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A Walt Disney World Why For?: Jolly Holidays, Swan and Dolphin and Disney Studios

Jim Hill provides detailed answers your Disney-related questions. This time around, he responds to queries about the "Jolly Holidays" dinner show, the Dolphin and the Swan as well as what's going on with Disney's use of the "MGM" name.

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First, Thomas M. writes in to ask:

Jim:

I was always a huge fan of the Jolly Holidays dinner show at the Contemporary Resort at WDW and was very upset when they stopped having it several years ago. My family and I went every year and there was always a gigantic crowd. I know that much of it was lifted form the castle forecourt shows at MVMCP but always enjoyed the meal and up close, surround stage feel of the show. Why was it stopped and do you think it will ever return?

Thomas M.

Dear Thomas:

Yes, I remember the old "Jolly Holidays" show at the Contemporary with much fondness as well. My family and I attended a live performance of this elaborate Christmas stage show back in 1992. We — along with the hundreds of other WDW visitors — crammed into the cavernous convention center that night. Seated at a large round dining table, we dined on turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce as Disney characters and dozens of live performers danced and sang on the three stages set up around the hall.

But — three years later — Michelle, Alice and I attended an even more memorable performance of WDW's "Jolly Holidays" show. You see, this was a dress rehearsal for the extravaganza. Something that was only supposed to be open to Disney cast members. But luckily, a friend who worked at the resort snuck the three of us into the convention center that evening.

Now imagine this immense stage presentation being performed for only a handful of people. And — since my 1-year old daughter was the only child attending this particular performance … Well, let's just say that Alice got an awful lot of attention that night.

As an extra added bonus, a cast member who was working at that year's show slipped me a copy of the "Jolly Holidays" soundtrack. Which is kind of unusual, given that this recording only features the pre-recorded portions of the program. Still, it's a holiday favorite here at the Stadler / Hill house. And — each year, when December rolls around — I toss the "Jolly Holidays" tape into our cassette player and relive some very fond Disney-related Christmas memories.

So — given that this show was often sold out months in advance — one has to wonder: Why did the Mouse pull the plug on the Contemporary's "Jolly Holidays" show back in 1998? The story that I've heard is twofold:

1) Disney eventually felt that it just wasn't making enough profit off of the Contemporary's "Jolly Holidays" show. Sure, with tickets selling at $62 per person, this staged-twice-a-day Christmas extravaganza obviously raked in a lot of loot. But — what with the cost involved in setting up the seasonal show as well as the salaries that had to be paid out to the performers, the resort's wait staff as well as the "JH" tech crew — "Jolly Holidays" blew through a lot of money as well.

Eventually, Disney managers went over their books and determined that it would probably be more cost effective if the Contemporary Resort just cancelled its annual production of "Jolly Holidays" and rented out its enormous convention center to various groups throughout the month of December. Which would — in theory — put the hotel in a pure profit situation for that month, rather than weighing what "Jolly Holidays" took in versus what it cost to actually mount and run that show.

2) But another consideration was that there was considerable overlap between the Contemporary's "Jolly Holidays" show and the Magic Kingdom's "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party." As in there were music numbers performed in both of these seasonal extravaganza that were identical. And — since many WDW visitors would buy tickets to attend both "JH" and "MVMCP" — invariably in January, WDW Guest Relations office would be inundated with letters from angry Disney World guests saying "Hey, I paid twice to see virtually the same show. What gives?"

This meant that WDW Guest Relations office wound up giving out an awful lot of comp tickets to the Contemporary's "Top of the World" dinner show in an effort to make these disgruntled guests happy with the Mouse once more. That hotel's management eventually got tired of giving away dinners at its most exclusive restaurant … Which definitely became a factor in Disney World's decision to eventually shut down its "Jolly Holidays" show.

Of course, the real irony here is — about the same time that the Contemporary decided to shut down its "Jolly Holidays" seasonal show — the operations staff at WDW's Magic Kingdom decided to overhaul all of the entertainment offered at "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party." They put in a brand new stage show in front of the castle as well as making significant changes to all of the other entertainments offered in the park.

The end result? There would have then been virtually no overlap between the Contemporary's "Jolly Holidays" show and the Magic Kingdom's "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party" … If the hotel had actually decided to keep that seasonal show up and running. Which is kind of sad, don't you think?

Next, Jason R. writes in to ask:

Hey Jim,

Love the site, keep up the good work.

Here's something I've often wondered but have never found a clear answer on.

What's the story behind the Swan and Dolphin hotels. Why are they not near Downtown Disney, but in the middle of the resort? I know they are not owned by Disney, so I'm wondering why the special treatment?

Again keep up the excellent work and I'm looking forward to more stories on the Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong resorts in the future.

Thanks

Jason R.

To understand why the Dolphin and the Swan got built where they did, Jason, you have to understand that — prior to Michael Eisner's arrival at the Walt Disney Company — Disney's then-chairman Ray Watson had cut a deal with Tischman Realty and Construction, the folks who built the bulk of Epcot Center. In return for helping to get WDW's second theme park open on time, Tischman was given the sole right to develop new hotels on WDW property.

Then — of course — Michael and Co. came on board. And among the very first deals that Eisner cuts is an agreement with Marriot to added 20,000 hotel rooms to the Florida property. The guys who run Tischman hear about this and go ballistic. They filed a $1.5 billion lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company, claiming breach of contract.

Eventually — on the advice of the corporation's attorneys — the Walt Disney Company backs out of its arrangement with Marriott and agrees to honor Watson's previous deal with Tischman. Which will allow the New York-based construction company to built two huge new hotels as well as a convention center whenever they'd like at Walt Disney World.

