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A Rather Taxing Why For?

Before he races off to the post office to mail in his tax return, Jim Hill talks about why a fifth WDW theme park really isn’t in the cards (at least for the next couple of years or so), whether there’s a Disneyland 50th anniversary TV special in the works, what’s next for the Universal Studios theme parks and why Frank Oz doesn’t perform with the Muppets anymore.

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First off, Jesper A. writes in to ask:

Dear Jim!

I’m very interested in a possible fifth Disney theme park in Orlando. I haven’t heard any rumors about one, so therefore I’m curious to hear, if you(‘ve heard) anything about … such (a project)?

Sincerely,

Jesper A.

Dear Jesper:

According to my sources at WDI, Disney has previously knocked around a few ideas for a 5th WDW theme park. Among the concepts that have allegedly already been considered are an Americanized version of Tokyo DisneySea (Why for? To make the Mouse’s Central Florida resort that much more competitive with Sea World & Discovery Cove) as well as Disney’s Workplace. Which would allow WDW visitors to tour several on-site factories and see a variety of products being made.

And I’m certain that — in the weeks & months ahead — that Disney CEO-to-be Bob Iger will be thoroughily briefed on all of these possibilities.

But even if Iger sees a project that he likes, there’s still not a chance in hell that Bob will actually greenlight construction of a 5th WDW theme park. At least not for another couple of years. 

Why for? Because here’s the harsh reality, Jesper: The Walt Disney World Resort still hasn’t fully recovered from the effects of 9/11. Oh sure, things aren’t nearly as bad as they were back in late 2001/early 2002. But — that said — they’re also not as nearly as good as they were back in the mid-to-late 1990s. When virtually every Disney-owned hotel on property was regularly filled to capacity.

As you cruise the Internet, you’ll often hear Disneyana fans complaining about how Disney World seems to have co-opted Disneyland’s 50th anniversary. As in: It’s the Anaheim theme park’s birthday, but it’s the Florida theme parks that got all the presents.

Well, there’s a reason that this was done, folks. Disneyland has a total of three Disney-owned hotels. Disney World has 19 Disney-owned hotels, with an additional 10 on-property hotels that are owned & operated by companies that the Mouse works closely with. So making sure that WDW’s hotel rooms were kept as full of possible had to be the top priority.

Which is why — over the past year or so — we’ve seen all this building inside the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM and Animal Kingdom. Not because Disney World is in expansion mode. But — rather — recovery mode. All these new shows & attractions were deliberately added to WDW in an effort to put heads in beds.

So — getting back to your original question, Jesper: Yes, WDI has very definite ideas about what they’d like to build. But, no, I don’t think that we’re going to see construction of a fifth WDW theme park begin anytime soon.
Right now, the Mouse’s top priority has got to be figuring out a way to fill all of those Disney-owned hotel rooms that are now on property. And to finally face up to the fact that — back in the mid-to-late 1990s (I.E. When Michael Eisner was pretending to be a patron of architects) — the Disney corporation built at least one too many resorts in Orlando. Perhaps as many as three too many resorts on property.

But how do you deal with a situation like that? I mean, it’s not like the Mouse can just say “Oops. We built too many hotels.” And then start tearing Disney World resorts down.

No. But what Disney can do is start repositioning WDW hotels. As in: Shifting resources from one arm of the company to the other. Take — for example — the idea that’s currently being floated of taking the Contemporary out of Disney World’s hotel reservation system and redesignating this 34-year-old resort as a Disney Vacation Club property.

Now I know that that sounds somewhat crazy. But the fact of the matter is that the Disney Vacation Club is still continuing to sell memberships at a record pace. And all these additional people are eventually going to want to turn in their points for hotel rooms that they can then use during their WDW vacation. And given the Contemporary’s proximity to the Magic Kingdom … You have to admit that there are a lot of DVC members would love to be able to step out onto their balcony and watch the fireworks exploding over Cinderella Castle.

Don’t believe me? Okay. Then keep a close eye on the Contemporary over the next couple of years. This Magic Kingdom area hotel is currently slated for an extensive redo. And the smart money is on — when the renovation of this WDW resort  is finally complete — that the Contemporary (Or — at the very least — a goodly portion of this hotel’s rooms) will then become an official Disney Vacation Club Resort.

