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Adam Shell & Nicholas Kraft traveled from Disneyland to Detroit “Pursuing Happiness”

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Pursuing happiness. that's a universal quest for people
around the United 
States and around the world. Who doesn't want to live a
meaningful, happy life? 
But what exactly is happiness?

Documentary filmmaker Adam Shell and producer Nicholas Kraft
decided to investigate the subject a short time after Shell completed
an earlier documentary, 
"Finding Kraftland," that featured Nicolas Kraft and his
father, Richard Kraft, a 
major globetrotting Disney collector, music fan and pop
culture enthusiast.

"Pursuing Happiness" will be screened at 5 p.m. Saturday, May 2, at The Delta King as part of the Sacramento Film Festival. Tickets for
this "ultimate feel good" 
documentary can be purchased at www.SacramentoFilmFestival.com.


The following is a Q&A session with the filmmakers:

Tell me a bit about your friendship. Did it start with "Finding
Kraftland" or before? What did you learn doing that project that helped you on "Pursuing
Happiness"?

Shell: Nicholas' father asked me to edit and co-direct the
most overproduced home movie of all time, 'Finding Kraftland,

despite only
being an acquaintance of his. You don't spend months going through someone's home
videos and interviewing all their friends without becoming a close friend
yourself and, ever since, I've been very close with both Richard and Nicholas.

What made you interested in tackling the topic of happiness?


Shell: In part, it grew out of touring Finding Kraftland at
festivals: time and again people would tell me that Richard's lust for life attitude
inspired them 
to bring more joy into their own lives. That planted a seed
for me.

The real inspiration though came from being fed up with the
onslaught of bad news that dominates the media. It seemed everything was
sensationalized tragedy and that constant focus on what was
wrong in our 
world had a tangible effect on my life – the conversations I
was having, the 
attitude of those around me, it was all so negative.

Kraft: For me, there is nothing more interesting in the
world than people – why are we the way we are? When Adam asked me to help him
with this 
kooky idea of making a documentary about happiness, it
sounded like an 
amazing opportunity to learn more about people in a truly
unique way.


Disney Legend Richard Sherman

Tell me about your interview with Disney Legend Richard
Sherman
.

Kraft: What an honor. We should have called off our search
for the happiest people in America
after spending the day with Richard – the search was 
over, we found him!

Shell: As a musician myself, I wanted to know how it was
possible for someone to make a career out of writing truly happy songs. We
have this 
trope in our culture of the "tortured artist" and The
Sherman Brothers, who 
have written some of the most recognizable, beloved, and
fantastic songs 
in American history are anything but that. And he admitted
that writing 
happy songs isn't easy, "writing a really originally happy
tune … you've 
gotta dig for that." I think that's a great metaphor for
happiness itself; it's 
so easy to go to the dark side and give in to negativity,
but to lead a happy 
life … you've gotta dig for that.

Did Richard Sherman discuss Walt or Disneyland
being the "Happiest Place
on Earth"?


Kraft: You can't make a documentary about happiness in America
without talking about Disneyland – especially
when someone from the Kraft family 
is involved in the making of the film. Richard Sherman
described Walt as a 
"purveyor of joy" and one of the things we ended up
discussing with him 
was the power of giving. You think you're going to interview
this Disney 
Legend about his music – and we did – but the real heart of
Richard 
Sherman, and Walt of course, is that these men derive so
much pleasure 
from doing things for others.

In Walt's case, that was providing a place for families to
have a truly memorable experience together. For The Sherman Brothers,
that was 
giving the gift of song – fun, uplifting, sweet songs – to
millions of people.

Shell: I have two young children and there is nothing more
fun than spending a day at Disneyland with
them. There is this unrivaled joy they 
experience that is truly infectious. It's the same joy I
experienced as a kid 
and so many millions of people experience every year. Truth
be told, I still 
experience it even when I visit without my kids. Is it the
rides? Sure. Is it 
the music and the costumes and the thrill of meeting Mickey (or
Elsa if 
you're my daughter)? Absolutely. But the real heart of it is
that shared 
experience we're having together. The "stuff" isn't so much
making us 
happy as it is providing an environment that's conducive to
laughing, 
having fun, and sharing that together.