That "wherever they'd like" part of the deal would eventually come back and bite Disney in the ass. For Tischman decided that they wanted their hotel and convention center complex to be built at the very center of the Central Florida property. As close as possible to the recently-opened Epcot Center and the soon-to-be-built Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park.

At the very last minute, Michael Eisner threw in a condition that he hoped might make this deal a bit more advantageous for the Walt Disney Company. Which was that Tischman's hotels had to be designed by a top name architect like Michael Graves. Tischman agreed, which is how Graves eventually won the commission to design the Dolphin and the Swan.

Now — even back when the Dolphin and the Swan were in model form — the Imagineers were warning Michael that WDW guests were going to be able to see the hotels from inside World Showcase. But Eisner wouldn't listen.

Of course, the day finally came when Michael was touring Epcot Center and noticed those two huge buildings looming on the horizon. "Can't something be done about that?" Disney's CEO supposed asked one Imagineer who was there. "Can't you guys build a berm … or something like that?"

Now no one had that guts to tell Eisner that it would be impossible to build a berm that would be high enough to blot out the Dolphin and the Swan (Or the more derisive name that Epcot employees use to describe these hotels, the Tuna and the Turkey). Though Craig McNair Wilson, one of Imagineering's wittier vets, did come up with a fairly amusing solution to the whole problem:

"To make the Dolphin and the Swan blend in with World Showcase, all that Disney has to do is put a giant version of each country's national animal on top of each of the international pavilions. So the American Adventure would have this huge eagle draped over it, the U.K. a proud lion perched on top of its pavilion, China … a panda. France? I don't know. A frog?"

Kind of a funny solution, don't you think? Too bad that the Imagineers didn't actually go forward with Craig's idea.

And finally, Chris A. writes in to ask:

Jim —

My family just took our 20-month old on his first trip to Disney World (Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom). We requested a trip-planning DVD from the Disney web page, and one thing that struck me was its consistent use of the term "Disney Studios", in spoken copy and on-screen graphics, as the name of the third theme park. Not "Disney-MGM Studios". In fact, in the few places on the DVD where there are shots of the front gate, the "MGM" has actually been digitally removed, as seen in the attached screenshot:

We didn't go to that park, and all the signage and information we saw elsewhere in WDW continued to use the term "Disney-MGM Studios", so I'm just wondering if something is up. After all, these "studios" no longer produce anything on-site, do they?

— Chris A.

Chris A. –

Okay — just like with my Dolphin and the Swan story above — before you understand what's really going on here, you need to know a little Disney Company history. You see, back n April of 1985, Michael Eisner announced that he intended to build a new $300 million Hollywood-themed theme park as part of his expansion plans for the Disney World Resort. The only problem was … Disney's catalogue of movies was kind of the thin side. Very heavy on animation and family friendly stuff, but very light when it came to the motion picture's main genres: Horror, Drama, Musicals, Westerns, Action- Adventure, Thrillers, etc. Which didn't really give the Imagineers enough material to work with if they were going to build a theme park that would adequately pay tribute to Tinsel Town's legacy.

So Disney's legal department went snooping around to see if they could perhaps license a few cinematic properties which might help beef up this new theme park's assortment of attractions. Co-incidentally — at this very same time — MGM/UA was in desperate need of a cash infusion.

Which is why the Mouse was able to strike this extraordinary deal with the executives at MGM/UA. For a starting licensing fee of just $100,000 a year (which — over a 20 year period — would eventually grow to a $1,000,000-a-year licensing fee), Disney got the right to use hundreds of that studio's films and characters in the creation of their new theme park. Not to mention the use of the MGM name as well as the company's trademark roaring lion.

Of course, when Kirk Kerkorian — the colorful billionaire who actually owned MGM/UA — heard about what his executives had done, he did a lot of roaring himself. Kirk actually ordered his attorneys to sue the Walt Disney Company in an effort to break this deal.

Unfortunately for him, Kerkorian's lawsuit got thrown out in 1992. The judge then ordered that MGM/UA must honor the terms of its contract with the Mouse to the letter, which meant that the Walt Disney Company had the right to use the "MGM" name in association with its Central Florida theme park through June of 2005.

So — what you're seeing now, Chris — what with the "MGM" name actually being digitally erased out of WDW's tripping planning videos as well as the DVD's narrator calling this theme park "Disney Studios" is just the Mouse preparing for that theme park's upcoming transition period. Rather than having this big jarring change come in June of 2005, with the "MGM" name suddenly being stricken from everything in Orlando, Disney's opted to go with a more gradual approach. Which is to slowly introduce the "Disney Studios" name to the public, with the hope that this will make the coming transition easier.

Of course, given that nearly everyone I know — when they're using verbal shorthand to describe this WDW theme park — just calls Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park MGM … I would imagine that this name, like it or not, is going to hang on for many years yet to come.

And speaking of hanging on … I'm hoping that JimHillMedia.com will be able to hang on for many years yet to come. But — in the months ahead — we're looking to make pretty significant changes here. A bold new look. A more reliable server. Maybe even get some new features in place that will allow JHM to start displaying more photos, etc.

Of course, in order to do this, the site's gonna need better cash flow…. Soooo — as much as it pains me to do so — it's time to pass the hat again, folks. So — if I ask nice — can I please get you members of the JimHillMedia.com family (arguably the nicest bunch of people to ever wander around the Web) to toss a few coins in our Amazon.com contributions box?

That way, I don't have to concern myself with the site's financial problems. I can just concentrate on what you folks want. Which for me to crank out even more stories about what's really going on inside the Mouse House.

Speaking of which, be sure and come back Monday when we've got a great new series debuting at the site. Which will cover the many and varied ways that the Walt Disney Company can possibly turn around the situation that it currently find itself in.

That's it for today. Have a great weekend, okay?

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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