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Rate and Review
2010 Epcot International
Food & Wine Festival
Epcot's 2010 Food and Wine Festival
Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, AllEars®
This article first appeared in the October 5, 2010, issue #576,
of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)>
Just got back from Orlando and so it's time for my annual overview of Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival. Can you believe this was my ninth year attending this event, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary? Neither can I! But believe it or not, I still enjoy writing about this eating extravaganza -- although if you're a longtime reader of this newsletter, you may be tired of reading my reviews of it!
To help counter that, I'm going to try something a little different this year. Instead of going over the whole festival bit by bit, I'm going to piggyback onto its theme of Delicious Discoveries, and tell you what "delicious discoveries" I made myself this year.
I made a lot of Delicious Discoveries as I traveled the circuit of the 27 "International Marketplaces" strategically placed around World Showcase. For those who haven't been to the festival before, these are basically food booths, each themed to a specific world region or food type, featuring two or three food samples, as well as a few examples of the local wine, beer or spirits. Most of the countries represented by these food booths have been mainstays of the festival in the past -- Italy, Poland, France, Germany, China, etc. But interestingly, there were quite a few new dishes on offer at these returning participants. In addition, two countries, South Korea and Belgium, are making their first appearance at the festival, while Singapore is returning after a few years' absence, so their items were new discoveries as well.
Although I made a valiant effort, I was unable yet again to taste each and every item offered. One of these days I'll manage it! Even though I didn't get around to everything, though, I have to say that those items I did taste seemed to be of a very high quality, well prepared and nicely presented. There may have been a few items that I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about, but that was due to personal preference, not because the food was badly prepared. Portion size seemed to be good this year, too -- you could easily share most of the dishes I tried with another person, and in some cases with two others.
So what did I discover? First of all, newcomers South Korea and Belgium both had winning entries. The Barbecue Short Rib with Steamed Rice and Cucumber Kimchi ($4.25) in South Korea was both meaty and savory, as were the Lettuce Wraps with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw ($2.75). I even hazarded a glass of the Bohae Bokbunjajoo ($3.50), a black raspberry rice wine. I thought it might be cloying, but no! It was delicious and fruity and not too sweet at all. I didn't have the chance to try the Mussels with Roasted Garlic Cream at the Belgium marketplace, but the feedback I heard from those who did was extremely positive. And the Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream ($2.75)? To die for. A freshly baked, light, crisp waffle about the size of the palm of my hand, with a generous helping of berries and cream -- the line forms to the right.
Other items I found to be at least worth a try on my walk around the World: Singapore's Coconut Braised Beef Rendang with Jasmine Rice ($3.25); France's Braised Short Ribs in Cabernet with Mashed Potatoes ($4.75); Bison Chili with Wild Mushrooms Cabernet, and Pepper Jack Cheese ($3.50); and of course Australia's popular Grilled Lamb Chop with Roasted Potato Salad and Red Wine Reduction ($5.75) (not exactly a discovery, since the item was available last year, but still its deliciousness was a revelation!). I also quite liked the Chicken Chipotle Sausage with Sweet Corn Polenta ($3.75), even though it was so spicy hot it nearly burned my lips off, but I was confused by where I found it -- Canada? Is chipotle big in the Great White North, then? I didn't know. But I paired it with the St. David's Bench Vineyard Merlot ($3.75), and enjoyed both very much. If you like spicy food, it was definitely a must-do.
And my vote for Most Improved Marketplace goes to China, which last year served one of my least favorite food items, the unpalatable Chicken Urumqi. This year, China has three clear winners: Pot Stickers, Xinjian Barbecue Chicken Stick, and my personal favorite, the Black Pepper Shrimp with Sichuan Noodles ($4.50). Four succulent shrimp, of a generous size I might add, seasoned perfectly and on a bed of savory noodles. A light zing, not too spicy, I think these shrimp might have been my favorite taste of the marketplaces. Well, at least they tied with the lamb chop in Australia.
