By Rona Gindin
Farm-Fresh Foods Expose Theme Park Guests to Nature’s Bounty
Epcot is known as “the park of discovery,” says Marianne Hunnel. So it would be only natural for its menus to open the doors of discovery as well. Striving to “change somebody’s thought process,” Epcot offers bountiful fresh fruit options paired with nutritional information to help open attendees’ eyes to healthy eating. Now “that’s a good gauge that we’ve done our job,” says Hunnel.
The energetic Hunnel, a chef by training, is Manager of Content Development for the Disney World theme park’s annual six-week Food & Wine Festival, while also contributing her food expertise to the equally popular Flower & Garden Festival. The Orlando visitors who bypass Mickey hugs and thrill rides to indulge in their passions at these multi-faceted festivals benefit in several ways. They have the opportunity to taste new foods while learning about food history, preparation and dietary perks.
Fresh fruit was an integral part of spring 2013’s Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. As guests entered the World Showcase area — a 1.3-mile loop filled with internationally themed permanent pavilions as well as dozens of festival displays — they were greeted with a Fruits by the Glass kiosk. “We thought, ‘Let’s offer some fun and different beverages as visitors start their adventure,'” Hunnel recalls.
She and the creative Epcot chefs ended up with a dozen Fruits by the Glass drinks. Among them were a watermelon-passion fruit cocktail laced with vodka produced from Florida sugar cane, an alcohol-free Wild Berry Slush, a Florida-produced mango wine, and “We even found gluten-free raspberry ale made from sorghum.”
Hunnel hopes to incorporate fresh fruits in the autumn’s Food & Wine Festival line-up. “There are so many great products and food items out there that are so delicious and it just so happens they’re healthy,” she says. “Somebody may not necessarily be looking for a healthy food, but if they taste and think, ‘Wow, this is really good,’ then we can talk about the healthful aspects of it.”
Hunnel is a natural to the force behind the fresh fruit movement at Epcot’s festivals. “Blueberries are nature’s candy,” she says enthusiastically. “They are nature’s gift to all of us. When I was a kid in Indiana, I used to go blueberry picking in the summertime. We’d freeze what we didn’t eat, and instead of sugar-type treats we’d take a handful of frozen blueberries from the freezer. They’re wonderful that way.”
If you’re planning to visit the upcoming festival, you can hope that last year’s Silk berry smoothie, mango tapioca pudding, or Lemon Custard Verrine with Blueberry Compote are offered again. If not, you can be assured that fruits and berries will have a bold presence on the globally inspired menus. “They add variety, they’re fun, and they tell a story,” Hunnel says.
Rona Gindin is an award-winning food and travel writer based in Orlando. She is the author of The Little Black Book of Walt Disney World, is the local restaurant editor for Zagat and Fodor’s, and contributes to epicurious.com, Orlando Life, Edible Orlando, Floridian View, Endless Vacation, GO, and many other print and online publications. Gindin is also known for her lively restaurant-focused TV appearances. www.ronagindin.com