Next up, Jessica writes in to ask:

Hey Jim!

Just curious if you’ve heard anything about there being a 50th anniversary TV special? I don’t think there’s been a DL TV special since the blitz of DCA. I loved watching those specials and miss seeing them — even when Ryan Seacrest was hosting them. I’m surprised that they didn’t do one for the “new” Buzz ride. Have they given up on these specials? If so, I think it’s a shame.

Thanks and keep up the good work,

Jessica

Jessica —

My understanding is that Disney is currently looking into doing some sort of anniversary special on ABC in July. On or about July 17th (AKA Disneyland’s actual 50th birthday).

However, you should also know that there are a number of executives within the Walt Disney Company who aren’t all that fond of these TV specials. Who view these hour-long, sometimes two-hours-long commercials for the theme parks as complete wastes of time. That — no matter how much care & attention the Mouse puts into these shows’ production — these programs never really draw very high ratings. More to the point, the people who go out of their way to watch these TV specials are the Disney diehards (I.E. The people who were already going to Disneyland and/or Disney World. Which meant that this very expensive television program had little or no impact on their final decision).

I know, I know. This is the same sort of semi-circular logic that Buena Vista Magazines execs recently used to their effort to rationalize shutting down “Disney” Magazine:”That publication is too expensive to produce. It isn’t really catching the attention of the general public. Only the dweebs seem to be responding to the thing. So let’s save ourselves a few bucks and just shut the thing down.”

And — to be honest — these Mouse House executives have been somewhat successful in their efforts to get the Disney corporation to cut back on the number of TV specials that strictly promote the theme parks. By that I mean: When was the last time you saw a “Walt Disney World Happy Easter Parade” special broadcast on ABC?

Anyway … I’ll continue to keep my ears to the ground regarding that Disneyland 50th anniversary TV special that the Mouse reportedly has in the works. If I hear anything, Jessica, I’ll be sure to give you a “heads up,” okay?

Then Chug-A-Freeze chimes in with:

Hey Jim

Love the site. Reading about Disney is all well and good, especially for the upcoming anniversary. But — to change things up — how about talking about the Universal theme parks? More specifically what is future for the Universal parks since NBC took over and what is NBC planning to do to combat Disney’s 50th marketing campaign? I know USH has a Fear Factor show planned for the summer, but what else does Universal have on tap?

Chug-A-Freeze

Hey, Chug-A-Freeze

To be honest, there’s a lot of people in the theme entertainment industry who are kind of surprised that General Electric  still owns the Universal Studio theme parks. Back when that mega conglomerate (Which owns NBC, MSNBC as well as dozens of other broadcast outlets) originally made the deal to purchase Universal, the joke out west was that “GE just made this deal so that it could own the ‘Law & Order’ TV franchise outright.” That General Electric’s plan then was to hang out the studio & its film library, but quickly sell off  Universal’s theme parks.

Well, it would appear that that version of the plan ultimately fell through. The scuttlebutt now is that  — after much hemming & hawing — General Electric has decided that it will be hanging onto the Universal theme parks after all. More importantly, that GE is supposedly looking to make a sizable investment in the two parks that the company currently operates in Florida.

Among the ideas that are reportedly being knocked around right now is a replacement for the theme park’s “Back to the Future: The Ride.” This 15 year old simulator may soon be rethemed around the characters featured in the “X-Men” comic books. Among the concepts currently being kicked around for this proposed “X-Men” attraction is a scenario that would put Universal guests inside the infamous Danger Room during a mutant training session.

Over at Islands of Adventure, there’s talk of Universal borrowing a page from Epcot. As in: Staging a night-time lagoon show that is so spectacular that people just have to stay in the theme park after dark in order to see it. As for the proposed theme of this IOA lagoon show … Sorry. But that would be telling.

I will say this much, though: If all goes according to plan, this will be the first lagoon show at an Orlando area theme park that actually features guest interaction. That something that you — the Islands of Adventure guest — create during the day will play a crucial part in that night’s show. (And — no — I’m not talking about something like DCA’s “Luminaria.” Where holiday cards that theme park guests drew up that day wound up being projected on big screens in the middle of the lagoon that night.)

