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Food & Wine Festival
by Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, AllEars®
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante
Martini & Rossi Prosecco
Caramel Popcorn with Nutella Crunch
Valrhona Chocolate Souffle Cake
with Balsamic Strawberries and Whipped Cream
Citrus-Coconut Panna Cotta with Yuzu Granita
One of the returning programs at this year's Food and Wine Festival at Epcot is Sweet Sundays, which allows you to enjoy a light brunch buffet before treating you to three decadent desserts, while watching a demonstration of their preparation.
It has been a few years since I attended this program, since three desserts first thing on a Sunday morning is a bit too much for me, but I decided to give it another go this year. The last time I attended a Sweet Sunday it had been held in the Odyssey, a nice venue for this sort of demo presentation. This year's event was held in the Festival Center, as most of the Food and Wine programs are.
I was curious to see how they would orchestrate the brunch in this space. Using tall plants as partitions, and cordoning off the area with velvet ropes, they managed to set the area apart quite well from the rest of the wide open Festival Center space. The brunch items this year were much better than I remember from my previous Sweet Sunday experience -- four-cheese quiche, chicken sausage with apples, French toast sticks, breakfast potatoes with leeks, danish, muffins, fresh fruit, assorted coffees and teas, and more, all quite tasty and plentiful.
After most everyone had gotten their food, hostess Pam Smith introduced our pastry chef for the morning. Our chef was originally supposed to be Andrew Schotts, a premier chocolatier of Food Network fame. Shortly after I booked this event, however, I learned there had been a chef switch -- and instead our presenter would be Rick Griggs of Abacus restaurant in Dallas, Texas. Although I'd never heard of Chef Griggs, he appeared to be quite comfortable talking with his audience and more than willing to share tips and secrets as he progressed. But as I have said before at these cooking and baking demonstrations, the presenter can make or break the experience. While Griggs was pleasant enough, he wasn't the most dynamic speaker, and I found myself unable to concentrate on his presentation, focusing more on the noises coming from the other side of the plant partition.
That said, Griggs' three featured desserts were enough to appease even the sweetest of sweet teeth, I should imagine. His first item, Caramel Popcorn with Nutella Crunch was more properly classified a confection, and Griggs confessed that this simple-to-make treat was actually an embellished old family recipe. The concoction was a perfect combination of contrasting flavors and textures: the sweetness of the caramel and Nutella (a hazelnut chocolate paste that was used in the bottom layer of the confection) and the saltiness of the popcorn, the creaminess against the crunchy popcorn and crushed up corn flakes used as the base. The trouble was, for me at least, the goody was so sweet it made my teeth sing! I could barely manage to eat half of the sample placed before me, as tasty as it was. I have a feeling though, that my teenage son would have had no trouble chomping the morsel down.
The second dessert was a completely flourless Chocolate Souffle Cake with Balsamic Strawberries and Whipped Cream, made with premium quality Valrhona chocolate. After being allowed to rise to its fullest fluffiness, the "cake" then is chilled and sinks, becoming almost like a dense mousse. Griggs topped this with berries soaked in a white balsamic reduction, a perfect, slightly tart compliment to the rich chocolatey goodness of the cake.
The final item on the day's dessert menu was Citrus-Coconut Panna Cotta with Yuzu Granita. Yuzu was a new-to-me flavor, and I'd venture it was to a number of event-goers, too. It's a citrus fruit that comes from Asia and it tastes and smells like... yuzu. That is to say, it's not quite like any citrus you might be familiar with. If I had to compare it, I'd say it's close to an orange-y type of flavor, but even still, I really didn't care for it -- even though I quite like orange. Luckily, Griggs only used the yuzu for the granita (a crushed ice) that he used to garnish the light, creamy panna cotta. Griggs had wisely saved this light dessert for last, so that we wouldn't walk out of the event groaning, but still -- it was an awful lot of sugar in a very little time.
These desserts were all accompanied by two glasses of sparkling wines -- both Martini & Rossi. The very popular and rather sweet Asti Spumante and the crisper Prosecco, a good Italian substitute for champagne. Both worked well with the desserts, the Asti slightly moreso in my opinion.
So, is the Sweet Sunday program worth the $80 plus tax? I guess the answer is -- it depends. The desserts were good, and any one of them at the end of an evening's meal would probably have delighted me. But having all three, one right after the other, before lunchtime? It's a bit too intense of an experience for me. If, however, you LOVE desserts, and can really appreciate three fairly decent-sized dessert portions, after brunch and along with a couple glasses of bubbly, then yes, this program is for you. In fact, the other event-goers at and around my table said their Sweet Sundays experience: 1) "was worth every penny"; 2) "far exceeded their expectations"; and 3) "made their day."
But, on the other hand, if you're like me, and would prefer a savory meal over an embarrassment of rich sweets, then you might want to think twice about signing up for a Sweet Sunday. I think it'll be a while before I try another one.