OK, so this is actually a not-so-delicious discovery. I don't like to dwell on the negatives -- and truly this event doesn't have many, as far as I'm concerned. It's my favorite time of year at Walt Disney World. But, as you stroll around World Showcase, you might notice, as I did, that there are a few things missing.
For one, I missed "The Mouse Catch", a booth which for the last few years featured generous samples of three international cheeses. It's been sorta kinda replaced by a Charcuterie and Cheese station, but the cheese fondue and the smoked meat platter there didn't quite thrill me in the same way as a plate of fresh Dorothea, Mahon and Piave cheeses.
Beer aficionados will miss the Sam Adams tasting area, previously set up in the courtyard near the American Adventure, even though a number of Sam Adams selections are featured as usual at the Hops and Barley booth. Yes, there is now a big kiosk of specialty brews set up in Showcase Plaza -- 15 Beers for 15 Years -- with titles ranging from Viru Premium Estonian Beer to Widmer Hefeweizen, which offers a "beer flight" of three 6 oz. beers for $7.25. But it's not quite the same.
Wine lovers will note that the New York Wine Adventure from the last few years is also MIA, while those of us with longer memories will still mourn the absence of the Australian Wine Walkabout, which has been gone for two years now.
I was also disappointed to discover that many of the other extras I've come to expect from the festival were missing. Last year, for example, you could watch chefs making pasta by hand in the Italy pavilion, or attend an olive oil tasting -- free activities like that seem to have gone by the wayside, as have many of the activities that were geared toward children. In fact, I discovered that there was very little this year that would be of interest to kids -- even less than in years past. I understand that this is a more adult type of event, but the fact remains that it is still Walt Disney World and people bring their offspring. It might be nice if there was something for them to do.
VALUE FOR MONEY
This year, I was somewhat surprised to discover that I didn't have to spend a fortune to have a great time at the special fee-based experiences. I know, it's shocking, right?
The beverage seminars and culinary demonstrations that are held on the weekends in the Festival Center (which will always be known as the Wonders of Life pavilion to this old-timer) used to be free of charge. When Disney began charging for them last year, there was a lot of grumbling. But honestly, this year especially, I found that the modest fee ($8 to $13 depending on the session, a bit less if you book online in advance as a Tables in Wonderland or DVC member, or an Annual Passholder) was worth every penny for what I got.
You might be tempted to think that these "cheap" demos would be presented by unknown chefs and winemakers. Not so at all. The first culinary demo I attended was the biggest "discovery" I made all weekend, in fact.
Presented by pastry chef Keegan Gerhard, and his wife Lisa Bailey (also a pastry chef), this session was a highly entertaining and educational -- not to mention delicious! -- 45 minutes. Of course, I was familiar with Gerhard as the host of the Food Network's "Challenge" series, but I had no idea how winning his personality was, nor how wonderful his desserts could be. As he talked his way through preparing an amazing "Dessert Sandwich Situation", he impressed me with his style, and I realized how he landed the TV gig. He was accompanied by Brandon Seager of New York's Red Newt Cellars, who supplied an off-dry "Circle" Riesling. Both the wine pours and the dessert portion size were generous, and I felt I got more than my money's worth from both the presenters and the items put in front of me.
Likewise, the culinary demo I attended by chef Bob Waggoner was both instructive and scrumptious. The chef, soon to be the star of his own PBS TV show, led us through his preparation of a simple yet elegant -- not to mention HUGE -- Maine Diver Scallop, which was accompanied by a generous sample of a different, drier, Red Newt Riesling.
The beverage seminars I attended were also hosted by fairly well-known wineries, with entertaining presenters, and very generous pours of their product. All in all, I discovered that these little sessions were absolutely a great value and well worth doing.
I LIKE GRAND MARNIER
I am, admittedly, not a liqueur lover -- I really don't care for sweet drinks at all, so I've tended to shy away from Grand Marnier over the years, lumping it in that "too sweet for me" category. Still when I saw the new "Taste, Shake and Indulge Like the French" offering at this year's festival, I decided to try it. Am I ever glad that I did.
