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An Early Peek at “The Polar Express”

JHM guest columnist Michael Howe returns with a column that talks about Robert Zemeckis’ recent appearance at the Chicago Film festival as well as offering up some info about this much anticipated holiday film.

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Well JHM readers,

I’m back! Back from California (finally got a tan after 2 years) and back with another story, and review. So today, I’ll be frank about going from the nice sunny weather of San Diego, to the cold but enchanting weather of the North Pole. Because right after I got off the plane, it was a hop skip and a jump to the Grand Finale of the 40th Chicago Int. Film Festival. And their feature film was ‘The Polar Express.’ Now this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but the fact that Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis were going to be in attendance. And, when you hear that Bob Z is coming to town (actually, he’s a Chicagoan from long past himself), not even a time paradox was gonna keep me.

A little background first: I’m a huge fan of Robert Zemeckis’ films. I was hooked on ‘Back to the Future before I hit 1st grade, and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ cemented my love of his films. Of course, I became enchanted with ‘Forrest Gump,’ ‘Contact,’ and his two more recent films: ‘What Lies Beneath’ and ‘Cast Away.’ But his latest film, would be a major departure. A G-rated venture, Zemeckis was relying on motion-capture technology for all his characters, including facial capture that made some people on animationnation comment on the eerie look of Tom Hanks’ train conductor. So I figured I’d give this a look, and report to the front lines.

After braving the lines at the Cadillac Theatre (and confiscating my camera for the after-party), I went to my seat, 2 rows back from the stage. Finally, the lights dimmed and out strolled the head of the Film Festival. Good-looking guy, considering he had started this 40 years ago. After him, came Mayor Daley’s wife, to tell us of her love of the book ‘The Polar Express.’ Soon, she gave up the stage as the crowd roared with delight as Tom Hanks took the stage. Hanks gave a few funny one-liners, but his line of ‘What Paris is to Euopre, Chicago is to the United States’ brought on thunderous applause (hey, we mid-westerners love to be acknowledged). Hanks then told us an interesting story, about how Bob Z had gone from Chicago’s South Side to USC film school:

Apparently, Young Zemeckis had been into film at a young age, but had no way of knowing how to break into it. One night, he was watching the ‘Tonight Show’ with Johnny Carson in his parent’s Rec Room (‘I have no idea what a Rec Room is,’ commented Hanks), and Johnny Carson’s guest was Jerry Lewis. When Carson asked Lewis what he was up to, Lewis replied that he was teaching a seminar at USC Film School. At this, Robert Zemeckis sat bolt upright at said: “You mean there’s such a thing as a FILM SCHOOL!?’

This was a very insightful look into Zemeckis (since there’s no actual biography on him to read, and as Jim pointed out in his review on ‘The Films of Robert Zemeckis,’ there isn’t even an ACCURATE biography yet). After this, we were treated to clips of Zemeckis’ films from ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ to ‘The Polar Express.’ With this conclusion, Zemeckis walked out on stage. Myself and several others instantly bolted from our seats for a standing ovation/
Zemeckis then corrected Tom’s story: it wasn’t a Rec Room, it was a basement. But then, basements aren’t commonplace in California. Zemeckis thanked Hanks, and made mention to his family, many of whom were in the audience, before the head of the Film Festival presented him with the Film Festival’s Career Achivement Award (as he was too young for a Lifetime Achievement Award). Before leaving the state for the film to begin, Hanks chimed in “It’s October 21, let’s get into the Christmas Spirit.’ And so, began Zemeckis’ 13th Feature film.

The Review

I’m sure that many of us remember the good old days of our childhood. For me, I’m still looking into children’s picture books, for inspiration and ideas. Years after I was out of grade school, my sister Stacey got into some of the books of Chris Van Allsburg, including Jumanji, and The Polar Express. These two are some of her favorite picture books, and have great use of technique, along with a simple story to guide those reading the book.
‘Jumanji’ had been made into a feature film almost 9 years ago, directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketter, October Sky), the film loosely followed the 32-page book, sending the adventures of two kids into the path of two former Jumanji players, as their town is soon invaded by killer mosquitos, game hunters, and stampeding animals. Being a former member of the visual effects company, Industrial Light & Magic, Johnston had a good grasp upon the effects, but the story suffered.

Along with Jumanji being on my mind going into seeing this film, were the Brian Grazer-produced ‘Cat in the Hat’ and ‘The Grinch.’ These two films were chastised by critics and some who remembered these books with a sense of innocense, that was now replaced with crude jokes involving mistletoe and spaying and neutering (8 neutering jokes in ‘Cat in the Hat’ were 8 jokes too many). These three films were in my mind as I sat at the Cadillac theatre as the film began.

Zemeckis opens in the boy’s bedroom, just as Allsburg’s does, including his first full paragraph, with only one slight word change. So far, so good. But in the course of the next 10 minutes, it becomes apparent that our ‘Hero Boy’ (as he’s called in the credits), is not as faithful to Mr C as the book. Apparently, he’s beginning to have doubts. We hear his sister in the next room, talking about what he’s been thinking. This boy’s just one step away from being that wet blanket in kindergarten who tells you ‘there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.’

