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epcot18 earth

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — to visit the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. It opened on August 30 this year and will conclude on Monday, Nov. 12. I’ve never missed one — even when the official Walt Disney World Wine Festival was held elsewhere on property and in the early days when pretty much the entire festival was confined to the Odyssey event structure. That space now isn’t even big enough for the Festival Center.

But at least it had air conditioning.

Although the festival is nearly 10 weeks old at this point, I only made it out there recently. Scheduling conflicts, domestic and international travel and other commitments just made it difficult to plan some time at the park.

Secretly, I’m glad I wasn’t able to go when the festival first opened. Did I mention it was in August?

I usually attend a media day, which is held on or close to opening day, and it is always oppressively hot. We’re all loaded down with our camera gear and carrying a swag bag of goodies (not always that good), but we bravely face the death march around the World Showcase to sample the foods and taste the wines, beers and other beverages.

What a difference several weeks and about 20 fewer degrees on the thermometer make. I actually enjoyed my stroll.

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ASFOH Chef Jill Holland Soup for Good

Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida has launched its own line of food products. Called A Spoon Full of Hope, the line includes tomato basil Soup for Good, shortbread Cookies for Good, and Honey for Good in various flavors. Sounds good. Visit A Spoon Full of Hope for details.

The folks at Waldorf Astoria and Bull & Bear are hosting a tasting of bourbons on Nov. 15th from 4 to 6 p.m. The Master Blenders Series will feature Old Rip Van Winkle, Blanton’s, Colonel E.H. Taylor and Buffalo Trace whiskies. $100 per person; reserve here.

Teak Neighborhood Grill will be featured on the Cooking Channel’s “Late Night Eats” on Thursday, Nov. 8 at 11 p.m. That’s 8 p.m. Pacific Time, but that hardly qualifies as late night eats.

Ace Cafe Orlando will host a Veterans Day celebration on Saturday, Nov. 10, which is not Veterans Day. Free draft beer for veterans and food and drink specials for everyone else from 1 to 8 p.m. Live entertainment and motorcycles, too.

Ravenous Pig hosts a Beaujolais Wine Dinner on Sunday, Nov. 11 (that’s Veterans Day) at 6:30 p.m. Brian Kerney and Rob Chase of Digress Wine will be pouring seven wines for the four-course dinner. $100 per person. Call 407-628-2333 to reserve.

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Chengdu sign

If you hear people call Taste of Chengdu the hottest restaurant in town, you should probably know that they may not be referring to its popularity, though popular it certainly is.

It’s also serving some of the hottest, as in spiciest, food you’re likely to find in Central Florida.

Geography geeks will recognize Chengdu as the capital of China’s Sichuan province. Culinary nerds will know that Sichuan cuisine (also sometimes spelled Szechuan or Szechwan) is known for its liberal use of fiery hot peppers, particularly the Sichuan pepper, which has an initial taste that is slightly metallic but then spreads like a wildfire through tinder. It does not make your tongue tingle, it makes it throb.

And that leads, I suppose, to its popularity. Yes, there is a certain sector of the dining public with a masochistic tendency to sear their tastebuds. They’d probably lick a branding iron just out of a campfire if it was sprinkled with Sriracha. But we’re also seeing a new appreciation for authentic Asian cuisine in general and Chinese food in particular. The west side of town has become the de facto home to many of the restaurants offering more than Americanized versions of Chinese dishes.

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Cows and Cabs tent

The organizers of Cows ’n Cabs have released the lineup of chefs for Saturday’s event and it’s a stellar one.

Cows ’n Cabs has grown each year since its 2012 debut and is now one of the area’s premier food and beverage events. Conceived by 4 Rivers Smokehouse founder John Rivers and cohosted by Dave Larue, vice president of ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, Cows ’n Cabs is a fundraiser for After School All-Stars Orlando and Elevate Orlando.

It takes place in Winter Park’s West Meadow across the railroad tracks from Central Park. Originally, it was held under a large tent. It still is, but it has grown so much that several of the participating chefs and beverage vendors are set up outside under the sky. (Saturday’s forecast is for 0% chance of rain with temperatures at about 70 degrees at 7 p.m.; perfect.)

In and around the tent you’ll find such notable chefs as: Yuhi Fujinaga, Morimoto Asia; Kathleen Blake, The Rusty Spoon; Francisco Galeano, Tapa Toro; Vassillis Coumbaros, Taverna Opa; and John Miele, Enzo’s Hideaway. See the full list of chefs below.

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Shiraz counter

The last time I was at Shiraz Market it was Torterilla la Mexicana. The name is different, the cuisine has changed from Mexican to Middle Eastern, but the experience is pretty much the same.

It’s a small storefront that’s mostly store. There are shelves of Middle Eastern canned and dry goods mixed in with everyday essentials.

One one side of the shop is a counter with some refrigerated items. And behind that is a menu board displaying the few items available to order and eat at one of the rustic tables in front. There are the usual kebabs and gyros but there are a couple of more interesting items, such as the Gheymeh that I selected.