The premise of the experience is that you will TASTE several different types of Grand Marnier, you will SHAKE your own mixed drink using Grand Marnier, then you will INDULGE in delicious desserts, Crepes Suzette and Souffles Glaces au Grand Marnier, all for a mere $45 plus tax. Sounds good, right? And it is!
As with many of these demos, the success or failure lies with the personality of the presenter, and in this case we hit the jackpot. As led by Antoine Gervais, who is Business Director of Grand Marnier at Moet Hennessy USA, this 90-minute program took us through the history and making of Grand Marnier up to allowing us to be our own mixologists, making an old-time cocktail called a Grand Marnier Smash. I learned that Grand Marnier was cognac-based, and was shown how to appreciate not only the overt orange flavor it is well-known for, but also to pick out the more subtle hints of nutmeg and even toffee found in the various types. I came away with a greater appreciation of this spirit, and certainly look forward to trying it again on my own.
The event is only offered on Saturdays in October, so if you can book it for an upcoming trip, I urge you to do so. You might make the same delicious discovery -- that Grand Marnier is pretty good -- that I did.
DISCOVERY #5: YOU *CAN*
HAVE TOO MUCH OF A
Even though I've been going to the Food and Wine Festival for nine years now, I still haven't found the right balance -- you'd think I'd know by now how to pace myself. The truth is, though, that there is so much to experience during this festival that it's very easy to overdo it.
After my third event one day, which had also entailed sampling several of the International Marketplaces, I realized that I had had it. I still craved a real dinner -- after all, I had basically been grazing all day, grabbing tasty morsels here and there -- but I just couldn't handle one more beverage seminar, culinary demo or even a tapas-sized sample of Beef Rendang. I needed something fairly healthy, and away from the crowds. I opted for a quiet vegetarian meal at the sparsely populated Captain's Grille in the Yacht Club, with a simple iced tea. It was restorative.
I guess that would be my biggest tip for anyone, newcomer or old-timer: pace yourself. Pencil in a nice, quiet sit-down meal after a day of noshing around the World. Don't try to eat and drink at every food booth in one day, and don't try to hit all the seminars and demos in a weekend. Look over the guide map and the schedule to see what most appeals to you and concentrate on just a few key activities -- you'll appreciate them all the more.
DISCOVER YOUR OWN
As you can see, even after nine years, I still find the Food and Wine Festival intriguing enough to keep returning, some years multiple times. And when I do, I will really try to heed my own advice and not overdo it, despite the fact that there is still so much more deliciousness to discover. Here's wishing you many Delicious Discoveries of your own!
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Epcot's 15th Annual International Food and Wine Festival runs daily through November 14, 2010. 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 30-November 13, 2010. Remember that reservations for many of the ticketed events go fast -- be sure to watch AllEars.Net and AllEars® for an announcement, probably sometime in July, concerning reservations for the 2011 Festival.
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If you're attending your first Epcot Food and Wine Festival, you may want to read Debra Martin Koma's "Food and Wine 101" from last year, which covers many of the "need to know" basics:
You'll find reviews on this year's other Food & Wine Festival events on AllEars.Net over the next few days and weeks. For now, we have the following online to help you plan your upcoming trips:
Photo Gallery: http://allears.net/tp/ep/fw10/fw10_photosl1.htm
Marketplace Items and Prices: http://allears.net/tp/ep/fw10/fw10_booths.htm
Eat to the Beat Concert Schedule: http://allears.net/tp/ep/fw10/fw10_concerts.htm
General Festival Info: http://allears.net/tp/ep/foodwine.htm
Take the Food and Wine International Marketplace (Food Booth) Survey! Once you've been to the Festival, share what you thought of the samples:
Read the survey ratings HERE: http://tinyurl.com/28wjpoj