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Breaking the “Mary Poppins” stalemate

What did it take for Disney Theatrical to finally get the chance to turn this Academy-Award winning film into a musical for the stage? An awful lot of patience. Not to mention a secret trip to the U.K. Jim Hill tells how Cameron Mackintosh & Tom Schumacher finally got this show on the road



When musical theater fans complain about Disney Theatrical (And they do complain about Disney Theatrical. If you don’t believe me, go check out the discussion boards over at Talkin’ Broadway and Broadway World), their main complaint about the Mouse seems to be that ” … the shows that Disney presents on Broadway are too corporate.”

Which is what’s kind of ironic about “Mary Poppins,” that London import that’s about to open at the New Amsterdam Theatre. This new musical (Which draws its inspiration from both P.L. Travers’ stories as well as from the Academy-Award winning film) wasn’t the result of some deal that was hammered out by a roomful of attorneys. But — rather — because Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Tom Schumacher shared a real passion for this particular project.

Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Thomas Schumacher (l to r)
Photo courtesy of Google Images

“How big a passion?,” you ask. So big that — without first letting anyone in Disney management know what he was planning on doing — Schumacher flew to the U.K. in December of 2001 specifically to meet with Mackintosh. With the hope that Tom might then be able to persuade Cameron to consider co-producing a stage musical version of “Mary Poppins” with Disney Theatrical.

This was actually a pretty gutsy move on Schumacher’s part. Given that Mackintosh had previously met with Disney Company officials in the mid-1990s to discuss a possible “Poppins” co-production. But Cameron had supposedly been put off by the overly-aggressive behavior of those executives. Who — at that time — weren’t talking about what a great stage show “Mary Poppins” could be. But — rather — how big a slice of the “Poppins” profit pie the Mouse was going to get.

And Mackintosh … Well, this world renown producer had worked too long & too hard at acquiring the stage rights to “Mary Poppins” to let a bunch of suits screw this show up. Which is why — at that time — Cameron didn’t cut a deal with Disney. He actually walked away from the negotiations, reportedly leaving an incredibly lucrative deal on the table.

All because Mackintosh reportedly felt that Disney was placing the emphasis on the wrong place with this project. What he was then hearing from company executives wasn’t “Think of what a great show we’ll be able to create out of this source material.” But — rather — “Think of all the money that we’re going to make off of this production.”

Now don’t get me wrong. As the producer of shows like “Cats,” “Miss Saigon,” “Les Misérables” and “Phantom of the Opera,” Cameron has clearly made a few bucks over the past 30 years. But “Mary Poppins” … That wasn’t so much about making money. But — rather — finally making a 25-year-old dream come true. As well as honoring a promise that Mackintosh had made to “Mary Poppins” author, P.L. Travers.

You see, when I say that it took Cameron Mackintosh a very long time to acquire the stage rights to “Mary Poppins,” I mean that it was a VERY long time. Mackintosh first contacted Travers’ representatives back in 1978. Only to be told that P.L. was already negotiating with veteran producer Jules Fisher about possibly bringing “Mary Poppins” to Broadway.

After a protracted negotiation, Travers did eventually grant Fisher conditional rights to produce a stage musical version of “Mary Poppins.” The only hitch was … Jules had to work off of the original “Poppins” books. He didn’t have the right to use any of the material (be it screenplay, songs & score) that had been created for the 1964 Disney film.

Plus P.L. wanted to have some say over who would write the stage version of “Mary Poppins.” So while Fisher was trying to recruit theatrical legend Stephen Sondheim to compose a score for this show, Travers kept sending him letters listing her suggestions for an appropriate creative team for this project. Which included hiring Wally Shawn to write the show’s book & Alan Jay Lerner and/or Paul McCartney to compose the show’s score.

P.L. also had some very strong opinions about who should play the title role in this new musical. Which is why Travers sent Fisher notes suggesting that he get in touch with Maggie Smith & Vanessa Redgrave. To see if either of these two accomplished English actresses would be interested in playing Mary.

In the end, Jules just couldn’t make this production happen. According to what I’ve heard, most of the theater pros that Fisher spoke with about this proposed show told him that it was just too soon after the “Mary Poppins” movie. That — no matter how brilliant the book was, how soaring the score — his new stage version would still wind up being compared to the 1964 film. And most likely would be found lacking.

Mind you, Fisher couldn’t use the score from the Disney version of “Mary Poppins” because the studio was disinclined (at that time, anyway) to give anyone outside of the company access to that material. More to the point, Ms. Travers tended to run hot & cold when it came to the “Mary Poppins” movie. One day, she’d express genuine affection for the film. The next day, she’d attack the Disney production for taking far too many liberties with her characters & her stories.

Given that he was basically in an unwinnable situation, Jules eventually allowed his option to produce a stage musical version of “Mary Poppins” to lapse. Once that happened, Walt Disney Company officials then approached P.L. in 1984. First to see if Ms. Travers would agree to allow the studio to try & develop a a “Mary Poppins” TV series (She did). Then — after that project fell through when studio execs decided that the “Poppins” franchise was far too valuable to waste on television — P.L. participated in the writing of a “Mary Poppins Comes Back” screenplay. Which would have served as the basis for a sequel to the 1964 film.

But then — when that project fell through too — Disney gave some very serious thought to turning this Academy-Award winning movie into a musical for the stage. How serious? Check out this transcript of comments that Dick Nunis — the then-Chairman of Walt Disney Attractions — made back in April of 1994.

At the opening night party for “Beauty & the Beast,” Nunis was approached by a reporter. Seeing how well the musical had gone over that night, this reporter then turned to Dick and said:

REPORTER: Given “Beauty and the Beast” ‘s reception tonight, do you think that Disney will be headed back to Broadway anytime soon?

