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After 22 years, Lella Smith checks out as Creative Director of Disney’s Animation Research Library



When Lella Smith‘s 10-year-old godson, Rey, found out she
was retiring from the Walt Disney Animation Research Library (ARL), he was
incredulous. “Why would you do that auntie?,” he said. “You’ve got the coolest
job in the world!”  Smith has been the
Creative Director for the ARL, the little-known department of the Mouse Factory
once described by Disney CEO Bob Iger as “… the most important department in
the Company.”  The ARL is the repository
for all the Disney artwork created for its feature-length and classic short
animated films.

“Don’t get me wrong. I love my job and have honestly
enjoyed every second that I’ve spent at the ARL,” Smith stated during a
recent phone interview. “When you work for the Walt Disney Company, you
work pretty hard on a continuing stream of very interesting and complex
projects that engage your imagination and challenge you. Naturally with that
comes great pride and satisfaction in the nature of your work. It is fun to go
to work each and every day.” 

And when Lella talks about “interesting and complex
projects,” she ticks off a few of the recent projects she and her team
have worked on over the last year.

Lella Smith (center) shows some of the pieces from Disney’s Animation Research
Library’s collection to a group of visiting foreign journalists. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

  • The ARL began designing a large Disney art exhibition,
    scheduled to open the summer of 2015, to introduce the Company’s characters and
    stories to the people of China.
    Lella wrote the exhibition catalog, designed by Leon Ingram.
  • The ARL’s Research and Image Capture teams provided the
    folks at Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment with artwork and research for
    inclusion in the new bonus materials for the Diamond Edition of “The
    Jungle Book

  • The ARL also worked with the production team for the live-action
    film, “Maleficent,” providing them with a variety of reference materials from
    Disney’s 1959 feature “Sleeping Beauty
    ” so that the look of the production would
    be true to and evocative of the original.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, this is just a sampling of the diverse projects
that Smith and the ARL worked on in 2013. Their primary mission remains the
preservation of the Walt Disney Company’s animation legacy and, by extension,
much of the history of animation’s ascendency to a legitimate art form in its
own right. This requires the constant care and careful cataloging of an
astounding estimated 65 million animation drawings, background paintings,
concept pieces and story sketches that Disney keeps in this climate controlled/
high security facility that would be the envy of any museum. 

“Fortunately, Disney is luckier than most of the studios out
here in California. You see, Walt
was kind of an archivist,” Smith explained. “Perhaps it was because
he came from the advertising world where it was common practice to store
completed works and research in the “morgue” (the original name for the ARL) so
that it could be retrieved in the event the material could be useful for future
campaigns. His decision to follow this practice at the Studio has proven to be
an essential element facilitating the Company’s synergistic growth to become
the largest entertainment enterprise in the world. Naturally, as the Company
grows, the demand for artwork grows along with it.  It is not unusual for a client to request
more than a hundred images for projects as disparate as decorating hotels and
cruise ships or developing a new consumer products line.”

“Surprisingly, the Studio initially didn’t keep the rough
animation because they thought only the clean-up animation might be used again,”
Lella continued. “Over time they started to keep story sketches and
concept art when they realized that there was interest in reviewing the
evolving nature of the animation process itself. When one sees an early Snow

character as a blond or redhead with various physiques and facial
features, one understands the extensive experimentation pursued by the artists
for every character, location, or film style. 
It really highlights Walt’s reputation as a visionary for having the
foresight to begin doing this 85 years ago.” 

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

All of this carefully preserved artwork is still being
actively consulted today. Case in point, when Imagineers wanted to create a
sophisticated garden-like decor for a Club 33 venue in Shanghai Disneyland, set
to open in 2015, they reached out to the ARL for artwork to reference in their
design. Smith and her team were able to provide WDI with images of concept art
from the original 1940 production of “Fantasia
.” This made it possible for the
artists and designers working on this venue to add an air of elegance that
still subtly evokes the artistic legacy of the Studio.

“Of course, in order to be able to do something like
that, it is helpful to have a thoroughly cataloged collection and that takes
time,” Smith said. “Take, for example, Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ Some
studio veterans will tell you that this film was in production for six years
while others will tell you it took ten. All I know is that it took a team of
six ARL Collections Specialists and four Image Capture Specialists 18 months to
first analyze and reconstruct the storyboards and then document and digitize
just the concept art and story sketches from that film. Remember, in those
days, it was not unusual to create over a million pieces of artwork for an
animated feature film.”

But, in Disney Corporate’s typically forward thinking
fashion, it just wasn’t sufficient that the artwork from its 60 full-length
animated features was being kept safe and dry. John Lasseter and other Mouse
House executives wanted this material to be remotely accessible by all parts of
the Company. This prompted the development of 
the GEMS initiative at the ARL, headed up by the ARL’s Managing Director
Mary Walsh, Technical Manager Mark Dawson, and a team of professional
photographers.  Lella considers it to be
the most exciting and significant project that Disney’s Animation Research
Library undertook during her tenure. 

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“We began by photographing all of the older, more fragile
assets associated with the early animated features, such as ‘Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs.’  Our next goal was to
capture the iconic moments in animation history, such as the spaghetti eating
scene from ‘Lady and the Tramp
.’ All the while, we were challenged to meet
important deadlines for various Company initiatives, such as providing Disney
with thousands of images for the popular interactive Disney App
containing artwork and movie clips for Apple mobile devices.

