But guest and cast feedback from past festivals made his objective clear.
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Dahlmann held internal cook-offs to fine-tune dishes he knew he wanted on the 2009 menu. "It gave everyone on the culinary team a chance at taking ownership of this event."
From the cook-offs he selected staff-refined dosas (crepe-like street food with veggie fillings) for the Indian kiosk and an arroz con pollo (a chicken and rice dish) for the Puerto Rican kiosk.
He also rethought how the food was presented. At some kiosks in the past, desserts weren't fast sellers.
"Sometimes guests are more interested in savory not sweet. Moet & Chandon's champagne kiosk, located at the entrance to the World Showcase promenade, was a perfect place to add classic European confections," he said. "Individual kiosks will still offer a sweet treat. But this year, as guests pass by the sparkling wine, they now have an appropriate food pairing."
They also have added an $8 price tag to the 45-minute culinary demos and wine seminars at the Festival Welcome Center, which were free in previous years. Dahlmann said the idea to charge for those events actually came from guest feedback.
"A ticket guarantees a seat," he said.
In the welcome center, a state-of-the-art kitchen demonstration stage is replacing the trade-show feel of past culinary demos. Among the celebrity guests and authors scheduled to take that stage are Jamie Deen and Bobby Deen (check out my conversation with Paula's sons in Wednesday's Cooking & Eating section), Patti LaBelle, Cat Cora, Alan Wong, Suvir Saran and Andrea Immer Robinson.
At the pricey but always fab Party for the Senses, held every Saturday night throughout the festival, guests who like VIP attention can tack on $75 to the $135 cost for admission to the Wine View Lounge. The exclusive seating area has private tables, a premium bar and an artisanal cheese station.
"And they will be greeted with a signature wild-hibiscus sparkling wine," says Dahlmann. The petals of the ruby flowers unfurl as they are tickled by the bubbles of the Italian prosecco. It's an ultra-elegant presentation.
While wine is center stage, beer is getting a bump in prominence this year with a "Beer Hop" between the France and Morocco pavilions. For $12, guests can sample four brews from a selection of ales, lagers and craft beers from around the world.
And tequila will undoubtedly get its due this year as well. Open now but likely new to festivalgoers, La Cava del Tequila is a 30-seat bar inside the Mexico pavilion. With more than 70 tequilas ($8-$50) and lots of tapas-style eats, it's another opportunity to toast the culinary celebration.
Dahlmann, who oversees a team of 350 culinary professionals, promises fan favorites for the wine festival menu as well.
"The food and formats that work year after year are important to the overall success of the festival," he said. "We think our new twists will be just as successful."
Beer awaits festivalgoersThe Boston Beer Co., the folks who make Samuel Adams, are hosting the "History of Beer in America" with daily demonstrations at Epcot's American Adventure Pavilion.
• EAT TO THE BEAT: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy opens the wine festival concert series at the American Gardens Theatre in World Showcase. Orlando.metromix.com
• READ OUR REVIEWS OF FESTIVAL FARE: Our Theme Park Rangers will guide you to the best of global eats. OrlandoSentinel.com/ThemeParkRangers
Heather McPherson can be reached at 407-420-5498 or email@example.com.
Cast contributes to fest's menuIris Ojeda's family and friends know that she's a great cook. Now the world can taste her award-winning arroz con pollo.
Epcot executive chef Jens Dahlmann looked within Disney's culinary ranks for wine festival menu inspirations by holding internal competitions. Chef Ojeda, 49, entered the chicken and rice competition at the last moment — and won.
"I am very proud. I still don't believe that my dish is one of the foods featured at the festival," said the Puerto Rico native. "My family is talking about it all the way up in Philadelphia."
She says the key to her recipe is respecting the sofrito, a flavoring sauce made by sauteing diced vegetables with garlic.
Chef Dahlmann says Ojeda's recipe stood out because the flavors of the rice, cilantro, capers and green olives were clearly defined. "This is a classic Puerto Rican dish. Too often arroz con pollo can veer toward Spanish paella. And her recipe was perfect for the servings we need for a festival of this magnitude."
Guests can meet Ojeda, as she and many of the other cast contributors will be serving up their food at this year's festival.