The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival officially got underway Friday, and the first big event was a new one: a six-course dinner with chocolate featured in every course. “The Chocolate Dinner” was hosted by Ghirardelli.
The dinner took place in the “lobby” area of the World Showplace event space, though the lobby is larger than most of the hangars at Orlando Executive Airport. Guests had paid $160 per person (plus admission to Epcot) for the dinner, which also featured wine pairings. (Note: I attended as a media guest.)
Pam Smith, who emcees so many of the seminars and demonstrations during the festival, assumed that role here, too. Steve Genzoli, vice president for quality assurance at Ghirardelli (that’s right, he tastes chocolate for a living), greeted attendees after they were seated (which was after they had been made to stand outside in the heat for the sparking wine and chocolate martini reception).
The courses were prepared by several chefs of Walt Disney World. Although their names aren’t on Disney’s A List, it would be incorrect to characterize them as secondary chefs — they all did a terrific job with their respective courses. (Though they need to learn the correct pronunciation for their host for the eventing. Say it with me: gear-ar-DEHL-lee; not jeer.)
After reception hors d’oeuvres by Lisa Rios, the first course was oxtail consomme with a ravioli stuffed with dark chocolate and chile powder, prepared by Rebeca Modia. You should know right now that even though this was billed as the Chocolate Dinner, we’re not talking about ooey gooey sweets all night long. In fact, the majority of the items were more savory than sweet. The consomme had a nice beefy flavor and the chile from the ravioli added a lovely spicy note. It was paired with a Columbia Valley riesling from Chateau Ste. Michelle.
The second course was a chicken and waffle variation from Alejandro Ocanto. It featured bite-sized chunks of braised chicken with a mole sauce and cilatnro garnish. The waffles were chips, the ends dipped in bitter dark chocolate. Everyone at my table agreed that the best thing on the plate was a tiny nubbin in the corner: a half cherry tomato on a splotch of horseradish that had been blended with white chocolate. Now that was creative! Franciscan Estate Napa Valley chardonnay was the wine.
The sorbet course was — surprise! — chocolate, a small log of frozen sorbet decorated with a spaghetti tuille bundle. Dennis Byras explained his sorbet course, which also included a yellow patch on the plate that was also chocolate but which didn’t seem to want to leave the plate.
Omar Harris and Micah Ginder collaborated on the main course, which featured Maine lobster and braised short ribs. The lobster was poached in butter and graced with a beurre blanc fashioned out of white chocolate. It was heavenly.
The short ribs featured chocolate and rosemary in the braise and were accompanied by shallot mashed potatoes infused with smoked cocoa bean. The lobster and rib were served with baby carrot, squash and Brussels sprouts. Guests were asked to choose between La Crema’s Sonoma Coast chardonnay or the winery’s pinot noir. Most of us insisted on both.
Jason Jakubowski led the cheese course, with a baked brie and dark chocolate caramelized onions. Rose Regale was served with the cheese.
Dessert, by Melissa Webster, had milk chocolate risotto and pistachio brittle. But the best part were the “drunken cherries” that had been infused with liqueur.
JDK & Sons Crave Chocolate Cherry Liqueur was served with the dessert for added sweetness.
Everyone seemed quite satisfied with the dinner. The wines didn’t seem to add anything to the experience. The only notable pairing was the Franciscan Estate chardonnay, but that was only because the wine, on its own, had a bit of a fishy tasty that disappeared and became balanced when enjoyed with the chicken and waffle. But none the wine pairings achieved epiphanal status.
Following the dinner, guests were handed Ghiradelli gift bags as they streamed onto the World Showcase promenade for the evening’s performance of Illuminations.