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A Very “Mary” Christmas: Part II

In Part II of this four part series, Jim Hill talks about a “Poppins” follow-up project that was to have starred Julie Andrews and *** Van ***: “The Poet and the Nightingale.”

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Okay. It’s now late 1965 / early 1966. And “Mary Poppins” is the biggest thing to happen to Walt Disney Productions since … Well … Since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” initially hit theaters back in December of 1937.

The profits from that picture keep pouring in. As do the awards and the acclaim. And Disney studio execs think: “Well, I could get used to this. Why don’t we just give audiences what they want and crank out another ‘Mary Poppins’?”

The only problem is … Walt Disney wasn’t your average studio head. After all, this was the guy who’d regularly trot out his “You can’t top pigs with pigs” speech whenever anybody brought up the subject of sequels.

But studio staffers knew that — starting in the early 1960s — the Old Mousetro has somewhat softened his stance on the whole “Disney doesn’t do sequels” issue. I mean, if that really wasn’t the case, then why would Walt have allowed 1957’s “Old Yeller” to be followed by 1963’s “Savage Sam”? Or 1961’s “The Absent-Minded Professor” to be followed by 1963’s “Son of Flubber”? Or 1964’s “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” to be followed by 1965’s “The Monkey’s Uncle.”

You get what I’m saying here, folks? By this point in the company’s history, Walt Disney Productions was already in the sequel business. They just didn’t like people to notice.

Anyway … Disney execs are anxious to get another “Poppins” sized project out there. Another film that would hit and hit big. So — with Walt’s blessing — they tried a few more musicals: 1967’s “The Happiest Millionaire” and 1968’s “The One and Only, Genuine Original Family Band.” But even as they’re watching these still-in-production films in dailies form, it’s already painfully apparent that “Millionaire” and “Band” lack that “Mary Poppins” magic.

But what can Disney do? Walt’s still out there, telling the press that he doesn’t want to do a “Poppins” sequel. Saying things like ” Time is getting on, and I still have things left to do … I don’t want to go back and cover the same ground.”

It’s clear that Walt doesn’t like repeating himself. Otherwise why would he continue to block production of the already-in-development “Bedknobs & Broomsticks”? Out of concern that the proposed film — what with its mix of music, magic, elaborate special effects and animated sequences — already had far too much in common with “Poppins.” Which would allow Disney’s critics to say: “Ah, the old guy’s just out of ideas now.”

Which was why Walt — even though the Sherman Brothers had already written written songs for “Bedknobs & Broomsticks,” even though Don DaGradi had already storyboarded 80% of the picture — still refused to let production go foward. Maybe in a few years it would be a smart move for Walt Disney Productions to make a movie based on those Mary Norton books. But not now.

Which left Disney studio execs with precious few options. Until one enterprising executive went burrowing through the company’s archives — looking at projects that Walt Disney Productions had once considered producing — and came across that file for the long-ago-cancelled Hans Christian Andersen film.

You see, as far back as 1937, Walt Disney had been toying with the idea of producing a feature-length film that chronicled the life of this Danish-born storyteller. A motion picture that would skillfully combine live action & animation in an effort to bring such well-known Andersen fairy tales as “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Thumbelina,” “The Ugly Duckling” and — of course — “The Little Mermaid” to life.

The only problem was … Veteran Hollywood producer Sameul Goldwyn had already announced his intentions to produce a film based on Andersen’s life. Even going so far as to register the title for his proposed motion picture — “The Life of Hans Christian Andersen” — with the Hays Office.

Obviously, it didn’t make much sense for both of these two production companies to make separate Andersen bio pics. Which was why — in March of 1940 — a compromise was reached. Sameul Goldwyn & Walt Disney would work together to produce a single Hans Christian Anderson film. With Disney animating all of the fairy tale sequences to be featured in the picture, while Goldwyn would supervise all of the film’s live action sequences.

Sounds like a match made in Hollywood heaven, right? Well, it’s just too bad that World War II intervened. After the war, Walt Disney Productions found itself in a hell of a financial hole. Barely able to afford producing any of its own films, let alone helping to bankroll an ambitious co-production like “The Life of Hans Christian Andersen.”

