Connect with us


As “Cars” zooms toward completion, Disney & Pixar inch toward a new agreement

Could the Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios really be getting ready to kiss & make up? Jim Hill points out all the encouraging signs … plus offering up some very cool new details about John Lasseter’s next movie.



What a difference a year (and a half. Or thereabouts) makes.

Do you remember how angry & frustrated Pixar CEO Steve Jobs sounded back in January of 2004? When Steve went public with his decision to break off Pixar’s contract extension talks with the Walt Disney Company?

Mind you, Jobs wasn’t the only one spreading doom & gloom back then. If you listened to what Bob Iger was saying throughout most of 2004 … Well, Disney’s then-second-in-command was also a bit of a downer. Take — for instance — this extract from Iger’s speech at the Royal Television Society:

“It would be nice (if the Walt Disney Company could) continue (its professional) relationship with (Pixar) to infinity … But yeah, I think we’ve outgrown one another in a sense …

Deals like this have a certain longevity or life span. When Pixar started, it needed the might of the Walt Disney Co. in terms of marketing clout and distribution clout and money just to pay for those films. As it grew, it weaned itself from its need for Disney. It now sees itself as able to pretty much go out on its own, not needing funding or marketing support.”

So the conventional wisdom last year was … The Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios are never going to be able to mend this rift. One of the most successful partnerships in show business history is going to break up. All because Steve Jobs hates Michael Eisner.

Then — on September 9, 2004 — Eisner announced that he would be stepping down as CEO of the Walt Disney Company as of September 30, 2005. Then — on March 14th of this year — Disney’s board of directors announced that Bob would be replacing Michael as the Mouse House’s Big Cheese.

And who was one of the very first people to send Iger an e-mail congratulating him on his new promotion? Pixar CEO Steve Jobs.

From that day to now, there has been this very slow but steady thawing of the relations between these entertainment giants. A sense that maybe — just maybe — if the planets could align properly, that Pixar and Disney might possibly get back in business with one another.

Sometime, this renewed sense of hope came from statements that Bob & Steve would release to the media. Take — for example — this snippet from one of Iger’s very first interviews with the press after being named Disney’s CEO-to-be. When asked whether he might reach out to Steve and try to get the Disney/Pixar contract talks going again, Bob replied:

“I will certainly make an attempt and look forward to some dialogue provided (Jobs is) willing. I’ve always valued creative partnerships. This one has been incredibly successful for both companies.”

As it turns out, Steve was willing to get a dialogue going. Over the next months, Jobs & Iger spoke regularly on the telephone as the two CEOs tried to feel each other out. Get a sense of where the other executive stood on the whole just-how-big-a-share-of-the-profits-pie-is-Pixar-now-entitled-to-have issue?

Clearly, Steve must have liked what he was hearing. For — as part of Pixar’s quarterly earnings conference call in May — Jobs was quoted as saying:

“I’ve been getting to know Bob a little bit, and he seems like a terrific guy. If (Disney comes) wanting to strike a new deal, we’ll see how things go.”

Of course, this is not to say that there weren’t a few bumps in the road. Certainly, executives at the Walt Disney Company caught off guard this past Spring when they learned that Wall Street analysts had reportedly been told that — starting in 2009 — Pixar Animation Studios would begin beefing up its release schedule. That — from 2009 on forward — the Emeryville-based studio would be putting two new animated pictures out in the multiplexes each year.

Some have since suggested that the Mouse House’s June 21st announcement that a Disney-produced “Toy Story III” would be released to theaters in the Summer of 2008 came about as a direct result of Pixar’s two-pictures-a-year-in-2009 announcement. A little bit of corporate ***-waving, if you will … But me? I’m not entirely sure if I buy into that theory …

Anyway … By June 7th of this year, Iger made it official. At the Deutsche Bank conference in NYC, Bob admitted that:

“We’ve opened up talks again with Pixar. We’d certainly like to figure out a way to continue to do business with them. I think that’s mutual. We’ve gotten to understand the issues that are most important to both sides.”

