WW GOES TO WDW at Yesterland.com Photo of the Werner sampling salmon
Wining and Dining
Around the World

Werner Weiss,
Curator of Yesterland,
visits the Epcot International
Food & Wine Festival, 2001

November 13, 2001
Photo at right: The writer enjoying
Norwegian Cold Salmon with Herb
Dressing and Cucumber Salad ($3)
Photo of Food and Wine Festival sign
Fork, sushi, croissant, fruit, corkscrew spells Epcot

I have a secret to share with you. Because of my Yesterland site, people think I visit Disneyland regularly. But I don’t. I’ve only been to Disneyland one day since the New Tomorrowland opened in 1998. Actually, I’m a regular visitor to Walt Disney World. And one event that has brought me back three years in a row is the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. My wife and I recently spent five days at 2001 Festival.

First, let me give you an overview. In 2001, the Food & Wine Festival runs from October 20 through November 18. Most of the event takes place around Epcot’s World Showcase Lagoon. That’s where you’ll find:

  • Temporary food stands, called International Marketplaces
  • Advanced Wine Seminars, Lifestyle Demonstrations, and a wine shop at The Terrace, a temporary facility between France and Morocco
  • A beer seminar and tasting presented by the brewers of Sam Adams
  • A winemaking tour presented by Robert Mondavi
  • Winemaker Dinners and Grand Tastings at the Odyssey
  • Locations selling Food & Wine Festival merchandise
The Festival spills into Future World where you’ll find:
  • Advanced Wine Seminars at Innoventions West
  • Food and Wine Pairings at the Coral Reef Restaurant
  • Reserve Dinners at The Wonders of Life VIP Lounge
Photo of Southeast Asia Marketplace
The Southeast Asia Marketplace

Let’s start with the International Marketplaces. Seventeen of them, each themed to a different country or geographic region, sell international foods and beverages. Three others only offer beverages—one with California wines, one with specialty beers, and one with Champagne and Cognac. And new this year is the Kid’s Marketplace with clever food for kids, including Yummy Sushi which looks like sushi but actually is made from fruit roll-ups, Rice Crispy treats, and gummi worms.

You can buy appetizer size food samples for $1 to $4.50 each. Small glasses of wine or beer usually go for around $2.50 (but much more for specialty wines or Cognac).

Every food item I tried was excellent. It’s a fun way to eat lunch or dinner. Or let your lunch blend into dinner as you keep trying different foods and wines all afternoon, while your wallet keeps getting lighter.

$10 for tasty foods from three continents

Unfortunately, many guests seem to think the International Marketplaces are the Food & Wine Festival. That’s a shame. There’s really much more.

Photo of the Terrace
The Terrace is home to wine seminars, lifestyle demonstrations, and a wine shop

Advanced Wine Seminars are free of charge (or I should say they’re included in the not inconsequential price of admission to Epcot). Held three times daily at the Terrace and five times daily at Innoventions West, each lasts about 45 minutes. The speakers are winery representatives, importers, wine writers, and Disney sommeliers. We attended five seminars, and enjoyed them all. The speakers’ styles ranged from serious to laugh-out-loud funny, but they all knew their subjects well. I learned a lot about wine, and I’ve gained a new appreciation for German, Italian, and French wines—and a better understanding of how they differ from California wines and from each other. You get to taste three or four wines from real wine glasses, not the little plastic cups that the International Marketplaces use.

Photo of Barrage on America Gardens stage
The European company of Barrage performs an eclectic repertoire of fiddle music

During the Food & Wine Festival, Disney schedules special entertainment at the America Gardens Theatre. For 1999 and 2000, the act was Cookin’, a group of four energetic “chefs” from Korea whose entertaining percussion performance used knives, cutting boards, cabbages, and cookware (among other things). Although we enjoyed Cookin’, I was glad to see a new act for 2001. This year it was the European company of Barrage. These fiddlers are as high-energy as the chef-percussionists in Cookin’, and they put on an entertaining concert.

Photo of Odyssey Center
The Odyssey is a defunct fast food restaurant that now hosts elegant dinners

There are three kinds of special dinners scheduled throughout the festival:

  • Grand Tastings—$65 per person, plus tax (includes gratuity)
  • Winemaker Dinners—$85 per person, plus tax (includes gratuity)
  • Reserve Dinners—$135 per person, plus tax (includes gratuity)

We’ve never attended a Grand Tasting or Reserve Dinner, but we’ve attended Winemaker Dinners three years in a row, most recently on Sunday evening, November 4, 2001.

I’ve talked to people about the Grand Tastings. I’m told that the dinners are like a festive cocktail party where you drift from station to station, talking to chefs and winemakers, and enjoying various foods and wines. You hold a plate in one hand and a glass in the other. Some people love this. Some people think this is an awkward way to dine.

I’m sure the Reserve Dinners are wonderful. Despite their high price, they were the first special dinners to sell out.

