Whether you’re in the mood for Italian panna cotta or South Korean beef bulgogi, the Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival offers something you might crave.
This year’s festival will have new kiosks and food items, said Busch Gardens executive chef Justin Watson.
One reason for this is every four to five years, the park rotates out old booths for new ones.
“It just kind of keeps the event fresh and new,” Watson said.
“The process that we go through to write the menu, it actually starts literally the second week of Food and Wine. We tour around and start talking about the next year. It usually starts out by ‘OK, what’s going to be ready to retire next year? Which kiosks are we ready to say goodbye to?’”
For example, this year the festival’s Southwest booth has been replaced by one featuring Mexico.
“So kind of a similar theme, but two brand new tacos added to that location,” Watson explained.
Another new booth is the Philippines, which will sell chicken adobo, a chicken braised in a soy and vinegar marinade, and siopao, which is a steamed pork bun.
Watson said he received feedback on menu items from students who come over to work at Busch Gardens from the Philippines.
“During a team member event we had, we sampled the chicken adobo and I went right to some students who were here and I said, ‘What did you think?’” Watson said. “They said, ‘Oh, it was good.’ I said, ‘No, be serious. What does it need?’ They’re like, ‘You need a little more sugar in your marinade for the chicken.’
“So literally after that, I adjusted the recipe for the chicken … and that’s helped me to tweak and make it a little more authentic and appropriate.”
There are also four new beverage kiosks with alcoholic and soft drinks.
“One is called Herbal Infusions. All of the drink recipes have herbs somewhere in them,” Watson said. “We have lavender lemonade, a watermelon and mint mojito, a mint julep and a rosemary and lemon Moscato wine.”
The park started a partnership with Total Wine and More this year, which Watson said helped them pair wines and beers with the dishes.
“On our little information cubes that are around the kiosks, we have little descriptors that talk about how and why the wine pairs well with the food, along with the beers,” Watson said.
While your taste buds can travel the world, Busch Gardens is also bringing some local favorites to the event. A Virginia kiosk will sell beer from local breweries, including Virginia Beer Company.
“One of the things we love about where our brewery is is we’re just a hop skip and a jump up the road to Busch Gardens. … We actually have a great relationship with the park,” said Robby Willey, co-founder of Virginia Beer Company.
“When the Food and Wine Festival comes up one of the things we love most isn’t just that we’re already having our beers poured there, kind of celebrating all the local flavors and local entertainment of the neighborhood, but just a chance to send our staff over and our director of sales, or myself or my business partner and give talks at the Festhouse, or the Irish pub, about our brewery and what makes our beer special.”
Local artisans will also sell their wares at the festival.
Belinda De La Garza, a Williamsburg-area jewelry maker, said she has been selling through the Food and Wine Festival for the past four years.
“I try to cater (my jewelry) to everybody in terms of what they like, and then also on price point,” De La Garza said. “(My items) range from really inexpensive to expensive.”
With food, artisans and all the regular rides and shows, Watson said the festival is a great way for people to round out their Busch Gardens experience.
“You’ll get some people who are coaster enthusiasts and they can go ride coasters in the morning and then spend the afternoon and the evening touring around the park sipping great wine and eating lots of food,” Watson said. “Or we get some of the older crowd that may not be into coasters at all but they still have a great time walking around being able to sample all the food and beverages.”
Want to go?
The Food and Wine Festival runs weekends through June 30. Festival is included in park admission. Food and beverage samplers are $49-$69. Purchase at buschgardens.com/williamsburg/upgrades/food-festival.
To view the full food and beverage tasting menu for the festival, visit buschgardens.com/williamsburg/events/food-festival.
Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.