Mind you, Iger was very careful to categorize these negotiations as “informal talks.” Both in an effort to not get the hopes of the investment community up too high (With the keen understanding that — should this deal actually fall through — that these failed negotiation might then cast a very long shadow over his first few years as head of the Mouse House) as well as to save Eisner from any additional embarassment (After all, it’s really gotta be kind of embarassing to Michael that Steve simply refused to do business with him. But — now that Bob’s the new designated Big Cheese — Pixar’s CEO is perfectly happy to re-open negotiations with Disney).

Anywho … To put it bluntly: When Iger was talking with the folks at Deutsche Bank Conference, he was vague but upbeat. When asked what he thought the chances were that Pixar and Disney would actually get back together, Bob replied:

“I’m not sure I really want to give you odds. We’ve had really good discussions.”

And those discussions have obviously continued. Given the upbeat language that Steve Jobs used earlier this month, when he was asked by investment analysts (during Pixar’s most recent quarterly earnings conference call) about whether the two entertainment giants would ever be able to work out a new deal. Pixar’s CEO said that he was ” … cautiously optimistic” about the current status of the negotiations. That the two companies have had ” … productive and professional” talks to date, but then added that ” … “there are (still) a lot of hurdles.”

But — that said — Steve went on to say that ” … I like…Bob Iger and *** Cook a lot” and that he hoped to have a new distribution deal signed by year’s end.

Now please note that this is a distribution deal, folks. NOT a co-production & distribution deal (I.E. The sort of business arrangement that the Walt Disney Company currently enjoys with Pixar Animation Studios). Which means that — should Pixar agree to stay in business with the Mouse — Mickey is going to have to settle for a much smaller piece of the pie.

And — in his own comments to investment analysts last week — Iger did confirm that the Walt Disney Company is currently negotiating with Pixar Animation Studios with the hopes of securing a long-term distribution deal. NOT a co-production & distribution deal.

Still, Bob tried to put the best possible spin on this situation. Getting out the none-too-subtle message to Wall Street that Disney’s CEO-to-be understands that it’s probably best for the Mouse House to settle for a much smaller piece of the Pixar profit pie than have to deal with the alternative. Which is have Walt Disney Feature Animation (which is still in rebuilding mode) have to face Pixar Animation Studios as its direct competition starting in 2007.

And again Iger was careful not to build up investors’ hopes too high. Rather than making this seem like a done deal, Bob just stressed how impressed he was that the two companies were talking once more. How he thought that the mere fact that :

” … we are having a dialogue is a really good thing, and it has been really healthy. We’d certainly like to find a way to continue to do business with (Pixar Animation Studios), and I think the feeling is mutual.”

At the very least, Mr. Jobs would love to continue to do business with Disney’s marketing department. As part of this month’s quarterly earnings conference call, Steve mentioned that he had seen the Mouse’s plans for promoting “Cars” and had been absolutely wowed. Pixar’s CEO went on to say that Disney’s marketing department was planning “its most comprehensive marketing campaign yet” for a Pixar Animation release.

Speaking of “Cars” … I know, I know. A lot of you were put off by that film’s teaser trailer. But I guess I should let you know that this new John Lasseter film is now just weeks away from officially being completed. And — based on the word that’s been coming out of Emeryville — this may just be Pixar’s biggest hit yet.

While I was out in LA attending SIGGRAPH 2005, I got to speak with a few folks who are intimately familiar with this film. And they shared quite a few secrets about this particular Pixar production that have yet to make it out onto the Web. Intriguing little tidbits like:

  • Pixar is continuing to persuade National Public Radio talent to come appear in its motion pictures. Do you remember how Brad Bird recruited Sarah Vowell (Noted author as well as regular contributor to NPR’s “This American Life” show) to do Violet’s voice for “The Incredibles”? Well, Lasseter decided to go one better than Brad with his movie.

