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California Misadventure — Part 1

Find out all about Disney’s California Adventure’s origins, the wheeling and dealing it took to get the park off the ground, the struggles, the setbacks… as well as the problems that potentially lie ahead for the project in this article series classic from Jim Hill.

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Walt Disney was desperate.

Here it was, early 1955. Walt had pumped every penny he had into building “The Happiest Place on Earth” out amongst the orange groves of Anaheim. When he suddenly realized: “There’s no place for them to stay.”

Who’s “them?” Disneyland’s customers. AKA the guests.

All those people who are going to drive up from San Diego, or down from San Francisco. They’d be tired after a full day of touring his “Magic Kingdom.” Disney knew that these folks would want a nice, clean place nearby where they can stay.

But Walt didn’t have the dough necessary to build a hotel next to Disneyland. He barely had enough cash to finish the park itself, let alone build lodgings nearby. But Walt knew that having a nice hotel right next to the park would play a crucial part in the project’s success.

But what could he do? Roy certainly wouldn’t give him the money. ABC was completely tapped out. And Walt had already cashed in his life insurance.

In desperation, Walt turned to an old friend: television producer Jack Wrather. Jack was someone Walt had been friendly with for years. They were both old pros when it came to surviving in the cut-throat world of the movie business.

These days, though, Jack was definitely on a hot streak. Having produced two of TV’s earliest syndicated hits (“Lassie” and “The Lone Ranger”), Wrather was flush with cash. He had also invested wisely in real estate around Southern California — ending up with big holdings in oil and natural gas.

Using the excuse that he wanted to pick Wrather’s brain concerning his Disneyland project, Walt asked Jack to join him out in Anaheim for a tour of the construction site. It was only after Wrather got there that Jack finally realized that Disney didn’t want to pick his brain. Walt was out to pick his pocket. There among the construction footings, Walt told Jack the story of Disneyland. How he dreamed of building a different kind of family fun park. How he’d need a clean new hotel nearby for visitors to stay in.

Jack listened. Nodded. Smiled. Then said “No.”

Walt persisted. Jack resisted. I mean, to Wrather, Disney’s idea made absolutely no sense. A 17-million-dollar amusement park, built out in the middle of the citrus groves on Anaheim? Who the hell was going to drive out from LA to visit this place, anyway? Walt didn’t need a hotel. He needed his head examined.

But Walt wouldn’t give up. He kept trying to sweeten the deal, first offering Wrather a 99-year lease on the property. Then Walt threw in the Disney name, saying that Wrather could use it on any other hotels he built in Southern California.

At this point, Walt was near tears. Embarrassed at the sight of the weepy movie mogul, Jack finally caved in and agreed to help his friend. But he wasn’t going to build a hotel next to Disneyland. That would just be too expensive. Walt would just have to settle for a motel. And a small one at that.

Of course, everyone knows that Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955. After a somewhat shaky first summer, the park proved to be a hit with the public. On October 5th of that same year, the Disneyland Motel opened on a 60-acre site right across the street from the park. It too would prove to be very popular with the public.

Walt is thrilled with the success of Disneyland. But no more than Jack Wrather was with the success of his Disneyland Motel, which he rapidly turned into a resort-style hotel. Three huge high-rise towers — the Bonita, Sierra and Marina — were quickly thrown up, bringing the total number of rooms on property to over 1,100. Wrather also added several spectacular swimming pools as well as a convention center to the complex.

Walt never forgot Jack’s generosity when it came to building the Disneyland Hotel. When few in Hollywood had any faith at all in Disney’s theme park project, Wrather (albeit somewhat reluctantly) agreed to help his friend. This gesture had meant the world to Walt, so he was constantly looking for ways to repay Wrather for his kindness.

Take, for instance, the Monorail. When the Disneyland-Alweg monorail system was first installed at the park in 1959, it just took guests on a quick trip around Tomorrowland. But that wasn’t good enough for Walt. He wanted his new train to actually go somewhere and provide a real service.

So, in 1961, Walt decided to extend the monorail’s route. He had a track installed that took the trains out of the park and ran them across the street over to the Disneyland Hotel. Here, passengers could disembark to do some shopping and dining at the resort. Or they could just sit tight in their seat for the return trip to Tomorrowland.

Walt spent millions building the track to get the monorail over to Wrather’s property. Mind you, he never asked Jack to help shoulder the cost. All Disney did was charge the Wrather Corporation a nominal fee to help maintain the hotel’s monorail station.

This one generous gesture added immeasurably to the allure of the Disneyland Hotel. While there may have been other hotels in Anaheim that were more luxurious and better laid out, none of them were directly linked to Disneyland via a state-of-the-art transportation system. It was this distinction that led to the Disneyland Hotel having the highest occupancy rate in all of Orange County.

In his lifetime, Walt always made sure that Jack Wrather and the Wrather Corporation were well taken care of by Walt Disney Productions. It was only after Walt’s death in December 1966 that the coziness between the two companies began to curdle.

The key sticking point was that deal Disney had worked out with Jack Wrather way back in 1955. By giving the Wrather Corporation a 99 year lease on the Disneyland Hotel site as well as the exclusive right to use the Disney name on any hotels built in Southern California, Walt had effectively cut his own company off from a huge revenue stream ’til 2054.

Think about it: All those hotels in Anaheim, making millions of dollars each year off guests who have come to see Disneyland. And the Mouse doesn’t get a nickel of it — all because of some desperate deal Walt cut with Jack Wrather while weeping in the Disneyland construction site.

