Trip report from Epcot's 2009 Food and Wine Festival
Written by Anthony Murphy
I was lucky enough to be able to check out Epcot's Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World this year for five days in October. I was extremely excited to go since my parents were able to go last year and made extremely high expectations for this festival. Most of the comparisons are based on their views from last year and what I read from others, but I pretty much went into the festival with high hopes a hearty appetite.Tweet
For the most part, the Food and Wine Festival was set up with various stands representing different cities from around the world. Unlike last year, this year's setups of stands were done in geographical order (meaning Ireland was near United Kingdom, South American Stands by Mexico, etc). For the most part, you got a "taste" portion of some of the most popular foods from that country to share with others. There were about three kinds of foods (two entrees, one dessert) and three alcohol selections (usually two wines and a beer).
One thing that I noticed is that all countries in the world share a few things in common: Alcohol and a dumpling dish of some sort. The food, of course, was delicious and I really can't think of anything that I had that I thought was awful. Sure, there were some things that I did not like too much, but it was well cooked and prepared. A few of my favorites at the Food and Wine Festival Stands was, of course, the Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup, Kerrygold Cheese Selections, the Empanadas, and the raisin less New Orleans Bread Pudding. Probably this section of the Food and Wine Festival impressed me the most because the stands were all unique and seemed to be well built meaning not some kind of temporary stand. You could do some serious cooking in a few of them. Below is a movie that I made of all the stands. I thought it would be too much for the trip report to put them all here!
Another major part of the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot is the tastings and food demonstrations. About 90% of the events of this kind take place in the Welcome Center, aka Wonders of Life Pavilion. While I greatly still miss Cranium Command and the other Wonders of Life stuff, they did a pretty good job at setting up the events in the space. There were two temporary stages constructed for the paid events and they used the Anatomical Players Stage and Making of Me Theater for the free events and wine making movie respectfully. On the temporary stages, one was constructed for cooking demonstrations and the other for wine tastings.
A new feature this year was the charging for the cooking demonstrations and wine tastings. In the past, both used to be free, causing individuals to have to wait in line hours ahead of time for a seat. With the payment for tickets, you can come about 15 minutes before and be guaranteed a seat. It cost $5 ahead of time and $8 at the door. This is really not bad considering you are getting a small meal with alcohol at the cooking demonstrations and three half-glasses of wine at the tastings. The other positive about tickets is that many if not most wine tastings were followed by a cooking demonstration in which the wine was paired with some big chef's food so if you really liked the drink, you could have it again with some fine food.
Personally for me, the cooking demonstrations were much better due to you getting many of the wines from the tasting areas and the chefs were a little bit more interesting going though their dishes than the wine people. I got to see the Hearty Boys of Food Network Fame (and Chicago fame), many pastry chefs of Disney, and, my favorite, Celina Tio, who opened up Julian's in Kansas City.
She had to have been one of the nicest chefs and my father, who is an extremely picky eater, loved everything she made (she was also at Party for the Senses mentioned below). For the demonstration, she made Breakfast for Dinner which was an over easy egg with panko crumbs over a handmade sausage patty on top of a Mickey Waffle. It sounds really weird, but I loved it. So if you are in or around KC, check out Julian's stat!
My favorite wine was a fruit wine made right there in Florida which includes a Mango Wine, Pineapple Wine, and my personal favorite, the Hurricane Wine which was a mix of their five most popular wines. Outside of the Welcome Center, they have other events such as the Tequila tasting in Mexico (which I did) and some free events such as Sam Adams beer tasting in the American Adventure (which I also did).
While the changes were for the better it seems, there were some weaknesses in the new plan that I am going to hope they will fix for 2010. First of all, you have to reserve in August to get the $5 rate and guaranteed a seat. Here on TPI, we were given a warning on when that would be, but there were still guests that did not understand or were willing to commit to those particular days. The other problem with this is that you have no idea what the chef is going to do or make which becomes an issue if you have allergies or restrictions on foods. For example, with our fine tequila at the Mexico bar, they gave us a selection of foods to sample with our tequila. However, one of the three foods was completely made of crab which my mother is extremely allergic to if she takes a bite. Of course, in Disney fashion, they were able to accommodate her, but especially for the cooking demonstrations in which its one dish, one drink, Muslims, Jewish, and Hindus might have an issue with the pork or beef dishes.
