Grand Marnier and Other French Delicacies

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If you’re looking for Food & Wine bargains, head for France.

Wait, wait...don’t browse over to the Air France Web page. I’m talking about the France pavilion and Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, which concludes its six-week run on Nov. 14. There’s lots going on all over the theme park, of course, but I really like the things I’ve been seeing at France.

I had a terrific time at the Grand Marnier Taste, Shake and Indulge like the French event on Saturday. This was a new event this year, and it appears to
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Each place was set with cocktail shakers and Madeleines to nibble on.
have been a rousing success. And, as I said, a bargain. For $45 guests had the opportunity to taste three Grand Marnier samples: the Cordon Rouge, aged 10 years in the barrel; the 100th anniversary, aged 30 years; and the 150th anniversary, aged 50 years and probably worth the price of admission right there. It was enlightening to taste the three side-by-side and compare the characteristics of each. Not surprisingly, the complexity of the orange-flavored liqueur grew more intense with more aging.

We also got to make and shake our own Grand Marnier cocktail, made with lemon, mint and, of course, Grand Marnier. It was sort of a precursor to the mojito. We were lead by Axelle Rayrolles, a French born Orlando resident with a lovely accent and good-natured patter who had an easy rapport with the guests who packed the upstairs Bistro de Paris. During the tasting of the three GMs, Rayrolles gave a history of the luscious liqueur and asked at each seminal year in the company’s past if the crowd knew who was president of the United States at the time. It may have been intended as a good-natured jab at the average American’s grasp of our own history. But luckily there was one woman in our group who knew the answer to each one. (Rayrolles finally asked if the woman was a history teacher; the lady replied that she wasn’t a teacher but was a one-day Jeopardy champion, which doesn’t explain how she knew the answers, but it was a crowd-pleasing answer.)

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Dozens of shot glasses of Grand Marnier awaited guests and filled the air with the sweet, orangey aroma.

Rayrolles walked us through the process of making the cocktail. We each had a Boston shaker (the type bartenders use, with a tall glass and metal canister), a muddler and a strainger. Each place setting was set with fresh mint leave, lemon quarters and a small bottle of Grand Marnier. Rayrolles taught us the proper way to muddle (including which end of the stick to use) to extract the mint oils and juice of the lemon. After pouring in the ice, we learned the secret to using the Boston shaker so that the two pieces come apart easily (it’s all in how you whack it). Then we took the strainer and prepared to pour the cocktail into the glass of ice the waiters had delivered.

That’s when someone in the group sheepishly asked what we all were wondering: When do we add the Grand Marnier?

We all had a good laugh as we reshook our now-alcoholic drinks. And as we sipped our cocktails, which were pretty damned good, I must say, the Bistro waiters demonstrated how to flambe crepes Suzette, another classic made with Grand Marnier. Then, of course, we call got to taste some.

It was a terrific afternoon, but, to my original point, also a terrific bargain. And I’m finding that is the usual case when I’m attending something sponsored by the folks at the France pavilion. It made me sorry I hadn’t tried to get a reservation for one of the French regional lunches that are so popular during the festival. But they always sell out within minutes after the reservations phone lines open up each year.

And that was the case for the current lunch schedule, too. But now I’ve learned that for some reason -- it’s thought there was a glitch in the reservation computer system, but no one will admit to it -- the last two lunches of the festival still have some openings.

The remaining lunches are Friday, Nov. 12, and Sunday, Nov. 14 (the last day of the fest).  For $95 (plus tax, although that includes gratuity) you get a meal prepared by chef Bruno Vrignon’s able staff. Their called lunches, but it’s really a five-course dinner. I don’t have the menu, but I know the wines will include Charles de Fere sparkling wine, Bourgogne Chardonnay JeanClaude Boisset (2006), Boisset’s 2006 pinot noir, also from Burgundy. And for the dessert course, a vodka made by distilling Burgundy grapes seven times. Sounds like sort of a French version of grappa. Can’t wait.

This is going to be a good bargain (especially if you have an annual pass to get in to the park), and I’m definitely going. If you can go too, make a quick call to the Disney reservation line, 407-939-3463.

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