Culinary getaways are a breeze in Central Florida.
We can make a quick stop in Australia for a grilled lamb chop slathered with mint pesto and then pressed with potato crunchies made from smashed salt- and vinegar-flavored chips; head to Canada for a wild-mushroom filet mignon with truffle butter; and spend a layover in Poland for a bite of zapiekanki, a hefty portion of cheese bread topped with toasted mushrooms, caramelized onions and a house-made sriracha ketchup.
All in one day — or 46 — at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which begins Sept. 28 and runs through Nov. 12.
These new global-marketplace menu items are just some of the additions at the 17th annual food and beverage indulgence. Also on tap are vegan dishes, child-friendly options at kiosks, and a showcase for local farmers.
"We have been wanting to do something special for our vegan guests for a long time," says Jens Dahlmann, Epcot's executive chef. "Each year, I would be stopped at least 25 to 35 times by guests asking when we were going to develop a vegan marketplace.
"This year the timing was right."
The vegan menu includes Trick'n Chick'n curry with fragrant basmati rice. The mildly seasoned sauce was developed with the help of Phillip Mathen, a member of the United Kingdom Pavilion culinary team who is a vegan and originally from India. The poultry texture is spot-on and the sauce has a kid-friendly kick.
Also new are three single-serving treats at the Desserts & Champagne kiosk. The silky yogurt panna cotta with raspberries rises from a sliver of orange-soaked cake and is topped with a thin cap of tangy pomegranate sauce. A velvety lemon custard with a blueberry compote is crowned with crumbled-pie crust. And a dark chocolate mousse judiciously laced with chili and topped with salted caramel is a cheek-tingling triumph. The sultry kick of the pepper is mellow — yet essential — to the preparation.
The eat-local movement gets a nod with a new Florida Local marketplace serving Atlantic rock shrimp ceviche with fire-roasted vegetables, fried plantains and cilantro. The boldly flavored combination borders on a highly textured gazpacho with a fiery finish. Also on the menu is a white-corn arepa with Mangalitsa pork and a Zellwood sweet-corn salad. Pasture Prime, a farm in Summerfield north of Orlando, supplied the marvelously marbled pig that is often considered to be the Kobe beef of pork.
Known for its large selection of top-shelf international wines and spirits, this year's festival has nonalcoholic options that will appeal to children and kids at heart. The Nesquik frozen chocolate and strawberry foams are cool beverages geared to kids but with a nostalgic twist for folks who grew up drinking beverages with the crazy rabbit on the packaging.
The festival is a prime location for spotting celebrity chefs. Among the nationally known participants this year are the Food Network's Robert Irvine, Cat Cora, Gale Gand and Jamie Deen and TLC's "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro. Local stars are coming out as well: Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant Wine Bar in College Park, Scott Hunnel of Disney's award-winning Victoria & Albert's and Hollis Wilder, two-time winner of Food Networks' "Cupcake Wars," and owner of Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly in Orlando.
"It amazes me every year that people plan their vacations around this festival," says Dahlmann. "But it's also a time where local season-ticket holders really get value for their investment. You can eat your way around the world in small, affordable bites."
All of this — and no passport is required. I'll drink to that.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5498
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
What: A passport to a world of flavors at Epcot's World Showcase
When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, Sept. 28-Nov. 12
How much: A one-day pass — $89 plus tax general admission, $83 plus tax ages 3-9, free age 2 and younger — includes Authentic Taste seminars, HGTV seminars, special book signings, Eat to the Beat concerts, cultural adventures, Marketplace Discovery Passport and all attractions and park entertainment. Tapas-size food portions are $3-$8 each; special programs and events $11-$ $270