Which was why — when Sameul Goldwyn finally decided to go forward with his Andersen bio pic in the early 1950s — he had to do so alone. At that point in the game, Walt wasn’t interesting in doing any co-productions. Disney had already moved to bigger and better dreams. Like Disneyland and his studio’s brave foray into the world of television production.

But still — while that Andersen bio pic co-production was still under consideration — Disney artists had churned out hundreds of conceptual drawings. Some of which show the tall, gawky author trying to make his way in polite European society. While still others colorfully illustrated the many fairy tales that Andersen could tell over the course of the picture, like “The Little Fir Tree” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.”

Clearly, this material had the makings of a great motion picture. One that Sameul Goldwyn had actually missed with his 1952 production, “Hans Christian Andersen.” (Don’t get me wrong, folks. That Danny Kaye film does have a wonderful score by Frank Loesser, not to mention some pretty amazing production values. But it’s not really the story of Hans Christian Andersen. The film’s screenplay — written by industry giants Myles Connolly, Moss Hart and Ben Hecht — actually disregards what happened to Hans in his lifetime. Preferring instead to weave out of whole cloth this totally bogus tale of how Andersen, the poor cobbler, supposedly fell in love with this beautiful ballerina.

Speaking of weaving … Here’s some interesting bits of trivia that show how “Hans Christian Andersen,” “Mary Poppins” and the world of Walt Disney are all tightly woven together : When Walt Disney was first considering which stars to cast in what roles for “Mary Poppins,” which Hollywood veteran did he initially consider for the role of Bert? That’s right. “Hans Christian Andersen” star Danny Kaye.

And — when that Sameul Goldwyn film was finally adapted for the stage in December of 1977 — which former Disney star wound up playing the title role in “Hans Christian Andersen”? Tommy Steele, who played the singing-and-dancing butler in “The Happiest Millionaire.” The movie that Walt Disney had hoped would eventually top “Mary Poppins.”

It’s really weird how so many of these stories are inter-connected, don’t you think? Speaking of stories … Let’s get back to today’s column, which is already in progress.)

As I was saying … This material clearly had the makings of a major motion picture. Which was why — starting as far back as 1966 — Walt Disney Productions execs began talking up this Hans Christian Andersen film as a possible “Mary Poppins” follow-up project.

Here’s the way that studio executives hoped that this project would eventually play out. *** Van *** & Julie Andrews would agreed to reteam in a film tentatively titled “The Poet and the Nightingale.” Van *** would (of course) play the role of Hans Christian Andersen, while Andrews would play Andersen’s love interest, the legendary concert singer, Jenny Lind AKA “The Swedish Nightingale.”

Supporting these two headliners would be virtually the entire “Mary Poppins” production team. Producer/writer Bill Walsh, director Robert Stevenson, screenwriter Don DaGradi, songwriters Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman, musical director Irwin Kostal, choreographers Marc Breax and Dee Dee Wood. Not to mention Disney’s army of animators, matte painters and special effects artists.

That sounds like a wonderful idea for a film, doesn’t it? Disney execs certainly thought so. Which is why they tried desperately to put this project in motion. But — sadly — I guess “The Poet and the Nightingale” just wasn’t meant to be.

What caused this project to derail? A number of things, actually. The success of “Mary Poppins,” for one. Julie Andrews & *** Van *** became such huge stars in the wake of that 1964 Walt Disney Productions release that they both wound up being signed up for a number of major motion pictures. Which meant that Julie & ***’s dance card was already filled for several years ahead when Disney execs tried to talk with the two stars about possibly appearing in “The Poet and the Nightingale.”

And — as for a “Mary Poppins” re-union film — Albert “Cubby” Broccoli already had one in the works (sort of) : “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” Given that “Mary Poppins” had actually out-grossed his own 1965 production, “Goldfinger,” Cubby decided that there was real money to be made in the family film market. Which was why Broccoli contacted Disney and asked Walt if he’d be interested in doing a co-production. A motion picture based on Ian Fleming’s non-James Bond-based book, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, or The Magical Car.”

