As you know, I was given the opportunity to speak yesterday evening with Marianne Hunnel, Area Manager, Event Content Development for the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. She has a job that seems to be in equal parts exhilarating and difficult — and she loves it!
Without further ado, let’s jump into what I learned about the Epcot Food and Wine Festival and its true headliner, Marianne Hunnel! At the end of this post, we have a few pieces of news about what you’ll find that’s new at the 2011 Festival!
How A Festival Comes Together
With five years of directing content development for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival (six festivals altogether), Marianne Hunnel is an expert at shepherding her small, mighty team when it comes to building something bigger and better every single year. Of course, her 15 years working as a Chef on Disney World Property doesn’t hurt in terms of knowing what Disney guests are looking for when it comes to a dining experience!
Planning and development for these 45 festival days takes all year, and includes a lot of research. The first place they turn? Last year’s Food and Wine Festival guests! “[We] take a look at feedback from guests — what people liked, what was not doing very well. We really listen to the guests.”
After taking stock of what you, me, and the rest of the guests preferred last year, the team begins scouting the global trends taking over the food space and begin putting together menu items and tastings. To get unique and authentic input, Hunnel and the team speak with cast members — especially those hailing from countries represented in the World Showcase Marketplace Booths — to collect ideas, reviews, and even family recipes!
According to Hunnel, the festival should always be “interesting, exciting, and educational.”
Trends and Concepts Affecting the Epcot Food and Wine Festival
An ongoing focus of the festival is healthy dining. “[We are] trying to incorporate fresh and healthy foods that are indigenous to the regions represented around the marketplace. …And we do it in subtle ways. Guests can say, ‘Wow, you can eat healthy and enjoy going to a festival without feeling really guilty,'” says Hunnel.
In fact, a new event focusing on families and healthy dining will take place on October 29th, featuring Andrew Zimmern and two other celebrity chefs, Bryan Voltaggio and Chris Cosentino. The event will “show the Chefs as Dads. They’re going to have their kids with them, who will be showing techniques that the family can do together,” says Hunnel. The evening will also feature non-alcoholic mixed drinks to pair with the meal!
The art of mixing beverages will be a focus of the festival this year. And while mixology was a small part of the Festival last year through a few seminars and the Grand Marnier tastings, in 2011, “every day at 6 o’clock will have a designated mixology class at the beverage seminar,” Hunnel says. “Start your evening happy hour over at the Festival center to watch the experts do mixology techniques.”
In fact, the art of mixed drinks and specialty spirits will be popping up in the World Showcase booths as well! Hunnel and her team search long and hard to find beverages that are indigenous to the areas represented in the Festival.
For example, the Scandinavia booth being re-introduced this year will feature the Xante Sunshine cocktail. According to Hunnel, “There are wines in Scandinavia, but you don’t often see them imported; so I was looking for something that would be different. Xante is a pear and cognac liqueur, and the aromas alone are incredible. At the festival, it will be served as a tasting by itself, or in a cocktail made with elderflower.”
Last year’s 15 Beers for 15 Years was a huge success, and craft beers are making a comeback this year. “Eight craft beers from around North America will be featured. One will be Canadian, but the rest, including IPAs, are from other parts of USA,” says Hunnel.
Disney World has been working steadily to ensure that the huge amount of food consumed on property each year fits a stringent set of sustainability guidelines, meaning that the harvesting of that food does not destroy ecosystems or food sources via negative practices or over-harvesting.
At the 2011 Epcot Food and Wine Festival, Hunnel and her team will be working with Linda Bean, granddaughter to late Maine retailer L.L. Bean, who promotes using wild and sustainably caught Maine lobster meat. Bean will be providing storyboards about the subject at the Hops and Barley booth — where Maine lobster will be served.
What to Expect at the 2011 Epcot Food and Wine Festival
Here are a few tidbits we received from Marianne about new and returning events at the 2011 Festival. Hopefully these will help those of us planning to head to the event between September 30 and November 13 to dedicate our time wisely! 😉
Chocolate Seminars Introduced:
Chocolate Discoveries Seminars will be introduced at the 2011 Epcot Food and Wine Festival this year. Occurring on three select Sundays, guests will be able to explore chocolate in its sweet, savory, and even liquid forms!
Mixology Seminars Introduced:
Mixology Seminars will take place every evening at 6pm in the Festival Center. These will be the designated 6pm beverage seminar for the day and will feature techniques delivered by Mixology experts!
Kitchen Memories Special “Family” Dinner Event: Featuring Andrew Zimmern, Bryan Voltaggio, and Chris Cosentino — and their kids! Get on board for a fun event that’s all about family and healthy dining on October 29th.
VIP “Sweet Seats” to Debut at the 3D Delicious Dessert Discovery Events:
In the tradition of Wine View Lounge upgrade (which will return in 2011) at the Party for the Senses, the 3D Delicious Dessert Discovery events will this year introduce the option to guests to purchase Sweet Seats for an extra cost.
Booking and Discounted Pricing:
Culinary demos and beverage seminars as well as special events will be available through online booking again this year, and will open August 16th. Sweet Seats and Wine View Lounge tickets must be purchased by phone.
Discounted pricing for DVC members, Annual Passholders, and Tables in Wonderland members is still under construction and will likely be in effect for seminars and demonstrations taking place on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday during the Festival.
Thanks again to Marianne Hunnel for sharing her insights after building six successful Epcot International Food and Wine Festivals!