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California Misadventure — Part 4

In Part 4 of this fan favorite from the JimHillMedia.com archives, learn what happened when Mickey’s Orange County neighbors got hot under the collar about the Disneyland Resort’s expansion plans.

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OUR STORY SO FAR:

After months of playing Long Beach and Anaheim off one another, Disney (surprise, surprise) picked Orange County as the future home of its next Californian theme park. This $3.1 billion development would have risen up out of Disneyland’s old parking lot, changing forever the fiscal as well as physical layout of this part of California.

Had the Mouse actually gone forward with building Westcot Center as well as redoing the entire Disneyland resort, Anaheim could have evolved into one of California’s premier vacation destinations. The proposed theme park’s bold new look and stunning array of state-of-the-art attractions would have made the place an instant hit with vacationers worldwide. There was no way the place would have failed.

All the Mouse had to do now was get the City of Anaheim to rubber-stamp its expansion plans. Given the decades of cozy (some might say too cozy) relations between Disney and Orange County, Westcot and the Disneyland Resort project should have no problems getting approved, right?

After all, what could go wrong? … go wrong? … go wrong? … go wrong? …

There was no getting around it. Spacestation Earth was going to be impressive.

At 300 feet, Westcot’s centerpiece building was going to be the tallest structure in all of Orange County. As big as a 23-story skyscraper, but round and covered in gold. Shimmering under the Californian sun, it would dazzle your eye and be visible for miles around.

Impressive, yes. But would you really want one towering over your backyard?

That was the problem Curtis Sticker and Bill Fitzgerald had. As long-time Anaheim residents, they had grown accustomed to the nightly crackle of the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. They had learned all the short cuts to get around traffic jams on Interstate 5. That’s just what you had to do when the Mouse was your neighbor.

But now here comes Westcot with its 4,600 new hotel rooms, its 17,500 new employees, and its 300 foot tall golden ball. All those dramatic changes to Disneyland were bound to have an impact on the local community, right?

That’s what Sticker and Fitzgerald thought. But when they tried to voice their concerns about the project during a June 1991 Wescot public forum all they got was Disney’s dog and pony show.

When asked about traffic flow, the Mouse pointed to the project’s two huge parking garages (which on the model loomed over Fitzgerald’s neighborhood like the Great Wall of China.) “They’ll be the largest parking garages in the whole world,” the Disney Guest Relations spokesperson squeaked proudly.

When asked about noise, the gosh-how-cute spokesperson tried to deflect the crowd’s concerns by pointing out the Disneyland amphitheater. “It’ll seat 5000,” she said, “And we’ll get neat people like Neal Diamond and Barry Manilow to come there and play.” (Sticker couldn’t help but notice given the way that amphitheater was situated on Disney property that the natural acoustics of the place would drive a lot of noise from those concerts right into his neighborhood.)

“What about our schools?” the neighbors asked. “Won’t they get swamped when the children of those new 17,500 cast members try to enroll?” This was the cue for Disney media relations staff to play up the educational aspects of Westcot. “Your kids will be able to take field trips here and learn all about other lands as they tour World Showcase. And have you noticed Spacestation Earth? That will have lots of science exhibits in it, too.”

Fitzgerald and Sticker had heard enough. It was obvious that Disneyland thought its Anaheim neighbors were a bunch of complete idiots, the types of yokels that could be distracted from voicing their petty concerns by lots of bright, happy talk about the wonders of Westcot. “Oooh! Look at Spacestation Earth! It’s so big and shiny.”

Let this be a lesson to Mickey: Never piss off a suburbanite.

In the days that followed, Fitzgerald and Sticker met with other area residents who were equally bothered by the Mouse’s seemingly cavalier attitude towards the concerns of the local community. They felt something should be done to make Eisner aware that the locals weren’t too thrilled with his ambitious new plans for Anaheim. Someone suggested that they get a petition going, maybe form a group.

This is how the Anaheim Homeowners for Maintaining the Environment (“Anaheim HOME”) rose up in Spring 1992 and grew to bite Disney squarely in the ass. 1,600 members strong, this neighborhood-rights group quickly became a force for Disney to reckon with. Anaheim HOME did things that terrified the Mouse, and that forever changed the way Disney did business in Orange County.

Take for instance the tickets scandal. For 38 years, one of the nicest perks Anaheim city employees got when they worked in the Mayor’s office was free tickets to Disneyland. You just told the Mayor’s secretary when you wanted to go, and she made the call to Disneyland’s City Hall. Your passes would be waiting at Guest Relations when you arrived at the park.

Anaheim HOME got wind of this decades old practice. Since the people who worked in the Mayor’s office were obviously going to have some influence over the Anaheim Planning Commission (the folks who’d actually say “yea” and “nay” to Disneyland’s expansion plans), wouldn’t it stand to reason that giving free tickets to the Mayor’s staff could somehow be viewed as influence peddling by the Mouse? Kind of like offering them a bribe?

Anaheim HOME clued the local media in to the free tickets scam. In the firestorm that followed, hundreds of Orange County employees had their reputations sullied for allegedly taking illegal gifts from the Walt Disney Company. The Mayor’s office was forced to hand down an official edict: no city employee would ever be allowed to accept free tickets — or free anything — from Disneyland ever again. It was the end of an era.

