Local Events

Epcot Food & Wine Festival: 7 savory sensations

Top chef Norman Van Aken helped turn Key West into a culinary heaven 30 years ago -- and since then, he's been urging Americans to push the bland boundaries of "the ubiquitous chicken fingers and Caesar salad."

So what should a typical tourist taste at the 2014 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which runs through Nov. 10?

"Go to the classes! See the experts!" says Van Aken, a James Beard Award winner who showed hundreds of folks how to cook grilled grouper with mussel-saffron sauce at the fest on Sept. 20.

Was that grouper good? Paired with Benziger Family Winery 2012 Chardonnay, it was divine.

The Food & Wine Fest is a foodie's dream -- 25 kiosks of food and drink from around the globe, plus a slew of wine, cheese and chocolate tastings, a concert series and cooking demos by top chefs.

You line up at the kiosks, pick a sample of dishes (each costs $4 to $8) and libations, and see if you can still walk by the end of the day.

Here are seven savory sensations we discovered this year:

1. The popular crispy pork

What's the Epcot top chef's favorite fest food? It's the crispy pork belly with black beans, onions, avocado and cilantro ($5.25 and slosh it down with Xingu Black Beer, $3.25) at the Brazil Marketplace. Jens Dahlmann, Epcot's head chef, has presided over the delights at Epcot Food & Wine for the last seven of its 19 years. This year, Dahlmann's also touting the new Puerto Rico marketplace, where the food "transports you to old San Juan," says Dahlmann, who used to be the top chef at Cafe L'Europe in Palm Beach.

2. "Breakfast all day"

The pepper-bacon hash with sweet corn, potatoes, hollandaise and pickled jalapenos is a new offering that's getting raves. Find it at Epcot's new Farm Fresh Marketplace. "Have breakfast all day," chef Dahlmann says.

3. Cook with a famous chef

Norman Van Aken often wonders how a kid from Northern Illinois like him ended up at the Ritz (his restaurant, Norman's, is a five-star delight at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes in Orlando). At the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, you'll wonder how a home cook like you can get a 45-minute cooking lesson and Q-and-A -- plus a sample of the recipe and perfectly paired wine -- from a famous chef for just $15.

Culinary demonstrations happen three times a day -- at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. -- and are a highlight of the fest, which requires Epcot admission. Call 407-939-5277 to make reservations or just show up at Festival Center to see the chef lineup. DisneyFoodBlog.com lists the lineups.

4. Try a tzatziki martini

It's strange -- but good. This martini features Crop Organic Cucumber Vodka and BOLS Natural Liqueur, with a sprig of dill. Find it at the Greece pavilion.

5. Mmmhops ... rhymes with "MmmBop"

Remember Hanson, that '90s band of brothers who brought us the impossibly bubbly "MmmBop"?

They're of drinking age now -- old enough to establish Hanson Brothers Beer Co. Their first brew, MmmHops, is a pale ale that's as light and sparkly as their biggest hit. But don't typecast the Hanson beer -- it's 7.5 percent alcohol, and the average beer is closer to 5 percent. Find it at Fife & Drum in the America area.

6. Gluten-free and tasty

The Caribbean conch salad with onion, tomato and cilantro at the new Puerto Rico kiosk is one of more than 20 gluten-free options at the food and wine marketplaces.

7. Drink a candy bar!

What's the one taste sensation from the 2013 Food & Wine Fest that the author of DisneyFoodBlog.com dreamt about all year? Gourmet drinking chocolate! Sipping this rich, thick, dark-chocolate delight is like drinking a candy bar. You may become obsessed. Find it at The Chocolate Experience: From Bean to the Bar, presented by Ghirardelli Chocolate Co., at Festival Center at Epcot. Festival Center is in Future World, next to Mission Space.

If you go

Admission to the festival is included with your Epcot passes, which start at $94 for a one-day pass.

The festival offerings -- tapas-sized plates, wine and beer -- are sold separately.

Some festival events also require a separately paid pass.

For details, visit the official festival page.

  Comments