I’m just here for the food (and wine).
I had some fun and yummy playtime in Orlando recently. I was there last week for rest and relaxation, and to enjoy one of my favorite events, Disney’s annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. My husband and I checked into Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. How I love this place–its beautiful decor, its lively yet peaceful atmosphere, its welcoming lobby filled with many comfy seating areas. It’s also got a great swimming pool (which it shares with its lovely sister resort, the Beach Club): a set of free-form sand-bottom pools, one of which is a lazy river. Aside from being my favorite Disney resort (along with the Grand Floridian), Yacht Club is ideal for Food and Wine because it’s a short walk from Epcot’s World Showcase, which is the staging area for the festival. Driving to and from a wine festival? I don’t think so…
Countries represented this year with food, wine, and spirit selections were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Poland, Puerto Rico, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, and the US. There were also some specialty booths like a Hops & Barley booth featuring different Sam Adams beers and New England fare, a Desserts and Champagne booth, a Charcuterie and Cheese booth, and a Brewer’s Collection booth featuring more beers from around the world. Everything happens around the Epcot Theme Park’s World Showcase, and you can stroll from place to place buying tapas-sized dishes and drinks along the way (this food festival experience is not to be confused with another common Epcot activity known by Disney-goers as “drinking around the world” which involves buying glasses of different wine and spirits from each of the Showcase shops; “drinking around the world” can be done at any time of year, and ought to be done with restrained glee).
In addition to the many food and wine booths, there were plenty of food and wine pairing seminars, culinary demonstrations, dessert and pastry demonstrations, wine schools, cheese seminars, tequila tastings, and general eating/drinking parties, many of these presented by some well known chefs and winemakers. We went to two events–one food-related and one wine-related–which I’ll post about soon. We only managed two events because time was so limited and had to be carefully divided between sunbathing and eating/drinking.
If you’re curious, I ate the following: a wheat berry dish and seared beef tenderloin with sweet potato, Nürnberger sausage wrapped in a pretzel roll, bison chili, barramundi and grilled lambchop, cured Spanish meats, a parmentier of Cab-braised beef (essentially France’s version of a shepherd’s pie), flourless chocolate cake with Baileys Irish Cream ganache, cheddar cheese and bacon soup, maple-glazed salmon, and a nanaimo bar (these three from Canada’s booth), lamb sliders, some pear streusel pudding cake and a strawberry verrine from the dessert booth, pork and farofa, and finally, that ridiculously delicious piece of Chilean heaven known here on Earth as pastel de choclo. Thanks to severe food allergies (shellfish and peanut), I couldn’t try any seafood dishes, which accounted for many of the selections; too bad, they were delicious–so I’m told by my husband. But I’m not complaining; I very much enjoyed what I ate. I tried to stick to things I don’t usually prepare at home. Some booths were more inspired than others. As for wines, we research and experiment often enough with wine on our own, and I can’t say any wine I tried at the festival was new to me (aside from some wonderfully surprising fruit wines that I tried for the first time at the wine seminar I attended) but the selections were very decent and the booths usually had around three different wines showcasing popular varietals of the countries represented; I had one or two at each booth.
I love this festival for its food, for the chance it gives me to eat things that are either tough to find or too time-consuming to prepare regularly, and for its laid-back, down to earth atmosphere. It gets better each year. I managed to come across only a small handful of pretentious @ssholes. The 2010 Food & Wine Festival King of @ssholes is a man who was seated near me at breakfast at my hotel one morning. He was some “bigshot” (in quotes to reflect his self-important, louder-than-necessary manner of speaking) wine sales rep who was having a business meeting/meal with a Disney restaurant/bar executive. He was in high sales pitch mode hammering on about the marketability of South American and South African wines, etc and talked about how for work, he had to travel to Chile and Argentina for winery tours and wine “education” (in quotes because… well, I’m far too kind to say why) etc. He then made this mortifying statement about his last five-week trip to South America: and I quote…drumroll please…. “I was shocked by how good the food was there! I mean, I just kept wondering ‘how the heck did you people figure out how to make such good food?!'” I nearly spit my coffee out.
There’s live music entertainment every night during the festival; each act does three nights. The first night, Billy Ocean performed some of his hits–he sounds just as good as he sounded twenty-five years ago. I walked by him at my hotel; he was very soft-spoken and extremely pleasant and gracious with his fans. The other nights, Starship performed and their concert was great, and I admit that I sang my lungs raw during “We Built This City,” which has been voted ‘worst song ever’ by various establishments; I have a soft spot for this ‘worst song ever’…
There were some great eats and I would have liked seconds or thirds of a number of dishes–the grains and wheat berries dish from the South African booth, the parmentier, the bison stew, among many others, but there just wasn’t time when there was so much to try and frankly, there wasn’t enough room in my belly. I chose to do most of my eating in the evening because it was scorching hot during the day, and high heat plus rich foods plus alcohol are a combination that renders me somewhat useless and lethargic, but eating at night meant I had a shorter window because Epcot closes pretty early (9 pm). I need more days next time. I did give into one desire though: on my last night, I hightailed it around the park towards the Chilean stand and made it three minutes before closing time–just enough time to buy another pastel de choclo, which I carried back to my resort and enjoyed slowly on a park bench overlooking the boardwalk. And yes, I moaned in pleasure every single time I took a bite.
Sidenote: while strolling around Epcot, I took a short break from eating and drinking and looked for the TARDIS, but all I found was a red phone booth.
Bummed about my failed search. But the very next day, I caught a glimpse of this spoonful of sugar…