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A rather theatrical edition of “Why For”

Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim continues to shine a spotlight on “Tarzan” ‘s sightline problems, talks about why Bruce Willis (and not Jim Carrey) is now the voice of R.J. the raccoon in Dreamworks’ “Over the Hedge” as well as revealing that a really-for-real stage version of “High School Musical” is currently in the works

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First up, Leslie C. writes in to say:



Your “Tarzan” story on Monday must have really struck a nerve with Disney Theatrical. By Tuesday afternoon, Schumacher’s flunkies already had an article up on Playbill.com where they denied that “Tarzan” had any significant sightline issues. They also insisted that the box office staff at the Richard Rodgers had been completely straight with people about which seats in the orchestra section  actually had obstructed views of the stage.


When Disney suits move this fast to cover their asses, you just know that you’ve shined a spotlight on a problem that they’d really prefer had been left in the dark.


So keep shining that spotlight, Jim. It’s stories like this that make me come by your website every morning.


Keep up the good work


Dear Leslie C.


Thanks for your kind note. And — yeah — I also saw that same piece over on Playbill.com. And I have to admit that I thought that it was pretty amusing to see Disney Theatrical execs moving this quickly to try & do some damage control. To try & convince theatre-goers that “Tarzan” really didn’t have any sightline problems.


And yet — right there in the middle of that March 29th article — you had David Schrader (I.E. Disney Theatrical’s managing director & chief financial officer) saying things like “There are 24 rows in the orchestra and we’re only talking about the last four” and “From the day tickets went on sale, the last four rows of the orchestra have been identified as obstructed view.”


Which is all well & good … Except for the fact that you have several generations of NYC theatre-goers who have been taught to think that the term “obstructed view” and/or “partial view” means … Well, that you’re going to have a pole somewhere in your field of vision or that your seat is so far to the left or the right that you won’t be able to see some of the action on stage. With the operative word here being “some.”

But in the case of “Tarzan,” “obstructed view” and “partial view” means something entirely different. What with all the flying that’s done in the first act of this show … Well, anyone who’s seated under the mezzanine may find themselves missing out on many of the key moments in this musical.


“How many key moments?,” you ask. Well, how would you feel if you bought a ticket to the Broadway version of “Tarzan” and — because your seat was in the “partial view” and/or “obstructed” section of the orchestra — you wound up not having a clear view of:



  • Tarzan’s parents’ escape from the shipwreck at the very start of the show
  • Tarzan’s parents’ gravity-defying arrival on shore
  • Their dramatic deaths at the hands … er … the claws of a leopard
  • Most of the aerial acrobatics that the gorillas do during their introductory scene in “Tarzan”
  • Most of Terk’s introductory scene in the show
  • A good portion of the shadow puppets that are presented during the “Son of Man” number
  • Adult Tarzan’s dramatic entrance into the show
  • Jane being trapped in the giant spider web
  • Tarzan’s subsequent rescue of Jane
  • Tarzan & Jane’s Act II exit

That sounds like a pretty significant portion of the show that you’d be missing out on, don’t you think? Which is why it’s a little maddening to read (as part of Tuesday’s Playbill.com piece) Schrader trying to be dismissive about “Tarzan” ‘s sightline problems, saying things like the ” … perception in your head is that you’re missing something more than you are because you can’t see it.”


And then there’s David’s claim that “… we’re only talking about the last four” rows of the orchestra being “partial view” or “obstructed view” seats. Well, that — as it turns out — is a pretty significant portion of the Richard Rodger’s total capacity.


Don’t believe me? Okay. Let’s run the numbers, then: According to NYTheatre.com, the Richard Rodger theatre has 1,368 seats. And the back four rows of this theatre (I.E. Rows U, V, W & X) have a total of 143 seats. Well, according to my math, that means that just over a 10th of the people who attend performances of “Tarzan” won’t really be able to  enjoy a significant component of this show (I.E. The flying).


And then — when you take into consideration that this seating chart for the Richard Rodgers theatre clearly states that “Front Mezzanine Row A overhangs Orchestra Row J” … Well, that means that theatre-goers who are seated in the rows directly behind Row J (I.E. Rows K, N, L, O, P, Q, R & T) will also have their “Tarzan” viewing experience significantly impacted.