There is something else about Disneyland
that I only really began to appreciate after making this film. Disneyland
takes extreme care in 
ensuring that everything is always presented with perfection:
The perfectly 
manicured flowers to the smiles and gracious attitudes of
all the cast 
members. They make the effort to present themselves in the
light they 
want to be remembered for and, as a result, that is the way
the world thinks 
of Disneyland. The metaphor for me as
it relates to happiness is that we all 
have the ability to present ourselves in whatever way we
choose and in that 
presentation that is our experience. If we take the time and
effort to put on 
a smile and show our very best to the world our experience
then will be just 
that.

We can't all live in Disneyland – unless
of course you're Nicholas' father – but we can all create environments that are conducive to
connecting with 
one another and being happy.

Tell me a bit about your own relationship with happiness and
how you personally define it?

Shell: Happiness and I have an open relationship – sometimes
we're together, and sometimes I'm sad. Sometimes I'm hurt. Sometimes
my kids 
are kicking and screaming and driving me up a wall and I
just want to run 
away to a tropical island.


You'll see in the film that we define happiness in two parts
– Hedonic and Eudaimonic. The first is what we typically think of as
happiness – a smile, a 
great meal, laughing with friends. The latter is about
fulfillment and 
purpose. So for me, I define it as a healthy balance of both
of these things: 
I want a life filled with Hedonic pleasures but I also know
that the richness 
of life – the ups and the downs – is what really makes it
all worth living. We 
explore this in great depth in the film.

How challenging was it to edit the several hours of material
you gathered into the final 80 minute film? Are you satisfied with "Pursuing
Happiness" and the 
response you've received from those who've seen it? How have
the people you 
interviewed responded to the film?

Shell: When you spend nearly two years gathering hundreds of
hours of footage from more than 400 people and no real road map of
what it all 
means, the most difficult task is making sense of it all. For
me this is one of 
the best parts of documentary filmmaking. Unlike a narrative
film where a 
writer spends a significant amount of time writing and
rewriting a 
screenplay to flesh out characters and story before a single
frame of 
footage is shot, the thing I like best about documentaries
is working the 
exact opposite way. It's kind of like doing an intense
research paper in 
school. You go out and gather a ton of information on a
subject or a person 
and then have to weave it all together in a way that make
sense and is 
entertaining. And, usually you become an expert on the
subject in the 
process. I never had much of an agenda with what the final
product was 
going to look like, but I always knew what I wanted it to
achieve and what I 
wanted audiences to feel when watching the film. I always
say, if you have 
to, make them laugh and cry and then you can make them think
… I think 
we achieved that. One of the best comments we have received
during a 
Q&A was when a woman said "this should be required
viewing to be a 
human." I think that says it all.


As for the people in the film, the ones who have seen it
have responded very favorably. John Lawson, one of our interviewees who
lost both of his 
arms, has seen it twice now. When we interviewed him he was
joking 
around with me about how challenging difficult it was going
to be to make 
something interesting out of this project and, kind of
sarcastically, he 
wished me luck. After the first screening, he said he just
didn't believe how 
we were able to make such an impactful film and he was
honored to be a 
part of it.

Kraft: One of the greatest lessons for me in making this
film was to just go for it. We set out with a very loose concept and no story
whatsoever. We 
had cameras, hundreds of referrals, and a great passion for
making this 
film. Of course, that means that we faced some great
challenges after 
collecting 300 hours of footage – how did any of this fit
together?

Editing the film was like putting together a puzzle with an
infinite number of pieces and no picture on the front of the box to go off of. What
was helpful 
was giving ourselves some limits: it has to be under 90
minutes, it needs to 
include these people and these concepts, and well that's it,
really, ha! It 
was a tough process to have to leave out so much great
footage, but our 
goal for the film was to create a platform for discussion
and the film is only 
one aspect. We hope to release as much of the additional
footage as 
possible – perhaps online – because it deserves to be seen.


The film includes several experts – from doctors to
theologians – talking about happiness and it seems like happiness is defined by two well
represented 
groups in the film. Tell me a bit more about both groups: The
people who choose to live 
in the present as much as possible because of illness,
tragedy or it's their nature 
and those who derive their pleasure from making others happy
as a key part of 
their lives.

Shell: I kinda co-opted the phrase "aha moment," but it's
what I we strove to create in this film: a combination of technical
information provided by 
experts in various fields and then real life examples from
everyday people. 
I think it's very easy to learn something, but to actually
have it make an 
impact and inspire change, it needs to strike an emotional
chord and that is 
what the everyday people provide.

For example: if I explain to you that being selfless is one
of the best ways to be happier, you probably understand that – chances are
you already 
know that! But if you then seen a beautiful example of
selflessness that 
really resonates with you, you're more likely – I think – to
remember that 
down the line and implement it into your own life. It is
very similar to how 
we imitate people we admire. We might not do it consciously,
but we do it.


Tell me a little more about Gloria Borges' story and her
cancer fight. Was there a friendship that preceded the filming? What made her story
so intriguing and 
how did she inspire you as filmmakers?

Shell: I knew Gloria prior to making the film because she
worked with my wife. She was my referral for the happiest person I know,
and anyone who 
sees the film will immediately understand why. Nicholas has
the more 
interesting story as it relates to Gloria, and his
experience for me was proof 
that this project was going to work.

Kraft: Gloria was one of the first people we interviewed,
and while I was certainly excited by the project, I wasn't gung-ho, all in, 100%
sold until we 
met Gloria. That was a life-changing experience for me,
which is crazy 
because we only spent two hours with her. But that's all it
took; two hours 
hanging at her house and I was forever changed – she was all
I could talk 
about for weeks on end, "I met the most amazing, inspiring,
and awesome 
person the other day and I have to tell you about her."

Shell: That was it. When we walked out of her house I was
kind of amazed at Nicholas' reaction. For me it was just another day
hanging out with 
someone I had known for years and I wasn't that phased by it.
But seeing 
how someone new reacted to her, that is when I knew that if
we could find 
more people like Gloria and share their stories, this film
would hopefully 
have a profound impact on audiences and really ignite
conversations.


Tell me a little more about Kyle Bartell and Charles Molnar
and their "Sit On It, Detroit" bus
benches/public library efforts.

Shell: Whenever we told people we were going to Detroit
for the film, they all said the same thing: good luck! Again, the news is so
negative – all you 
hear about Detroit is that it's bankrupt, corrupt, and in
shambles. But of 
course, all of the time we spent there was with incredibly
happy, 
empowered, and helpful people, such as the Sit On It Detroit
guys.

Kraft: What I love about them is that if I were to tell you
I met two people who had taken it upon themselves to rebuild the city of
Detroit one bus 
stop at a time, you would never in a million years guess
that they were 
those two characters.

Why do you think the U.S.
is ranked 23rd in the U.N. happiness report? Is there growing pessimism because of political gridlock, the
growing 
income inequality gap, self-imposed or societal pressures – the
mild to 
moderate day-to-day stress that keeps people "in the red
zone"? Were you 
surprised by the evidence that after $75,000 in annual
income, there's little 
correlation between wealth and happiness? (Money may not buy
happiness, but 
for people living near poverty, more money can make a
difference in their lives 
and their loved ones).


Shell: I'll answer the second question and leave the first
for Nicholas. No, I was not surprised by the correlation (or lack thereof) between
income and 
happiness. Does anyone truly believe money can buy
happiness? I don't 
think so, and yet we can't get out of the habit of acting as
though it can. 
What I was surprised to learn though is that you can use
your money to 
"buy" happiness; we just go about it completely backwards.

Kraft: Why do we rank 23rd? That's a tough question because
you have to 
take into account the ways in which they measure happiness
as well as ask 
yourself how effective it is to measure something subjective
across such 
varied cultures. But I can tell you something that's
certainly not helping us 
in the rankings: we are the most individualistic country on
the planet. In the 
galaxy. In the universe!!! Doesn't it sounds more intense
when I say "in the 
universe!!!"?

There are plenty of positive things about being
individualistic, but much like income, at a certain point, being more self-centered doesn't
make us 
any happier and – I think – actually starts to impede on our
well being.

What is it that you hope viewers take away from seeing "Pursuing
Happiness"?


Shell: Pursuing Happiness, to me, is a conversation starter.
What people take away depends completely on who they are and I believe
there's a lot in 
this film for everyone. But my greatest hope is that this
film starts 
meaningful conversations about fulfillment and happiness. To
get back to 
your first question: we spend a lot of time discussing what's
wrong in the 
world or being distracted by the latest celebrity gossip. I
hope this inspires 
some people to start different conversations at dinner with
their families.

Kraft: Ditto!

For more information about the film and additional film
festival screenings, visit: http://www.pursuinghappiness.com/aboutthefilm.html 

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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.

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“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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