It started with an e-mail. But, let me take you back to the minute right before the e-mail arrived.
At Disney Again and I were in the middle of a very serious conversation about where we should enjoy my 30th birthday dinner. A steakhouse near my office? A signature spot at Disney World?
Then my e-mail chimed, and suddenly, dinner in the middle of a Central Florida field became a very real option. Especially when At Disney Again opened his e-mail and saw the same message. Before I knew it, we had two tickets to fat kid heaven!
Okay, so technically, we had two tickets to the inaugural Edible Orlando Field to Feast Dinner. But it might as well have been fat kid heaven with 8 teams of Disney chefs scheduled to be stuck in the middle of a corn field for several hours with nothing to do but cook for us. We were, understandably, excited.
Cut to several weeks later. We arrived at Long & Scott Farms in Zellwood, Fla., on a deliciously perfect fall evening, pulling down a long dirt road surrounded by agricultural fields. Rounding a tuft of corn stalks, we entered a large, unplanted field – and there, in the distance, was a large bare bones pavilion, surrounded by the hustle and bustle that I associate with big Disney events.
Once we checked in, we were offered a “welcome cocktail” made with Palm Ridge Reserve whiskey and Blood Orange Nectar. The juice was a little sweet for us, but we enjoyed the cocktail as we found a spot to sit.
The location was beautiful and peaceful. Though we were likely only 2 or 3 miles from a main road, it felt like we were ensconced in our own world, cozied up at picnic tables decorated with pumpkins that had been hand painted by local children. All around us, hay bales further set the scene and gave way to gently swaying fields of corn.
It wasn’t long until the event, a fundraiser benefiting the Kid’s Café program of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, got underway. We were really psyched to spend some one on one time with the chefs and, of course, eat their creations under the auspices of a good cause.
Each team of chefs had a station offering up one or two tasting-sized plates of unique dishes featuring local, seasonal ingredients. We, of course, made a beeline for the station we’d affectionately termed The Pork Belly Station, where Chef Frank Brough and his team from The Wave were serving up sweet potato agnolotti with bourbon-maple pork belly, liquid caramel corn and vanilla powder.
Take a look at that. I mean, it’s kind of beautiful. And it tasted even more beautiful. The sweet creaminess from the ravioli and sauce perfectly balanced the salty fatty pork belly. So much yum. I think we ended up splitting three of these tasting portions. Because At Disney Again and I are nothing if not lovers of pork belly.
Next up, we hit the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival booth, where the team from Florida Local, led by Chef Jens Dahlmann, were serving up one of my favorite dishes from last year’s Festival, a pork arepa with Long & Scott corn esquites.
If you liked the arepas as imagined on the World Showcase Promenade, you would have died and gone to heaven with just one bite of this beauty. It achieved a level of chewy, crispy perfection that the chefs just couldn’t manage when preparing thousands of portions for the masses during the Festival. But here, under the stars and with less than 125 guests, it was inspired.
Alongside the foodstuffs, the Epcot chefs and Sommelier Tom Kovacs were pouring Cigar City Brewing Maduro Brown Ale, which I really loved. It had a dark, sweet flavor, not at all too bitter. (I should pause here to note that all of the stations offered alcohol paired with the tasting plates but most were pouring red wines that At Disney Again and I decided to skip.)
My next bites were of spice-crusted calico scallops with Zellwood pumpkin ravioli with toasted pumpkin seed vinaigrette, baby sage, buttered Brussels sprout leaves and pumpkin dust brittle from Chef Brian Piasecki and his California Grill team.
Unfortunately, this one wasn’t very memorable. The scallops were very delicately flavored, and the ravioli didn’t overachieve The Wave’s version. I expected that the Brussels sprout leaves were going to be individually fried – a preparation that’s become more common in trendy restaurants across the country – but they were boiled and then sautéed with butter. I love sprouts, but these were chewy and limp and not what I was expecting.
My favorite part of the dish was absolutely the pumpkin dust brittle but even that didn’t warrant seconds with so many incredible tastes around. Maybe it’s just me – I’ve never loved my dining experiences at Cali Grill – but it wasn’t a big hit.
Next up was Chef Scott Hunnel and his team from the highly-rated Victoria and Albert’s, who were serving up local chicken sausage with Zellwood corn succotash.
This was yummy, but not very inspiring. When I asked At Disney Again for his opinion, he said, “it was utterly underwhelming.” Again, it’s not that this was bad. It was actually quite good; it just didn’t feel very risky. And apparently, I am the kind of person who no longer feels that foams are risky. So we learned that.
The team from Cítricos, led by Chef Phil Ponticelli were next up to wow my taste buds!
This was an extraordinarily delicate dish: Florida pink shrimp with egg pasta and Sarasota black sturgeon caviar. The salty, fishy taste of the sea blended into the soft, lightly-flavored ziti to create a sweet, savory plate that felt decadent and comforting without being heavy.
Next up, we hit what turned out to be our absolute favorite station of the night, led by Chef Leonard Thomson of the Epcot Events team.
Could you just die right now? That’s local beef tenderloin served over sweet balsamic charred onion bread pudding sauced with a wine reduction. Alongside: duck fat fries and a little dish of sweet corn gelato.
Not only was the beef incredibly tender, but the sweet and sour bread was the perfect accompaniment. And duck fat fries? You need those in your life. But not as much as I need the sweet corn gelato in my life. For me, this was the height of perfection – so light and sweet and simple and deliciously cool. I think At Disney Again captured some photos of me making positively pornographic faces as the Dippin Dots-style side melted on my tongue.
Somehow, in all of the eating, we managed to walk right by the Flying Fish Café station several times without actually grabbing a plate. But luckily, they were situated right next to the dessert station, so we caught them just before we moved on to the sugary finale.
Led by Chef Tim Keating, the signature dining team pulled together a local rock shrimp and scallop salad with greens, herbs and Epcot cucumbers all topped with a tart, spicy vinaigrette. Here’s the deal, guys: these aren’t my flavors. It was a creative and interesting dish – just not my thing.
Finally, we’d come to the ultimate course: two plates as imagined by Pastry Chef Stefan Riemer and his company of Disney Desserts artists.
First up: squash beignets served with habañero-corn ice cream and a cocoa-dusted wine sauce. It was love at first bite. Sweet, lightly spicy, creamy delicious ice cream melted up against delightfully savoy sweet bites of autumn-infused air. Just divine.
I was seriously having such a deep love moment with the ice cream, I barely remember the second dessert. In fact, I had to ask At Disney Again to refresh my memory with regard to the chocolate pot de crème with bosc pears and a rye bread tuile. He said it was the perfect mixture of crispy and smooth and that the flavor was “coffee but not COFFEEEEEE!!!” (That is an exact quote, my friends. My man is hyper literate and well-spoken and has three very important college degrees.)
With dinner behind us, At Disney Again and I climbed aboard the Sweet Corn Express for a seriously romantic hay ride through Long & Scott Farms to learn more about our host – a 4th-generation family farm in operation for more than 50 years.
Afterward? We went back for more of the beef tenderloin, arepas and beignets. Because fat kid heaven never closes.
But by then, the sun was nearly set and we were pretty beat, so we moseyed through the field to At Disney Again’s car and watched as Long & Scott Farms disappeared – along with the last light from the setting sun – in the rearview mirror.
Hungry for more? Head over to At Disney Again’s Field to Feast coverage – he’s pulled together more than 150 photos from the amazing event.