Epcot International Food & Wine Festival appearance by MasterChef winner Shaun O’Neale reveals his excitement for all things Disney and Food!
MasterChef Season 7 winner Shaun O’Neale visits the 22nd Epcot International Food & Wine Festival for the first time! Yet, his childhood story is tied to Epcot in a very special way. I had the opportunity to chat with the dynamic Las Vegas DJ turned celebrity chef in anticipation of his special appearance at the world-renowned festival.
If you watch MasterChef on TV, then you know Shaun O’Neale. If you don’t, then you’ll want to get to know him!
His enthusiasm for food is contagious. His love of meat and big bold flavors borders on obsession. His modern and artistic take on American cuisine, which inspired his cookbook “My Modern American Table” is inspiring to any home cook who wants to get out of the rut of cooking the same old thing in the same old way. He adds inventive ingredients to everyday dishes and really jazzes up your taste buds. The self-taught home cook learned his craft from cookbooks and impressed Gordon Ramsay to win the title. Not an easy thing to do!
He still goes by @DJShaunOneale on social media, a nod to his initial claim to fame, electrifying dance floors from the DJ booth at legendary dance clubs and music festivals from South Florida to Las Vegas, and everywhere in between. His biggest gig? Getting the party going on Las Vegas Blvd for 100,000 people on New Year’s Eve!
Over 100,000 people visit Epcot’s extravaganza of festivals, this year running for an unprecedented 75 days. Alas, he will only be cooking for a select group who were fortunate to purchase tickets to his special event appearance. These tickets go fast! More details are listed below for the next events with other legendary chefs.
Special Appearance at Epcot Food & Wine Festival
I previously met Shaun O’Neale during a special demo for the Cocoa Beach Uncorked event, where he demoed an amazing salmon crudo in addition to a version of his lobster ravioli. O’Neale will be the guest chef during the “Eat, Drink and Ask Questions” special event on September 3rd and those guests are in for a treat! Since I didn’t get a chance to interview him then, I thought it was perfect I get to ask him a few questions in anticipation of his Epcot Food and Wine Festival debut.
Check out the video for the full interview and read below for much more about this inspiring chef.
What can guests expect during your event?
“I’m super excited to be demoing my squid ink and lobster ravioli. It’s a beautiful squid ink pasta dough with a nice pink filling. The lobster comes out. Super vibrant and super fresh.” He describes the squid ink giving the pasta this black color but the flavor is light, like a sea breeze. And now my mouth is watering.
“It’s an amazing dish, a spin-off of something that is in my cookbook, My Modern American Table: Recipes for Inspired Home Cooks and I’m excited to share it with fans at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. It’s going to be an exciting experience for me and the guests.”
This is his first time visit to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival and he is going all out. He’s brought his family and they’ve even made matching tee-shirts. (A common tradition amongst frequent festival goers.) This is like a team sport!
Eating and Drinking Around The World
Epcot is known for being THE destination in Central Florida to eat and drink around the world. This festival takes that concept and amps it up to 1000 volts! It’s massive! 35 marketplaces serving hundreds of dishes and drinks! A calendar full of special appearances, and ultra special events. A massive variety of experiences to choose from!
What are you most excited to check out during the festival?
“I’m just excited to be here with my loved ones. I’ve worked hard to get to this stage to be able to do events like this. To be at Disney, at The pinnacle of Food and Wine Festivals. It’s amazing to be here with the people I care about.”
He adds what every Epcot Food and Wine groupie would agree with: “I’m excited to check out the food around the world. It’s such an amazing event, they bring in so many cultural aspects and so many flavors. Epcot has been so amazing at really cultivating a true experience, like you’re actually in that country. I’m excited to get out and really immerse myself in the food and everything that’s going on here.”
He adds with a chuckle “but hopefully not put on too many pounds.”
That is something I’m afraid we all struggle with when visiting Epcot. To that I say “Live it Up Shaun!”
Travel Bucket List
In his cookbook, he talks about how culinary journeys around the country have inspired him. And since I love talking travel bucket lists, I’m curious to learn about his.
What country around the World Showcase is on your travel bucket list?
