Last weekend, Matt and I headed back to Festival Center, where a couple weeks prior we had seen Robert Irvine, for our second Culinary Demonstration of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. This time, we would be seeing Andrew Zimmern.
Matt and I saw Andrew for his demo back in 2010, and were able to briefly meet him during his book signing afterwards. We were excited to see his name when looking through the list of culinary demos (PDF) that would be offered this year, and even more so when we saw he would be preparing venison. Time had passed since booking, demo day arrived, and we got in line shortly after noon for the 1pm presentation. Cast Members were setting up, and at each seat, the recipe for the dish to be presented was placed. Matt told me not to peek at the recipe, so naturally I did peek. I then looked at him and he could see something was wrong. I uttered, “Simple. Shellfish. Paella.”
I quickly pulled up the demo PDF and verified that seafood was originally not on the menu, and the protein was in fact supposed to be venison. Word of the change spread throughout the line. I’ll talk more about this at the end of the post, though. Let’s move on to the demo!
Pam Smith first introduced Fabian to talk about the Santa Ema Reserve Merlot we would be served. He talked about the fruity notes… cherry, plum… How it would pair with the dish… Some joke about the movie Sideways…
Here’s a look at the Santa Ema. Just kidding! I neglected to take a picture, apparently. It pretty much looked like this glass of Cambria 2012 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir from Robert Irvine’s demo. There was nothing wrong with the wine, just nothing I’m rushing out the door to buy.
Andrew was introduced, said hello, and jumped right into his demo.
He talked about Sansho Buttons, a bud that give the consumer a tingling effect much like a Sichuan peppercorn. They were passed around, but unfortunately, none made it to me to try. I’ll have to see if it’s something I’ll be able to grow myself. I was hoping that these would be incorporated into the paella, but it quickly became apparent that they would not be.
Andrew spoke of the process for making the paella, and told stories about how he likes to serve it to family and friends at home gatherings. He noted that the rice he likes to use for paella is Valencia rice, a Spanish short grain rice, though you can use whatever – preferably short grain rice – you have on hand. The knife he’s using is one he designed, and is on sale with a small line of specialty cookware, like a tagine and a wok, and kitchen basics as well, like a utensil set and an apron.
As the dish cooked on stage, he also took some questions while while he cooked the dish down. There were a lot of the usual suspects, like, “What’s the worst thing you ever ate?” Fortunately, that was one he’d never heard before…
Cast members began to hand out dishes of the finished paella to guests, and Andrew instructed us to eat it as soon as it arrived so it could be tasted as fresh as possible. I received mine, and and started to eat. Matt received his a good 5 minutes later.
In the demo, Andrew showed how to clean the shrimp. The (head-on) shrimp served had not been cleaned. The shell on mine was impossible to remove. I tried peeling it, cracking it, ripping with the fork and knife; I managed a small chunk of meat out of the shell, and after all that work, it was overdone. Matt’s was no better. It was really a shame, as they were some really large, nice shrimp.
My first mussel was a bit gritty, but otherwise, they tasted fine. One of Matt’s hadn’t opened enough to eat, and when he ate the meat of the other 0ne, he nearly cracked his tooth on a black mussel pearl. Matt doesn’t care for mussels to begin with, though he tries them when I occasionally order them. I think this may have put him off of them for some time.
The paella itself was overcooked and mushy. It didn’t have any of the “crispy bits” that are loved about this dish.
There were nice pieces of crab, but their flavor overpowered the rice. There were a few quarters of chorizo slices, but that was our favorite part of the dish.
Here is the recipe for the Simple Shellfish Paella, which was posted on his website the day before the demo:
One of the questions Andrew fielded was from a guest who was allergic to shellfish (one of many, mind you). She asked what else could be put into the paella instead. He mentioned that almost anything could be added instead, like chicken, chorizo, etc. Matt and I looked at each other and quietly said, “Or venison?”
Okay, I’d like to elaborate on a few things, because I probably sound like Debbie Downer with this post. I completely understand that the recipe for demos may change without notice, and sometimes, substitutions are necessary. Goodness knows, I’ve had to improvise in my own kitchen. However, going from a land protein to not just seafood, but shellfish, was poor judgement. Would they sub steak tartare for a demo advertised as being vegetarian? (Okay, extreme example, but you get the idea.)
There were several guests in line that had shellfish allergies, and it appears some received wristbands for Andrew to sign two items after the demo (in the book signing area, next to Intermissions Cafe). There was also another guest who appeared to receive a different dish for those with allergies, so it seemed they were somewhat prepared to try to make things right. If you were at the demo and received an alternative to the paella, please let us know what it was.
For Matt and me, the process for deciding which demos we want to attend goes a little something like this: First, we scan the proteins. Duck? Check. Venison? Check. Elk? Check. We look for the non-usual suspects. Second, we look at the names of chefs we would like to see. Fortunately, Irvine aligned with duck, and Zimmern aligned with venison. Third, we check the dates. Do the demos fall on the weekends? Is the time slot during the week, and if so, which one so we know when to take time off from work? Is it worth taking time off from work for the demo? Finally, we check our football schedules. Do we have time before or after the demo to hang out at Epcot? Do we need to hit up ESPN? Even as locals, we still have a lot to consider.
That being said, we still enjoyed the demo. If we had seen that Zimmern was going to be preparing “seafood,” would we have NOT booked the demo? Of course not. We were there to see Andrew. The prospect of venison was a (delicious) perk. When it comes to shellfish, I’m fine with it. Matt, on the other hand, is incredibly picky. He’ll gladly eat crawfish. He’ll sample the other stuff if I order it, though tends to just flat out avoid shrimp (and don’t even think about an oyster). He really tried to enjoy the paella, but it just wasn’t for him. For me, the preparation was lacking (not by Zimmern’s doing, mind you), but I think I’d still give the recipe a try at home. However, I’ll be sticking with a “turf” version to keep Matt happy. Perhaps I’ll even throw some venison sausage in there. 😉
Did you attend the Andrew Zimmern Culinary Demonstration this year? What did you think? Have you attended any others this year, or have any lined up?