And then, the room shakes, the lights stream through the window, and through the smoke (like the DeLorean’s reveal in Back to the Future), we see the Steam Locomotive. As the boy looks, he is then greeted by the Conductor (acted and voiced by Hanks). There seems to be no actual criteria for who is chosen to come on the Polar Express, but there are a couple of things our boy’s done that have caused some at the North Pole grave concern: no picture with the department store Santa, no letter received this year and-yikes!-he had his sister put out the cookies and milk, instead of doing it together. Moreso out of curiousity, our lead boards the train, where he meets several other children, including a little girl (voiced and performed by Nona Gaye), and Know-it-All (Zemeckis veteran Eddie Deezen), who will talk your ear off more than anything. From the gales of laughter I heard from the kids, I’d say Know-it-All is proof that Eddie Deezen has won over the recent generation of kids.

As his journey continues, our young boy will also meet a mysterious hobo, encounter a herd of Caribou, and even has a front row seat as the train barrels across a frozen patch of ice.

Overall, Zemeckis manages to do much less meddling with the material than other picture book-to-movie transitions. All the major set pieces are there. We don’t have some huge added backstory. It’s in the introduction of all the other characters on The Polar Express that Zemeckis has chosen to open the palette a bit.

Probably one of the biggest concerns by many, is that the film is trying for almost photo-realistic characters. We’re dealing with motion capture here, the likes of which could be compared to 2001’s ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.’ Here, it works a little smoother, but it still feels a bit ‘mechanically smooth’ at some times. The interaction between characters also felt a bit lacking, interaction being putting hands on shoulders, etc. As well, the textures are not fully photo-realistic, they’re off just a bit, to try and match the pastel quality of the illustrations. I think half-way through the film, I stopped analyzing the film and started to get into the plot.

Of interest as well, is that adult performers are performing the actions of the children. Hanks, Gaye & Deezen mainly did their movements with oversized props, and their data was fed into the kids onscreen. Also, you can see little facial traits, which proves how well the facial tracking system works. At one point, the boy smiles as he pulls the train’s whistle, and you can clearly see Hank’s half-smile light up his face.

‘The Polar Express’ also marks the first Zemeckis film to feature musical numbers. When the children are served hot chocolate, a chorus line begins, with Hanks chiming in, along with acrobatic chefs and servers. The number is pretty elaborate, but due to my position, the music seemed a bit garbled. One that got in my head was a number that featured a children’s choir and Hanks singing about the Polar Express, it’s got a nice driving rhythm.

Overall, The Polar Express isn’t the greatest Zemeckis film, but it is in no way the worst. It’s a film that manages to be a children’s film, but also doesn’t really make the audience feel like babies, like some Hollywood G-rated fare. This definitely feels like a better choice than ‘Surviving Christmas’ or ‘Christmas with the Kranks.’ My big fear is that this film is going to be released during the second week of ‘The Incredibles,’ and the humanistic characters will probably turn some away. All I can say is, there’s gonna be a marginal audience of those who saw ‘The Grudge’ going to see this film (caught three kids today heckling the poster for this film).

Overall, The film will charm those who read the book, and for those who worry about favorite moments getting iced over, fear not. But if you get the chance, see this film in a Dome IMAX when the big-screen theatres release it. Some sequences half-way through have the kind of vertigo feel like the scene in ‘Aladdin’ when the carpet just spirals down several hundred feet.

Back to the Cadillac Theatre

After the film, I got a chance to attend the Afterparty for the festival. The stage was cleared up, and the hors’doeuvres and free spirits flowed freely. Giant banners were strung up, everywhere. I was looking for Hanks and Zemeckis. I overheard one person say that once the film started, Hanks had to take off for L.A. But nearby, I finally spotted Robert Zemeckis. Unfortunately, he was surrounded by people wanting to shake his hand and get his autograph. Luckily, I managed to slip him my DVD covers for ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Forrest Gump,’ and offer my thanks to him, before he had to exit out the side door. I finally found a seat and began talking to an older woman. Soon, it became apparent that I was sitting next to Bob Z’s Mom! I told her a bit how her son had influenced my love of films, before she had to leave as well.

Overall, it was an interesting way to end my vacation from work. I saw ‘The Incredibles’ before I left, and saw ‘The Polar Express’ before I returned to work. I hope this has given you an insight into the film, but before I go, I’m gonna pass off a little tidbit about a Bob Z film that I heard a couple years ago from Richard LeParmentier: who played General Motti in ‘Star Wars’ (or as he’s known: The guy who was choked by Darth Vader), and Lieutenant Santino in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit.’ When Richard was in town for Chicago’s Comic-Con, I began talking to him about his role in ‘Roger,’ and Richard told me how Jeffrey K had some trepidations about some language in the film (it must have been a good story, because the guy who played Boba Fett was listening in). Apparently, after Eddie wakes up with Santino standing next to him, the original line was ‘Jesus, Eddie, if you needed money so bad, why didn’t you come to me?’ But when Jeff K heard that, he said: Wait a minute, this is a Disney film, he can’t say that! So, the line was looped, and ‘Jesus Eddie’ became ‘Gee whiz Eddie.’

And that’s my prattling on Bob Z and his films…for now. I plan to return with some reviews of his films on DVD (including the recently released ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’).

Michael Howe

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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