Epcot's
2004 International
Food & Wine Festival

VENI, VIDI, VINO!

The 2004 Food & Wine Festival

by

Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, ALL EARS®

This article first appeared in the
October 12, 2004, issue #264, of ALL EARS®.


Just back -- last night! -- from the 9th Annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and wanted to give you all an overview of this year's event.

This was the second weekend of the expanded festival, which runs until November 14, and it was clearly already in full swing. I suppose the holiday weekend (it WAS Columbus Day yesterday, wasn't it?) was partially responsible for the huge crowds we saw, but I also think some of it has to do with the growing popularity of this eating and drinking extravaganza.

Many of this year's offerings are similar to those of the last few years, but that doesn't make them any less interesting or enjoyable. If you're planning on visiting in the next few weeks (and I highly encourage you to make the trip if you can!), here's a quick a rundown of what you'll find.

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AROUND THE WORLD
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As usual, festival events are staged in and around Epcot's World Showcase. This year, the Festival Welcome Center is housed in Innoventions East -- there you'll find schedules and general information on the festival, as well as a number of special wine seminars held throughout the day. Be sure to arrive early for these seminars -- although the set-up is beautiful, its space is limited and it fills fast! At these free seminars, you'll have the chance to sample wines from vineyards from around the world, while wine experts speak on the production process or the rationale behind selecting the right vintages -- a fun way to pass an hour or so.

Free wine seminars are also held daily at the Terrace, located between the France and Morocco pavilions -- again, be sure to get there early to get a spot. My timing was poor, so I wasn't able to actually attend one of these seminars, but I did have the chance to eavesdrop on the presentation made by Sapphire Hill Winery while I was browsing the nearby Valencia, Spain, exhibit -- I saw several wine glasses set at each place, and found the little of the lecture I heard quite interesting.

Other free presentations include the daily cooking demos held at the Odyssey's "Chef's Showplace." Presenters here range from Disney's own premier chefs, such as Boma's TJ Sudiswa and Jiko's Anette Grecchi-Gray, to return visitor Cass Abrahams from South Africa and Jean-Claude Perrenou of New York's Waldorf-Astoria. Remember, arrive in plenty of time to snag a seat.

The Great Beers of the World tasting returns this year, held at the Rose & Crown in the UK pavilion. A new seminar more to my liking, The Art of Making Tea, is also held at the Rose & Crown on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Seating is very limited at this location, so be sure to stop by the Rose & Crown around 11 a.m. when the World Showcase opens to sign up if you want to attend. It doesn't tell you this in the official Festival Guide, but I should have known better. But... since I didn't sign up, I didn't get in. Well, maybe it'll be back next year.

There are 26 "International Marketplaces" stationed around the lagoon, featuring little tastes of cuisines and cultures from around the world. For just a few dollars you can sample Green Lip Mussels from New Zealand, or Chacalaca (a vegetarian bean dish) from South Africa, or Baklava from Greece. (And if you like what you taste, you can buy a recipe book at several locations around Epcot -- it's $6.50 this year, up from $5.00 last year.) For a few more bucks you can wash those food items down with Cristal Beer from Peru, or Akadama Plum Wine from China, or Cherry Kijafa from Scandinavia. As I reported last year, the samples at the booths are not haute cuisine, but they do give a representative idea of what a particular region's food is like. (Although I'd like to see something different than pizza at the Italy booth, and kielbasa in the Poland booth -- I mean, who among us hasn't tried these foods already at one time or another?)

Another minor complaint is that many of the items sold at these food booths are repeats from past festivals (Dan Dan Noodles, China; Lobster Corn Chowder, United States; Maple Glazed Salmon, Canada) -- it would be nice to see some new dishes, and perhaps something a little more adventurous. Nevertheless, these selections continue to be popular among the masses -- the lines prove that! And I did manage to find enough new menu items -- or, at least they were new to me -- to keep things interesting.

But instead of revisiting all of my old favorites (although I couldn't pass by the yummy Pot Stickers at the China booth and the absolutely wonderful Rice Cream at Scandinavia), I tried to concentrate on what was new and/or improved at this year's fest.

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FEATURED EXHIBITS AND
EXPERIENCES
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The new and much-hyped New England Fair was a bit of a disappointment -- it's little more than a series of kiosks located near the American Adventure, all geared to promoting various aspects of New England, Vermont in particular. Items for sale include pure maple syrup ($13 for 8 oz.), spreadable Jed's Maple Mudd ($6 for 9.4 oz), and Vermont-themed note cards and calendars. There's also a cheddar cheese tasting -- Cabot's chipotle cheddar (slightly peppery and very tasty) and Hunter's cheddar, both surprisingly lactose-free -- and a mechanical cow that allows kids (and curious grown-ups) a chance to practice milking technique. Rounding out the exhibit is a Sam Adams "History of Beer in America" display, along with a beer-tasting tent in the rear. To be fair, I know that all the presenters are at the Festival to promote their products in one way or another, but somehow past years' displays didn't strike me as commercial as this particular one.

Much better were the new Peru and Tortilla Cocina exhibits. The latter features several hands-on activities for children, such as a cornmeal grinder, and "Totally Tortilla Quick Cooking Tips" several times a day. The former display showcases the brightly colored woven goods and crafts by Peruvian artists, and native dancers perform a few times a day.

Several of the more popular exhibits from past years are here again, too, but are presented in a new way, such as Australia: Discover Down Under, which returns with a scaled-down display. Culinary experts, aboriginal dancers and didgeridoo players perform demonstrations several times daily, and, more importantly, the popular Wine Walkabout Passport makes an encore appearance -- for $6 (up from last year's $5) you can "walkabout" the exhibit's kiosks to sample five delightful Australian wines from wineries like Penfolds, Rosemount Estate and Lindemans (some of my personal faves).