Sorry, Chug-A-Freeze. But that’s all I can really say right now. Other than this new IOA lagoon show could be up & running as early as the Summer of 2006. And — if everything that’s currently being talked about winds up in the final version of the show — it’ll definitely be worth a trip over to Universal in order to check this thing out.

Next up, Drew T. writes in to ask:

Did you know that Frank Oz is no longer voicing Gonzo in all Muppet related activities? (Including the new “Wizard of Oz” TV movie.) Do you have any insider scoop as to why he parted ways with Henson & Co.? It makes me sad to think of a Muppet movie without him.

Dear Drew —

First of all, Frank Oz doesn’t do the voice of Gonzo. Muppet vet Dave Goelz does.

As to why Frank doesn’t seem to like working with the Muppets anymore:  My understanding is that Oz had his initial falling-out with the Jim Henson Company (Or — to be specific — Brian Henson) during the production of “Muppets from Space.”

Frank reportedly felt that Brian wasn’t being supportive enough of  “MFS” director, Tim Hill. More importantly, that Jim’s son was more concerned with bringing that Columbia Pictures production in on time & under budget. Rather than giving veteran Muppeteers like himself, Goelz, Steve Whitmere &  Jerry Nelson all the time that they needed to properly deliver quality performances with the characters that they’d been performing for decades now.

That — coupled with the Henson family’s decision to sell off the Jim Henson Company to EM.TV in February 2000, followed by the Haffa brothers selling off the Sesame Street characters to the Children’s Television workshop eight months later — led Oz to begin distancing himself from the company. Making himself less & less available for Muppet-related gigs.

These days, virtually all of Frank’s characters are now being performed by a very capable puppeteer named Eric Jacobson. Who initially began just filling in for Oz in 2000. But — nowadays — Eric’s pretty much the “go-to” guy when it comes to Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Animal.

Mind you, Oz still reportedly does some occassional puppeteering for “Sesame Street.” Pulling on the felt again for Grover & Cookie Monster whenever his schedule permits. And I’m told that the Walt Disney Company has actually reached out to Frank over the past year or so. Hoping that — now that it’s the Mouse that’s calling the shots for Kermit & Co., rather than Brian Henson — that Oz might be agreeable to working with the Muppets again.

To date, Frank has reportedly resisted Disney’s overtures. Prefering to focus his attention on his film directing career. During which Oz has helmed such memorable motion pictures as “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Bowfinger.”

FYI: Frank (when he feels like it) also does voicework. He provided the voice of Fungus, Randall’s craven assistant in “Monsters, Inc.” And Oz will soon be heard (for the fifth & last time) as Yoda in “Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith.”

Still, a lot of us Muppet fans are hoping that Disney eventually does persuade Frank to come back to work with the Muppets. If not to perform any of his memorable characters, then to at least produce and/or direct a new film featuring Miss Piggy & pals.

I mean, for years now, Oz has been saying that he has this great idea for a new Muppet movie. Here’s hoping that (someday soon) he gets the chance to show us what he’d actually like to do with the characters.

Well, what I’d actually like to do now is end this week’s “Why For.” So that I could then begin my search for my W-2. But Jeff Lange won’t let me until I remind everyone that we’re still taking names for the notification list for that Disneyland history CD that he & I are currently producing.

So — if you’d like to hear the stories that DL Security felt were just too sensational to be told inside the berm — just drop me a line at jim@jimhillmedia.com. And I’ll make sure that you get on the right list.

Also, Arlen Miller has asked me to remind all of you Orlando-area Disneyana fans that the World Chapter of the N.F.F.C. will be meeting at Vista Del Lago this coming Saturday night at 7 p.m. More importantly, that this meeting’s guest speaker will be Bob Schall. That WDW train engineer who also leads the Magic Kingdom’s “Behind the Steam” tours. So that should make this meeting a pretty fun take-in for all your Central Florida-based train fans out there.

Okay. That’s it for this week, folks. Now — if you’ll excuse me — I’m gotta figure out whether or not I can get away with declaring Nancy’s four obnoxious cats as my dependants.

Have a great weekend, alright? And (hopefully. Provided that Disneyland Security doesn’t sic the IRS on me) we’ll see you all again come next Monday morning.

Til then, take care, okay?

jrh

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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