Of all the theme parks in Florida, Epcot is known for having the least theme park-y food. In addition to the park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival, which runs through Nov. 12, there’s the World Showcase, home to re-creations of 11 countries: Italy, United Kingdom, Mexico, United States, Canada, Norway, Japan, China, Morocco, Germany and France.
Themed food and drink abound throughout the World Showcase, with each country’s culinary trademarks re-created rigorously in both low-key (the ice cream shop in France) and high-brow (the Canadian steakhouse) ways. And this time of year, many of the restaurants host special, festival-related events that further delve into a country’s cuisine.
We got a chance to chat with Jerome Bocuse, son of famed chef Paul Bocuse, who died earlier this year. Paul Bocuse helped opened Epcot’s France pavilion in 1996; the country’s Monsieur Paul restaurant is named after him, and his famous Truffle Soup VGE is on the menu.
Jerome Bocuse is the owner of Chefs de France, serving as the consultant on all things francais for the pavilion’s more accessible, family-friendly French restaurant. (Monsieur Paul is a bit more upscale.)
Bocuse is passionate about being able to offer a taste of France in the Orlando theme park, seeing the annual festival and especially these specialized events as ways to spotlight the delights of French cuisine.
“It’s so important for guests to be able to taste food from around the world,” he said.
It broadens their horizons, perhaps plants the seed of travel in their minds. And it’s another way to promote the benefits of simple, quality cooking.
“My father was one of the first chefs to step out of the kitchen to promote his food and gastronomy,” Bocuse said. “I feel like I have a duty to follow that path. We’re not going to revolutionize cooking, but we have to make sure that we send out the right message — that people should eat well.”
How involved are you with Epcot’s France pavilion?
I’m here not every day, as I have other restaurants all over the world, in France and Japan, to oversee. We are here to reflect our country France the best as we can. We’re never able to give a full view of French cuisine and the culture it has to bring, but at least we give a good sample.
What kind of work goes into planning for the annual Food & Wine Festival?
We start months ahead of time, almost when the previous festival ends. We know what works, what works less, we try to of course bring some different food items each year. Like we usually have a braised beef, but we try to change it a little bit. This year we have a different flavor profile — last year, that beef was coated in wine. This year, it’s a little sweeter, more rounded, with bacon and onion that really complement the dish well. It’s a fine line between innovating and sticking to the tradition. We’re trying to please both.
What are some basics we should know about French cuisine?
It’s very rooted, it goes back to a very old time. Our classic recipes are hundreds of years old. With different technology, the recipes have evolved, and now you can make them even better than they were. But at the end of the day, to me, you need a good product. For me, it’s really what we base our cuisine on: good product. The key is to have the right product, then the right process.
French cuisine should be simple. You need to be able to identify the product on your plate. You need to be able to see the fish; it should look like fish.
And how does that translate to the theme park?
When you come to Chefs de France, that’s what we try to do. A lot of our guests have never been in a French restaurant. You may think of French food as being high-priced, heavy — that’s not our goal. This is to say, “Yeah, this is affordable, and not weird, and easy to eat.”
We’re still in the theme park. We have to make it accessible, in terms of price and comfort. It is high end, but it’s not like the three-stars that we have in France. But at least it’s a test, a step toward it. And hopefully people will want to take the next step.
What do you cook at home?
I cook for the family, and I enjoy it. I like to stay connected with the food since I don’t have the opportunity to cook at Epcot. I’m not afraid to try things — I travel all over the world and I often buy spices, and bring back different ways of working with food. I like a nice product, things that are cooked well and seasoned well. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.