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17th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival opens Friday at Walt Disney World

ORLANDO — Al Youngman says there's no secret to quality control at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

It's good policing.

"We have three to four chefs at every zone around the promenade and we are always walking the kiosks the whole day," said Youngman, the chef de cuisine at the popular Le Cellier steakhouse at the park's Canadian pavilion. "The policing and the procedures are the kind of things we have to do every day."

After all, more than a million tapas-sized dishes are served over the course of Walt Disney World's annual culinary trip around the world. The festival, which opens its 17th year Friday and runs through Nov. 12, has tweaked its 2012 menu with offerings for kids, vegans and locavores.

As always, the challenge is to deliver consistent dishes in volume and in the Florida heat at the more than 25 international food and beverage "marketplaces" around the park's World Showcase. Youngman said the key to freshness is cooking the food as it's ordered.

"When we think about menu planning, we also think about how we finish (the dishes) on stage," he said.

For example, at the Canadian marketplace, the longtime salmon dish has been replaced by a filet from Le Cellier. The steak is seared to order on a flat top with salt and pepper before being sauced and plated.

The result: The Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon With Truffle Butter Sauce is tender, tasty and perfectly cooked.

Some of the other new dishes, including those at two new kiosks, were made available during a recent media preview:

At the new Florida Local, the food includes heritage Mangalitsa pork from Ocala, Zellwood corn and Gulf of Mexico shrimp. We sampled the Shrimp Ceviche With Fire Roasted Vegetables, Fried Plantains and Cilantro, which strikes a good balance between heat and flavor while still letting the shrimp be the star.

For the first time, the festival offers vegan fare at the new Terra kiosk. We tried the Trick'n Chick'n Curry With Basmati Rice. The tasty curry sauce atop the faux Gardein Chick'n Breast likely will satisfy vegans and carnivores alike.

At Australia, the Grilled Lamb Chop With Mint Pesto and Potato Crunchies sounds better in theory than in practice. We thought the potato chip topping quickly lost its crunch.

There also are new drinks at the various marketplaces. At Desserts & Champagne, kids can get Nesquik frozen foams (chocolate or strawberry), while adults can sip foamy drinks at Craft Beer with a festival-only Devil's Triangle IPA from the Florida Beer Co. There is also a Florida Orange Groves Key Lime wine from South Pasadena, a 30th anniversary rum drink and a made-for-the-festival Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee.

New at the Festival Center is the Chocolate Experience: From the Bean to the Bar hosted by Ghirardelli. Also, guests can now sample wines at the center's wine shop. (Away from the kitchen, HGTV designers will conduct seminars at the Festival Center on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.) There are also the usual events, such as culinary demonstrations from celebrity chefs like Cat Cora, the Party for the Senses grand tastings, chef-exclusive seminars and the Eat to the Beat concert series.

Peter Couture can be reached at pcouture@tampabay.com.

IF YOU GO

The 17th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival opens Friday and runs through Nov. 12 at Walt Disney World. Park admission is required and the tapas-sized treats from the various marketplaces are $3 to $8. Other events include concerts, culinary demos and wine seminars. Some events already are sold out. Call (407) 939-3378 for more information or go to disneyworld.com/foodandwine.

17th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival opens Friday at Walt Disney World 09/25/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 4:30am]
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