Thursday, August 2, 2012

The 2012 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

For those of you who don't know, every year, from 18th September through 12th November, the Epcot theme park becomes a foodie's wet dream.

Dozens of booths featuring cuisine from countries around the world open up for business, allowing both professional and amateur gourmets the chance to sample food they otherwise would never be able to experience.

This festival is a place where you can find spicy African flavors shoulder-to-shoulder with classic French haute cuisine, which is itself side-by-side with spicy Argentinian fare, which is sitting next to the lamb-and-mint tidbits from the Middle East.  And its all just steps from each other. This is one of the few food-and-wine festivals that is kid friendly, while simultaneously meeting the expectations of the well-educated food-enthusiast.

The format for this festival are individual country-themed booths, which each booth presenting the best of that nation's cuisine through authentic menus and beverage pairings.  And it is authentic.  Very much so in fact.  The food items are presented as they would be presented in their home nation.  Be prepared for dishes that are not Americanized or diluted or toned down for the sake of the mostly American audience.  With this festival, you're getting the same food that someone living in Holland or Jamaica or France or Portugal would be getting.

This is the real deal, folks.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival Marketplace Booths

At the Festival, there are over twenty-five individual booths set up around the World Showcase, and each offers its regional or national delicacy to sample.  The items offered cost between $4.00 and $7.00 (that's an average... there are a couple of items to be had for as low as $1.50, while other items will cost you upward of $10).