It was not, however, the end of Anaheim HOME’s guerilla tactics in its attempts to make the public aware that the Mouse was one awful neighbor. Guests driving into the Disneyland parking lot during Christmas Week 1993, had to actually roll through a Anaheim HOME picket line. As guests slowed down, they were offered a leaflet detailing the less savory aspects of Disney’s expansion plans.

As you might imagine, Michael Eisner didn’t have a happy holiday when news of this got back to him.

Disney tried to turn around the bad buzz about its Disneyland resort project. The Mouse quietly recruited prominent local businessmen like KTLA’s Ed Arnold, Coporate Bank Chairman Stan Pawlowski and Pacific Bell executive Reed Royalty to head a pro-Disney organization that area residents would be asked to join.

This organization, which came to be known as “Westcot 2000,” meant well. But the overly-polished and professional way Arnold, Pawlowski and Royalty produced their pro-Disney rallies easily gave away the Mouse’s influence over the group. One infamous “rah-rah” session was actually staged in the Disneyland Hotel convention center. Though 4000 people were in attendance singing the praises of the Walt Disney Company, it was the Anaheim HOME team, with its dozen volunteers, carrying signs that trumpeted “Disney Greed” as they picketed out in front of the hotel, that got all the TV coverage.

It seemed that no matter what the Mouse tried to do to turn around Wescot it just couldn’t catch a break. Take, for example, the giant parking garage that Disney was planning to build for the expanded Disneyland resort. Through extensive lobbying in the US House and Senate, the Mouse was able to persuade Congress in the summer of 1994 to pick up $25 million in construction costs toward the project. Seems like a pretty clever thing to do, right?

Not in light of what happened next. Later that fall, word got out that Representative Bob Carr (D. – Michigan), one of the authors of that appropriations bill, had accepted sizable campaign contributions from several senior Disney executives. Mind you, nobody did anything illegal. But it still didn’t make the Mouse — or Westcot — look good.

In the meantime, big problems were flaring up elsewhere the Disney empire. Euro Disney, what many Mouska-fans had figured would be a sure-fire success, floundered immediately after its April 1992 grand opening. It took Walt Disney Attractions president Judson Green and a cadre of accountants almost 18 months to clear up the resort’s cash flow problems. Finally, in October 1994, a workable financial restructuring plan was in place and Euro Disney, now renamed Disneyland Paris, slowly inched its way out of the red.

Now, it’s important to understand that in the 18 months it took to get the Euro Disney bail-out strategy in place, Michael Eisner really lost his taste for huge ambitious Disney theme park projects. He saw how Euro Disney had been dragged down by the six luxury hotels that surrounded the theme park and thought: “I’m never going to overbuild another Disney resort ever again.”

So the word came down in Spring of 1993. Michael wanted the Imagineers to scale back the Disneyland Resort plans. How far did Eisner want the plan rolled back? The project’s original specs called for 4,600 new hotel rooms to be built within the Disneyland Resort. Westcot 2.0 would feature only 1,000 new hotel rooms.

Spacestation Earth? Gone. In its place was a new icon: a 300-foot-tall, tapered, white spike. At its base, the spike featured a 35-foot-tall, blue-and-green, revolving globe. Not exactly awe inspiring sounding, is it?

The Mouse also had to make numerous changes to its original Disneyland Resort master plan to appease the irate locals. It seems that Disney, on their Westcot overview site plan map, listed the company’s plans for parcels of property the Mouse didn’t actually yet own.

As you might guess, this last bit of news truly ticked off the owners of the Melodyland Christian Center and the Fujishige strawberry fields. Both of these parcels had been listed as possible locations for the Disneyland Resort’s second giant parking garage. This was odd, given that neither owner had any intention of selling his property to the Mouse.

In a particularly fiery letter dated June 1993, Carolyn Fujishige stated that her family “would never sell [its] property to the Disney Company or to anyone that is affiliated in any way to the Walt Disney Company.” Of course, one must remember never to say never. The Fujishige family, giving in after decades of pressure from the Mouse, finally sold its 52+ acres to the Walt Disney Company in August 1998 for an estimated $90 million. (I wonder what Carolyn’s cut of that windfall was? Anyhow …)

On and on, year after year, Westcot’s problems kept hammering away at Eisner, draining his confidence and raising his doubts about the project. All he had wanted to do was recreate Orlando in Anaheim. How had this seemingly simple plan get thrown so far off track?

In the end, Eisner turned to his new hatchet man, Paul Pressler. A bright, young executive who had worked wonders with the company’s retail division, Pressler had recently moved over from the Disney Stores to head the Disneyland Resort.

Eisner told Pressler: “I’m tired of all the mess and bad press that’s associated with Westcot. Make it go away.”

So Pressler did.

On the day before Disneyland’s 40th birthday, Pressler called in the local media and broke the bad news: Disney was abandoning its plans to build Westcot, as well as scaling back all previously announced expansion plans for Disneyland.

When pressed for information about the Mouse’s future plans for Anaheim, Pressler said, “We’re going to build a second gate, absolutely … Our (Eisner’s / Pressler’s) vision is consistent. Make Disneyland the best resort we can. Certainly a second resort is part of that vision. My job is to figure out how to do it.”

Does that sound ominous?

It should.

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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