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Epcot's 2007 International
Food & Wine Festival
Food & Wine Festival Marathon:
Eating for 26-Plus Miles
Debra Martin Koma
ALL EARS® Senior Editor
article first appeared in the
October 9, 2007, issue #420, of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
A marathon is 26.2 miles, right? Well, imagine if you will, eating your way through all 26.2 miles. That's sort of what visiting Epcot's 12th International Food & Wine Festival on opening weekend was like. Just picture trying to cram (literally) all that food into your body in one four-day weekend as you cover that amount of territory. I know, I know -- I get no sympathy from you. But I'm not asking you to cry for me, Argentina, or Greece, or any of the other countries represented at the festival, for that matter. I hear it all the time from friends and family. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.
And so, for the sixth consecutive year, after months of intensive eating and drinking training, I headed down to Walt Disney World to see what was being served up for this ever-popular, multicultural food and beverage extravaganza so I could report back to you.
You probably know that the entire circuit around World Showcase is a little over a mile long. I lost track of how many times I traced that route during the course of this weekend, because, as you also may know, one of the main attractions of this festival is the International Marketplace -- the collection of food booths placed around World Showcase that dish up samples of cuisines from regions all around the world. Twenty-eight booths ring the lagoon this year, from long-time attendees like Italy, Australia and France, to newcomers Peru and the Dominican Republic and the great "country" of Oklahoma.
Uh, Oklahoma? Well, yes. Oklahoma, which actually has two International Marketplace locations, is celebrating the centennial of its statehood this year. Their two booths showcase very different themes -- one represents the Native American flavors of the state, with the savory Three Sisters' Soup, and the Seared Buffalo with Scalloped Wild Onions (worth a taste, in my opinion), while the other highlights the state's more modern tastes (pecan pie, peach buckle) in a faux Route 66-style diner.
A good way to sample the tastes around the International Marketplace without overeating is to go with a small group, and that's what Editor-in-Chief Deb Wills and I did on opening day. Despite the 90-plus degree heat, a group of 13 intrepid AllEars® readers gathered and roamed around the booths, sharing tastes and opinions on the offerings. Several of us tried the buffalo, mentioned above, with varying opinions. ("It's still mooing!" was Paul from Wales's lament, while others found their portions overdone -- inconsistency being one of the dangers of sampling from the food booths.) The Spicy Tuna Roll from Japan made Paul from Scotland, "unbelievably happy," while his new bride called the Bastilla from Morocco, "an odd combination of powdered sugar and meat." Several members of the group gave the Australian Grilled Lamb Chop with Caramelized Onions a "thumbs up," but the country's Macadamia Nut and Chocolate Bar was cold and gummy, rather like a tollhouse pan cookie -- and decidedly un-Australian, in our opinion.
We'd like to thank the AllEars® readers who risked melting under the blazing Orlando sun and joined us that broiling hot afternoon: Honeymooners Paul and Emma from Scotland; Michelle and Paul from Pembrokeshire in Wales; Jeanine and her mom Shirley from California; Geri and Paul from New York; Mary and Dean from Florida; Pat; and Rebecca and Alan from Connecticut, who left the kids at home! Next time we attempt this type of eating event, we'll be sure to order up some cooler weather.
As you sample the international morsels on offer and traipse along the World Showcase circuit, you'll come across several exhibits that will entice you into making side trips. The aforementioned Oklahoma area has, in addition to two food booths, a tepee that houses a demo kitchen, some displays that offer crafts and goodies for sale, and a stage where Western-garbed and Native American storytellers give talks about the state's history. Over near the American Adventure pavilion, you'll find the Pearville Fair -- I know, it sounds a little hokey, but I actually found it to be quite a nice exhibit. There's the Pearville Kitchen, in which cooking demonstrations are presented several times a day (I picked up a nice recipe for Brie, Ham and Pear Panini), as well as crafts and several hands-on activities for the kids.
Also new are expanded areas for Peru and the Dominican Republic, located on the Rose Walk that connects Future World to World Showcase. They feature authentic crafts, along with tastings of native cuisines, daily culinary demonstrations, and entertainment by the Ballet Folklorico Dominican Republic. (And don't miss the Pastelon de Platanos Amarillos, a tasty vegetable stew featuring plantains, at the Dominican Republic's food booth -- one of this year's winners, at least in my book.)