Although he shares he is “over the moon obsessed with Italy. The culture, the art, the food, is absolutely incredible.” There is another country with a prominent presence at Epcot that tops his travel bucket list.
“I really want to visit Japan someday.”
Epcot serves as great inspiration for travel so don’t be surprised if you see Shaun in the Japan marketplace this weekend, chowing down on Wasabi Shumai Steamed Pork Dumplings, Salmon BLT Sushi Rolls and Teriyaki Ginger Pork.
I share with him my mission to “Make Someday Happen” and I hope it inspires him to cross Japan off his “someday list.”
When I ask if he would like to cook in Japan? His answer shows his practical giddiness for being in the kitchen. A guy who gets to live his dream every day.
“I want to cook everywhere I can! Sharing food is sharing love. And if you’re sharing love everybody’s happy. I want to cook everywhere from Orlando to Tokyo. I am down to cook anywhere this amazing journey takes me.”
Epcot celebrates 35 years!
Disney’s “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” (EPCOT) opened on October 1, 1982 and Shaun has a special connection. He first visited as a baby in December of that year. Epcot holds a special place in the heart of the 35-year-old chef and he shares why this visit is so special “It’s a full circle life moment for me. The people at Epcot have been amazing and the chefs pump out some amazing food here!”
What’s your earliest memory of visiting Epcot and Walt Disney World?
He smirks and answers with a chuckle at the thought.
“Probably when I first got my taste of freedom! I don’t remember much of the earlier times with my parents. But that first time they said “go wild, get on the bus and go wherever you want” (referring to the Disney buses that travel throughout the vast Walt Disney World complex.)
“They felt safe. Disney is a family place. A place where you can feel safe. Let your kids run around and have a good time. So my first freedom experience came at Disney.”
“I went straight to get a turkey leg.”
The gigantic turkey legs found throughout the parks have been an unofficial “signature dish” and much to the chagrin of local foodies, the representative of theme park food and Orlando food for decades. His first taste of freedom was getting a giant turkey leg since his parents typically refused when he was younger. I naturally have to ask the inventive chef what he thinks of the food at Disney today.
Disney’s Culinary Surprises
Orlando and Disney have come a long way in the culinary world since your early obsession with turkey legs. What’s been your biggest culinary surprise at Disney?
One of the top signature restaurants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom offered the best surprise during his last visit in May for the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. “Tiffins was spectacular. I was not expecting to come to a Disney restaurant and see venison on the menu. When they put the plates down, they are so elegantly presented. The plating is spectacular. Not to boast, but it’s like something I would have done on MasterChef.”
His winning dish on MasterChef was venison so he knows a thing or two about this.
“It’s not just Epcot. Disney as a whole has stepped up their game in the food world. It makes sense because Americans as a culture, we are becoming more knowledgeable. We want to try crazier and crazier things. We want to expand our palate, expand our horizon to try new stuff. Disney is on the forefront of that. To help move food forward. And it’s great to see.”
Advice for the Home Cook
Since he started as a home chef doing some impressive and bold things in the kitchen, I ask his advice.
For the home chef who is hesitant to try new things in the kitchen, like venison, what’s your advice?”Eat Drink and Ask Questions
His Epcot event is called “Eat, Drink and Ask Questions”, and as a celebrity chef I imagine he gets asked the same things over and over again. I needed to know…
What’s the one question you get asked all the time?
Without hesitation he says “what’s Gordon Ramsay really like?”
Everyone is intrigued to know if the famous chef and judge of MasterChef is as tough, mean and foul-mouthed in real life as he is on TV.
“He’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet “ he tells me.
I can already imagine the groans of disappointment from the crowd as they expect him to share the dirt and gossip.
“He’s very intense and very serious about what he does. But he’s an amazing man and a true inspiration to me.” he adds. Ramsay wrote the foreword for his cookbook and sang the praises of the amateur chef, which if you know Ramsay he does not do often.
And he warns, “I get asked this question two and three times in a row because people are not paying attention.”
If you’re going to see Shaun on Sunday or at any appearance, you have been warned.
