Chef Michael Deardorff has worked at Disney resorts for 28 years. He’s created menus for Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Hawaii and the Magic Kingdom’s Be Our Guest Restaurantat Walt Disney World and is currently responsible for Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival as the park’s chef de cuisine.
Disney’s Epcot celebrates global innovation and culture, and so does the eight-week festival (running this year from Sept. 25 to Nov. 16). Regionally themed marketplaces (Disney-speak for kiosks) invade Epcot’s 11 permanent country pavilions doling out sample-sized eats and beverages.
This year marks the festival’s 20th anniversary, and it’s bigger than ever with 36 marketplaces, 300 wines and beers, daily concerts, celebrity chefs and countless culinary demos. Plus, there are more than 100 dishes on offer, including such specialties as South African Berber beef, Brazilian pork belly and Australian grilled lamb chop.
We asked Deardoff for his tips on how to make the most of this big event.
What can people expect for the 20th anniversary?
It’s a retrospective, with past fan favourites. For example, in Greece, we’ve brought back the Greek salad, and we’ve brought back the spicy chicken sausage on creamy polenta in Canada.
What’s new at the marketplaces this year?
We have eight wines on tap and cheese pairings at the Champagne and Cheese marketplace. We’re doing futuristic-style cooking at The Chew Lab, and we’re featuring a marketplace from the Dominican Republic. I’ve cooked with more plantains in the past month than I have in the rest of my career.
What are the must-try dishes?
The lobster and seafood fisherman’s pie in Ireland, the filet mignon in Canada and the pork slider in Hawaii are all very good. And this year in New Zealand, we have a seared venison loin. We’re always trying to raise the level [of cuisine]. It’s a festival, but we have restaurant-quality food in the marketplaces.
If you want to do something really fun, take in a Party for the Senses. We have 28 food and beverage stations, Cirque du Soleil provides the entertainment and you can talk to the celebrity and Disney chefs about their food. If you’re a foodie, it’s a must.
What is your ultimate festival food day?
You really can’t eat it all in one day, but I’d get the lobster rolls at Hops & Barley in the American Adventure Pavilion, the Green Lip mussels in New Zealand and Farm Fresh’s pepper bacon mac ’n cheese. I’d have dinner in Le Cellier Steakhouse in Canada, I’d get the Schöfferhofer Grapefruit beer from the Brewer’s Collection marketplace near Germany and, for dessert, I’d try the new one from The Chew Lab. It’s a chocolate almond truffle dipped in nitrogen for a few seconds, cracked open, then spread with a caramel whisky sauce.
Any final festival tips?
When you enter the World Showcase, head left towards Mexico. If you turn right, you run into Canada, Greece, Scotland and Hawaii and those are the really popular ones. It’s easier to catch them from the left side.