The 2016 edition of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is officially up and running, though given the heat of opening weekend it’s more like it’s up and slogging. The heat didn’t deter the throngs of first weekenders, as it never does. They backed up at the parking gates, stood in line at the bag check, a sort of special “security theater” presentation that is supposed to make you think a thorough check of the contents of purses and backpacks is being carried out, and they gamely waited in another line to walk through airport-style magnetometers.
By all means, come on in and have fun.
I was fortunate to have been invited to a media day event that took place in a private space on an upper floor overlooking the Festival Center. So the other attendees and I were able to sample some of the festival’s newer food items in blessed air conditioning.
We also had a chance to chat with some of the festival organizers, including Marianne Hunnel, who oversees the content development for the event, and Gregg Hannon, executive chef at Epcot. We did a Facebook Live broadcast from the center, so click on the video below and I’ll let them explain some of the new things going on.
Of the dishes I sampled Saturday, the Butter Chicken with Micro Cilantro and Naan Bread was a favorite. It can be found at the Africa Outpost (not, as I said in the video, at the India Marketplace because there isn’t one; sorry if I sent some of you to the wrong place).
Second favorite was the Duck Confit with Creamy Polenta and Fire-roasted Salsa. That can be found at the Greenhouse Guru, a new marketplace in the Future World West section of the park.
The Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel was a hit, even in the air conditioning. I can imagine the people outside at the new Chocolate Studio, also in Future World West, who might try to stick their heads in the liquid nitrogen (not to perpetuate any rumors about theme park founders who may or may not have frozen their heads similarly).
See the video above as one of the nice young cast members demonstrates the process to make the dessert.
A new feature at the festival this year is called Mix It, Make It, Celebrate It! and is a series of hands-on seminars, many of them led by culinary celebrities. For example, Saturday afternoon Iron Chef Morimoto Masaharu was scheduled to lead a sushi-making demonstration. On Sept. 28, Tony Mantuano will guide guests through the process of making orecchiette. I think this is just the sort of thing that’s been missing from the festival. The seminars are $49 per person, which should be worth it if you learn something (plus you get to eat what you make, which I guess is the Celebrate It! part of the title. The MIMICI seminars are at 4 p.m. most days. Chcek out the schedule here.
Of course, it will cost you more than $49 to attend the seminar. You’ll also need a ticket into Epcot if you don’t already have one. But the festival planners have scheduled more things outside the park this year that won’t require admission to Epcot. For example, Brunch with a Twist, which will feature all of the chefs at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. At $169 per person, it’s not much cheaper than buying a ticket to Epcot and sitting in on one of the seminars. But the food experience is sure to be worth it.
There’s lots more going on so be sure to check out the schedule of events. I’m planning on my next visit — sometime at the end of October.
The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival runs through November 14.