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Big Mike’s Top 10 Ways to Fix the Mouse Factory

See, it’s not just themed entertainment industry experts who have ideas about how to put Disney back on track. JHM Guest Writer (and former WDW cast member) Michael Sweeney chimes in with his thoughts about how to put Mickey on the mend.

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Hey, gang!

I don’t know how many of you will remember Michael Sweeney AKA Big Mike. Last week, he was one of the folks who was kind enough to share his thoughts about what was going with WDW’s Magic Kingdom as part of last Wednesday’s “Trash Talk OR Why Can’t Disney Keep Its Kingdom Clean?” article.

Well, in response to Vance Rest’s “Once and Future Kingdom” series, Big Mike’s sent along another letter. Offering up his thoughts about what can be done to turn the Walt Disney Company’s current crisis.

Given that JimHillMedia.com has allowed a themed entertainment industry expert the opportunity to weigh in about what’s wrong with the Mouse House these days, I thought that it was only fair that Mr. Sweeney — who, up until just recently, was a WDW cast member — be allowed to give the rank and file’s take on this situation.

After all, while the generals may plan the battles, it’s the foot soldiers who actually fight the war. And sometimes it’s really important to hear what the folks in the front line have to say.

So let’s give Big Mike a big JimHillMedia.com welcome, as Mr. Sweeney tries to give us a cast member’s eye view of what’s gone wrong at the Mouse Factory. More importantly, his “Top Ten” suggestions for what it’s going to take to turn this situation around.

Enjoy! And don’t forget to share your thoughts on Big Mike’s “Top 10” tips to fix Disney on our Discussion Board.

jrh


 

Dear Jim,

I am most definitely enjoying the articles by Vance Rest, although I do feel the language is a little above my level (What do you expect? Casting did send me to Frontierland. LOL).

Enough jokin’ around, y’all…let me get to the point. I guess, in short, what I am trying to say is that the problems the company is experiencing is born out of short-sightedness for which a very thick pair of glasses are needed in order to correct their lack of vision.

What is this short-sightedness that plagues the company? Money, or more precisely, the stock’s current standing. All of the problems we discuss on all of “State of Disney” websites is born out of short-sightedness and a foolish belief that the company must do whatever it can NOW to keep moving the stock-price up. This can be very dangerous considering the reputation of the company as well as the quality of the product.

Is this dangerous? Shouldn’t the company do whatever it can to ensure the returns of its investors? Yes and yes. To the first question, we must examine the danger behind short-term profit chasing.

Jim, as well as you and I both know, the name is Disney. Its creator, Walt, is the most beloved creator of all-time. His brother, Roy, however, we really didn’t know much about. Why? Because Walt, the creator, trumped his brother, Roy, the dollar-watcher, when it came to all of the key business decisions of their days running the company, and for this he received the most credit.

Out of this one-sided union, where creativity and the quality of the product were number one on the company’s agenda, came long enduring classics ranging from animated classics (for which the company stills profits today)to Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the parks and properties that forever changed the amusement industry and for which hundreds of millions of people have enjoyed(and for which the company still profits from today).

When producing these wonders that still continue to attract millions upon millions of people to this day, Walt wanted to spare no expense. Of course, we all know Roy helped tremendously by reigning in Walt on occasion by telling him we have no more money(and unbelievably, Walt would find money when there was none—maybe he had his animators draw money onto the studio trees, who knows)!!! But to both their credit, no expense was spared and everything was done in accordance with producing the best possible product with the money they had available. And for their innovative risk-taking, the world, as well as the company, enjoys products that produce a profit to this day!

These products were born out of a quality first, let’s make the best possible “widget” we can produce. Not every “widget” that Walt and his many teams produced were successful, but many of them were; and the ones that were are still a success to this day. To us, the formula seems so simple: let the creatives, within reasonable financial parameters, dictate the best possible way to build and add an even more wondrous luster to the Disney name. And yes, to a large degree, this is all it takes considering the legacy and reputation of Disney.

Now, the kingdom has lost it’s “quality first” mantra. It used to be a way of life; attractions and films that took up to 10 years to plan and execute because of this stern and unshakeable belief in building the most fantastic “widgets” and the people will have no choice but to come. Product is always what it boils down to, no matter how much marketing a company does. And when it comes to Disney, the guests of the kingdom expect no less than a quality feature or a knock-your-socks-off attractions experience. They could care less about marketing.

I mean, yes, marketing initially will pull people into the theaters for a week or two (see “The Matrix: Revolutions” or better yet, “Pearl Harbor”). But quality, unlike marketing, will keep bringing them back for weeks upon weeks upon weeks of double-digit millions of dollars viewing pleasure weekends (see “Titanic,” “Lord of the Rings” – could of been yours, Mike, “Harry Potter” – could of been yours, Mike, “Monsters, Inc.,” “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “Star Wars,” “E.T.,” “The Lion King,” etc). So you see, product does matter. Market (California Adventure, Pearl Harbor) and they will come for a little while to see what all the fuss is about. Produce quality (Tokyo DisneySea, “The Lion King”)and they will come for a lifetime.

