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As “Tarzan” swings off Broadway, is Beyoncé getting ready to play Aida in Disney’s next big movie musical?

Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney-related question. In this week’s “Why For,” he talks about how the Wiggles wound up at Six Flags, shares the latest news on the “Song of the South” DVD, sounds off about “Soarin'” & “Der Glockner Von Notre Dame” and … Oh, yeah … Reveals the latest rumors surrounding the studio’s upcoming big screen adaptation of “Aida”



First up, Kevin writes in to say:

I was just wondering, how do Disney executives feel about the Wiggles joining up with Six Flags for the “Wiggles World” theme areas in their parks? Is this a sign that the Wiggles and Disney may be parting company soon?


Dear Kevin —

Nope. You have to understand that the Wiggles aren’t actually Disney characters. The Mouse just licenses the rights to rebroadcast previously produced episodes of this incredibly popular Australian children’s television series. Which it then airs on the Disney Channel as part of their “Playhouse Disney” block.

When Mickey made the deal to acquire these rights back in 2002, no one at the company thought to include any language in that contract that would have then allowed Disney to bring the Wiggles into their theme parks. Which is why the folks at Six Flags were eventually able to swoop in & cut a deal with Wiggles International Pty Ltd. Which then allowed that corporation to bring these characters into their parks.

Copyright Wiggles International Pty Ltd. All Rights Reserved

To be specific, Six Flags added “Wiggles Worlds” to just three of their theme parks in the Spring of 2007: Six Flags Great Adventure, Six Flags Great America and Six Flags New England. And these kid-friendly areas feature specially themed rides & attractions that are deliberately designed to appeal to the 2-6 set. Which is an area where the Six Flags parks have previously had very limited appeal. Should this pilot program prove to be successful, there is talk of adding “Wiggles World” sections to the rest of the parks in the Six Flags chain over 2008 & 2009.

But as for the Mouse supposedly being upset that the Wiggles got away from them … There’s no truth to that rumor. Disney is perfectly happy with what it already has. Which is the rights to air “The Wiggles” TV series every weekday morning at 7 a.m. As for the Disney theme parks … To be honest, the corporation wants to concentrate on bringing Playhouse Disney characters that it owns outright in the parks. Rather than having to pay out any additional fees to acquire the theme park rights to characters like the Wiggles or the Doodlebops.

Next up, Craig D. writes in to say:

I found an old article from 2005 about the possibilty of releasing Song of the South to DVD, anything new on this?

Actually, things are looking pretty good right now for “Song of the South” to finally be released on DVD in late 2008 / early 2009. But not for the reasons you might think.

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You see, what with DisneyToon Studios now becoming a non-sequel producing operation as well as Dick Cook’s decision last year to significantly cut back on the number of movies Walt Disney Studios will release every year … Well, that leaves Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Soon to be renamed Walt Disney Entertainment) with significantly fewer titles to put out on store shelves in the coming year. And given that BVHE will still be expected to make its numbers … Well, that means that they’re going to have to release something that the public really wants to get its hands on. And that, my friends, is “Song of the South.”

As I mentioned back in May, Disney is still hoping to use “The Princess and the Frog” to help soften any racial concerns that movie-goers may have about this 1946 Academy Award winner. Which is why the studio is looking to get production of this new John Musker & Ron Clements underway later this year. So that they’d then have a full sequence from that still-in-story-development film to drop onto that DVD. Which will then hopefully help rebuff any “Song of the South” ‘s critics.

So if you can just hang in there for another year or two, Craig, you should finally be able to get your hands on a really-for-real copy of “Song of the South.” Not an illegal dub of the Japanese laser disc. But — rather — a full-blown DVD straight from Buena Vista Home Entertainment … er … Walt Disney Home Entertainment.

Next up. John L. writes in to say:

I’ve seen stories online about changes on the Soarin’ ride at Epcot, which brings to mind a couple of questions about this attraction. After building (this same) attraction at DCA, imagineers knew the challenges that faced the attraction, the slow wait times and low ride capacity (not to mention all the “UFOs” on the screen caused by specks of dust. So, why didn’t WDI address these issues when they rebuilt the ride in Florida? Why would Disney repeat the mistake of building just two theatres? Why didn’t they change to a digital projection system? And finally, why did they design the queue so poorly that they’re redoing it less than two years later. Whatever happened to learning from your mistakes.

Dear John L.

It wasn’t so much a case of WDI not learning from its mistakes. But — rather — the Imagineers trying to save a few bucks. By re-using as much material as possible that had been used to create the first version of this attraction (i.e. From the blue prints all the way up to that California-centric ride film) … Well, that was a huge cost savings for the company.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

You gotta remember that this Future World attraction was actually greenlit in the bad old days. Back when Michael Eisner was perpetually leaning on Walt Disney Imagineering to contain costs. To deliver the biggest possible bang for the fewest possible bucks. So that’s why the Epcot version of this popular DCA attraction didn’t go digital. Or — for that matter — opt to tack on an additional theater to help with this Future World’s hourly capacity. Or even commission a new ride film that might better fit with the international flavor of its new theme park home.

In the years ahead, at least “Soarin’ ” ride film will change. Eventually. Though given that there are still days when this newish Future World attraction has guests waiting in line for upwards of two hours for their chance to soar over all that pretty Californian scenery … We’re at least a few years away from that happening. But once those lines die down, then the Imagineers can finally move forward with their plans to produce a more internationally appropriate ride film.

Next up, George H. writes to ask:

I just discovered while reading an article on Brad Bird, that its rumored that his next big project will be a live action film…but not only that: a live-action Pixar film. And its rumored to be based off a book about the San Francisco Earthquake, 1906.

