October 7, 2009
Friday September 25 was the official opening day of this years Epcot Food & Wine Festival, but my sources had intelligence that there were test runs, or soft openings if you prefer, on the Thursday prior… I decided to find the truth out for myself…
I arrived in Epcot a bit after 10 AM and made my way towards the World Showcase – I was trying to be inconspicuous, appear to be just another befuddled tourist with a camera… I was on the promenade by about 10:30, looked right and left, and made my way towards Mexico.
The Dessert and Champagne booth was the first that way as usual (the desserts a new addition to the bubbly this year). Brazil and Argentina were right past, and the Mouse Catch with its assortment of cheeses on the opposite side of the walk… nothing was open but there was activity about – a good sign… Mexico City was next, and it hit me that the kiosks this year were much more elaborately designed than in past years – the decor of the booths made to resemble the architecture of the host city.
I continued my way around, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible while gathering further information. I clicked photos of the menus, hoping that no undercover Disney security would confiscate my camera with the data now contained within… surprisingly no one seemed to care… I was just another guest taking pictures.
I continued with my intelligence gathering until shortly being stopped by a rope at Norway – was this it? Was the jig up? I was ready to flee with what little info I had gathered on the Festival, but no, I realized it was still before the usual World Showcase opening time of 11 – I breathed a sigh of relief… my identity was yet to be discovered.
I then turned around and headed towards where I knew the other rope would be at the bridge between England and France. I carefully snapped shots of the other kiosks along the way – Puerto Rico, Greece, Chile, Canada… Oh, Canada… the home of the glorious Cheddar Cheese Soup…. past a few other until I was stopped by several uniformed Cast Members at the rope – the Kim Possible crew were the toughs holding the crowd at bay.
I was not the only one waiting, would I be able to complete my mission against such competition? And the mission you ask? Not simply to gather information for my masses of loyal readers, not just to take pictures, yes, I was on a mission to be the First One served at this years Food and Wine Festival!
Shortly after 11 the rope was dropped – I resisted the urge to run, but any double strollers in my way were in peril as I saw activity in Paris… several attractive young French CMs were busying themselves inside the booth, but none seemed ready or interested in taking my money or serving me – were they just not ready yet or was it the famous Franch indifference? I quickly made the determination that it was the former and made my way past…
Four closed booths past there I came to New Orleans – something was afoot – a Cast Member that appeared to be one that would be working that booth was talking to two Management Types – I took pictures and tried my best to overhear their conversation… I heard “opening”, “noon”, “one-o’clock”… not being able to piece it all together I decided the undercover approach was to be abandoned – I confronted one of the Management Types and demanded to know what kiosks would be open and when! She seemed taken aback by my boldness, and with her knees slightly shaking from my aggressive demeanor, I was told that Puerto Rico and South Africa would be the first to open at noon with most, but not all, of the other booths to open by or around 1 PM. The Management Types quickly scurried away, obviously fearful of this strange man with the “I’m Just Here For The Princesses” shirt on… (Okay, so I really asked nicely…)
I chatted for a while with the gentleman that would be working at New Orleans and he told me he had three words for me: Praline Bread Pudding. Now I’m not a huge fan of sweets, and wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of Bread Pudding in general (even though I’ll admit that the one at Ragland Road is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, on or off Property), but I promised I’d try it…
South Africa or Puerto Rico, I figuratively flipped a coin and headed towards South Africa. It was still a ways off from noon, and not having eaten anything since a protein bar early in the AM I decided some sustenance was needed to help me on my mission: Tisang Tao seemed to fit the bill…
I sipped my liquid carbohydrates and found a shady place near Cape Town, South Africa, still trying to maintain some bit of stealth. There was much activity about – food was coming and going – two ladies were trying to get the cash registers ready – IT guys were running around, extension cords in hand – the woman who would be behind the register finally noticed me and smiled – my cover was broken… I told her that I was just waiting to give her money…
The IT guys came and went a couple of times – the correct wines weren’t showing up on the screen. Bottled water and ice were added to the tub near the registers, more food came in on carts, Management Types passed by a couple of times checking on things – they had smiles on their faces, a good sign of things to come.
Finally one of the Management Types came back and I heard him inform the Nice Lady behind the register that it was official, they would be the first kiosk to open – Score!
I got to my feet and kept cautious watch as guests made their way past on the Promenade, if any gave more than a passing interest to the foods of South Africa I was prepared to stand my ground and hold my territory as First In Line (note I said hold my territory, not mark my territory, but if it did come to that…). As the curtains were still down on the booth everyone passed on by. A few people had stopped to peruse the menu, but no one was attempting to queue up… my intelligence gathering had paid off (or was it the presence of a sweaty, hirsute and slightly excited man in the area enough to cause others to pass on by?)!
After what seemed like an eternity the covering of the booth was rolled up and I lept to the register to fork over my cash. I ordered the (unfortunately named) Mealie Soup and the Beef Tenderloin along with a glass of the Pinotage. After thanking the Nice Lady behind the register I took my ticket to the booth and handed it over – the gentleman behind the counter was none other than Jens Dahlmann, the new Executive Chef at Epcot (former exec chef at Flying Fish and California Grill, and soon to be my new Best Friend, whether he knows it or not… more details in another post to follow soon).
He served up my soup (which is like a corn chowder with crab and finished with a few drops of chili oil) and picked out an exceptionally large piece of crab since I was the first guest. Next was the seared beef tenderloin atop a puree of sweet potato and a splash of mango barbeque sauce. I thanked the chef profusely and took the plates and my glass of wine (which was actually about half of one of the small glasses – I thought the price was fairly cheep… $2.75 I believe, so note if the price looks good on the wine, you may want to order a “double”), gathered my utensils and napkins and eagerly sat down.
The soup was very tasty, and the piece of crab large and tender. Personally I’d ask for an extra shot of the chili oil the next time, but then I do like things spicy. The beef was tender, done about medium I’d say. I was a bit leery of the sweet potatoes, as I’ve never been particularly fond of them – in my old age I think I’ve finally determined that my aversion to the orange spuds is based on the typical southern holiday version which is usually so sweetened up as to induce diabetes by just being in the same room with them – so yes, I actually liked them. The sauce was good, but not much was needed. Fortunately it was not all over the meat, sort of “on the side”.
All in all I was a Happy Boy – I’d gotten the first meal of this years Food & Wine Festival (served by Chef Dahlmann no less), the food was great (I will eat this again before it’s all over), and there was plenty more around the World Showcase left to eat and drink!
Yes dear readers, there is more Food & Wine to come – much, much more… stay tuned…