The Soundtrack of Your Life
Music is a big part of Shaun O’Neale’s life even though he is spending much more time in a hot kitchen instead of a hot nightclub these days. So I take the chance to ask about music and I think I finally asked him a question he was not expecting. (Yes!)
If you were to create a fun soundtrack for a day at Epcot Food and Wine Festival, what favorite song or type of music would you play?
“That’s a tough one. Obviously you have to go with the big Disney songs. “Let It Go” and stuff like that. Besides that, super high energy music. It’s a party here. There’s all different types of cocktails, food from around the world, so you need high energy to keep the party going. Something you would hear me playing in the Vegas nightclubs for sure.”
Shaun’s parting words are “get down here!” He shares “If you see me, stop me and say hello. I love to hear people’s stories and to share my stories with the fans of Epcot.
I’m ready to download my EDM playlist to play as I walk around the park. It’s going to be a blast!
Details About The Event
The “Eat, Drink and Ask Questions” special event is a great way to kick off the day at Epcot in a delicious way… Enjoy a plated breakfast, watch guest celebrity chefs and industry experts demo a favorite dish and ask all your burning questions – everything you ever wanted to know about the life of a celeb chef, and their insider tips and tricks! Conclude with a sparkling wine toast before you head out into the park to enjoy all the amazing foods and drinks around the world. There are 35 marketplaces this year. This is a celebration of global cuisine so bring your sense of adventure and your appetite! Cheers!
General Event Details:
Location: Festival Center, Chef’s Showcase
Dates: Select Fridays and Sundays throughout the Festival
Start Time: 9:45am
Cost: $129 per Guest—plus tax, gratuity included. Plus park admission.
Dates and Chefs in 2017:
September 3 – Shaun O’Neale
September 10 – Alex Guarnaschelli
September 15 – Stuart O’Keeffe
September 17 – Jet Tila
September 22 – Art Smith
September 29 – Graham Elliot
October 6 – Jamie Deen
October 8 – Geoffrey Zakarian
October 15 – Bryan Voltaggio
October 20 – Robert Irvine
October 22 – Robert Irvine
October 27 – Cat Cora
October 29 – Cat Cora
November 3 – Carla Hall
November 10 – Sarah Fioroni
November 12 – Buddy Valastro
* All events are subject to change or cancellation without notice.
Make your reservation today and go #MakeSomedayHappen!
For reservations, please call (407) 939-3378. But don’t delay—the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival runs from August 31 to November 13, 2017. Be sure to book your reservation now! Advanced reservations are highly recommended, as this event fills up quickly. In addition, Guests under 18 years of age must have parent or guardian permission to call.
For more information check out the Epcot Food and Wine Festival website.
About the 22nd Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
The annual Walt Disney World Resort culinary tour of flavors will expand in 2017 for a longer-than-ever 75-day run, from Aug. 31-Nov. 13, 2017. A record number of global food and wine marketplaces – 35 in all – will sizzle with new edible delights to celebrate 35 years of Epcot. Growing in scope as one of America’s top food festivals each year since 1996, the Epcot event will run for 13 additional days of inspired sips and bites throughout the park’s World Showcase and Future World.
Park guests can mix and mingle with celebrity chefs, experience hands-on culinary workshops and demonstrations and get their gourmet groove on at nightly Eat to the Beat concerts. They also can book special tasting experiences at Epcot and at Disney resort restaurants. Family fun will be in the mix with kid-friendly dishes geared toward young palates and a Ratatouille-inspired culinary scavenger hunt.
This is an event you don’t want to miss. If you’ve always wanted to come, now is your chance to Make Someday Happen!
A big thank you to Chef Shaun O’Neale for being so gracious with his time, and to the Walt Disney World PR team for arranging this opportunity to meet a MasterChef winner! (Cross that off the “someday list”)
I look forward to seeing you eating and drinking around the world!
Disclosure: I was an invited media to Walt Disney World for purposes of conducting this interview. No compensation was received. I am a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder. All opinions are my own and as always I only share with you experiences worth celebrating to inspire you to go Make Someday Happen! We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. This post may contain affiliate links where if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you, I may obtain a small commission to help defray costs for maintaining this website. My disclosure policy is available for your review.