Really? Pixar moving to live-action films too? Could you please confirm or deny this interesting development?

Dear George H.

Yep. It’s gonna happen. The folks at Pixar are doggedly following in Walt Disney’s footsteps. Moving methodically from CG shorts to full-length animated features to movies that mix computer animation and live action.

Copyright Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Just so you know, though, George H. It’s far more likely that Pixar’s first live action / animated film will actually be a big screen adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ “A Princess of Mars” series. I’m told that the Disney brass views this particular project as the logical stepping-off point for an entire series of “John Carter of Mars” movies. And given that Mickey is franchise-crazy these days … Well, that’s why “Princess” is now being fast-tracked while “1906” remains in preliminary development.

Mind you, we’re not actually going to see either of these productions anytime soon. My understanding is that the earliest that either of these two Pixar live action / CG features will reach the screen is 2011. So you may want to hold off on getting in line at your local multiplex for a while.

And finally, Jeremy writes in to say:

With the announced closing of Tarzan, I’ve been wondering about the possibility of future Disney musicals, specifically The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’m a big Broadway fan, and I’ve grown to appreciate the Disney movie version a great deal since it was released, expecially the soundtrack. I think I remember that a German version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Der Glockner von…, if I’m not mistaken) was a bit hit overseas several years ago, and was rumored to be coming to Broadway then. Unless I missed it, it never did.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The puzzling thing to me is that Hunchback seems to have one of the most Broadway-ready scores and plots, and would seem to be tailor-made for the stage (even moreso than film, arguably) with its romantic, dramatic undertones and the pedigree of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Basically, watching the movie has always felt like watching a stage show, and listening to the soundtrack makes me feel like I’m listening to a Broadway cast album. To make a long message somewhat shorter, my question, essentially, is this: Is there any chance Broadway will see any kind of version of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the near (or not-so-near) future? Thank you so much for any answers you can provide–as you can see, I’ve been curious about this for a while.

Dear Jeremy —

You’re not the only one who wonders why the stage version of Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame” has yet to make its stateside debut. Ever since this James Lapine musical wrapped up its three year run at the Musical Theatre Berlin in June of 2002, there’s been talk of bringing this show to Broadway. But since the stage adaptation of this 1996 animated feature hues much more closely to the original storyline of Victor Hugo’s novel … Well, the concern at Disney Theatrical reportedly was that American theater-goers might balk at a stage version of Disney’s “Hunchback” where Esmerelda actually dies.

Mind you, there was some talk in March of 2004 about possibly adapting this stage show for television. In fact, Jason Moore of “Avenue Q” fame was actually signed to direct the TV musical version of “Hunchback.” The original plan was that this adaptation would go into production in the Spring of 2005 and then eventually air on ABC’s “Wonderful World of Disney” in February of 2006.

But then this project’s greatest patron, Michael Eisner (Disney’s former CEO just loved “Hunchback.” When asked what his favorite animated feature was, Michael would always mention this Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale film without any prompting. The man clearly felt a connection to this character & material. Insert your own bit of misunderstood-and-reviled-figure-locked-away-in-a-tower psychobabble here) found himself being nudged toward the door. And when Eisner officially exited the Walt Disney Company in September of 2005 … That was pretty much all she wrote for the TV movie version of Disney’s “Hunchback” musical.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But — that said — that doesn’t mean that the stage musical version of Disney’s “Hunchback” won’t ever make its stateside debut. My understanding is that several small regional theaters have already asked Disney Theatrical for the rights to produce this James Lapine show stateside. And while the Mouse has continued to say “No” (Supposedly because it still believes that the TV movie version of the show may yet be revived) … Well, that doesn’t mean that they’re always going to say “No.”

After all, when it comes to Broadway shows & Disney, anything is possible. Take — for example — this coming weekend, when “Tarzan” closes at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Which should be a sad time for the folks at Disney Theatrical. But instead those offices have been abuzz lately with the news that Walt Disney Studios is seriously thinking about turning DT’s earlier production, “Aida,” into a big budget movie musical.

“And just who would play the title role in the film version of this Elton John musical?,” you ask. Would you believe Beyoncé? The Mouse is reportedly already in talks with this pop diva, trying to convince Ms. Knowles to make “Aida” her follow-up project to “Dreamgirls.”

Starring in the movie version of this Tony Award-winning musical should be a no-brainer for Beyoncé. Particularly since the show’s title role has proven to be such an effective showcase for chart toppers like Toni Braxton and Ms. Knowles’ fellow “Destiny’s Childsurvivor, Michelle T. Williams.

Mind you, the folks back at the studio are thrilled that a movie version of “Aida” is finally in the works. After all, that’s why Disney bought the rights to the children’s storybook version of Giuseppe Verdi‘s opera that Leontyne Price wrote back in 1990. Because they originally thought that this material might make fine fodder for a feature length cartoon.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So now — after almost 20 years — to have “Aida” finally come full circle and return to the studio. Only this time not as a proposed animated feature, but as a live action movie musical … Well, there’s something very pleasing about that.

So that’s why you shouldn’t feel too blue if you’re a “Hunchback” fan who’s been patiently waiting for the Broadway version to arrive and/or that TV movie to go into production. These things have a way of sorting themselves out … Eventually.

I mean, it took over 25 years for the movie version of “Chicago” to finally get produced. So good things do come to those who wait.

But if you really can’t wait any longer to see the stage version of Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame” … How’s this for a consolation prize? Courtesy of YouTube, here are a few clips from “Der Glockner Von Notre Dame.” Now you can at least get some sense of what the German version of the show was like.

Enjoy !

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.

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“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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