This part of your marathon will also take you past a number of returning exhibits, such as the Australian "Wine Walkabout," which allows you to sample four wines for $7, and the similar "American Wine Adventure." Also making a return engagement is an expanded area for Turkey.
Coming up on the calendar there will be limited time exhibits, the Taste of Puglia, Italy, (October 19-28) and the Greek Island Wine Bar (October 26-November 4). By the time you're done walking around all those exhibits, you're bound to have completed at least a half-marathon!
TAKE A WALK TO
If the walk around World Showcase doesn't wear you out, don't worry -- the festival has spread out a little bit more geographically, which will certainly add to your total step count. This year, the Festival Welcome Center, previously located in Innoventions, is housed in the Wonders of Life pavilion in Future World East. This new location is the center for the complimentary wine seminars offered during the Festival. Don't think just because these have moved to a more out-of-the-way location that they'll be any easier to get into, though -- they are extremely popular and visitors line up as much as an hour -- or even more -- beforehand. Be sure to check the Festival program and plan accordingly. The pavilion is also the site of the "Wonder Bar," where you can purchase beer, wine and champagne by the glass, to sip as you browse around the festival wine and book shops. In addition, a number of chefs and presenters will hold book-signings at this location, and this is where a variety of Food & Wine Festival merchandise (clothing, wine and cooking-related gadgets, etc.) is sold.
As you walk back from Future World toward World Showcase, you'll pass the Odyssey just before you get to Mexico -- it again is the spot for a number of festival cooking events, both complimentary and paid (see the Festival program for events and times). The Odyssey Chef's Showplace will host Sweet Sundays, Exquisite Evenings, Kitchen Conversations, and more, which feature respected chefs from all over the world, including several celebrity chefs, such as Iron Chef America's Cat Cora and Todd English. Many of these ticketed events are already sold out, but if you're lucky enough to attend one, you definitely won't regret it.
This year, more than ever before, the Food & Wine Festival seems to have extended its reach into the whole of Walt Disney World. A number of signature dining experiences and other events take place at the Disney resort hotels' premiere restaurants and beyond, such as Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the California Grill at the Contemporary, and even Todd English's bluezoo at the Walt Disney World Dolphin.
Having attended both the "Inspirations from India" lunch that was held at Jiko, and one of the Afternoon Teas with Stephen Twining (held at Ariel's at the Beach Club), I can tell you that, in my opinion, these events are worth the extra distance you have to travel to reach them. Based on these two events, also, I would say that they are worth the extra expense -- and believe me, they aren't INexpensive.
ALL THE REST
As for the rest of the festival's happenings, well, it offers many of the same events that I've talked about over the past few years -- the Eat to the Beat Concerts that are held nightly in the America Gardens Theater, the weekly Party for the Senses tasting extravaganza held at the World Showplace, the usual activities for kids at the Kidcot Fun Stops around Epcot and in the Land. While these may not change much from year to year, that does not lessen their appeal, and I would recommend that you check them out for yourselves if you're heading to Walt Disney World for the festival.
You'll find reviews of many of these events on AllEars.net in the next few days. And I hope you'll see that, despite the fact that I walked the equivalent of a marathon while experiencing all the events and sampling all the delightful tastes that I could, there is no one else's shoes I would have rather been in.
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Epcot's 12th Annual International Food and Wine Festival runs daily through November 11, 2007. Admission to the Festival is included with your park admission, but there are several special events that are an additional (and often hefty) charge. Many events are 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, the dates have already been announced: September 26-November 9, 2008. Remember that reservations for many of the ticketed events go fast -- be sure to watch AllEars.net and the ALL EARS® newsletter for an announcement, probably sometime in July, concerning reservations for the 2008 Festival.
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Food and Wine International Marketplace (Food Booth) Survey! Tell
us what you thought of the samples!
Don't forget to check AllEars.net in the coming days as we add more photos and reviews of special events, such as Party for the Senses and Afternoon Tea with Stephen Twining!