Continuing to run the numbers here: We have 369 significantly impacted seats in Rows K through T. Now if we fold those 369 significantly impacted seats in with those 143 “partial view” and/or “obstructed” seats … Well, you’re now talking about 512 seats. More than a third of the total capacity of the Richard Rodgers theatre.


“But don’t you think that you’re making far too much of this, Jim?,” you query. “Are New York theatre-goers really going to care that they can’t see every single moment in this new Disney musical?”


Well, all I can say in response to that is take a look at “Tarzan” ‘s playbill. More importantly, look at how Disney Theatrical Productions has chosen to promote its new musical.



Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC


The most prominent image on that “Tarzan” playbill is that of the Ape Man swinging on a vine. Which pretty much says to me that — if you buy a ticket to Disney’s new Broadway show — that you’re eventually supposed to see Tarzan arrive on stage via vine.


Unless — of course — you happen to be seated in that part of the orchestra that (thanks to that extremely low overhang at the Richard Rodgers theatre) doesn’t get to see a whole lot of the flying that’s done in this show. Which (as I just pointed out) could possibly amount to as much as a third of the people who attend every single performance of “Tarzan.”


Sooo … Do you really think that these people — after having paid good money for a seat at Disney’s brand-new Broadway show, only to miss out on most of this musical’s signature flying sequences — are then going to go home & talk up “Tarzan” to their friends & family?


This is why I think that “Tarzan” is soon going to have a serious word-of-mouth problem. Which is why I think that this musical’s production team has to move — and move fast — in order to mitigate this issue during the show’s preview period.


I mean, does Disney Theatrical really want another weekend of preview performances to go by where audience members can then go home and say “I missed out on a lot of ‘Tarzan” ‘s flying scenes because of where I was seated in the wrong part of the orchestra”? Is that really the message that the Mouse wants getting out about the company’s new musical? That the show’s sightlines (to quote one particularly opinionated New Yorker who attended this past Saturday night’s performance of “Tarzan”) “totally suck”?


Here’s hoping that director Bob Crowley and his “Tarzan” production team realize that a single Playbill.com article isn’t going to change the perception that their show has a serious sightline problem.


And if you guys think that I’m being mean or overly-dramatic here … Well, wait ’til you see what happens when the New York papers finally get wind of this problem. And they then begin to go after the Mouse for daring to mount a new musical in NYC. One where a good portion of the audience seated in the orchestra section can’t see the flying sequences in this show because of the awful sightlines at the Richard Rodgers theatre. Those stories are going to my pitiful little “Tarzan” -related pieces look like kindly Post-It notes.


Okay. That’s enough “Trashing the Camp” for today. Let’s now take a look at a letter from MattL Who writes in to ask:



Hi Jim


I was looking forward to “Over The Hedge” when Jim Carrey was announced as the raccoon. But a year ago Bruce Willis replaced him. What happened? Every time I see the trailer I can’t help but see Jim Carrey in that role…


Thnx


MattL


Dear Mattl


Boy, talk about your timing. Literally this past Monday morning, I got the chance to sit down with Tim Johnson (I.E. One of the two directors of this upcoming Dreamworks Animation release). And while the two of us were talking about the big screen version of Michael Fry & T Lewis’ comic strip, the subject of Jim Carrey being the original voice of R.J. the raccoon actually did come up.

To hear Tim tell the tale, the real reason that Jim went over the wall after working on “Over the Hedge” for a while was that … Well, Mr. Carrey? He’s something of a method actor. Meaning that Jim likes to portray just one character at a time. Also that Carrey likes to stay in character the entire time that he’s working on a particular motion picture (Which resulted in some very interesting stories coming off of the “Man on the Moon” set, let me tell you … ).

Anyway  … According to Mr. Johnson, this was the approach that Mr. Carrey supposedly wanted to take while working on “Over the Hedge.” In that Jim wanted to get into R.J.’s  mindset and then — over the course of a few weeks — record all of the raccoon’s dialogue. That way, he’d then be able to get his portion of this Dreamworks Animation project over & done with fairly quickly.