Photo of dessert at Winemaker Dinner, November 4, 2001
"Tropical Fruit Purse wrapped in
Orange Scented Milk Chocolate"
(yes, it tasted as good as it looks)

Our Winemaker Dinner featured Chef Rick Bayless of the Frontera Grill in Chicago, four Walt Disney World chefs, and two German wine importers. All guests sat at tables for ten. Our table had couples from Tombstone, Arizona; Montreal, Canada; Navarre, Florida; suburban Chicago, Illinois (us), and “all the way” from Celebration, Florida (which is on Walt Disney World property). The dinner was a six-course extravaganza, with a different wine accompanying each course. The Confit of Duck Adovada with Hatch Chile Mole (Mike Bersell, Epcot Catering) was outstanding, as were the Tomatillo-Braised Pork Loin and Red Fingerling Potatoes (Rick Bayless). This was our best Winemaker Dinner yet.

At the 1999 and 2000 Festivals, our favorite events were the Culinary Demonstrations held at the Odyssey every day at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. At each 45-minute session, a different visiting chef or Walt Disney World chef would prepare something delicious in front of 80 or so guests. All the chefs that we saw did a great job. (I guess you don’t get to be a top chef unless your communication skills are as good as your culinary skills.) It was easy to see what each chef was doing, as an image from a remote controlled video camera above the food preparation area appeared on two video monitors. Cable TV personality Pam Smith emceed the demonstrations with wit and enthusiasm.

It turns out that while the chef was working in front of the audience, cooks were preparing the same dish in the Odyssey’s kitchen. As each demo neared its conclusion, servers would bring sample size portions to each member of the audience. (You don’t get that when you watch a chef on TV Food Network!) The Odyssey was a perfect facility for the demos—comfortable, air conditioned, and quiet.

What a class act!

You didn’t need a reservation or ticket. You just had to show up about 15 minutes early. And the Culinary Demonstrations were included in the price of your Epcot admission.

My wife and I were really looking forward to the Culinary Demonstrations at the Odyssey again at the 2001 Festival. These demos would give us a compelling reason to visit the Festival five days in a row. Or so we thought.

For 2001, the chef schedule was cut back to only 5 or 6 demos each week, primarily on weekends. The demos were moved from the comfortable Odyssey to the outdoor Terrace, where the plastic chairs were way too close together. The demos were rebranded as Lifestyle Demonstrations, with the addition of demonstrations by Pam Smith and others such as Walt Disney World florists.

Based on our schedule and the event schedule, my wife and I only made it to one “Lifestyle Demonstration” by a chef. Despite the less comfortable venue, we enjoyed Chef Mario Martinez of the Disney Institute who was there to cook with black beans. And Pam Smith was there to emcee, just like the “good old days” of 1999 and 2000. But about twenty minutes into the demo, it started pouring! The chef was under a tent roof, but the audience was under the open sky. As many audience members as could fit rushed under the tent roof, and Chef Mario gallantly continued with his delightful demo. At one point Pam Smith rhetorically asked, “What could be better than this?” My wife answered, “the Odyssey.”

Photo of culinary demonstration at the Terrace
Chef Mario ready to make dark fudge brownies with black beans (true!)

In 2000, my wife and I enjoyed the 4:00 p.m. Food & Wine Pairings. They were held several times each week in the back row of the Coral Reef Restaurant. For $25 per person plus tax (including gratuity), you were served several small courses of foods and wines, with winery representatives on hand to talk about their wines and answer questions. The wonderful foods at our Food & Wine Pairings were from the appetizer and dessert menus of the Coral Reef. We looked forward to returning this year. The Food & Wine Pairings were back for 2001—but now only on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Why two consecutive days? We had to leave for the airport Wednesday afternoon, so we were out of luck.

There were substantially fewer International Marketplaces this year—in some cases countries were combined, and in other cases they were eliminated. The lines were long on the weekend (sometimes 20 or more people waiting), but were reasonable (1 to 3 people ahead of you) on weekdays.

Here’s my “wish list” for the Disney folks who are planning next year’s Food & Wine Festival:

  • Bring back the twice-daily Culinary Demonstrations at the Odyssey.
  • Hold the Food & Wine Pairings on non-consecutive days (such as Saturday, Monday, Wednesday) to give more guests an opportunity to attend.
  • Restore the number of International Marketplaces.
  • Add South American wines to the Advanced Wine Seminar schedule.

Epcot’s park hours were cut just as the 2001 Food & Fine Festival began. World Showcase had been open 11:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., but now is only open from noon until 9:00 p.m. Future World had been open from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m, but now is only open from 10 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. (although the most popular attractions remain open until 9:00 p.m.). I hope that Epcot hours will be restored as attendance levels recover.

Psssssst... I have one more secret for you. The as yet unpublished dates for the next Epcot International Food and Wine Festival are October 19 through November 17, 2002. I’ll see ya there!

Food and Wine Festival, 2002
Epcot Hand and Wand

© 2001-2009 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated December 19, 2008.

Photographs of Epcot International Food & Wine Festival by Werner Weiss, 2001.