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By George! The “Star Tours” Saga: Episode Three

Jim Hill talks more about how Card Walker’s caution actually held Walt Disney Productions back in the 1970s as well as Harrison Ellenshaw’s ambition & artistry. Which helped make George Lucas’s dream of a space-based adventure film a reality.

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As I expected, there are already Disneyana fans out there who are taking issue with the version of Disney Company history that I’ve been trying to present as part of  this new JHM series.

Typical of the notes I’ve been getting is this e-mail from Cherry C. Who writes to say:

Card Walker wouldn’t greenlight production of “Space Station One” because he didn’t think Disney’s special effect artists were actually up to the challenge of this project? What, are you high, Jim?

That’s all that Disney Studios did during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Produce kid-friendly pictures that prominently featured elaborate special effects sequences. “Bedknobs & Broomsticks,” “Pete’s Dragon,””Blackbeard’s Ghost,””The Gnome Mobile,” “Now You See Him, Now You Don’t“, the list goes on and on.

So why was Walker willing to let projects like that — which were loaded with special effects — go into production and yet continually hold back the start of shooting on “Space Station One”? To my way of thinking, this was probably more a case of Card not being comfortable with that movie’s script. Rather than the studio head thinking that his special effects guys weren’t actually up to this challenge.

Well, Cherry C. does bring up an interesting point. I mean, it’s clear that the then-president of Walt Disney Productions must have had some serious concerns with “Space Station One” ‘s script. Otherwise, why would Walker have had six different sets of writers take a swing at that screenplay before Card finally agreed to let production of this sci-fi epic (Which — by then — was titled “The Black Hole“) go forward?

But — that said — over the 25 years, I have spoken with a number of Disney Studio vets. And whenever I’d bring up “The Black Hole,” all these guys would talk about was how Walker continually fretted about that film. How Card would say things like “Hib wants this thing to look just like ‘2001.’ How are we going to deliver effects like that on a Disney-sized budget?”

You see, that was Walt Disney Productions’ dirty little secret in the years directly following Roy Disney’s death. In order to guarantee that virtually every picture that the studio produced eventually earned a profit, Walker wanted each of these film to be made for as little money as humanly possible.

That’s why many of the movies that were made at the Mouse Factory during this era seem to have that cookie-cutter quality. As in: They all seem to have been shot in the very same places (I.E. The Disney studio backlot, Golden Oaks Ranch and/or on the streets of beautiful downtown Burbank) and feature the very same group of performers (I.E. Dean Jones, Kurt Russell, Tim Conway, Don Knotts, Joe Flynn et al). And as for these films’ special effects scenes …

Look, it wasn’t that the studio’s effects team wasn’t actually capable of delivering a better finished product. It’s just that they no longer had a guy like Walt Disney running the show. As in: An exacting taskmaster who — when he saw how poorly “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” ‘s original battle-with-the-giant-squid scene had turned out — immediately ordered that entire section of this 1954 Richard Fleischer film be reshot. With a brand new squid as well as additional wind & water effects.

You see, Walt Disney didn’t hesitate for a moment about making that decision. Sure, those reshoots wound up costing the studio an additional $200,000 as well as putting “20,000 Leagues” six weeks behind schedule. But the end result was a film that truly wowed audiences. “20K” eventually became a box office smash, not to mention earning Walt Disney Productions its first-ever Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

Whereas Card Walker … If Card had been faced with that same sort of decision (I.E. Spend an additional $200,000 to seriously upgrade the thrill factor of a new Disney film OR save the company a few bucks by sending this same picture out into theaters as is), Walker would probably have gone the more cost-effective route. As in: Sending the movie out as is.

This is supposedly why you can see so many wires in “Bedknobs & Broomsticks.” Or why all the models & mattes used in “The Island at the Top of the World” look so obvious. The then-managers of Walt Disney Productions were only willing to spend so much time & money on each individual picture. And if the studio’s visual effects artists weren’t able to deliver seamless special effects within the allotted production period and/or for that set budget … Well, that was just too bad.