It was then that Mr. Johnson & his co-director, Karey Kirkpatrick, clued Mr. Carrey into the way that animated features are really made. That it usually takes three to four years to complete a single film. More importantly, that the actors who voice the lead characters often have to go back into the recording studio multiple times over the course of production. As individual lines are tweaked & rewritten, or entirely new scenes are suddenly folded into the picture.

Once he learned how animated films were actually made, Jim quickly realized that he wasn’t going to enjoy this process. That — given his own working methods — it was going to be far too difficult (if not impossible) for him to maintain a consistent vocal performance over the course of the entire production. Which is why Mr. Carrey then decided to politely bow out of the project.



Copyright Dreamworks Animation


Which (admittedly) left Tim & Karey in a bit of a lurch. Until Jeffrey Katzenberg supposedly suggested that they now go after Bruce Willis (Who had done such a wonderful job playing a lovable scoundrel back in his old “Moonlighting” days)  as a possible new voice for R.J.

Willis eventually agreed to the gig (Where he proved be the perfect vocal foil for Gary Shandling ‘s overly cautious turtle). And as for the finished product … Well, that rolls out in theaters on May 19th.

Which — by the way — you should really make a point of seeing, folks.

Why For? Because “Over the Hedge” is honestly the most entertaining motion picture  that Dreamworks Animation has ever turned out.

I mean, sure. This animation studio has produced some very funny films before (“Shrek” & “Shrek 2” immediately come to mind). But this is the first time (to my knowledge, anyway) that Dreamworks has actually gotten the mixture of humor & heart just right. Meaning that — even as you’re laughing at these characters — you’re also coming to care about R.J., Vern & Co.

Now this may sound like a very left-handed compliment. But — me personally — I think that “Over the Hedge” is the most Pixar-like film that Dreamworks Animation has ever produced. By that I mean: It’s a  handsome looking movie that features lots of memorable characters as well as some really great animation. But — more importantly — it’s a movie that’s loaded with humor & heart. Which is why I am honestly over the moon about “Over the Hedge.” I just can’t wait to see this animated feature again.

And speaking of things that JHM readers should really check out … Here. Please take a minute and go click on this link. Which should take you straight over the Disney Channel’s home page.




For those of you who aren’t willing to click, who want absolutely nothing to do with today’s version of the Disney Channel … Well, here. I’ve included an image capture of that webpage that I took yesterday afternoon. 

Notice anything unusual toward the center of this page?

If not … Well, I’ll let Jacob P.’s e-mail point the way:



I saw an ad on the disney channel website that you will be able to license HSM through Music Theater International in the fall. do you know any thing about this? Love the site!

Jacob P.



Dear Jacob:


Yeah, this sort of ties in directly with what I was writing about yesterday. About how the Walt Disney Company is  (in every way that the corporation can possibly think of) trying to capitalize on the phenomenal success of this original Disney Channel TV movie.

So — as you can see by the application that I’ve also provided a screen capture of …



… — MTI is already accepting applications from theater groups around the United States who are interested in presenting an original stage adaptation of this incredibly popular TV movie.

Mind you, the libretto for this particular musical is still being written. But once it’s completed, Music Theatre International will then begin licensing the rights to the stage version of “High School Musical” through its …



… “Musicals from the Disney Collection” section.

Okay. I know. This new bit of information won’t convince the crumudgeons who post on JHM’s discussion boards (You know the ones that I’m talking about. The people who never forgave Disney Channel execs for taking “Vault Disney” off the air. Who insist that — because this cable channel no longer caters to baby boomers — it’s totally useless nowadays. Who refuse to acknowledge that — because of its new tween-friendly format — the Disney Channel has become one of the real ratings powerhouses in today’s cable industry) who insist that “High School Musical” is hardly worth mentioning.

Mind you, I don’t think that the staffs of USA Today and the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times would actually agree with that accessment. But you are — of course — entitled to your own opinion. (*koff, koff* Grouchy old bastid *koff*)

Well … Given that — with a single column — I’ve now managed to enrage both the management team at Disney Theatrical Productions as well as some of the surlier readers who regularly note on JHM’s discussion boards  … Which is why I now think that it’s time that I called it a day.

You folks have a great weekend, okay? And don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead on Saturday night, alright?

See you all bright & early on Monday morning. Til then, take care, okay?

j

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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