The 2016 EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival is still two months away however open registration for the $15 culinary demonstrations began today. This year there are a mere two demonstrations per day, at 12pm/2pm each day of the festival, from September 14 to November 14. (This makes room for more MUCH higher priced evening events.) Here is a link to the culinary demonstration scedule…
Culinary Demonstration Schedule PDF (whenever Disney updates, this link changes – Ill try to keep up – updated 8/5)
For the uninitiated, the culinary demonstrations are a ticketed event during EPCOT food & wine where guests sit at tables surrounding an “onstage” kitchen to watch a chef demonstrate how to prepare a dish from their restaurant. Guests follow along on provided recipe sheets and sample the dish along with a wine. The demonstration actually starts with the wine, as they are more or less “sponsoring the show.” Sponsor or not, the representative from the vineyard is always very interesting in their own right. Value-wise anywhere else at the festival kiosks the tapas size sample of food and small glass of wine that are included would normally cost at least as much as the demonstration’s $15 entry fee, sometimes quite a bit more.
Additionally, every year there are a couple big names like Buddy Valastro (Cake Boss) or Cat Cora that are listed in the 45 minute food & wine pairing demonstrations and I try to get tickets, reservations technically. Unfortunately those tickets are usually sold out BEFORE early booking through DVC. (That was on July 19th at 9:00 am and when I called they were already sold out.)
Most likely there is “early, early booking” for F&W VIP’s. Fret not though mere mortals because even they will probably not see Cat. One year I narrowly missed out on Wolfgang Puck so I went anyway to see if there were any cancellations, or just to get a passing glimpse of the famous chef again. (I saw but did not meet, Wolfgang Puck once before, at a table near the entrance to his restaurant in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas). As it turned out, the scheduled F&W demonstration (listing him specifically) was actually given by someone from his restaurant on property. I was told by multiple sources there that day that Mr Puck was replaced that morning to do a private event, added last minute to a corporate function somewhere else at Disney. Similar stories are connected to others the years that I have seen their name on the scedule. (I did hear that Cat Cora actually did do one once.)
-This is an important thing to know about Disney in general. ANY event or appearance can be be bumped by a “Bigger Fish”. Even if you have booked a $50k storybook wedding at the Contemporary you will get bumped to your backup venue if, for example, McDonalds or Pfizer wants the room for a last minute cocktail reception added to their corporate event.-
So us mere mortals probably never really had a chance at Buddy, Wolfgang or Cat, but in a way, were better off. The VIPs mostly never had a chance either. For the most part though, what you see is what you get and the more familiar names do still sell out early.
Now, if you’re willing to shell out $100-400 for an evening event then you are likely to see the famous chef that you have booked.
As for how to book the demonstrations, it is just like booking any other dining experience. That’s where the confusion starts. The culinary demonstrations are held inside EPCOT at the “Festival Welcome Center” (Between Universe of Energy and Mission: Space.) So when making the dining reservation, “festival welcome center” would officially be the “restaurant”. The reservationists can tell you information about what is available on any given day, however they can not search by “chef” or “topic”. For that you need the above scedule and it isn’t always easy to find. Last year the schedule wasn’t posted until after the general registration day so I didn’t get to take advantage of the early booking. Without a schedule I had no idea what to book.
In the earlier years these demonstrations were held in the Odyssey building. They were free, much shorter, and people just got in line to attend. They usually included a sample of food or drink and sometimes a trinket to trinket (we got mini “zen gardens” once). For all that they were though, they were rarely an adequate cooking demonstration.
We can thank sponsorship for the upgrades, as companies, vineyards and restaurants used the demonstrations as a marketing tool to offset the costs.
I think it was the 15th annual that rally upped the game (I’ll check & update accordingly). The F&W demonstrations moved into the Festival Welcome center (which used to be Wonders of Life). The demonstrations were split into 3 individual ‘festival events’, there were no-cost “taste” seminars which would discuss ‘salt’ or ‘coffee’ or ‘chocolate’, there were paid “wine tastings” that are sponsored mostly by the companies selling the wine you will taste in hope of shedding a few cases in the gift shop on the way out. But hands-down my favorite are the “Culinary Demonstrations.” These are 45-minute actual demonstrations given by a noteworthy chef. They may not be names that you have heard but the chefs lending their knowledge and technical advice to these classes are the ones running some of the finest restaurants on and off Disney property. Any one of them is worth seeing.
The first year that it was done this way tickets were $10 and I chose a few restaurants that I liked and wanted to know more about. This proved a poor strategy, as the dish being demonstrated was not often a menu item I would choose. Plus I have Disney cookbooks and recipe cards with most of the recipes from the Disney restaurants that I do like. Since that first year I started choosing a topic that I needed to know more about instead. One year it was seafood, another it was braising. Spending five classes each fall on one topic has VASTLY improved my cooking skills. All false modesty aside I now cook scallops better than, not just some but most, restaurants that we go to, including at Disney. It was always something simple like temperature or timing but hearing what’s most important via a consensus of expert opinion, along with practicing between demonstrations, allowed me to refine a skill quickly. I would watch them prepare the food and take notes on the recipe page they hand out. I would study (and then devour) the sample that was served and ask questions at the end. We would then pick up the ingredients on our way home that day and I would try to make it the next week. By the time I do this with four more similar meals in two months, I’ve got a pretty good idea what I’m doing right and wrong.
I’m going to be posting a whole series of these demonstration experiments in the weeks leading up to F&W so check back. The last few years I learned seafood, searing, and braising high density meats. I wanted to learn sauces but the topics don’t include sauces so it looks like this year’s theme is going to be pastry. That works out for me I guess though because I’m a pretty weak baker.
Much more to come from food & wine future and past!