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A special “Where’s WALL-E” edition of Why For?

Jim Hill's back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim tries to put together a definitive list of where the in-jokes & self references in Pixar's feature films & shorts are located

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Bernie W. writes in to say:

Jim —

Can you please help me win a bet at work? A co-worker of mine says that WALL-E makes a brief cameo appearance in "Ratatouille." More importantly, this guy has bet me $100 that I'll never ever be able to find that robot in this movie.


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

I've watch my kid's "Ratatouille" DVD three times now and haven't seen hide nor hair of WALL-E yet. So if I offer you a percentage of my winnings, will you please tell me where I can find this robot in the movie?

Thanks in advance for your help,

Bernie W.

Dear Bernie —

I have to admit that the guys up in Emeryville do delight in doing stuff like that. As in: Bringing characters from different Pixar projects together. Take — for example — what happens to the logo for this animation studio in the opening portion of "WALL-E" 's international trailer. Where first the light in the Luxo Jr. lamp blows out and then WALL-E rolls on-screen with a replacement bulb.


Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Or — for that matter — making reference to earlier and/or upcoming productions in the most recent Pixar release. How many of you recall that the title of this animation studio's very first short (i.e. "The Adventures of André and Wally B") …


Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… actually wound up being printed on the spine of one of those storybooks that you saw behind Woody in "Toy Story"?


 Copyright 1995 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Or how the lamp from "Luxo Jr." (You know? That 1980s-era lighting fixture that's featured so prominently in the Pixar logo?) …


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… also makes an appearance in that John Lasseter movie. Albeit with a bright red paint job.


 Copyright 1995 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Even the yellow ball from "Luxo Jr." (With its distinctive red star and blue stripe) …


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… turns up in "Toy Story." It's the ball that Buzz Lightyear bounces off of as he's trying to prove to all the other toys in Andy's room that he really can fly.


Copyright 1995 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

"So when did Pixar get started with making all of these in-jokes and/or self references to its own movies?," you ask. My understanding is that this practice actually dates back to 1987. Where — as staffers at this animation studio were rushing to complete "Red's Dream," the short that they planned on placing in competition at that year's SIGGRAPH — they realized that the circus center ring that plays such a prominent role in this film's dream sequence was a bit on the bland side.

Sooo … Hoping to inject a little more color into "Red's Dream," Lasseter & Co. lifted the color, textures and designs featured on the rubber ball in "Luxo Jr." and then made that the floor of their circus's center ring.


Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

As the story goes, a few folks at SIGGRAPH 1987 told John that they thought that it was really clever that "Red's Dream" had referenced Pixar's first SIGGRAPH submission, "Luxo Jr." Which suggested that there was some sort of connective tissue between these two animated shorts.

Which — let's be honest here, folks — was NOT what John Lasseter & his team of animators were trying to do when they were working on "Red's Dream." Truth be told, these guys were just looking for a quick-and-dirty way to add some additional color to that film's dream sequence. But given they seemed to get extra points with the people at SIGGRAPH for trying to be clever … Well, in-jokes and self references then became a way of life at Pixar Animation Studios.

Which is why the gas station that Andy's Mom pulls into in "Toy Story" …


Copyright 1995 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… then became the racing sponsor that Lightning McQueen was lusting after in Pixar's "Cars."


 Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Or how the crazy old man who's playing chess with himself in "Geri's Game" …


 Copyright 1997 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… could wind up being the toy repair expert that Al calls in when Woody gets his arm torn off in "Toy Story 2."


 Copyright 1999 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, some of these in-jokes go literally by in the blink of an eye. Take — for example — those itty-bitty bitchy birds that get their comeuppance in "For the Birds."


 Copyright 2000 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Did you catch their blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance in "Cars" ?


 Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

If not … Well, I can't say as I'm surprised. These birds-on-a-wiretap go by in a 10th of a second in that John Lasseter film. You can catch a brief glimpse of them as Mac rolls through the countryside in that movie's "Life is a Highway" musical montage sequence.


Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, the people at Pixar can be pretty picky about where and when they make these references. By that I mean: Witness how the ball from "Luxo Jr." can be seen in the Parrs' living room during "Jack-Jack Attack" …


Copyright 2005 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

And yet this children's plaything is nowhere to be seen in yet another Pixar project that prominently features a baby, "Tin Toy."


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

As for Tinny himself, he actually make a quick cameo in Pixar's most recent short, "Lifted." This tender-hearted wind-up toy is located under the bed during the attempted abduction sequence.


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of bedrooms … Perhaps the most famous set of self references to ever appear in a Pixar picture occurred in "Monsters, Inc." Where — as Sulley finally returns Boo to the human world — among the toys that we see scattered around this toddler's bedroom are the ball from "Luxo Jr." (You can see it in the photo below next to the easel) as well as a Jessie doll from "Toy Story 2" (On the white table to the left).


Copyright 2001 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Which Boo now brings to Sulley. And then — as the icing on the cake — this cute little girl hands her favorite squeaky toy over to that blue-haired beast. Which (not-so-co-incidentally) is shaped just like that cute little clown fish who'll play the title characters in Pixar's Summer 2003 release, "Finding Nemo."


Copyright 2001 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

This particular in-joke launched a brand-new trend at that animation studio. Where the animators would then fold in a somewhat discreet reference to an upcoming Pixar production. Take — for example — that "Incredibles" manga that the little boy is reading at the dentist's office in "Finding Nemo."


 Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Or — better yet — how about that cameo appearance that Stanley made in "Boundin'" ?


Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

"And who exactly is Stanley?," you ask. Well, Stanley is the Stanley Steamer who founded Radiator Springs. It's his statue that Lightning McQueen winds up pulling off its pedestal when that race car accidentally winds up trashing that sleepy Southwestern town on his way to the Piston Cup.


 Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

I know, I know. Not everyone is going to pick up on these somewhat tenuous connections between the various Pixar productions. And that's okay with that studio's animators. Sometimes they actually prefer it when their in-jokes stay in-jokes.

Take — for example — how Linguini …


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… is also the unfortunate human who gets brutally bashed about while he's being abducted in Gary Rydstrom's "Lifted."


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

But then again, there are those pieces of connective tissue that the people at Pixar really hope that animation fans do notice. Like that remote trailer with the deadly bug light in "A Bug's Life" …

 
Copyright 1998 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… is also where Randall winds up after he gets banished to the human world in "Monsters, Inc." ?


 Copyright 2001 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Or — for that matter — did you notice the Pizza Planet truck that was parked beside this trailer?


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Believe it or not, this particular vehicle (which is modeled after the Toyota HiLux) has appeared in every single feature film that Pixar Animation Studios has produced to date. It's the truck that Woody & Buzz stow away in when they're trying to hitch a ride to Pizza Planet in the original "Toy Story."


Copyright 1995 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

This is also the vehicle that Buzz "borrows" in "Toy Story 2," when that space ranger is trying to prevent Buzz, Jessie and Bullseye from being sent to that toy museum in Japan.


Copyright 1999 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

You can also catch a quick glimpse of the Pizza Planet truck as Gill is explaining his latest escape plan to the Tank Gang.


 Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

The Pizza Planet truck also makes an appearance in the Piston Cup sequence of "Cars." You'll find him to the far left in the photo below, next to the RV that looks like Elvis Presley.


 Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Which brings us to "The Incredibles." Brad Bird's very first feature for Pixar Animation Studios. Given that Brad was something of an outsider when he first arrived in Emeryville, he didn't automatically buy into all of Pixar's oddball traditions. Which is why — when it came time to insert that obligatory Pizza Planet truck cameo into his picture — Bird made it part of the Parrs' high speed return to the city aboard that badly battered RV …

 
Copyright 2004 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… Which is why all you really get to see of the Pizza Planet truck in "The Incredibles" is a pale blur.


 Copyright 2004 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

However, by the time "Ratatouille" came out, Brad was finally a true believer in the Pixar way of doing things. Which is why he happily included the Pizza Planet truck among all of the other cars that were motoring around Paris.


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, Bird still didn't make it all that easy for animation fans to spy this vehicle. Given that he had the Pizza Planet truck drive across a bridge that was 'way off in the background while Skinner was chasing Remy through the foreground while riding on that scooter.


 Close-up of truck on bridge here — Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of strange things that you can spy in "Ratatouille" … Did you see where Brad had Bomb Voyage (You know? The explosives-crazed criminal that Mr. Incredible discovers robbing a bank in the opening sequence of "The Incredibles" ?) …


 Copyright 2004 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… also makes an appearance as a mime who's working in the streets of Paris in "Ratatouille" ?


Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

And then there are the just-plain-silly in-jokes. Like that moment in the "A Bug's Life" out-takes where it's revealed that Woody is working the clapboard on that particular Pixar production.


Copyright 1998 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Or when Flik deliberately blows his own lines, using Buzz Lightyear's "To Infinity and Beyond" catchphrase rather than saying "For the Colony and oppressed bugs everywhere!"


 Copyright 1998 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Or how about that moment in the "Toy Story 2" out-takes, when Flik first tells Heimlich how happy he is to be working on "A Bug's Life 2" …


Copyright 1999 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… only to then discover — just as Buzz Lightyear's machete comes crashing down on the branch that this ant & the caterpillar are standing on — that the Pixar sequel that they're actually appearing in is "Toy Story 2."


 Copyright 1999 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

But for every Pixar in-joke or self reference that are like this (i.e. Really obvious. In your face), there are the really subtle, throwaway ones. Like how the ball from "Luxo Jr." rolls periodically rolls through the background of the menus on the "Toy Story 2" DVD.


 Copyright 2000 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Which brings us (finally!) to the answer of Bernie W.'s question. As in: Where exactly in "Ratatouille" can you find WALL-E?


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

To be honest, Bernie's co-worker seems to deliberately be trying to trick his friend. Given that the title character of this upcoming Andrew Stanton film doesn't actually appear in the "Ratatouille" film. But — rather — that cute little robot can be found on the new Pixar short that's included as an extra features on the "Ratatouille" DVD, "Your Friend the Rat."


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

"And where is WALL-E?," you ask. Well … Toward the end of the short, Remy & Emile sing a song called "Plan B." And — at one point in this musical fantasy sequence — humans & rats are happily seated inside of this futuristic spacecraft, which is zooming along that planet's surface toward a launching pad.


Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

If you take a close look at the driver of that craft, you'll see that it's a very stylized version of the star of Pixar's big release of the Summer of 2008, "WALL-E."


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

As for cutting me in for a share of your winnings, Bernie W … Tell you what. Why don't you hold onto that cash for a few days? For sometime late next week, I'll actually be talking about a very worthy cause that I'd like JHM readers to consider donating to.

Tis the season, folks. And if you'd like to show your appreciation for all the great stories that you regularly read here on this website, then why not start out your next Amazon shopping spree by clicking on the banner above? That way, JHM gets a teeny tiny chunk of whatever you spend.

Happy Holidays!

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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