th date. So sad not to meet the Deen brothers !!!

  12. Sally:
    You can use your snack credits towards the food samples. There are large signs in front of each stand that will have the little dining snack credit symbol next to eligible samples.


    See the purple boxes to the right of the prices? Those are all items you can use snack credits on. 🙂

  13. My husband and I have been attending the festival for a few years and I totally agree with the terrible $8 fee. What is Disney thinking. Also I agree with the elitist sound of “the place to be see…” It’s awful that the well off are catered to so much and the average person, who might I add has probably spent thousands for their trip, are treated as lesser. This may be our last year and it’s too bad because we are celebrating my husbands 60th and of all the times of the year we have visited this was our most favorite. Maybe we’ll stick to Christmas from now on.

  14. Just wondering if the quick service dining plan card will be able to be used at the Food and Wine Kiosks. Does anyone know for sure? Looking forward to my first F&W celebrating my husband’s 60th and my granddaughter’s 6th!

  15. My wife recently was reviewing the Food and Wine Festival Guide and noticed the $8 charge for the wine and culinary seminars, that have been complimentary at previous festivals. We also have found great wines at these seminars that we continue to buy today. It is unfortunate that Disney has had to go to this level during these difficult economic times. I wonder if this will impact the number of people that attend. I certainly would be more willing to pay for a full glass of wine rather than these small samples. And why go from no charge to $8 in one giant leap. If they are going to charge, why not make it more reasonable, $2 or $3. This charge could, depending on the number of seminars couples attend, add hundreds of dollars to a vacation. Maybe it is time to re-evaluate the Festival.

  16. I agree with everyone about the $8 charge for the wine seminars. I used to love and go to try new wines that I wouldn’t necessarily have purchased. I often found new ones that I loved, and have purchased many bottles of wine due to these tastings. However, there have also been some wine seminars where I didn’t like any of the wines, that I would have been really upset if I spent $8 on the seminar.

    I would much rather take my $8 and spend it on something that I know I like. Guess I won’t be spending as much time at the Food and Wine Festival this year as I have in the past.

  17. I’ve pretty much decided that we will be skipping this years events due to our displeasure with a lot of the festival last year. Amoung those issues were the quite public & noisy location of some of the pricey special events we paid for last year, the lack of consistancy of the line/ticket handling for the “free” seminars and the games played by some of the regulars and/or locals to insure they were able to get into every free seminar every day, and the disrespect showed by the antics of those individuals toward the presenters and other guest.

    I also find the comment by Chef Hunnel “We think this will be the place to see and be seen.” in regards to the special lounge at PFTS to be quite distasteful & elitist. It is an insult to the many of us who are average middle class & can’t afford this type of perk.

  18. Wow, I’m schocked…I guess Teresa heard right regarding the NEW but ridiculous $8.00 charge for what used to be the FREE wine and food demonstrations…This really doesn’t sit well with me, especially in this economy…It really has shifted my attitude as to attending this event. I would rather take the $8.00 and have a full glass of wine…It’s too bad Disney felt they had to take this away from their loyal fans!!!

    Just needed to vent!!!!!

  19. I can say that I am a bit disappointed that the festival marketplace is basically the same as last years. My wife and I make our annual pilgrimage to Epcot specifically for the Food and Wine Festival and were looking forward to the different venues and locales that would be represented this year. Unfortunately we will be repeating mostly the same menus as last year.

  20. Thanks for the great info Debra!

    I can”t wait, the Food and Wine Festival is my favorite time to visit WDW. We usually go near Veterans’ Day in November but it’s ending earlier this year.

    We like the end of the F&W Fest. because we can check out the Festival of the Masters at Downtown Disney too.

  21. Prices and times are now on Disneyworld.com. for the Wine Fest. Now I have to decide if I can risk missing my plane for lunch with the Deen Brothers, is it worth it ladies? If I knew Paula was there, I would miss my plane for sure. Anyone know if she does book signing ?

  22. Hi! A few more answers to your questions:

    To Teresa: I hadn’t heard anything about an $8 charge for wine seminars — I know they charge for the wine walkabouts, or whatever they call them this year. That’s where you get a ‘passport’ and can get 4 samples from a variety of wines offered — that’s different from a seminar. You’ll have to ask Disney about the specifics of that, if that sort of thing is offered.

