Tomatoes warmed by the sun, begging you to take a bite. Tidy beds of mixed herbs that look as good as they taste. Salads bursting with fresh-from-the-backyard flavor. These are just three reasons why we love the exciting new addition to the 2013 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, which runs through May 19. Gardening and eating are just two sides of the same delicious coin. Flowers are lovely, but few things are more rewarding than serving up a home-grown treat.
Throughout Epcot’s World Showcase, Guests can now try culinary creations and special libations inspired by the festival gardens, celebrating flavors from around the world. These tasty treats are only available during the Festival! Festival-goers can sample “frushi” – fruit sushi – at Hanami, or try a glass of carrot wine from Florida Fresh. Nearby Festival Farms gardens showcase some of the ingredients that go into these special treats. It’s the perfect way to get inspiration and ideas for home kitchen gardens – for a sample, we’ve included a festival recipe at the end of this post that will send you to homegrown tomato paradise.
Epcot Executive Chef Jens Dahlmann was instrumental in planning the new foodie elements in the festival. He explains, “We’ve tried for five years to find a way to bring a food element into the festival. The popularity of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival has given our Guests an interest in growing their own food and edible landscaping. And everybody loves the food and wine on the promenade! So now you can look at the beautiful plants and flowers and enjoy the added sensory element of flavor. Plus, people often don’t know what produce looks like when it’s growing, and it’s great to educate the younger generation that not everything comes in a plastic bag.”
The autumn Epcot International Food & Wine Festival may have provided some inspiration, but Jens makes it clear that the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival remains very much its own event. “We didn’t want to turn ‘flower and garden’ into ‘food and wine.’ The feel should be unique. None of the menu items have crossed over – all the items we’re serving, both food and beverage, are unique to this festival!”
He continues, “Our focus is really around springtime, the spring harvest, what produce is available at the time. And we wanted to highlight the lifestyle we enjoy this time of year – spending time outdoors, barbecuing. We brainstormed about how to bring out the diversity of cultures and the different ways they celebrate spring.” That’s why you’ll find seasonal dishes like a ratatouille packed with fresh veggies at L’Orangerie or spring pancakes with grilled chicken and green apple at Lotus House.
You’ll also find lots of good old American barbecue, because what’s spring without a cookout? “We have a huge bbq smoker where we do smoked brisket and pig shoulder. We also have a pork slider with a vinegary slaw, and brisket with collard greens and jalapeno cornbread. Plus there are great local beers to try — lots of good stuff!”
Chef Jens has some great advice for aspiring kitchen gardeners. “Know your local area – go to the local farmers’ market and see what they have. Whatever they have plentifully, that’s what you can grow well. Be aware of the seasons and when to plant. Start small — it could be a little herb garden, and then you could add peppers and chilies because they are easy to grow. Plant things that you know how to use – you can pickle your cucumbers or chilies. If you have a passion for cooking, then the sky’s the limit — but for most people peppers, lettuce, and cucumbers are a good place to start, because you can eat them raw and they’ll be delicious,” he recommends.
“People ask how do I know what’s in season? Just look at the supermarket and see what’s on sale! Usually the stuff that’s plentiful and cheapest is local and fresh. I’m European and we’re very aware of the seasons these – you wait all year for fresh asparagus or the first strawberries. You have to connect to your food, and gardening is a great way to do that.”
This year, when Guests stop to smell the flowers, they’ll also get a taste of the best spring has to offer. And for your own garden-fresh taste of spring, try whipping up the easy and delicious salad below — it’s just one of the yummy dishes on offer during the festival!
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Mozzarella
Courtesy Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
1 1/2 pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes
1/2 pound small fresh mozzarella balls, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup baby basil leaves (may substitute regular basil leaves)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons ice wine vinegar*
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Wash tomatoes and remove cores. Slice larger tomatoes and quarter smaller ones. Place tomatoes on a large platter and drizzle with oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Divide tomatoes among serving plates. Top with mozzarella, onion, and basil. Drizzle oil and vinegar from platter over tomatoes and season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
*Ice wine vinegar can be found in specialty foods stores. You may substitute seasoned rice vinegar for a similar flavor.