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3 days and counting: The Walt Disney Feature Animation-Florida countdown clock ticks on

As the deadline for the official announcement draws ever nearer, Jim Hill tries to pin down the exact moment that Mouse House managers lost their enthusiasm for Feature Animation-Florida; he seems to think that it had something to do with “Lion King II”. PLUS a dramatic new development!

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There’s a saying in the book of Proverbs: Pride goeth before a fall.

But — in the case of Disney Feature Animation-Florida — it would appear that it was Simba’s Pride may have had a hand in what happens next at this Central Florida studio.

“The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride,” to be specific.

How is it that a single Disney Television Animation production could have such a calamitous impact on the crew that works at the Disney — MGM production facility? Simple. Back in October of 1998, as this direct-to-video project was popping up on store shelves all over the U.S., some enterprising accountant in the Team Disney Burbank building took a hard look at “Lion King II: Simba’s Pride” and thought: “This video is the best looking thing that DTA has ever burped out. I wonder … Would people pay to see ‘Simba’s Pride’ inside of a real theater? What would happen if we were to arrange to show this direct-to-video production up on the big screen?”

So — almost as a lark — that’s just what the folks at Buena Vista Home Entertainment did. Working in cooperation with the international arm of Disney’s film distribution network, they quickly and quietly arranged for “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride” to have a brief theatrical run in Asia in the late fall of 1998. And this direct-to-video project did surprisingly well at the box office.

Looking at the impressive ticket sales that “Simba’s Pride” had racked up in Asia, the accounteers then wondered: Would the same thing have happened in America if Disney had opted to show “Lion King II” in theaters prior to putting this DTV product out on store shelves?

So the folks at Disney Television Animation ran this idea by the crew in the Team Disney Burbank building. And — at least initially — these guys Disney management reportedly really resisted the idea of allowing a Disney Television Animation direct-to-video production to be put into theatrical release in the U.S. because … Well … The Walt Disney Company was known for its lavishly produced, lushly detailed animated features. Surely something that was made overseas and on the cheap couldn’t do all that well at the domestic box office.

It was just about this time that Paramount rolled “The Rugrats Movie” out in theaters nationwide. This Nickelodeon Pictures production (which reportedly costs only $25 million to make) went on to gross an astounding $100 million over the 1998 holiday season.

When they saw that a relatively low budget animated feature could go on to achieve blockbuster status at the domestic box office, the crew in the Team Disney Burbank building suddenly sat up and took notice. Which is why they then turned to the execs over at Disney Television Animation and said: “We’ve suddenly warmed to your domestic-theatrical-run-for-a-Disney-direct-to-video-movie idea. Did you have a particular project in mind?”

As it turns out, Disney Television Animation did. Given how well “The Rugrats Movie” has done at the box office, these execs felt that the smartest thing for Disney to do in this situation was to test the waters with a direct-to-video project that was built around another animated character that had also started out life as a Nickelodeon Television star: Jim Jinkins’ “Doug.”

Which is how “Doug’s 1st Movie” (which Disney had initially announced and promoted as a direct-to-video project) suddenly became a theatrical release. Rolling into theaters in March of 1999, “Doug’s First Movie” was a rather modest success — only grossing $19 million during its initial theatrical run.

But — even so — Mouse House officials generally seemed pleased with the results of this test run. Particularly when September 1999 rolled around and they saw how well “Doug’s 1st Movie” did during its home video and DVD debut.

It was then that the weasels who were running the Mouse Factory realized that it was now possible to get two bites from the same apple. As in: They could take one of these low budget direct-to-video productions that Disney Television Animation had produced, stick into theaters nationwide for a limited release and (given that these DTV films usually only cost $8 — $15 million to produce) turn a tidy profit BEFORE that film actually reached its original final destination: which was the store shelf at your local video and DVD emporium.

