If you’ve ever visited the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival (running now until November 16 at Epcot at Walt Disney World), you know what a huge endeavor it is. With stations set up at every country in World Showcase, new stations for countries that aren’t even in World Showcase (hello, Patagonia!) and dozens of unique food and drink items, it’s a titanic undertaking that totally transforms Epcot as you know it. (This is especially true this year, as the festival makes its way, for the first time ever, into Future World.) As a guest, this is a lot to keep track of, but if you’re Executive Chef Gregg Hannon, it’s all part of a day’s work.
As one of the chief creative architects of Food and Wine, Chef Hannon oversees an international cast of 250 chefs, cooks, and culinary specialists who run more than 35 food and beverage restaurants and outlets. That’s a lot to keep track of. Luckily, the chef, who started his culinary career back in 1993, doesn’t seem phased. While talking with him on the phone a few weeks ago, he let us in on what makes this year’s Food and Wine (the 20th year!) so special, what you simply must try, and how he got to bring back some old classics while simultaneously breaking new ground. Be warned, though: this interview will make you very, very hungry.
What are you guys doing to make the 20th anniversary of Epcot Food and Wine really special?
Overall, Food and Wine offers a great opportunity to not only taste your way around the world but also explore a new area that we’re doing for the 20th anniversary, which is moving into Future World. That’s what we really want to get across to our guests: that we’re moving into Future World. So we’re going to have four new marketplaces into Future World: a cheese studio, wine studio, an area called Next Eats, which will have two market places (Sustainable Chew and Chew Lab). Sustainable Chew are menu items inspired by the TV hosts from The Chew, so we’re going to have a great zucchini and ricotta cheese ravioli and at the Chew Lab we’re going to have a liquid nitro chocolate almond truffle. So we’re going to dip a chocolate almond truffle into liquid nitrogen and what that’s going to do is freeze the outside and we’re going to pull it out and crack it, so it’s going to be frozen on the outside and really soft and gooey on the inside and we’re going to drizzle a nice warm whiskey sauce on top.
If nobody has even gone to Food and Wine before, why should they come this year?
We think this is the best and definitely the biggest year ever. Because not only do we feature marketplaces around World Showcase but since we’re moving into Future World, they’ll be able to experience something that really has never been done before.
I think some of the food items you cannot miss are, first of all, the Canadian cheddar cheese soup is one of the guest favorites. It’s been around for a while and it’s the actual soup we serve in Le Cellier, so it’s a great opportunity to try something from one of our signature restaurants. The escargot from France is another great item, since it’s baked into a freshly made croissant. We also have, in Brazil, a crispy pork belly that has black beans, tomatoes and onions. Returning as a guest favorite is our New England lobster roll in hops and barley. We also have some great desserts in our line-up. We have something called the strawberry basil champagne toast. It’s a champagne glass, we have a little of champagne at the bottom that’s infused with a little bit of strawberry puree and basil. Then we have some strawberry mousse, some cool gold glitter, some crispy pearls, a little whip cream and a nice 20th logo to top it off. We hope people are going to be walking around going, “Where can I get that?”
As a chef, what is the push-and-pull between wanting to try new things and wanting to bring back things people love from previous Food and Wine Festivals?
Well, since we’re celebrating 20 years, instead of having a ton of new items, we’re bringing back a lot of guest favorites. This is a year where we didn’t have to push-and-pull too much. We brought back items from years’ past. We brought back the spicy chicken sausage with creamy polenta in Canada; that’s been gone for a while. In cheese studio we brought back the cheese fondue with sourdough bread; that’s been gone for about four years. And in South Korea we brought back the Korean short rib with steamed rice. So we’ve really been able to go back into our vault and pick up some great items. And over in Future World, every item is new. From a culinary perspective, the Chew Lab, where we’re trying to execute food that incorporates food science, in a small marketplace experience even though these things are typically done in a signature restaurant.