The 18th Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, running this year from September 27 through November 11 at the theme park’s World Showcase, felt on a sunny October Saturday afternoon like an annual reunion of Walt Disney World’s most loyal repeat guests. Apart from the many culinary surprises awaiting visitors at the 30 food stations situated around the World Showcase Lagoon, the outgoing personalities of the many food-and-wine enthusiasts immersing themselves in the festivities served as key ingredients to any festival-goer’s enjoyment of the day.
Foodies, while gaining primary enjoyment from the taste of new culinary discoveries on their palate, enjoy nothing more than an opportunity to share opinions, discoveries and insights with other food lovers, whether friends or strangers, who wish to exchange like information. At the Epcot event, where sharing standup tables around the lagoon with other guests for two-handed noshing is a necessary part of the experience, food lovers help each other zero in on the day’s best discoveries. A mental note over a sip of wine or beer can record the one dish not to be missed, or sometimes raise caution signals about tastings to be skipped in favor of others that are better.
Many Floridians were enjoying the festivities, and several we met have made one or more previous visits to this Disney fall classic. One woman claimed she had never missed one year out of the past 17. A high number of family and friends’ groups wore team uniforms, usually brightly colored tee-shirts with equally-colorful slogans such as “Eat, Drink & Be Married!” or “Saving the World One Beer at a Time.” The colors were helpful for keeping groups together in the dense mid-afternoon food festival crowds.
The Florida stand's Gulf Shrimp ceviche was a hit serving. All photos by Maureen Stone
At the Florida pavilion devoted to the sunshine’s state’s local produce we enjoyed our first great dish of our Epcot festival day. It was a Gulf shrimp ceviche immersed in a tomato-based sauce of fire-roasted vegetables and cilantro. The key word here was “fire” and it was impressive to discover in a first tasting that the Disney chefs were not holding back with the heat, including a spicy kick on the tongue when the tasty lumps of shrimp were consumed.
A second tasting in the Japan stand, that proved a favorite of the day for ourselves and many new food friends, was a spicy hand roll containing fresh salmon, Japanese rice, seaweed wrap and a creamy hot sauce that reminded this taster of a Japanese version of chipotle. We might have enjoyed a few more of these had there not been so many more food stations and so little time.
The buzz among food strangers around the Epcot Lagoon was strong, and grew throughout the day, for a hit appetizer at the Ireland stand, located near the United Kingdom pavilion. The Irish were serving a lobster and seafood fisherman’s pie that attracted an excited crowd of tasters both for the generous serving portion and the fresh lumps of lobster and fish under a cover of creamy mashed potato. The same instant buzz was created by the Australia station’s serving of a succulent lamb chop presented lollipop style and coated with a tangy mint pesto sauce under a light topping of crushed potato chips, a combination many thought could not work until the highly satisfying taste of the chop proved them completely wrong. Another popular tasting was an almost-crusted blue cheese soufflé at the Cheese pavilion, a station devoted to cheese only.
A serving not as successful, unfortunately, despite high anticipation was Singapore’s serving of a fresh seared piece of Mahi Mahi presented with jasmine rice and a “singa” sauce. The plate was needlessly over-sauced resulting in soggy rice and an otherwise fine morsel of fish being compromised by the wet combination. Canada, which has gained recognition among food fans for Le Cellier Restaurant, the steakhouse considered by many the best restaurant in Epcot and the country, did not disappoint with its tasting at the International Food & Wine Festival. The “Le Cellier” wild mushroom beef filet mignon with truffle butter sauce proved reason alone to make a future booking at the steakhouse, and knowledgeable Epcot food veterans warned us that getting a table there without advance planning is getting difficult. Simply put, the beef serving was sensational.
Scotland surprised this taster with its serving of Innes & Gunn craft beer, a brew with a delicious hint of vanilla. According to the brewery’s web site the company, based in Edinburgh, now has a U.S. import division, based in Manhasset, NY. One does not go to an Epcot food festival expecting to find an unknown and tasty new craft beer, but so it was for this visitor. It proved a rewarding takeaway from the day’s Epcot experience.
Groups in colorful team outfits enjoyed the festival together. All photos by Maureen Stone
Food and Wine Demonstrations
Those who can pull themselves away from the tasting stations at the World Showcase Lagoon can make their way to the Festival Center in Epcot’s Future World East where chef’s cooking demonstrations, food and wine seminars, book signings and other events are scheduled on a daily basis.
Presenters scheduled during our day in the park included Max McCalman of Italian Cheeses and Wine, New York City, who conducted a cheese and wine pairing seminar; Robert Wetzel of Alexander Valley Vineyards in Alexander Valley, California, who held a wine seminar, and Violet Grgich of Grgich Hills Estate Winery in Napa Valley, who presented her company’s offerings in a second wine seminar.
Food and wine pairing presentations are reserved for $80 per person and wine seminars are $14 per person. Tastings at the food stations around the lagoon ranged from $3.50 to about $8 per serving with most in the $5 to $6.50 range. Beers were served in three sizes from 6 ounces to 22 ounces and most wine pours were about 4 ounces for prices ranging from $2.50 to about $8 depending upon the vintage.