These are the booths that will be selling food items around the World Showcase.  I'm listing them in  the order in which you'll find them, beginning in Showcase Plaza and going clockwise around the World Showcase Lagoon.  That is, as if you were walking to the left once you hit the Plaza.
  • Terra:  This is vegetarian cuisine, featuring pseudo-meat dishes.  "Trick'n chick'n" curry with basmati rice; gardein chick'n breast chili Colorado with house-made chips and cashew cheese;  gardein beefless tips; chocolate cake with passion fruit sorbet, and coconut foam.
  • Caribbean Islands:  Ropa vieja with cilantro rice; jerk spiced chicken drumstick with mango chutney.
  • Australia:  Shrimp on the barbie with pepper berry citrus glaze; grilled lamb chop with mint pesto and potato crunchies; larmington.
  • Argentina:  Beef empanada; grilled beef skewer with chimichurri sauce and boniato puree.
  • Mexico:  Crispy shrimp taco with chipotle lime mayonnaise and cabbage, served on a flour tortilla; taco de filete with cascabel pepper sauce and scallions, served on a flour tortilla; natilla de cajeta (caramel custard served with sauce).
  • Scandinavia:  The "Taste of Scandinavia" sampler, including cured salmon, herring, and shrimp salad; swedish meatballs with longonberries; rice pudding with berries.
  • China:  Mongolian beef with Chiense steamed bun; pork pot stickers; chicken satay with spicy peanut sauce and pickled vegetables; mango tapioca pudding.
  • South Korea:  Lettuce wrap with roast pork and kimchi slaw; mung bean pancake with shrimp and kimchi sauce.
  • South Africa:  Seared fillet of beef with smashed sweet potato and Braai sauce; spinach and paneer cheese pocket.
  • Brewer's Collection:  Affectionately nicknamed the "Beer Tent".  Radeberger pilsner; Altenmunster Oktoberfest; Altenmunster Dunkel; Hovels; Schofferhofer weizen; Shocfferhofer grapefruit; Berliner Kindl Dark; Sion Kolsch.
  • Germany:  Schinken nudel (pasta gratin with ham and cheese); roast bratwurst in a pretzel roll; apple strudel with caramel-vanilla sauce.
  • Cheese:  Exactly what it says on the label.  Cheese fondue with sourdough bread; the "Trio of Cheeses Sampler", featuring Beecher's Flagship Reserve cheddar, La Bonne Vie goat brie, and Rogue River Creamery's Echo Mountain blue cheese.
  • Poland:  Kielbasa and potato pierogie with caramelized onions and sour cream; zapiekanki (toasted mushroom, caramelized onion, and cheese bread with house-made ketchup).
  • Italy:  Ravioli di Formaggio all'emiliana (baked cheese ravioli, creamy beef bolognese, parmesan, and mozzarella); Salsiccia e "Papacelli" Napoletani (sweet sausage and red pepper on Ciaibatta bread); cannoli al cioccolato (chocolate covered cannoli filled with ricotta, chocolate, and candied fruit).
  • Fife and Drum:  The whiskey tent.  Red stag lemonade and Red Stag honey tea lemonade, both made with Jim Beam.
  • Hops and Barley:  Which, despite the name, is not the beer tent.  Lobster claw cuddler chilled with herb mayonnaise; lobster roll; New England-style clam chowder; pumpkin mousse with dried cranberries and orange sauce.  By the by, the Samuel Adams Brewing Company always debuts a new beer they specifically created for the Food and Wine Festival at this booth.  The beer they create is not available anywhere else, and once the festival is over, it's gone because they never repeat a recipe.
  • Florida:  Local cuisine from my home state.  White corn arepa with mangalitsa pork rilette and Zellwood sweet corn salad; shrimp ceviche with fire-roasted vegetables, fried plantains, and cilantro.
  • Japan:  Spicy hand roll (tuna and salmon with chili pepper, soy sauce, and sesame oil topped with Kazan volcano sauce); Karaage hand roll (crispy chicken breast with sushi rice and spicy mayonnaise); California roll (avocado, cucumber, crab, mayonnaise, smelt roe rolled in sushi rice, and seaweed); Sukiyaki beef pan (thinly sliced rib eye with sauteed onions and teriyaki sauce, served on a bun).
  • Singapore:  Beef rendang with jasmine rice; seared mahi-mahi with jasmine rice and "singa" sauce.
  • Morocco:  Kefta pocket (ground seasoned beef in a pita pocket); Merguez sausage (beef and lamb sausage with grilled peppers and onions; baklava.
  • New Zealand:  Seared sea scallop with Kumara red curry puree and apple radish salad; lamb meatball with spicy tomato chutney.
  • Belgium:  Steamed mussels in Hoegaarden beer broth and baguette; Belgian waffle with berry compote and whipped cream; Guylian Belgian chocolate seashell truffles.
  • France:  Escargots Persillade en brioche; Coq au vin sur gratin de macaroni; creme brulee au chocolat au lait.
  • Ireland:  Lobster and seafood fisherman's pie; The Kerrygold Cheese Selection (featuring aged Irish cheddar, Dubliner, and Cashel blue, served with apple chutney and brown bread); warm chocolate lava cake with Bailey's ganache.
  • Canada:  Canadian cheddar cheese soup; chicken chipotle sausage with sweet corn polenta and "Minus 8" onion jam;  Le Cellier restaurant's wild mushroom beef filet mignon with truffle butter sauce (as featured in my review of Le Cellier back in February of 2012).
  • Greece:  Greek salad with pita bread; griddled Greek cheese with pistachios and honey; chicken souvlaki with tzatziki sauce; spanakopita; Greek yogurt cups.
  • Desserts and Champagne:  The champagne is mostly Moet & Chandon.  Yogurt panna cotta with orange cake, raspberries, and pomegranate; lemon custard verrine with blueberry compote; dark chocolate mousse with chili and salted caramel.
  • Hawaii:  Kaulua pork sliders with sweet and sour pineapple chutney and spicy mayonnaise; tuna poke with seaweed salad and lotus root chips.
  • Craft Beers:  Known as "the other beer tent".  Widmer Rotator IPA; Red Hook pilsner; Blue Moon Seasonal; Leinenkugel Berry Weiss; Florida Beer Company's Devil's Triangle; Abita Purple Haze; Full Sail IPA; Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Some Tips and Tricks to Make Your Food and Wine Festival Easier

The one thing you can say about Disney is that they are, as a corporation, masters of organizing large numbers of people and getting them to move together as one friendly (if sometimes tired and overheated) whole.  That said, if you follow the following advise, your Food and Wine experience will be that much better.