Our other issue with the tickets was much bigger. When reserving all of our cooking demonstrations, we attempted to get the famous Robert Irvine of Cooking Impossible session. My family, who really probably should have their own house on Main Street USA, was not able to get them online. I feel sorry for others who really had no idea what we were doing. So we asked a couple of days in advance if there were any extra tickets for the Irvine event. We were told yes, but they would only sell them the day of the event which was no problem for us.
So, on Sunday we got up really early, left our resort, the Boardwalk, and walked though the back of World Showcase to be stopped near the fountain in Future World. Epcot was not open yet so we understood why we were kept there. They have a very nice opening Epcot show with the characters that pick a family to ride as the "pace car" in a Test Track Vehicle to open the park. Very nice stuff! Anyway, they told us that they were going to drop the rope and not to move until the characters are gone and not to run anywhere because there are a bunch of cast members in the corridors leading to the Future World Pavilions to welcome you all. We could see, obviously, that the people who came from the front gate of Epcot across from us by the pin trading area. Well, they had a countdown and when we hit 2, some bald man just took off from across the way climbing over potted plants and took off towards Wonders of Life pavilion. I, being in the front of the World Showcase line, picked up my walking pace when they finally told us to go and made it to the ticketed area of Wonders of Life as number 8 in line (bald man was 2). Anyway, there were about 30 tickets left for the event. Person 1 bought four tickets and the bald man (who was 2 and alone) bought 20 tickets and began to sell it to people 11-20 in line). Thus, after person number 4, they told us all the tickets were sold out. Many people, including myself, demanded to see the manager which she came out. Mind you, I am cast member in the Disney Store so I know that management is a thankless job, but this manager was extremely combative and basically told us that we could not prove that he was selling tickets. However, all the individuals who companied, which was about 10 including myself and my mother who came with me to get the tickets, were either DVC or Annual Pass holders who obviously spend lots of time at Disney and know more than the average tourist. Anyway, the manager gave us front of the line access at Robert Irvine's book signing, but we did not get to taste his great green peppercorn steak. Robert Irvine, by the way, found out about this problem and actually personally apologized to us even though he really had no control over it. So, in the future, I hope that Disney limits the amount of tickets one individual can buy at the time to like 4 per person. I only wanted three.
What I consider to be the "big bang" climax of the entire festival is the Party for the Senses, which brings many of the chefs and wineries from around Disney and the country for tastings and demonstrations. They decided to do it a little differently this year by having each of the Party of the Senses be themed, since they happen every Saturday during the Festival. While we were there, the party was Asian themed, which, on the outside, does not sound too bad, but my family, especially my father, are not big fish eaters and about 80% of the food was fish. That was a bit of a turn-off to my family.
I understand that there is a lot of seafood in Asian cooking, but there were only a handful of dishes that had beef and none with chicken (there was duck). There was also only one place that had potstickers and they were part of a very tasty soup. Robert Irvine was there, but made some kind of bass, as was Celina Tao from Julian's, who made short ribs in a fried slaw which was probably the best thing there. My father shook her hand since that's about all he ate. The beauty of the Party for the Senses though is all you can eat and drink so, like my father with Tio's short ribs and my mother with her Florida wines, you can go back for more and more. In drink category, I had a fantastic strawberry balsamic martini made with Chopin premium potato vodka and a selection of wines from Lasseter Wineries made by, yes, Mr. Pixar, John Lasseter. His wife was pouring for the guests and was very down to earth and nice. For over $100 a person, it's a pretty hefty tag, but you can get your worth of food and drink instantly. The other nice thing is after awhile, people start slowing down and you can have conversations with the various chefs. I just think next time, we will try to come for Italian night!
For the most part, Epcot's Food and Wine Festival was the best theme park events I have ever been too. They need to fix a couple of loopholes so that people are not accidently eating something they are allergic to or one man can't buy nearly all of the tickets to a highly sought cooking demonstration. This event brought together two of my loves: Epcot and food! So join me next year for an Empanada and tequila!
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