Mind you, it’s not like the Mouse didn’t try. Each year, Disney representatives would contact Jack Wrather, saying that they wished to discuss terms for buying out his Disneyland Hotel contract. Each year, Jack would just laugh and say “Thanks but no thanks. I’m happy with the arrangement as is.”

This continued right up until June 1984, when Disney Chairman Ray Watson personally approached Jack about buying back the Wrather Corporation’s Disneyland Hotel holdings. Wrather — whose health was fading at the time — hinted at this particular meeting that he might finally now be ready to sell his property back to the Mouse. But before negotiations could officially get underway, Wrather died in November 1984.

By then, Michael Eisner and his new management team had already taken up residence at Walt Disney Productions. One of Eisner’s first goals was to radically improve the company’s bottom line, which meant he had to quickly increase the amount of money the company’s theme parks generated.

To do this in Florida, Eisner just okayed construction of two huge new hotels at the WDW resort: The 900 room Grand Floridian and the 2,100 room Caribbean Beach Resort. Eisner had planned to do the same thing at Disneyland — only to discover that A) the Disney Company didn’t own any hotels in Anaheim, B) they didn’t have sufficient land to build any new resorts, anyway, and C) only the Wrather Company had the rights to use the Disney name on hotels built in Southern California.

Eisner was dumbfounded when he heard about this. He turned to his newly hired Disney Chief Financial Officer Gary Wilson and said: “Handle this. I don’t care how you do it, but I want that contract broken. The Walt Disney Company has to be the sole owner and operator of the Disneyland Hotel.”

Wilson met with Watson and learned that Wrather had really almost been ready to sell Disney back the Disneyland Hotel when he passed away in November. In the meantime, Wilson gathered intelligence about the Wrather Corporation. He learned that — since Jack’s death — the company had fallen on extremely hard times. To keep afloat financially, the Wrather Corporation had already sold off several premium assets: Its oil and natural gas holdings, as well as the syndication rights to “The Lone Ranger ” and “Lassie.”

It seemed like this financial crisis might be the ideal time to approach Wrather with an offer to buy up the Disneyland Hotel acreage and contract. And Wilson was just getting to do this, when word came from Wall Street that a New Zealand-based firm — Industrial Equity — had bought up 28% of the Wrather Corporation.

This firm — run by corporate raider Ronald Brierley — quickly made its intentions known: It filed reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it intended to buy up at least half of Wrather Corporation.

Sensing that Disney’s opportunity to gain control of the hotel was slipping away, Wilson and his team moved quickly. They immediately asked for a meeting with Wrather Corporation management. While in that meeting, Wilson voiced Disney’s disapproval that the ownership of the Disneyland Hotel could slip away to a foreign green-mailer like Brierley.

While Disney officially could do nothing to derail Wrather’s deal with Industrial Equity, Wilson did point out that the hotel’s monorail maintenance contract was soon up for renegotiation. Wilson then told Wrather management that the Mouse was considering a slight hike in the monorail maintenance fee. Like to — say — $10,000 a day?

Disney’s threat was none so subtle, but very clear. Should Wrather try to sell off their Disneyland Hotel holdings to anybody but the Mouse, Disney would make operating the monorail so prohibitively expensive for the new owners that there was no way that they could ever make money off the hotel. Faced with these terms, Wrather had no choice but to begin serious sale talks with the Mouse.

Unfortunately, the Disneyland Hotel sale negotiations dragged on for months. Disney felt that Wrather was asking too high a price for the property, while Wrather’s people thought that the Mouse’s offers were embarrassingly low. With no resolution in sight, the sales talks plodded on into 1987, eventually rolling into 1988.

Desperate to finally get its hands on the Disneyland Hotel, the Mouse did the unthinkable: It actually got in bed with Ronald Brierley and Industrial Equity. Together, the two companies bought up the remaining 78% of Wrather Corporation for $109 million. Each firm got 50% of the Wrather Company. But only the Mouse got the rights to run the Disneyland hotel as well as develop the surrounding Anaheim property.

Six months later, the Mouse turned around and bought out Industrial Equity’s portion of the Wrather Corporation. This took over $85 million, which Brierley gleefully pocketed before heading back to New Zealand.

So, in January 1989 — after 34 years and a total of $161 million dollars — the Mouse had finally regained control of the Disneyland Hotel. Given that Wrather Corporate has allowed the hotel’s 1,100-plus rooms to fall into disrepair, the first order of business was a $35 million rehab of the entire resort.

But the big news is the Walt Disney Company had finally regained control of its own name. Now it could launch a whole series of Southern California hotels if it chose to …

Only Michael didn’t choose to. He realizes that Disneyland — as it is currently configured — is strictly a one-day park. Guests would typically arrive in Anaheim that morning to see the park and its new attractions, then drive back home that night.

Consequently, there was no point in doing a Walt Disney World-style ramp-up of the number of Disney-owned hotel rooms at the Disneyland resort.

Unless…

Unless there was a reason for all those people to now stay two days in Anaheim. Like — say — a brand new Disney theme park in Southern California for them to see?

Intrigued by this idea, Eisner calls in the Imagineers. He outlines his idea of building a second Disney theme park in Southern California. He sends them back to WDI, telling them to return in one month’s time with plans for new Disney theme parks. His one creative directive: “Amaze me. Astound me.”

When the Imagineers finally do return one month later to show Eisner their proposals for new Southern Californian theme parks, they did actually amaze their new boss.

They’d proposed building two distinctly different Disney theme parks in two unlikely locations — one in Disneyland’s old parking lot, the other along the waterfront in Long Beach.

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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