The Food and Wine Festival Welcome Center
  • While entrance into the festival is free with admission into the Epcot park itself, the food booths, the merchandise, the classes, and the seminars all cost extra.  The good news is the free concerts are just that:  free.  You're going to want to bring a minimum of $100 per person attending the festival, because you'll be tempted to spend money at every corner.  Might as well have the money there to spend than have to make painful choices regarding which food to sample and which food to skip.
  • Make sure you grab a festival map and a regular park map once you get into Epcot.  Once you have a map, the first place you need to go is the Festival Welcome Center.  This is located in the gold-domed building next to Mission:  Space.  Most of the demonstrations, classes, and seminars (including most of the wine events) are held in the Festival Welcome Center.  While at the Welcome Center, do the following:
    • Make sure you grab a festival passport.  That way, you can plan, track, and stamp your journey through culinary heaven.
    • If you're unfamiliar with wine, you might want to consider  look around a bit.  Check out the festival's list of over 300 wine, beer, and spirits.  Ask some questions.  Watch a continuously playing movie called Seasons of the Vine, which is all about the vino.  Spend some time at the Epcot Wine School, or a gourmet food demonstration, or a book signing.  Some of these activities require reservations, so consider signing up for them before you leave home.
    • Check last-minute availability of the day's demonstrations.  These are all led by celebrity chefs, big name vintners, and industry experts.
    • The Festival is, of course, set up to accept cash, credit card, Disney Dining Plan cards, Keys to the Kingdom room cards with room service privileges, and so on.  That said, most of the gift shops set up in the Festival Welcome Center offer these miniature Disney gift cards that you can purchase and then preload with however high an amount of money you want to have available to you.  Wear the card on a lanyard around your wrist for quick and easy access to money without having to whip our your wallet or your purse while you're simultaneously trying to balance a plate full of food and a glass of wine.
  • Remember to pace yourself.  There is a lot of food and drink to be had, and to be brutally honest, you are going to have a hard time getting to it all.  That might seem to be a stupid thing for me to say, given that the Food and Wine Festival is open from 9 am to 9 pm, but here it is in a nutshell:  there is a lot of territory to cover, and while you are busily trying to cover it, so are tens of thousands of other people.  Though the lines at the international booths move at a pretty good clip, if you're there with anyone else (especially if you're there with a large group), it might be better for you to decide ahead of time which booths you're going to hit, and which you're going to pass on.
    • The truth is, while it is possible to attend all of the international booths, plus the four or five specialty marketplace (which showcase desserts, champagne, specialty beers, and so on) in a single day, doing so with a group is all but impossible.  If you really don't want to miss something, then what you want to do is take a divide and conquer approach.  If there are four booths spaced close together, and you want to try all of them, send one person to each of the booths simultaneously for a sample of that nation's food and beverages, then meet somewhere central to share the spoils.
  • Keep in mind that most of the international booths charge between $4.00 and $6.00 per serving, and what you end up with would make a good tapas order.  Wine and beer selections can run as much, and sometimes much more.
  • While you're on your quest to try the food at every booth and drink every type of wine and beer, do yourself the favor of actually enjoying your trip to Epcot.  Take a deep breath and relax.  Stop every once in a while and see the sights.  Go to the occasional Epcot attraction.  Get yourself a reservation for dinner at one of Epcot's many fine eating establishments (especially the ones you've seen me positively review here in the blog) and have an actual meal instead of the couple-of-bites-apiece you've been getting all day.  In short, have fun.
Once again, the Epcot Food and Wine Festival is taking place 28 September 2012 to 12 November 2012.  If you're an annual passholder, a member of Tables in Wonderland, or a Disney Vacation Club member, you can book seminars, demonstrations, and mixology beginning on 10th August 2012.  Booking for these events goes open to the general public on 14th August 2012 at 7am.  If you're interested in booking an event, call 407-WDW-FEST (407-939-3378).

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