If you have not yet heard, guests visiting Walt Disney World now have a wonderful opportunity to sample another classic Food and Wine Festival. In addition to EPCOT’s annual festival, the World renowned Swan and Dolphin hotel here at Disney also offers guests a chance to sample World-class cuisine, wines and attend hour long beverage seminars, taught by the Swan and Dolphin’s expert food and beverage managers. In addition, guests can meet and greet with world-renown celebrity chefs in a beautiful outdoor setting.
I spoke to Tony Porcellini, Director of the Swan and Dolphin’s Food and Beverage and overseer of the 17 restaurants on property. I asked him if the festival clashes with EPCOT’s and he said,”No, not at all. In fact it’s a compliment to EPCOT’S. Our festival is in the evening; guests can spend the day at EPCOT, and then come over and enjoy ours. That is the way it was planned.”
Tony Porcellini has been with the Swan and Dolphin for 25 years, and is noted for his groundbreaking concepts and venues, such as Shula’s Steakhouse and Bluezoo two popular eateries at the Swan and Dolphin. He and his team began the idea of the Festival three years ago. The main difference between EPCOT and the Swan and Dolphin is EPCOT offers tastings from around the world, whereas at the Swan and Dolphin, they showcase the cuisine from their restaurants.
In addition, Tony is a certified sommelier, by the Court of Master Sommeliers. In fact the Swan and Dolphin has 70 of these wine experts on hand. Tony and his staff teach the seminars offered at the festival, including…Wine Blending (Tony’s Class) Modern Mixology, Riesling rendezvous, Base to Bubbles, Beer Please!, All things Sake and Spanish Wines. I asked who teaches the seminars and Tony replied…”All classes are taught by different food and beverage managers, in the area they are passionate about”
Tony continued, “Each year we have a core group of classes, but we add different ones, depending on guest feedback.”
The festival is located on two concourses. After exiting the lobby of the Swan resort, a long concourse straight ahead and a shorter one is on the left. The festival is wonderfully well-planned and thought out. Even with over 1,500 guests in attendance, you did not feel squished in. In many of the food lines, the lines were long, but they moved very quickly, thanks to the efficiency of the food and beverage staff manning the many stations.
For many guests, the main draw, in addition to the outstanding fare offered, was the celebrity chefs whose culinary expertise makes this festival one not to miss. World renowned chef Todd English has created an astonishing list of successful restaurant concepts. Todd has been in the kitchen since he was fifteen, and after studying at the culinary institute of American, and after a stint with Chef Jean Jacques Rachou, he was off to Italy where he further honed his craft. Todd has opened an amazing string of award winning restaurants, including the one of the Swan and Dolphin’s most popular, Bluezoo. This amazing eatery combines seafood with a coastal cuisine and is represented here at the festival. It is a signature restaurant at the Swan and Dolphin and has an AAA four diamond rating.
New to the festival this year is Celebrity Chef and author, Michael Mina. He is the executive chef at his two namesake restaurants in San Francisco and Las Vegas and he and Todd English are on hand to meet with guests and serve samples of their unique cuisines. In addition, guests can sample selections from the only two times World Pastry Champion, Laurent Branlard, who is the Hotel’s executive pastry chef. And what is a festival without a chance to purchase some memorable items? Guests can purchase T-shirts, wine, wine accessories and culinary books, including those by Todd English and other notables.
As a member of the media, I had the opportunity to partake in all of the tastings and got the opportunity on Friday to attend Tony Porcellini’s Wine Blending Class. The classes are from 4:30pm to 5:30pm and the festival begins at 5:30pm till 9:00pm. As a casual wine drinker, I know very little about wine. Tony’s immense knowledge and delightful humor made the class interesting and informative. I was amazed at what I learned in the hour.
All attendees sat in front of five glasses of wine…Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. In addition a small plate of tasty cheeses was included. The crux of the class was to understand wine sweetness, tart, bitterness and how to blend different wines to make a completely different beverage. Tony gave a brief history of wine and how different wines are made and what causes the wines to differ. I came away with a new way to appreciate wine and a new way to enjoy it. I am sure all of the seminars were as interesting and informative.
All along the concourses, guests can sample wines from an amazing array of countries…Argentina, Japan, Chili, Italy, France and in the States, California. My favorite was Japan’s Saki booth. I always enjoyed this rice wine and here at the festival, it was served a just the right temperature. And for beer lovers; a chance to sample many beers from different micro-breweries. For the aforementioned gifts and souvenirs, visit the Wine Store booth.
But what about the food? I can say the offerings here are an amazing array of inspired and classic cuisine, all in one place. There were many booths, so allow me choose a few of my favorites. From Shula’s Steakhouse, Friday and Saturday, carved prime rib, done medium with roasted garlic mashed potatoes; was amazing. You could cut the meat with your fork. Again from Shula’s is Cib’s Smoke House. On Friday they served a Texas Beef Brisket, with fried pickles and a Brioche Puree. For Saturday, a Smoked Pork Belly on Texas toast and a tasty Baked Bean Foam. From Chef Todd English, specially prepared pan roasted oysters infused with beer and caviar garnish and southern-style fried oysters. Chef Tyler Simmons of IL Mulino was offering on Friday, a free-form Lasagna, and Saturday, one of the best examples of fried Calamari and spicy marinara I have ever had. The Calamari was done to perfection; the coating was not over spiced and it complimented the marinara to a T.
My wife’s favorite booth was Fresh. Offered here was a specially blended 2oz mini-burger served with Truffle Aioli and caramelized onions, on a cheddar cheese roll. The restaurant Fresh is a new concept at the Swan and Dolphin. It will be a Bistro kitchen serving quick, but elegant food and is slated to open in a few weeks. We also sampled Michael Mina’s booth serving a Hamachi (Yellowtail fish) Sushi parfait on a crisp rice cake and Wasabi sauce. It was outstanding. What about dessert? Head pastry chef Laurent Branlard offerings at his booth had that covered. Here you could get a Praline Creampuff, a flourless chocolate cake, an exotic mousse dome or a strawberry angel food cake sundae.
In addition to the festival, there was live entertainment by the groups the Four Divo, The Current and the Beu Sisters. There was even an artist on duty for caricatures. But the one thing I noticed was the fervor and dedication the whole staff at the Swan and Dolphin had. No matter whom you spoke to, their passion for their Food and Wine Classic was infectious. They went all out to make it a success and it worked. Everyone seemed to have a whale of a time, and I believe that this event will continue on for many, many years. The quality of the food, the seminars, the vast choice of wines and beers, and the well-organized Festival makes this an event that should be on every guests “Must attend” list. Along with EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival, it is no wonder that Walt Disney World is the number one vacation spot on earth. I cannot wait for the start of next year’s festival, and I hope that the Swan and Dolphin extend the number of days the festival is presented.
Tickets to the Food and Wine Classic are available as part of a hotel package or individually. For information on the dates, pricing and booking for the next Food and Wine Classic visit www.SwanDolphinfoodandwineclassic.com or call 1-800-227-1500. F or a stay at the Swan and Dolphin visit www.swandolphin.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org Call toll-free at 888-828-8850 or direct at 407-934-4000.