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Sights and sounds from a preview of the 2016 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival that runs until May 30. Video by Tim Shortt. Posted 2/27/16.

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Late winter in Florida can be fickle.

While it was chilly in the shade during a recent media preview for the 23rd Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, much of the park was bathed in warm sunshine. The festival opened March 2 and continues through May 30.

After following festival horticulture manager Eric Darden around for a couple of hours, we were parched. It was nice to escape into the cool, dark confines of World Showplace, tucked between the United Kingdom and Canada in the World Showcase.

Disney cast members greeted us with refreshing Desert Violet Lemonade, made with desert pear and violet syrups, and garnished with a tiny viola, then offered warm towels to wipe away the morning’s toil.

Cook stations set up around the large ballroom offered tastes from the Flower and Garden Festival as part of Disney’s Tables In Wonderland dining program.

Yes, the intricate topiaries and floral displays star in this annual celebration of spring. But in recent years the festival, which now blooms for 90 days, has paid homage to the edible side of plant life. Food and drink are now prominent co-stars of the event.

Four years ago, the festival added outdoor kitchens. This year, festival guests can visit places like the Bauernmarkt: Farmer’s Market next to the Germany Pavilion, Cider House near the United Kingdom and Florida Fresh between Morocco and France.

It’s not as big as Epcot’s fall Food and Wine extravaganza, but the festival still offers a nice variety of food and beverages.

The 13 outdoor kitchens serve food made with fresh herbs and vegetables, some grown on Disney property. Each features a display of edible plants.

“We didn’t want containers,” Darden said. “We wanted each outdoor kitchen to feel like gardens.”

There’s a spice garden in Morocco, a pepper garden in Mexico and an Italian kitchen garden in Italy.

Epcot executive chef Gregg Hammon looked pained when asked to choose favorites among the kitchen’s offerings, but finally, he settled on a couple.

“I do think that the beef brisket burnt ends hash is really, really good,” he said, “as well as we have at La Isla Fresca a Jamaican-braised short rib with pigeon pea rice and micro cilantro. It has a little heat to it. It packs a great punch of flavor.”

The Florida Larder Board in the Florida Fresh kitchen includes locally sourced ingredients such as Orlando-made ricotta cheese, country pate and house-made pickles.

Other dishes to look for include seared pork tenderloin with mushroom ragout, spring vegetables and marble potatoes at Urban Far Eats; a salad of field greens, apples, dried blueberries and Stilton cheese and potato and cheddar cheese biscuits with smoked salmon tartare at Cider House; shrimp and stone-ground grits with Andouille sausage, sweet corn, tomatoes and cilantro at Florida Fresh; and the beef teriyaki udon with thin-sliced beef, onions and noodles tossed on the grill with soy and ginger at Hanami.

Of course beverages are just as important as the food.

“For beverages this year at the Flower and Garden Festival, we really infuse a lot of floral, herbs and fruit-forward flavors ... so it really is that fresh Epcot,” said Dave Kesting, festival proprietor.

For example, he said, the Bauernmarkt offers Hugo-Charles de Fere “Organic” Brut served with elderflower syrup and fresh mint.

The Florida Fresh kitchen features a Feast of Flowers Farmhouse Ale, produced by Cape Canaveral’s Florida Beer Company.

And at the Cider House, Kesting recommends sipping a Snakebite made from Cigar City Brewing’s Tampa-Style Lager mixed with McKenzie’s Black Cherry Hard Cider.

Contact Leonard at sleonard@floridatoday.com. Follow her on Facebook /suzyflemingleonard, on Instagram @suzyleonard and on Twitter @suzyleonard.

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The details

What: Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

When: March 2-May 30

Where: Epcot, 200 Epcot Center Drive, Orlando

Cost: Admission is $97, $91 for children ages 3-9.

Info: Call 407-939-5277 or visit epcot.com

Outdoor Kitchens

This year’s Epcot Flower and Garden Festival features 13 outdoor kitchens. They are:

•Bauernmarkt: Farmer’s Market next to the Germany Pavilion.

•Cider House near the United Kingdom Pavilion.

•Fleur de Lys at the France Pavilion.

•Florida Fresh between the Morocco and France Pavilions.

•Hanami in the Japan Pavilion.

•La Isla Fresca in the Showcase Plaza.

• Jardin de Fiestas at the Mexico Pavilion.

•Lotus House at the China Pavilion.

•Pineapple Promenadeat Showcase Plaza.

•Primavera Kitchen in Italy.

•Taste of Marrakesh in the Morocco Pavilion.

•The Smokehouse: Barbecue and Brews at the American Adventure Pavilion.

•Urban Farm Eats at the Showcase Plaza.

Garden Rocks concerts

In addition to floral displays and food, the annual Flower and Garden Festival also features a weekend Garden Rocks concert series. Concert admission is included in the price of park tickets.

•The Orchestra starring former members of ELO, March 4-6

•Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, March 11-13

•Little River Band, March 18-20

•Village People, March 25-27

•Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone, April 1-3

•The Guess Who, April 8-10

•Blood, Sweat and Tears starring Bo Bice, April 15-17

•Bad Company starring Brian Howe, April 22-24

•Georgia Satellites, April 29-May 1

•Gin Blossoms, May 6-8

•Darlene Love, May 13-15

•Night Ranger, May 20-22

•The Spinners, May 27-30

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