Remember how many folks thought (hoped?) the Spain exhibit constructed for the Food & Wine Festival two years ago was going to become a permanent World Showcase pavilion? Sadly, that hasn't come to pass, but Valencia, Spain, has returned this year, with a much more limited display. It's still one that has plenty to offer, though. There are cooking demonstrations several times a day, as well as Spanish guitar and folk dancing performances. The shop at the Valencia exhibit features some of the more interesting wares I spotted at this year's festival: paella kits, including the pan, rice and olive oil, for $29; 750 grams of sea salt for $4; 1 gram of real saffron for $22; Tengra porcelain figurines for $150; and "Horchata de Chufa" (AKA Tiger Nut Drink -- no, I didn't ask!) for $4.

Besides the exhibits, don't forget that each night there are three Eat to the Beat Concerts at the America Gardens Theater (showtimes 5:45, 7 and 8:15 p.m.). We missed the legendary Beach Boys by one night, darn it! But Starship featuring Mickey Thomas proved to be more entertaining than I thought they would be. They even proved me wrong -- they actually DID have more than one hit! Upcoming shows feature Three Dog Night (oh, to have seen them!) and the one and only Chubby Checker!

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JUST FOR KIDS
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I noticed a definite lack of things geared especially to the younger set at this year's festival. Along the Rose Walk that connects World Showcase with Future World there was an exhibit, The Buzz about Honey, presented by the National Honey Board, greatly scaled down from last year. Previously, there were tastings of different types of honey, along with a chance to meet beekeepers -- this year the beekeepers are there, but I found no honey samples. Too bad. The bee guys did have a see-through hive with real bees, though, with a white dot to mark the queen, so children could have fun trying to spot her. As part of the exhibit, there's an educational "maze" that traces the path of a honey bee from flower to hive and concludes with a craft for the kids.

Over at the Land pavilion, kids can view a collection of unusual pumpkins and melons, as well as see the new Mickey-shaped pumpkins and cucumbers while learning how they were grown. In addition to participating in the Junior Chef program that's regularly held in the Land, kids can also try their hands at a "Seedsational" craft, decorating a map with seeds from around the world.

I guess they're saving the real kid-friendly events for the debut of the upcoming Kids' Weekend, November 12-14, during which there will be a fall craft fair and children's culinary demonstrations at the Odyssey. I'm sorry I'm going to miss it.

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SPECIAL DINING EVENTS
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Just because I said I was focusing on the NEW doesn't mean I neglected the old at this year's festival. For the third consecutive year, I threw caution to the wind and attended the over-the-top gala known as Party for the Senses, held at the cavernous World Showplace. And for the third consecutive year it did not fail to overwhelm me. Chefs from as nearby as Le Cellier and the Concourse Steakhouse joined those from as far away as Hawaii and New Mexico to present taste sensations that I could have never even dreamed of. I mean, can you imagine champagne jelly with white chocolate and black truffle ice cream in a cup lined with chocolate? Or a polenta timbale with grilled mushrooms and Maytag blue cheese, on a bed of fennel salad with roasted red pepper aioli? This is the stuff that dreams are made of -- well, that MY dreams are made of now!

The quality of the food was rivaled only by the beverages accompanying it. There were representative labels from all over the globe, including Australia (the newly introduced Little Penguin wines were real winners), South Africa (General Bilimoria's Shiraz-Pinotage was a stand-out) and, of course, California (Laetitia Vineyard's Pinot Noir captured my red wine-loving heart). Beyond that, there were champagnes (Domaine Chandon and Domaine Carneros), beer (Sam Adams), cognac (Remy Martin even had Red Strawberry Kiwi and Red Grape Infusion varieties!) and single malt scotch (I nearly lost my husband to Macallan's 15-year-old Fine Oak). Added to that was terrific entertainment -- music from a group called Rock of Asia was unusual but most enjoyable, if a bit too loud (especially when you were seated right next to it -- ouch, my eardrums!). And, of course, the incomparable artists from La Nouba were on hand. Some performed aerial ballet and other acrobatic feats, while others strolled through the crowd, clowning and posing for photos. I could write so much more about this event -- in fact, I will, and you'll find it on AllEarsNet® later this week.

In a day or two, you'll also find reports on the wonderful Lunch and Learn Series and the Food & Wine Pairings held at various restaurants around the World -- I attended one at Alfredo's that featured gnocchi so light it floated a few inches above my plate, coupled with wines from Castello Banfi that were perfect complements to the courses. We'll also have a write-up on the new Sweet Sundays Series we attended this past Sunday night. Our chef for the evening was Antony Osborne of Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College in Birmingham, Alabama, who has prepared desserts for such notables as former president George Bush and Prince Charles of the United Kingdom -- so you can imagine what exquisite desserts we enjoyed! In addition, you'll find a look at the Food & Wine Festival from the perspective of someone on a low-carb diet from our own Czarina Eureka, and, of course, more photos from around the Festival.

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VITAL INFO
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Epcot's 9th Annual International Food and Wine Festival runs daily through November 14, 2004. Admission to the festival is included with your park admission, but there are several special events that are an additional (and sometimes hefty) charge. To make reservations for events such as Party for the Senses, contact 407-WDW-FEST.

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RELATED LINKS
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Food and Wine Festival General Information

Food Booth and Price Guide

Food and Wine Festival Photo Gallery

Other articles by Deb Koma


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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.