One of the hidden gems of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is the Festival Welcome Center, located in the old Wonders of Life pavilion. It’s a fabulous place to rest, see the exclusive Festival merchandise, grab a glass of wine, and–most importantly–take in one of the seminars and demonstrations that occur daily throughout the event.
On my first trip to Food & Wine last year, I took part in two of these seminars: one on tasting Scotch and another on wines from the Fess Parker vineyards. This year, however, my beautiful bride and I decided to try something different by attending a culinary demonstration. This was a whole new level of awesomeness.
To buy tickets for the demonstration, we visited the information desk right inside the entrance to the Festival Welcome Center. Tickets for the 5:00pm demonstration were still available for $11.00 each. If you’re interested in getting tickets in advance, you can do so online at Disney’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival page. There you can book mixology seminars focused on cocktails, as well as wine/beverage seminars where you get to sample various wines and liquors.
The culinary demonstrations, however, are the cream of the crop. For the price of admission, you get a seat in a special show kitchen that is set up in the back of the Festival Welcome Center. There a chef will enter and prepare a dish in front of you, and you are served a smaller version of that dish along with a wine pairing. Believe me, this is not to be missed.
On the day we attended, the chef was Peng Looi of the August Moon Chinese Bistro in Louisville, Kentucky. He was preparing an arugula salad topped with lamb and paired with a glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling. Now, my wife is not a big fan of lamb or arugula, so she entered this demonstration very skeptical. However, since we had the time, she agreed to do it. After we left, she was thanking me profusely.
We entered the line to get into the show kitchen about 15 minutes before the scheduled 5:00pm start time. After a brief wait, we were allowed to pick a seat and settle in for the event. On the table was a recipe for the dish we were about to enjoy, as well as cups and a pitcher of water for cleansing our palates.
Shortly after arriving, our hostess came on stage and introduced the winemaster from Chateau Ste. Michelle, who proceeded to talk about the Riesling that would be paired with this dish. Both the winemaster and the hostess were very engaging and knowledgeable, and they obviously enjoyed each other’s company. That, along with the sample of wine they provided, made watching them very fun.
Then it was time for Chef Looi to take the stage. He was not a celebrity chef, talking and making jokes the entire time; instead, Chef Looi was interested in preparing the dish. It became almost comical to watch the chef working diligently to prepare the meal as though he were in his restaurant kitchen, while the hostess kept slowing him down to ask questions or show ingredients to the crowd. The dish included a spicy pineapple chutney, a roasted loin of lamb, and the baby arugala salad with dressing. Each step along the way, Chef Looi showed the ingredients to the audience quickly and then continued along with his work.
In the end, though, it was very easy to see how the dish was made, and unlike many other dishes you may see on television, it was not that complicated. Sure, lamb and aragula sounds fancy, but it turned out to be fairly easy. The toughest part of making this at home would be getting the ingredients just right. When the small version of the dish was brought out to our table, we dug in eagerly.
This was simply a divine eating experience. The spicy pineapple chutney that the chef had prepared with the lamb complimented the arugala quite well. Along with the Eroica Riesling, it was probably the best thing I ate at the Food & Wine Festival. My only regret was that I had not gone to Chef Looi’s restaurant and ordered it in the full size portion.
Once the chef was done and we had finished eating, he brought out the chefs who had actually prepared the dishes we ate and allowed them to take a bow. We left extremely happy, satisfied that we had enjoyed a fine dish and fine wine for very little money. If you are in Epcot for the Food & Wine Festival, you must take the time to venture into the Festival Welcome Center to check out one of these demonstrations. It was the best thing we did all weekend at Epcot, and that’s saying something.