The culmination of the opening weekend festivities at Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival was the grand gala dinner to announce the winner of the Bocuse d’Or American finals competition. In attendance was a veritable who’s who of the culinary world.
There were, of course, Paul Bocuse, the founder of the Bocuse d’Or, something like the Olympics of the culinary world, and Daniel Boulud, president of the Bocuse d’Or. Just a dinner featuring those two would have been notable enough — they are two of the most famous chefs in the world, after all.
But there were so many other culinary luminaries in attendance that it just might be that the meal was worth the $450 fee.
Here’s a rundown of the evening.
Actually, things didn’t start out so grand. The requested attire for the evening was semi-formal, so there we all were trudging through Epcot in our suits and ties to get to the World Showplace where the dinner would take place. The problem was that the Bocuse d’Or competition had taken place in the same venue just that afternoon. And when hundreds of us showed up for the 7 p.m. starting time, the big gates to the Showplace were slammed shut. So there we all waited in the late afternoon sun for the doors to open.
It turns out the reason for the delay was that crews were busy dismantling and hauling away the stadium bleachers that had held the several thousand spectators just three hours earlier. Given that herculean task, it was pretty amazing we were made to wait only 20 minutes.
Once we were inside, the food and drink never stopped. We were greeted with flutes of Veuve Cliquot Champagne, tumblers of mojitos and martini glasses filled with Manhattans made with rum, which were oddly delicious.
The appetizers for the reception were cooked and assembled by teams working in the four cubicle kitchens that had been assembled in the event space for the cooking competition. Among those making the tasty tidbits were David Myers of Sona in Los Angeles; Traci des jardin of jardiniere, San Francisco; George Perrier, Le Bec Fin, Philadelphia; Andre Soltner of the French Culinary Institute, new York; Laurent Tourondel, BLT Restaurants, New York; Alain Sailhac, French Culinary Institute; and for the home teams, Roland Muller of Food and Beverage Development, Walt Disney World Resorts; and Scott Hunnel, Victoria & Albert’s.
Hunnel’s roasted muscovey duck with fennel and blood oranges, smoked bacon and Minus 8 vinaigrette were wonderful, but I kept going back for more of Tourondel’s fois gras terrine with raisin and apple mostarda.
After a time, Paul Bocuse announced that dinner was served, or at least that’s what everyone assumed he said because he speaks only French.
We all made our way to our table assignments in the back of the Showplace. Each place setting had a tall white chef’s toque. Underneath was a tin of Petrossian caviar, but it was not what it appeared to be on the surface. Well, yes, it was caviar on the surface, but the little black pearls was a peekytoe crab salad as assembled by Patrick O’Connell of the Inn at Little Washington. It was accompanied by a sauvignon bland from Edna Valley Vineyard (2006) in San Luis Obispo. The appetizer was genius in its simplicity, and at the end of the night I would say it was one of the best things served all evening.
But there was good competition.
Following the caviar appetizer was a fish course of steamed Pierless cod from Charlie Trotter of Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. This was the only disappointing item all night. My cod had been steamed to a point of mush. But the Acacia Vineyard Chardonnay from Carneros (2006) helped lift the dish a bit.
Daniel Boulud’s “duo of Brandt beef” comprised the meat course. It featured four schnibbles of confection, a seared ribeye, glazed beets, root vegetable gratin, and red wine braised short ribs that positively melted before they hit the mouth. Beaulieu’s 2004 Tapestry meritage offered the appropriate roundness of tones to accompany the meats.
The formal dinner ended with a plate of artisanal cheeses assembled by cheesemaster Max McCalman. And what goes better with cheese than a 2000 Dom Perignon brut?
Desserts were served festival style back in the reception area. They were mostly by some of Disney’s best pastry chefs, including the incredible Erich Herbitschek of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. My favorite, however, was the salted caramel from Ewald Notter of the Notter School of Pastry Arts.
It was nearly midnight when I made my way back to the parking lot, walking through the eerily quiet Wolrd Showcase.
This was a grand dinner indeed, and it was an important event for Disney and Orlando. It showed the world — and people came from all over the world to attend — that Central Florida understands and appreciates fine cuisine.