Now what was particularly maddening about this whole situation was that there were still people within Disney’s visual effects department who cared. Technicians who wanted the studio’s tradition of innovation & excellence to go forward.

Case in point: Alan Maley. Maley was head of Disney’s matte department in the late 1960s. He specialized in painting these beautiful photo-realistic images on large panes of glass that — when they were combined with previously-shot film elements that were then projected onto the glass — helped create the illusion that a sequence that was actually shot in Burbank had been filmed on location in the frozen wastelands of the Arctic, foggy old Londontown and/or under the sea.

Now Alan had an idea that he thought might significantly improve the quality of the mattes Disney was using in its  movies. Which involved projecting the film elements onto the front of the glass, rather than from behind. Which is what Hollywood’s matte makers have been doing since back in the silent era.

However — in order to test his front projection theory — Maley was going to need some seed money. Just a few thousand from Disney Productions’ management to fund what would eventually turn out to be a significant break-through in matte technology.

Unfortunately, when Alan went to Card looking for funding, Walker said “No.” The way Card saw things, the mattes that the Mouse Factory were already producing looked just fine to him. So there was no point in trying to improve things just for the sake of innovation. Which was why Walker told Maley that he should just forget about his new front projection idea and go back to the old-fashioned way of making mattes.

This really rubbed Alan the wrong way. Which is why Maley (circa 1971) bailed out of Walt Disney Productions. But not before appointing Harrison Ellenshaw as the new head of Walt Disney Productions’ matte department.

Now that Harrison’s last name may sound familiar to some of you Disneyana fans. That’s because Harrison’s father, Peter Ellenshaw, had preceded Alan Maley as the head of Walt Disney Productions’ matte department. Working on such memorable motion pictures as “20,000 Leagues,” “Darby O’Gill & the Little People” and “Mary Poppins.”

Anyway … Having already spent a few years working under Maley, the younger Ellenshaw knew what was expected on him. Disney management would want him to quickly (and cheapily) churn out multiple matte paintings of the San Francisco skyline for “Herbie Rides Again” and/or the rugged California coastline for “Escape to Witch Mountain.”

But — like Alan — Harrison wanted to do more than just maintain the status quo in Disney’s special effects department. Young Ellenshaw wanted to see what could be done to advance the science / art of matte paintings. But — since Card Walker was obviously unwilling to spend money on any experimentation and/or innovation — how was Harrison supposed to fund his effort to move this cinematic artform forward?

Ellenshaw’s opportunity finally arose when he noticed that many of the other Hollywood studios had shut down their own matte departments. As of the mid-1970s, only two studios still had artists on staff that were capable of creating feature-film-quality matte paintings: Walt Disney Productions and Universal Studios.

Given that Disney’s matte department typically saw an awful lot of down-time between projects, Harrison went to Card and suggested that Walt Disney Productions advertise that the services of the artists in the studio’s Academy Award winning matte department were now available for hire. That way … Well, Ellenshaw and his team of painters might actually make some money for the studio by taking on these outside assignments during their down-time. More to the point, all of this contract work for other studios might challenge Harrison artistically. In a way that creating a matte for a movie like “The Apple Dumpling Gang” never could.

Of course, Card Walker (being the extremely cautious man that he was) was initially slow to warm to this idea. But once Harrison pointed out that — back in the 1960s — Walt Disney himself has actually allowed his special effects artists to be hired out by other studios (EX: Peter Ellenshaw painted mattes for Universal Studios’ 1960 release, “Spartacus,” while Disney special effects whiz Ub Iwerks helped Alfred Hitchcock create those menacing flocks in 1963’s “The Birds“), Walker eventually gave his okay.

“So what was Ellenshaw’s first non-Disney matte-painting assignment?,” you ask. Harrison created mattes to Lion International Film’s 1976 release, “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” And the paintings that Ellenshaw created for this David Bowie film (Particularly those that showed the view from space) caught the eye of Jim Nelson. A production co-ordinator for a little sci-fi film that George Lucas was still trying to get off the ground.