NUNIS: Absolutely. We’re already looking into other ideas for shows we can produce. Other films we can adapt to the stage.

REPORTER: Really? Adapting other Disney films to the stage? Which movies are we talking about?

NUNIS: I’m really not supposed to say. Let’s just say … Our next show will be supercalifraglisticexpialidocious.

So back in 1994, Disney was obviously already planning on bringing “Mary Poppins” to the stage. Of course, what the Mouse didn’t know then was that — a full year earlier — Cameron Mackintosh had begun meeting with P.L. Travers. And over a two year period, Cameron slowly convinced P.L. that he was the guy who could succeed where Jules Fisher had failed. That Mackintosh wouldn’t do to her what Disney executives had done. Which is dither for a decade about whether the studio should produce a “Mary Poppins” television series or a sequel film … then do neither.

Which is why — just months prior to her death at the ripe old age of 96 — P.L. Travers awarded Cameron Mackintosh the rights to produce “Mary Poppins” as a stage musical. Which — to be honest — caught Disney flat-footed. Mouse House officials had always assumed that they had the inside track when it came to acquiring the stage rights to “Poppins.” But now Cameron had claimed the prize.

Of course, these rights came with a few conditions. Mackintosh had to agree that the stage version of “Mary Poppins” would hew much closer to the style and tone of Travers’ books. That the characters in this new musical would behave more like the characters in P.L.’s original “Poppin” stories did.

Cameron agreed to these conditions … Provided that Travers agreed to one of Mackintosh’s conditions. Which was: Given that the songs from the Disney film were now so closely identified with the Mary Poppins characters, that — if Cameron could ever persuade Mickey to grant him the rights to use the music from the movie as part of his new stage show — P.L. would not oppose that decision.

Travers agreed to Mackintosh’s proposal. And — with that — the deal was closed.

Which brings us back to Cameron’s disastrous first meeting with Disney. Where he learned that the executives who were running Disney Theatrical at that time were more interested in cutting a smart deal than they were in producing a good show. So Mackintosh walked away from the table. And — figuring he never get access to Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman‘s brilliant score for “Poppins” — he then asked George Stiles & Anthony Drewe to write a few spec songs for the project.

The London cast of “Mary Poppins” 
Photo courtesy of Google Images

Right out of the box, George & Anthony wrote a new introductory number for Mary Poppins called “Practically Perfect.” Which was just what Cameron had hoped it would be. In that this song was much closer to the style & spirit of the original P.L. Travers stories. But — at the same time — “Practically Perfect” still had the same sort of bounce, wit & verve that the score that the Sherman Brothers had written for the “Mary Poppins” movie had had.

But — again — without actually having the rights to that music, there was really no point in going forward with development of a stage version of “Mary Poppins.” So Mackintosh reluctantly tabled the project. While still hoping that all of the roadblocks that were stalling out this particular production might someday be removed.

In the end, all it took to get around these roadblocks was a plane. Or — rather, to be more precise — one man on a plane: Tom Schumacher.

For years, people in the theatre community had been pestering Schumacher about “Mary Poppins.” Asking this Disney Theatrical exec why the Mouse had yet to mount a stage version of this movie. How this project was a no-brainer, almost certain to be a hit on Broadway. And then Tom would have to go through this laborious explanation about how the Walt Disney Company didn’t actually own the stage rights to the P.L. Travers stories. How Cameron Mackintosh did. Which was why this particular production had been stalemated for so low.

Finally — in December of 2001 — Schumacher decided that it was finally time to break the stalemate. As to why he flew to the U.K. without first telling his bosses at Disney, Tom told a reporter that:

“I so wanted (the stage version of ‘Mary Poppins’) to happen and I didn’t believe that lawyers, and agents and studio heads and executives could get it done … So I slid in under the radar and went to go see Cameron. I asked him what was in his head. We ignored the deal and starting talking about what the show would be like.”

Mackintosh was so pleased that Schumacher seemed to share his same vision for this show that — that very first day as these two were meeting — he pulled out “Practically Perfect,” the spec song that Stiles & Drewe had written eight years earlier. To give Tom some idea of what an enhanced, expanded version of “Mary Poppins” might sound like.

Schumacher was said to be thrilled with that song. More importantly, that he & Mackintosh seemed to share the very same sensibility when it came to the stage version of “Mary Poppins.” That — in the end — the deal wasn’t important. What was important was producing the best possible show that combined P.L. Travers’ original stories as well as elements from the 1964 film.

So Tom then flew home and told his bosses at the Disney about his secret meeting with Cameron. Then — following eight months of rather intense negotiations between the Mouse & Mackintosh — a press conference was held announcing this ambitious co-production.

So — yes — when you look at “Mary Poppins” and see how skillfully the Walt Disney Company has been promoting its newest Broadway production (Speaking of which: A behind-the-scenes feature on the making of the stage version of “Mary Poppins” will air on “20/20” tonight. That ABC news magazine typically airs in this network’s 10 – 11 p.m. programming block), it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that this new musical is just another product that the Mouse Factory has churned out.

But — in this case — you’d be wrong if you thought that. For there’d be no “Mary Poppins” opening at the New Amsterdam next Thursday night if Tom Schumacher & Cameron Mackintosh hadn’t pulled an end run on all of Disney’s lawyers. If these two hadn’t cut through all of the corporate bullsh*t and said “Hey, you wanna put on a show?”

Copyright Disney Enterprises & Cameron Mackintosh, Inc.


Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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



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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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



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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage



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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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