    To Harold: No, there is no state spotlighted this year. This is what Marianne meant when she said “there won’t be any big experiences around World Showcase, like last year’s Louisiana or Australia exhibits.”

    Thanks all!

    Deb Koma

  23. Hi Debra,

    We decided to get in on the free dinning plan this year and so much more is falling into place that I wasn’t aware was going on at the time of booking. We’ll be there at the end of Sept. and into Oct. After reading this aricle, I am beginning to wonder if we will be able to leave EPCOT at all. So much to do!

    Edy’s Ice Cream Experience and the Italian region of Puglia sound excellent! I am so looking forward to tasting the various foods! Can’t wait! Thanks so much for all the wonderful, detailed information you supply!

  24. Will there really be an $8.00 charge for the wine seminars that have been free since the start of this festival? For that price, will the need to stand in line be eliminated? What other improvements can I expect for this price?

  25. we will be there the first week of oct..disney usually highlights a state, like two years ago it was oklahoma, anyone know which state they have chosen this year? daughter getting married at the boardwalk at noon, then we will go to epcot for dinner at le Cellier and walk around the countries..ht

  26. Hi Debra,

    We can’t wait to be there. We are going to use our first Bay Lake Tower points and catch the best Disney event of the year, the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

    Bon Appetit!!!!

  27. To answer a few more questions:

    Tina: No meet planned yet — hard to plan until we have the exact schedule of the Food & Wine events. Once we get that, we’ll try to work around it!

    MikeS.: We will try to get a list of all food kiosks’ offerings as soon as possible, but that info isn’t usually available until the festival actually starts, or shortly before. Keep checking AllEars.Net!

    Kathy: My whole family still enjoys the Party for the Senses, even after 5 years or so, but if you want to try something different, I’d look at some of the signature dining events. The full list isn’t out yet, but they often have special dinners at resort restaurants that are a lot of fun.

    Thanks, everyone!
    Deb Koma

  28. Great article Deb! We will be there the first weekend as well. Are you planning a meet & greet or anything? We’d love to meet our Disney guru! I’ll keep my eyes peeled!

  29. Is there anyplace that I could find a list of all of the food stands and what they will be offering?

  30. The food and wine fest makes already amazing WDW vacations so much better! This is by far the best time to visit WDW!

  31. We will be returning for our 6th time…We can only afford to do 1 special event and we’ve always done the Party for the Senses, my husband loves it!!! Should we stick with it again this year or is there something else we should definitely try instead…


  32. We’re going the first weekend and probably a few other days too.

    I can’t wait. . .this all looks so great!

  33. We (me & my boyfried) were there for the last weekend of the Food & Wine Festival in 2008. We loved it so much that we booked again this time for a full week in October and are bringing my 73-yr old step-father with us. This should be quite an exciting year!

  34. It looks like the Friends and Family event is replacing the Food and Wine Pairings which I was really looking forward to 🙁

  35. The full schedule with prices will be online before the end of July. Reservations for the ticketed items begin August 11 at 7 a.m. Call 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378).

  36. We are returning after visiting the event in 2007.

    Is there a way to reserve space in some of the events before we get there from 10/1-10/8?

    I couldn’t find any info at disney.com

  37. I will be there opening weekend also….this interview just got me all excited again, lol. Can’t wait….69 days.

  38. Wonderful report! I’ve been waiting for news on the upcoming F&W Festival. I’ll be there the first weekend and the last 2 weeks!

    Can you find out whether the grand opening of Cat Cora’s new restaurant, Kouzzina, will be incorporated with the F&W Festival’s events? Given the timing and its proximity to Epcot, I thought it would be a sure thing.

  39. We arrive September 25th, I can’t wait to sign up for lunch with the Dean boys, we used to watch their show on Food Network!

  40. Steve and I will visit for a week as we have for the last 2 years…we can’t wait! The schedule sounds wonderful, and I’m delighted about the new kiosks. See you there.

  41. We will be there the first weekend also and I can not wait to try everything!! Thanks for the info…