Best of all (at least from the corporate weasel’s point of view), given all the hype that’s involved in the proper launch of a new Disney theatrical release, the theatrical run of these DTV project basically amounted to one enormous elongated promotion of that film’s upcoming release in the home video and/or DVD format. So the picture’s theatrical release basically primed consumers’ pumps, if you will. Raised their awareness of the project. Making Disney’s customers all the more eager to snatch up that film when it finally hit store shelves four to six months later.

So — after “Doug’s 1st Movie” — out came “The Tigger Movie” in February 2000. Again originally intended as a direct-to-video release, “The Tigger Movie” went on to gross $45.5 million during its domestic theatrical run. This DTA film also went on to sell a surprising large number of units once the DVD and home video version hit store shelves in August 2000.

Now you have to understand that — just as the folks in the Team Disney Building in Burbank are marveling about how much the “The Tigger Movie” was making (A very impressive amount. Particularly when you combined that DTV film’s theatrical gross with its video and DVD sales totals) — the hard numbers for “Dinosaur” have begun rolling in. And this May 2000 release (which was rumored to have cost $150 million to produce) had to struggle all summer long before it could earn $137.7 million domestically.

Disney Feature Animation’s December 2000 release — “The Emperor’s New Groove” — also failed to impress Mouse House execs. Rumored to have blown through over $100 million during its troubled production period, “Groove” only managed to pull in $89 million during its initial domestic run.

Now contrast that with the $36.7 million that “Recess: School’s Out” earned when this Disney Television Animation production rolled into stateside theaters in February 2001. Okay. Sure, that’s less than half of what “The Emperor’s New Groove” earned. But then — when you factor in that the “Recess” movie reportedly cost less than $10 million to make — that puts this DTA production into profit well ahead of “Groove.” Which (I hear) only managed to make its way into the black last year after the film’s overseas box office as well as its home video, DVD and pay-per-view revenues were all factored in.

So can you see the dilemma that’s arising here? It used to be that Disney Feature Animation-Florida was the Mouse’s fair haired child. Why for? Because movies cost one third less to produce in out in Orlando than they did in back in Burbank.

But now Mickey was using some new math. And — in comparison to the cost-to-profit ratio of these direct-to-video projects that Disney Television Animation was consistently churning out — suddenly all of those fine feature length films that the WDFA crew were turning out didn’t seem like such bargains after all.

Mind you, in comparison to Burbank’s batting average, the folks at Disney Feature Animation-Florida were still on a hot streak. While the Mouse’s June 2001 release — “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” — had come up short (earning just $84 million during its initial domestic run, “A:TLE” didn’t even come close to covering its $120 million production costs), WDFA’s June 2002 production — “Lilo and Stitch” — was the big, fat traditionally animated hit that Disney has been looking for. Costing just $80 million to produce, “L&S” pulled in $145 million from its initial domestic run.

But — again — in comparison to the cost-to-profit ratio of all of those Disney Television projects, even “Lilo and Stitch” ‘s impressive box office returns wound up looking puny. Given that they’d only cost $8 — $15 million to produce, the $48.4 million that “Return to Never Land” pulled in February 2002 and the $47.9 million that “Jungle Book II” pulled in February 2003 looked like pure profit-making machines.

Which is why — truthfully — Mouse House officials decided to turn their backs on the dedicated artists and technicians who toiled at Disney Feature Animation-Florida for the past 15 years. Not because these animators did bad work. Because they didn’t. The team at WDFAF actually turned out three hit films in a row: “Mulan,” “Lilo and Stitch” and “Brother Bear.”

But because — these days — animation is a numbers game. At least the way the Mouse plays it. And it really looks like Walt Disney Company officials think that they can get a better return on their investment if they just abandon their corporation’s 67 year tradition of telling great stories through the medium of traditional animation … and — instead — just go with these low budget sequels that execs at Disney Television Animation supervised which are basically produced overseas.

Kind of a sad end to the Disney legacy, don’t you think? Well … maybe not … You see, I just learned that — while the Walt Disney Company seems to have given up on the team who worked at Feature Animation-Florida — that talented group of artists and technicians have NOT given up on traditional animation. Take a gander at the press release that literally just popped into my in-box tonight:

Continuing Walt’s Legacy

ORLANDO, FLORIDA (January 8, 2004) — Legacy Animation Studios, a new animation production studio in Orlando, Florida, opens its doors in Winter Garden, Florida, close to Orlando later this month. The studio will offer a full-range of traditional hand drawn (or 2D) animation services for film, television and commercials. Legacy was established by a group of animators and artists formerly employed by Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida. Legacy will also be dedicated to developing original properties for television and film. In time the studio hopes to produce its first feature film project.

“We believe that traditionally animated films are still a viable form of entertainment,” says Legacy Animation Studios Directing Manager, Eddie Pittman. “Our goal is to create quality animated films with compelling stories and strong characters and to continue Walt Disney’s legacy of hand drawn animation.”

The Legacy team has the talent to back up their claim, with the combined experience of over 25 animated films including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan, and Lilo and Stitch.

Pittman has worked on such animated features as Mulan, Tarzan, and Lilo and Stitch. He has taught for the renowned Computer Animation program at Ringling School of Art and Design, and his popular drawing classes taught around Central Florida have been recommended to aspiring animators by Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida. Recently, he produced and directed Legends of the Night Sky: Orion, the world’s first full dome (360°) traditionally animated movie.

Also joining the management team as Creative Director is veteran assistant animator David Nethery. Nethery has nearly 20 years of experience as an animation artist, most of those years at Walt Disney Feature Animation. His credits include such characters as “Meeko” the raccoon from Pocahontas, “Mushu” from Mulan, “Cobra Bubbles” from Lilo and Stitch, and most recently “Tug” and “Koda’s Mom” from Brother Bear.

Legacy currently has three projects in development, including a short film that will begin production in late January 2004.

For more information, visit http://www.legacyanimation.net/.

That’s pretty happy news, don’t you think. Ironically enough, it throws off the sort-of-sad ending that I had mapped for today’s story.

You see, I was originally going to try for a somewhat ironic bookend effect here: I had started the story out by pointing out that WDFAF’s problems appear to have started with the arrival of “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride.” And I was going to close out today’s article by pointing out this studio’s demise seems to be occurring just as another DTV TLK sequel (“The Lion King 1 ½”) is looming on the horizon.

But now … with the news that Eddie Pittman and Co. are going to try to keep traditional animation alive in Central Florida by starting up Legacy Animation Studios in Winter Garden, I don’t feel sad or ironic anymore. I feel … happy. Hopeful.

Sure, it’s sad that it looks like — come Monday — Mouse House officials will still probably shut down Feature Animation-Florida. But now — what with Bob and his old WDFAF buddies setting up shop just down the street — I can’t help but think about what happened 25 years ago this year. When Don Bluth suddenly decided to walk off the Disney lot back in Burbank, taking a handful of animators with him.

Why for? Because Bluth felt that the folks who were then running Walt Disney Productions no longer really cared about traditional feature animation. And Don was determined to do whatever he had to — even if it meant striking out on his own — in order to save this art form.

That dramatic walkout in September of 1979 inadvertently lead to the second Golden Age of Disney Feature Animation. So — given the parallels to what’s going on now — I can’t help but be somewhat upbeat.

So maybe I WILL close out this story with a “Lion King” reference. Quoting from Tim Rice’s lyrics for that film:

In the circle of life
It’s the wheel of fortune
It’s the leap of faith
It’s the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life

Here’s hoping that Eddie Pittman’s “leap of faith” pays off in a really big way. Both for him and his very brave crew of former WDFAF artists and technicians. As well as all us animation fans.

I sincerely hope that Legacy Animation Studios is a huge, huge success. Showing the Walt Disney Company — once and for all — what a huge mistake it made when it decided to walk away from Feature Animation Florida and cut all of those talented artists and technicians loose.

That’s it for today, folks. Your thoughts?

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse‘s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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