We’ve finally made it! The 2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival is opening next week!
Soon, it will be time to Dine Our Way Around the World, as the World Marketplace Booths begin serving dishes inspired by flavors throughout the world! And with more than seven full weeks of Special Events, Culinary Demos, Beverage and Mixology Seminars, and special exhibits, this event is a food lover’s paradise.
While we anxiously count down these last few days until all the fun starts, we’re taking a look at some of the events we enjoyed from last year.
In 2014, one of the Special Events was Food for Thought, an event where celebrity chefs shared favorite recipes while sharing their personal stories. (Read our review of the event featuring Chef Rick Bayless last year here.) During these events, guests also enjoyed three dishes from one of the featured chef’s cookbooks. In 2015, you’ll find a similar event called “What’s Cooking With”.
I had the pleasure of attending one of these events last year, and I learned some great tips and techniques from Florida-local Chef Norman Van Aken. Let’s check out some of the delicious dishes we enjoyed.
Food for Thought with Chef Norman Van Aken
I arrived at Festival Center for this event a few minutes early. It actually took place during brunch hours.
The Festival Stage was decked out as usual. Located at the back of the Festival Center, this is where all festival Culinary Demonstrations as well as many Special Events take place.
It’s a neat venue, because it’s actually open to the rest of the pavilion; if you happen to be passing, you can actually take in the presentation from outside of the dining area for free. 🙂 Of course, you won’t get to try any of the goodies.
But back to logistics. Remember how my ticket had “Pinot Noir” printed on it? The name on your ticket corresponds to the name of a table inside the seating area. Soon I found my table, and settled in for the presentation.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the chef, I’ll give you a little background. Chef Norman Van Aken didn’t take a direct route to culinary greatness. His journey to become an influential voice in the culinary world began with a want ad for a short order cook position that promised “no experience necessary.” From those humble beginnings, Van Aken began to learn on his own. And today, he has been largely responsible for putting the flavors of South Florida on the culinary map.
Chef Van Aken is the author of six cookbooks as well as his recent memoir about that fateful want ad decision, No Experience Necessary. He is also the Chef and Co-Owner of Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Lakes in Orlando.
Putting those skills to good use, Chef Van Aken would walk us through a menu laden with Florida influence.
As the event got underway, Chef Van Aken took the stage and began to share a little more about each recipe; he offered some helpful hints about his ingredients as he went.
We began our meal with Port of Call Crab and Avocado Salad.
The combination of Celery with the Avocado and Blue Crab provided good texture, and serving the salad on a bed of Mixed Greens stretches the more expensive ingredients a bit.
Each course was also paired with wines that complemented the flavors of the dish. We enjoyed St. France Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc with the Crab Salad.
For the main course, Chef Van Aken chose to feature a popular Florida fish – Grouper, which was paired with St. Francis Chardonnay.
The Grilled Grouper was accompanied by Garlic Oil Roasted Potatoes, and was garnished with Mussel-Saffron Sauce flavored with Orange Juice and Coconut Milk. Steamed Asparagus finished off the plate.
This dish was truly amazing. I’m not a huge fish fan, and I was hoping for seconds. The potatoes were out of this world. Make them.
Soon, it was time to enjoy dessert. Not surprisingly, the featured flavor was one of Florida’s most well-known sweets.
Chef Van Aken’s take, Sunshine’s Key Lime Pies, featured a familiar version of this favorite. I enjoyed the interesting take on the crust, however, which featured a combination of Ground Almonds and Graham Cracker Crumbs, along with spices. The individual pies were topped with Swiss Meringue instead of Whipped Cream.
Since Key Lime Pie is one of my favorite desserts EVAR, this made-him-famous version was pretty killer.
We enjoyed dessert with a glass of Caposaldo Moscato.
As we dined on the courses, we had the opportunity to listen in as Pam Smith (the emcee of many of the Food and Wine Festival events) chatted with Chef Van Aken, asking him questions about his time in the kitchen. Chef Van Aken also took questions from the audience, and was excited to speak about the fresh flavors of the Sunshine State.
After the event, guests had the opportunity to meet Chef Van Aken at a book signing, where they could have the photo we received autographed, or they could purchase his book.
All in all, if you have a favorite chef appearing at one of these events, or just really enjoy learning more about the creative culinary process in an up close way, events like Food for Thought or this year’s “What’s Cooking With” can be a delightful way to spend the early part of your day at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.
Start Your Planning Today! The DFB Guide to the 2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival e-Book is now available!
Want even more great tips? This 240+-page guide to the Festival offers insider tips and advice as well as all of the details you need to know to plan your best Festival visit ever. Order your 2015 edition today!
Your purchase includes several bonus items as well — including a full daily schedule of events at the Festival and a printable World Showcase Booth Menu Checklist to carry with you as you Eat around the World!
Use code Chefs at check-out for a $3 discount!
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I’d love to hear from all of you now! Would you enjoy an event like Food for Thought with your favorite chef of note? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!I attended this event on behalf of Disney Food Blog courtesy of Disney. However, I was not obligated to report on the event or provide a positive review of the experience. Read more about our Disclosure Policy here.