Maybe you’ve heard of it? “Star Wars“?

Anyway … A few days later, Nelson visits Ellenshaw on the Disney lot. Jim brings along some of Ralph McQuarrie’s pre-production illustrations for “Star Wars.” Harrison recalled that McQuarrie’s paintings …

” … got me excited right away. They were very, very nice – really great. (Jim) convinced me to do the mattes for ‘Star Wars’ in a little place they were putting together in Van Nuys.”

Now — to be fair here — I guess I should point out that George Lucas was having the very same sort of concerns about “Star Wars” that Card Walker was having about “Space Station One / The Black Hole.” As in: How could Lucasfilm ever possibly produce a feature film with “2001” – quality special effects on an extremely limited budget?

Of course, the advantage that Lucas had over Walker was inexperience. To explain: George didn’t know that what he was about to try & do was impossible. So he just went ahead and did it anyway.

Assembling a ragtag group of model-makers & effects artists (Some of which Lucas found by placing ads in the “Classified” section of the “Los Angeles Times”) in a warehouse in Van Nuys. Ellenshaw — at the age of 34 — was actually the grizzled veteran of the group. Everyone else was in their early 20s.

Mind you, the original plan was that Harrison would moonlight on “Star Wars.” As in: Ellenshaw was to spend his days working at Walt Disney Productions on movies for the Mouse. Then — when night fell — he was to drive from Burbank to Van Nuys to work on mattes for Mr. Lucas’s motion picture.

Unfortunately — given the primitive working conditions at this warehouse — Harrison was only able to complete six of the dozen or so mattes that he was originally hired to paint for “Star Wars” on site in Van Nuys. So Ellenshaw finished working on the other six mattes for this 20th Century Fox release in his on-the-lot studio back in Burbank.

Now you have to appreciate the irony of this whole situation. Here’s Card Walker — continuing to hold up production of “Space Station One” because he believes that it’s just impossible to produce a picture that features “2001” -quality effects on a Disney-sized budget. And yet here’s Harrison Ellenshaw, working on the Disney lot, right under Card Walker’s nose … on key components of the picture that will change forever how people view space-based special effects-laden films.

To add insult to injury, when “Star Wars” finally opened in May of 1977, a contingent of Disney executives came over the hill from Burbank to catch a screening of this George Lucas film at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

Adam Beckett, one of the effect engineers who worked on “A New Hope” remembers that story this way. It seemed like every suit who was working for Disney at that time turned out from this screening:

“Virtually the whole studio (came out) … They were planning to do a science fiction film about a mile-long spaceship that might get sucked into a black hole. They were saying things to each other, ‘Where did all these people (who made this movie) come from? We’ve never heard of these guys.’ ”

Which is kind of ironic. Given that at least half of the mattes that appeared in this original “Star Wars” film were painted on the Disney lot by a Disney artist.

Anyway … In the wake of “Star Wars” ‘s overwhelming success, Walt Disney Productions initially put “Space Station One” on hold. After all, Card Walker didn’t want the Mouse to be seen as a copycat.

But as George Lucas’s space adventure made more money and then more money and then even more money (By the time this 20th Century Fox release had finally run its course at the box office in the summer of 1978, “Star Wars: Episode IV” had sold nearly $525 million worth of tickets worldwide), Walker began to rethink his position on this whole space-based adventure thing.

Maybe now — three years after Winston Hibler initially suggested that Walt Disney Productions produce a space-based adventure — it finally made sense for the Mouse to make one of these sorts of movies. Particularly if Disney could make its super-serious “Space Station One” seem more like “Star Wars.”

Coming soon … The continuation of “By George!” Where I talk about how Winston Hibler’s dream of a science fiction epic slowly gets turned into “20,000 Leagues Under the Star Wars.”

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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