As you might expect (given what happened with Sameul Goldwyn), Walt wasn’t very keen on the idea of doing a co-production. So he politely told Cubby “No.” But that didn’t deter Broccoli. If he couldn’t work directly with Disney, the man who actually produced “Mary Poppins” …. Well, he’d just hire away all of the talented people that had worked with Walt on that picture.

Which is why many people consider “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” to be the unofficial “Mary Poppins” re-union film. After all, on this one picture, you’ve got “Poppins” star *** Van ***, songwriters Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman, musical director Irwin Kostal and choreographers Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood. The very people who made “Mary Poppins” ‘s musical sequences so memorable.

Sadly, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” finally opened in December of 1968, the film didn’t do “Mary Poppins” -sized business. Nor did any of the other original musicals — like 1967’s “Dr. Dolittle” or 1969’s “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” — that Hollywood put into production in the mid-to-late 1960s. Even films that were based on established Broadway hits like 1966’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” or 1969’s “Hello, Dolly!” failed to perform at the box office.

Clearly, audiences’ tastes were changing. The people who had initially embraced “Mary Poppins” hadn’t responded as enthusiastically to Disney’s follow-up films, “The Happiest Millionaire” and “The One and Only, Genuine Original Family Band.” Which indicated to Disney studio execs that the era of the original movie musical in Hollywood was now over. Which was these same executives reluctantly tabled their plans to produce “The Poet and the Nightingale” by the late 1960s.

Now don’t be too harsh in judging these execs, folks. You have to understand that these Disney Productions officials lost a lot of their confidence when Walt died back in December of 1966. Almost immediately, these execs began second-guessing themselves. Wondering if the decisions that they were making were actually the same sorts of decisions that Walt would have made if he were still alive.

Plus you have to understand that Disney studio executives had kind of lost their enthusiasm for *** Van *** by this point in the late 1960s. Some say that it was the remarks that *** had made to the press during the publicity tour for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (Reports from that period have Van *** saying things like “This picture will out-Disney Disney”), while still others insist that it was just that solid string of flops that the sitcom vet had starred in in the late 1960s / early 1970s. Either way, *** Van *** was no longer at the top of Disney’s “A” list.

Whereas Julie Andrews … She remained the star that Disney most wanted to get back in bed with. Which was why — in late 1969 / early 1970 — when the studio was gearing up production for “Bedknobs & Broomsticks,” they offered Andrews the film’s lead role: Amateur sorceress Eglantine Price.

The only problem was … Julie couldn’t make up her mind about whether or not she actually wanted to take this role. Having so enjoyed working on “Mary Poppins” (and given that the “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” production team was made up almost entirely of “Poppins” veterans), she knew that this film would be a lot of fun to work on.

The only problem was … Andrews worried about how Hollywood would perceive her taking another job at Disney? Would this be seen as Julie taking a step backwards? That — rather than having her career moving forward — here she was, returning to work at the Mouse House. Appearing in yet another musical where she’d play yet another prim English woman who dabbled in magic.

So Andrews hemmed and hawed for months, trying to decide what to do. Disney executives — more out of fustration than anything else, thinking that Julie’s delay in deciding meant that she wasn’t really interested in performing the role — finally offered the part to Angela Lansbury.

Which was why — virtually on the very same day that the Broadway vet said “Yes, I’d love to be your Eglantine Price” — “Bedknobs” producer Bill Walsh recieves a telegram from Julie Andrews. Which says (in essense) that the “Mary Poppins” star had given this matter plenty of thought and that Julie had finally decided that — yes — she’d love to play Eglantine Price too.

Which was when Bill had to make that unfortunate phone call. Where he had to explain that Disney had just gotten tired of waiting around for Andrews to make up her mind. Which was why — in the end — the studio had wound up giving this role to Angela Lansbury instead.

The upside of this whole unfortunate situation is … Welll … This wouldn’t be the last time that Disney Company execs would call Julie Andrews and ask her to appear in a new film for the studio. And — no — I’m NOT talking about 2001’s “The Princess Diaries” and/or 2004’s “Princess Diaries II.”

COMING SOON: When this four part series continues, Jim Hill talks about what happened when Michael Eisner first arrived at the Walt Disney Company and immediately set the studio to work on a “Mary Poppins” sequel.

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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