The quality of these products, over the long-run, depends on how much belief management has in its creative people to get the job done. However, in the current state of Disney affairs, cost are being cut across the board in the pursuit of short-term growth and gains. This compromises the management/creative relationship and ultimately quality suffers as projects are finished prematurely without the realization of the creative vision. When this happens, we get everything from “off-the-shelf attractions” with no soul or lasting appeal to movies with, also, no soul or lasting appeal. While I understand that this isn’t always true, over time this factor will predominate in the success or failure of an entertainment company. A good story is what keeps them coming back…so stop cutting out the chapters of the book and let us see the entire vision of the story.

Striving for short-term growth is a dangerous proposition. My father always said to me, “If you do something, do it right.” In other words, don’t cut corners. The foundation of this company has always been the animators and Imagineering. They are the dreamers in the dream factory. Many of us have screamed, cried, smiled, laughed, pondered, and believed that dreams can come true because of these dreamers.

They are the reason our country, and many outside of our country, have a unique connection with the Disney name. We all scream on our first Space Mountain ride, we all cry when Simba loses Mufasa, we all smile when Pinocchio becomes a real boy, we all laugh when Big Al plays his set, we all ponder our past when we see The American Adventure, and we all believe that dreams can come true when we wish upon a star. These are the intense feelings and connections that are imbedded into our society as a result of these dreamers.

Where are these dreamers now? Most of them don’t even work for Disney anymore because Disney has decided to cut cost in order to pursue short-term growth. The old legends of Disney’s storied past are upset at the state of the company and can’t believe the company is trashing its most important and treasured assets.

Instead, Disney has striven to expand its television presence(ABC)and its internet presence(go.com—over a billion dollars lost)and global empire to match the ego of its CEO. For Disney, this is a bad thing. Why? It has watered down the integrity and unique place the brand held in the hearts and the minds of the many. The name has been so overmarketed that people have become slightly resistant to it or altogether opposed to it. Let’s tie in these 2 components: too much marketing plus a deemphasizing on the quality of the product equals what? A lot of people who are keenly aware that the Disney product is no longer what it used to be. It baffles me to no end. Why would anyone go out of their way to tell the world about a terrible product. If I produced something terrible, I would want no one to know about it which is why I pass gas in private places (sorry, only good parallel I could make plus I am a big fan of Pumba).

So therein lies a problem: Disney oversaturates the marketplace with its name and products…for which a lot of people respond to the marketing by buying/experiencing the products…and then they realize that the product isn’t all as good as the marketing made it seem to be. Over time, this can be disastrous to a company as its reputation becomes inextricably linked to its substandard products for which no amount of marketing(unless you mention the word free) can help.

I worked in the parks. No longer are the hallmarks there: burnt out light bulbs, walls badly in need of paint, crumbling facades, trashy queues, trashy walkways, chipped benches, attractions in terrible need of maintenance as well as cosmetic makeovers, unhappy and unwilling cast members, etc. These problems cannot continue on. We market ourselves to our future guests and they will come away from their visit unimpressed. They will not come back. And this is what I am dreadfully afraid of. Much like Coney Island over a 100 years ago, Disney’s reputation will slowly descend into the murky depths of that much hated concept: carnival.

That can all be prevented if the company makes some radical moves:

1. Get rid of Eisner and anyone who believes the bottom line is the only thing that matters and that creativity is really a four-letter word.

2. Develop a One-Two Combo along the lines of Walt and Roy; the CEO will be a creative guy and the #2, President or whatever you want to call him will be a money guy.

3. Get back to the foundation of the company: the dream makers, also known as Animation and Imagineering.

4. Get rid of newly acquired properties that don’t make money; keep only ESPN as it has consistently shown itself to be profitable—this way instead of the company raiding the cash cows, ie Walt Disney World, for quick money to subsidize projects that are earmarked for company failures like ABC, the company can instead raid ESPN for added money to ambitious theme park and movie projects; this will help protect and further expand the company’s core assets for which its reputation is built on.

5. Pay your workers, especially your lowest-paid workers, a living wage; many of the people I know who work at Disney World barely survive from paycheck to paycheck, if at all; how are they supposed to be happy at “the happiest place on earth” when some of them can hardly take care of themselves or their families? This will also show Disney to be a caring company and will also lend itself to the forefront of socio-corporate concerns.

6. Invest less money in marketing and more money into quality.

7. Get rid of FastPass, and instead build more high-capacity, high-quality, I.E. “real Disney attractions”, for each of the parks; this will simplify the logistics of the visit but it will also lower the waits for most, if not all, of the attractions while increasing the guests happiness because there is more fun things to do!!!

8. Concentrate on the story in all things: make us smile, laugh, cry, hoot and holler, ponder…bring us back to our emotional connections!

9. Stop forcing people to purchase Disney products; you know, the old exit the ride into a gift shop gag; instead use the exit as a long conclusion to the journey/experience.

10. Get rid of Eisner (again); I am not anti-Eisner, I just believe he has lost his way. I believe what has happened to Uncle Mikey is just plain old ego from the company’s first 10 years of success with him at the helm. His ego now blinds him from making the proper decisions in regards to running a company that has a special place in many millions of hearts around the world. Also, not having Frank Wells around to balance that ego out has hurt the company as it has made many blunders, both creatively and financially, since Mr. Wells’ passing.

Jim, have a great day and keep up the good work. We need more people like you working to keep Walt’s vision known loud and clear. Also, tell Vance we hope he continues to keep us informed of his thoughts and feelings regarding these tumultuous times at Disney.

It almost kind of feels like 1983-1984 again, doesn’t it?

Sincerely and with hope,

Big Mike

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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