“Capturing the artwork at a high resolution helps us in two
ways,” Lella explained. “First, it is an educational tool and source of
inspiration for today’s artists. Disney and Pixar animation employees can now
call up all of these rarely seen artworks right from their desktops enlarging
the image to study the painterly style of the artist or follow the progression
of animation drawings. And, secondly, now that this art has been digitized we
no longer have to handle them quite as frequently, which, given how fragile
some of these items are, is a blessing.”

“Digitizing all of this artwork and, in particular,
getting the color on each individual scan just right, is admittedly a slow go. But,
after five years, we have captured 1.5 million images.” Smith said. “Everyone
in the Company loves what we’ve done so far and it has enabled us to share this
wealth of assets with others in the Company all over the world.”

Lella Smith speaking at the opening of “Dreams Come True: Art of Classic Fairy
Tales from Walt Disney Studios” during this exhibition’s stop in South Korea.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, The Walt Disney Company clearly believes in the
mission of the ARL. That’s why — just in the time that Lella has been working
at the library — she’s seen the ARL team grow from just 5 to 23 current cast
members, with each of them dedicated to preserving and protecting Disney’s
creative legacy.  Thousands of works of
art have been properly archived and made available for future generations and a
traveling exhibitions program has been developed, including “Dreams Come True,
Art of the Classic Fairy Tales from the Walt Disney Studio
,” brings this art to
such venues as New Orleans, Australia,
South Korea, Taiwan
and soon to Europe.

The exterior of the building at the Walt Disney Family
Museum which housed “Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic” last year.

But even with all of the pats-on-the-back that she received
for curating last year’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a
” that opened at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and moved
on to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA where over 96,000 people
visited during its five month run or the possibility of being able to travel to
China next year to help launch the new exhibition, Smith still thinks that she
made the right decision to retire this month.

The interior of the “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The
Creation of a Classic” exhibition.

“I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of the team
at Disney’s Animation Research Library. No matter what the assignment: the
researchers under the direction of Fox Carney discovering a fascinating piece
of concept art attached to pages of an early treatment for ‘Cinderella
,’ circa 1940;
or the Design team, under the direction
of Tamara Khalaf, preparing an exhibition of ‘Frozen
‘ artwork for Bournemouth
University in the United Kingdom; or the Collections team under the direction
of Kristen McCormick, reaching another major milestone as they preserve the
artwork for generations to come; or the Image Capture team, under the direction
of Richard Kanno crafting custom technical solutions to difficult requests, we
are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of the collection while
sharing it with the world.”

And though she’ll obviously miss the unique perks of her
position like attending a museum opening of Disney artwork at the Grand Palais
in Paris, or just sharing artwork with employees as she did on a recent trip to
Pixar in Emeryville just last month to show Pixar employees some of the character
and costume designs that Disney Legends Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle created for
‘Sleeping Beauty,’ Smith still thinks that it’s time that she made her exit.  “One of the most satisfying aspects of the
job has been introducing original Disney artwork to people around the world,
watching their response to the artistry, and most importantly, making lasting
friendships in these places.”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll miss the excitement. The surprises
that you can only get when you work at a place like the ARL. Take, for example,
opening a scene of animation from ‘The Skeleton Dance‘ and finding
drawings from ‘Trolley Troubles,’ the first Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
short released two years earlier, a short for which we thought we had no
animation,”  Lella exclaims, “It’s so exciting
to hold a piece of animation history in your hands like that and know that now
you will be able to share it with others.”

“I have to say, though, I did think long and hard about
that trip to China
in 2015,” Lella admitted. “I have not been to China
since 1980 when I took an exhibition to Beijing
from the Armand Hammer Collection.  It
would be interesting to see the new museums and all of the changes that have
occurred. But then again, when you have worked for Disney, you never really
stop working for the Company. For instance, later this Fall, the Disney Cruise
has asked that I give five talks about (what else?) legendary Disney
artists and the history of Disney animation art. And I will remain involved in
Disney projects as long as they ask me.”

“Justine,” one of the many beautiful quilts that Lella has
created over the years. Thus named for the picture of
Smith’s goddaughter included as part of this quilt.

Lella went on to explain, “This experience is energizing and
tantalizingly pulls you along until one day you decide, almost arbitrarily,
that the moment is right for me to spend more time in my quilting studio
pursuing personal creative endeavors and that the next Disney project as an
employee will be my last.

But, before Lella headed out the door and settled into her
quilting studio, she took on one last project: a book about one of Walt Disney’s
great artists Marc Davis (1913-2000). The book, entitled “Marc Davis, Walt
Disney’s Renaissance Man

” will be released this Fall by Disney Publishing.  Smith made a pledge to Marc’s widow, Alice
, that she would not retire until Marc’s book was published. Many people
know that Marc animated such characters as Maleficent and Cruella de Vil and
designed charming theme park attractions, but his talent was much broader. 

Alice Davis & Lella Smith at Lella’s retirement party

Working with book designer Tamara Khalaf and the entire ARL
team, she found dozens of artworks never published before, both from the Alice
Davis collection and from the Disney Company to reveal the breadth of Marc’s
talent;  his fine arts, animal and motion
studies, watercolors from his travels to places like Papua
New Guinea and his sketchbook drawings.  Included in the book are original essays by
well-known Disney scholars and professionals.

Well, with this Fall’s publication of that Marc Davis book,
here’s hoping that Smith can take pride in all the changes that the ARL
underwent during her two decades+ tenure. More to the point, that she can sail
off into retirement at the end of March knowing that the collection will be in
the very capable hands of Mary Walsh, Lella’s co-director for the last seven

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 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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