    After all, if you’re making a movie that’s called “Cars,” then who else should you have come do voicework for your animated film than the hosts of what is arguably NPR’s most popular program, “Car Talk”? That’s right, Tom & Ray Magliozzi — AKA Click & Clack, the Tappet Brothers — are doing an extended cameo in this upcoming Pixar release. Tom & Ray will be providing the voices of Clink & Clunk, two junky old cars that appear in the picture.

  • George Carlin is doing the voice of a 1960s-era VW Bus in “Cars.” Those who are familiar with Al Sleet (AKA The “Hippy Dippy Weatherman” character that George used to do in the late 1960s / early 1970s) will understand why Lasseter hired Carlin for this gig. Which is to provide the voice of a throwback to the 1960s. You know? A kind of counter-culture car.

    I’m told that a particularly funny moment in this movie comes when Carlin’s car — who shares garage space with an Army jeep (Reportedly voiced by Paul Dooley of “Breaking Away” fame) — is jarred awake suddenly one morning when the jeep starts blaring “Reveille” on his radio. Carlin responded by playing Jimi Hendrix’s electric guitar version of the “National Anthem.” As the jeep squawks at this musical insult, saying “Turn that garbage down!” George’s character reportedly replies: “Hey, man. Have some respect for the classics!”

  • Lassetter’s favorite character in the picture? It isn’t Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson’s race car character) or even Tow Mater (Dan Whitney AKA Larry the Cable Guy’s character). But — rather — a timid fire truck who doesn’t actually talk. Named (appropriately enough) Red, this fire truck avoids confrontation & conflict at all costs. Prefering — when there’s an emergency — to flee and/or hide inside his fire station.

  • As a sly tribute to “Toy Story,” Pixar’s first feature-length animated release, look for Woody and Buzz Lightyear to turn up in car form in the film’s finale.

There’s a lot more that I could say about “Cars” (Like revealing the great running gag that Cheech Marin’s character has in this film. Or how weird it is that Paul Newman’s car somehow actually looks like Paul Newman whenever that character talks. Or how Dan Whitney’s tow truck character steals virtually every scene that he’s in) … But it wouldn’t be fair to spoil all of this Pixar picture’s surprises.

So all I can safely say is … We’re all in for one hell of a ride come June 9, 2006. That — in spite what you may think of that “Cars” teaser trailer — rest assured that John Lassetter has done it again. This film has all the visual wit & style, humor & heart that we’ve come to expect from a Pixar Animation Studios release … and then some. Trust me, folks. This film is going to break box office records when it hits theaters  summer.

And Bob Iger knows this. Which is why Disney’s CEO-to-be is working so hard right now to make sure that “Cars” isn’t the very last Pixar Animation Studios production that Walt Disney Pictures ever released. That Jobs, Lasseter and their team of technicians & artists stay right where they are. Which is inside the walls of Mickey’s magical kingdom. Rather than be being on the outside … Where they could then give the Mouse some pretty serious competition.

“But — if Disney gets Pixar to sign a new distribution deal, what then happens to that version of  ‘Toy Story III’ that Disney Circle 7 Studios is prepping?,” you ask. “You know, the one where Woody & the gang have to go to a toy factory in Taiwan in order to rescue Buzz?”

Well, here’s the interesting thing: The way I hear it, Jobs & Lasseter reportedly aren’t actually against the idea of making another “Toy Story” movie. More importantly, that they could even allegedly live with the idea of Disney’s own CG artists doing the bulk of the work on this picture.

So what’s the problem? Steve & John supposedly just hate the screenplay that Disney’s own story people have come with for “Toy Story III.” You see, for years now, Lasseter has been talking about doing a “Toy Story” sequel. Only this film wouldn’t be built around Buzz or Woody. But — rather — would prominently feature an adventure involving Jessie. Where the yodeling cowgirl …

Hmmn … Maybe I’ve revealed enough of Pixar’s secrets for one day. So why don’t we save that Jessie / “Toy Story III” story for another time, okay?

Your thoughts?

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.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading


Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading


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



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading