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

As more WDFA-F staffers chime in with their stories about what’s really going on inside Disney-MGM’s animation facility, Jim Hill asks: Why is the Orlando Sentinelso silent on this issue? Shouldn’t the WDFA-F hometown paper be doing more reporting on this proposed closure?

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We’re now just less than 100 hours away from when Walt Disney Company execs will finally reveal what the corporation’s real intentions are for the folks who work at Disney Feature Animation-Florida. But still the sad stories continue to trickle in WDFAF staffers who just can’t understand why the Mouse would opt to shut down a studio that cranked out three hit films in a row.

What sort of stories have I been hearing? Well, for starters, I got a lot of e-mail yesterday from Disney Feature Animation Florida personnel who wrote in to say how much they appreciated yesterday’s JHM article (insert link to “WDFAF Countdown III” here). You know, the one where a Disney studio exec wrote in to offer the corporation’s side of the story.

“Why would WDFA-F staffers appreciate an article like that?” you ask. “A story that offered Disney Corporate’s half-assed explanation as to why Feature Animation Florida has to be shut down?” Well … because getting some information (no matter how nonsensical it may sound) is often better than getting none at all.

Here. I’ll let WDFA-F Staffer A explain:

Hi Jim,

As an artist at WDFA in Orlando, I appreciate seeing the executive’s side of the story. Because that is absolutely the only communication we worker-bees have seen on the subject. Not a word has come from
anywhere about the reasoning behind this. Maybe we’llget some reasons from the top on Monday. Maybe just a pre-baked statement. Who knows?

Although, I have to say, either this exec is brand new, or extremely blind. We have been yelling, since
before “Lilo”, about the sheer number of releases that were diluting the brand name. The people don’t know the difference between “Piglet’s Big Movie” and “Treasure Planet.” Heck, they don’t even know the difference between who made “Nemo,” and who made “Lilo.” All they know is that it all has Disney on the front of it. We’ve talked and wondering whether anyone on top would actually notice it, and for someone to say that this was just realized now, with survey after survey, says a lot.

It just doesn’t make sense to anyone. If they want to make 3D films, we were on that track. Heck, we could make them now with a little extra time.

We just can’t figure it out. So if you get any other exec opinions, paste ’em up.

Not too surprisingly, WDFA-F Staffer B offered up similar sentiments:

Ok, Jim, I have a few comments on this.

First , thanks for being fair and attempting to give both “sides” of the story. Dissecting that entire email from the anonymous Disney exec. would be an interesting exercise. But I’ll limit my observations to a few lines that jumped out at me as someone who was there and saw it happening.

The Disney Animation exec. said:

“As you might expect, we’ve been doing a lot of market research, running a lot of surveys, trying to get to the bottom of WDFA’s disappearing audience problem. And you know what we’ve found, Jim? There’s just too much Disney animated product out there nowadays. We’ve glutted our own market.”

and

“You see what I’m saying, Jim. That’s an awful lot of product. So I guess you can understand why consumers don’t consider Disney animated films to be all that special anymore.”

Now, that’s real interesting. Almost every artist working at Disney Feature Animation over the last 10 years predicted this would happen since the day they announced the first of the “cheapquels,” “The Return of Jafar ” (1994) . We objected to this strip-mining approach of our carefully crafted feature movies and we kept on objecting year after year as the number of the cheapquels increased. We said those exact words: “It will glut the market” and “The public won’t consider the Disney animated films to be all that special anymore.” We said it over and over. We could see what the result would be.

And we were brushed aside. Over the last 10 years, every time an objection along those lines was made, we were told things like : “There’s nothing we can do about it. And — besides — it’s good for the company, overall. The public loves this stuff. Why not give them more of what they want? Heck, people are buying these direct-to-video things. So they must like them, right? Don’t worry, silly little animators. We’re the business people. Just you scurry on back to your desks and keep drawin’ them cute little cartoons. There’s a good fella. “

So they just now figured this out by doing “lots of market research” and “surveys”? Duh.

Then there’s this:

“And it also means cutting loose our Feature Animation — Florida unit (Which — arguably — has been WDFA’s most consistent production unit. Year after year, these guys have turned out top quality work. I mean, how can you complain about the string of pictures that these folks churned out. “Mulan,” “Lilo and Stitch,” “Brother Bear.” Those titles will be making millions for the Mouse for decades yet to come.)

But we had to do it, Jim. We really had no choice.”

I’ll just let that one hang there, twisting in the wind. People can just read it over a few times and make their own judgment .

No comment is necessary.

Mind you, not everyone has had nice things to say about JimHillMedia.com’s coverage of the situation at Disney Feature Animation-Florida. A few e-mails took us to task for not getting on board with this story months earlier. Take — for example — this e-mail from a former WDFA-F staffer:

Dear Jim,

I would just like to mention that you seem to have overlooked the over 50 or so artists that were given only two weeks notice last June that we were going to be laid off — with only an eight week grace period to get the rest of our lives in order. This number included not only those expecting babies but also those with two, three and five children who would be hitting the pavement with no real prospects and none of the training that was promised “in the worst case scenario” to last at “least six months” to the original proposed finish date of “My Peoples” for their respective department. Some (of the) artists (effected had) up to 25 years experience and nearly all chose this career to be a part of the legacy that generations of artists have literally given their whole adult lives to promote and rekindle that Disney flame that now is burning out.

As work continues to go overseas I wonder when the average Disney fan will stop and look at the destruction of a company that used to stand for “all that was good and honorable” in America and stand up and say — you guessed it — “I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!”

Let’s hope for a miracle to take our company back…

While still other JHM readers chided us for not noticing that this same sort of behavior — I.E. veteran Disney employees being tossed out on their ear, with little if any thought being given to what might become of these people by company officials, since the bottom line is now the top priority at the Mouse House — is running rampant in the Disney corporation today. Take — for example — this story that was sent along yesterday by a WDW spouse:

There is a key point that is being missed here. The cruel and unusual treatment of the animators is rampant throughout the company and applicable to all employees. You see it at the top, with Roy Disney being dumped from the board “because of his age”. You also see it throughout Walt Disney World in the horrendous treatment of the cast members.

(For example) My wife works at Disney-MGM Studios, right down the street from the animation building. She worked with a wonderful woman who had the age and years to qualify for retirement. A year or so ago, this woman had a stroke while working at the studios. She recovered and returned to work, although it was a struggle. She was not able to retire because she couldn’t afford the reduced pension since she was under age 62. She struggled and recently needed to take several days off due to her condition. She continued to work under the threats of management that she was taking too many days off.

Well, rather than helping this woman find a position that was better suited for her, today they fired her. On top of that, they did it in a way that was heartless, demeaning, cruel, and unforgivable. Two managers took her in the back, told her to clean out her locker, and took her ID card. At this point she was crying hysterically since she was losing everything, especially her health insurance. Then they had the nerve to force her to cross Sunset Boulevard, in front of all the guests, while she was crying her eyes out. In fact she was so upset she almost collapsed on the street. This woman put many loyal years into the company and yet lost everything.

Disney has become a heartless corporation, and the soul-less Michael Eisner is the vacuum at the top of the company.

While I realize your main area of concern is animation, it is important to realize how deep this problem has become. I am beginning to fear that the company is too far gone to be recovered. This is just a tragedy and is indicative of the heartless business environment we see today.

Okay. I’ll admit it. The above e-mail wasn’t exactly on topic. Sticking with JHM’s coverage of the proposed closure of Disney Feature Animation-Florida. But it does allow us to widen our frame a bit. To see the forest through the trees, if you will.

And the fact of the matter is … the proposed closing of Disney Feature Animation-Florida, this poor woman being fired so heartlessly at Disney-MGM, these are symptoms of the disease that’s wracking the Walt Disney Company these days. People just really don’t count anymore at the Mouse House. Money does.

Don’t believe me? Then head over to Disney’s online Investors Relations and Shareholder Services page. There, you’ll be able to access a recording of Michael Eisner’s appearance at this past Tuesday’s session of the 14th Annual Smith Barney Citigroup Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference.

Listen carefully to Eisner’s presentation. How he paints this picture of how things are perfectly fine at the Walt Disney Company these days. How there’s really nothing to worry about. No cause for concern.

One particularly telling moment in the presentation is when Eisner brings up how — to date — the Walt Disney Company has produced 15 direct-to-video sequels to pre-existing Disney films. He practically crows about how these low budget Buena Vista Home Entertainment projects will aid over a billion dollars to the company’s bottom line in the coming years.

Now based on yesterday’s WDFAF Countdown article — as well as the e-mails that I’ve excerpted above — you and I are both aware that Disney management is now aware that it’s all these “cheapquels” that’s been undermining the box office of Disney’s feature length animated films of the past five year. Yet here’s the CEO of the company not only proudly talking up how much these low budget direct-to-video projects have made, but promising that more — lots more — of these video premieres are now on the way from Disney Television Animation.

And — while we’re talking about things that are wrong — I’ve been getting a lot of e-mail asking why the mainstream media hasn’t yet latched onto the Disney-Feature-Animation-Florida-possibly-closing-next-Monday story. In particular the Orlando Sentinel.

Pulling an excerpt from MMaus’ recent e-mail to me:

Why isn’t the Sentinel writing more about this story? Wouldn’t it make sense for WDFA-F’s hometown newspaper to be covering an event where 300 locals may soon be losing their jobs? I’ve checked the Sentinel’s web page every day this week. There hasn’t been a single mention of what’s going on at Disney Feature Animation.

What’s the deal, Jim?

Ah, the Orlando Sentinel. O-Town’s only daily newspaper. Which the Walt Disney Company does an awful lot of business with. Regularly buying ads to promote its movies and television shows as well as its Central Florida-based theme parks, night clubs, shops and resorts.

Now — given that I’m not stupid (more importantly, that I have a more than rudimentary understanding of our nation’s libel laws) — I’m not going to suggest that there’s a connection between the amount of money that the Mouse spends on advertising in the Sentinel and the fact that Orlando’s only daily newspaper is sometimes seen as being somewhat soft on the Mouse. That this paper’s reporters rarely — if ever — really hammer hard on Disney whenever Mickey makes a mistake.

But if YOU, the readers of JimHillMedia.com, want to jump to that conclusion … hey, that’s your choice.

But — on the other hand — if the staff of the Orlando Sentinel would like to prove me wrong (given that the last story that your paper did about what’s been going on at Disney Feature Animation-Florida, “Disney Halts Work on Orlando Film; The end of ‘A Few Good Ghosts’ could leave 258 animators without jobs,” ran back on November 15th) and do a big honking story about what’s going on right now with WDFA-F … hey, that’d be cool today.

Okay. That’s enough rabble-rousing for today. 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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