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Can “Cars” crash through the $75 – $80 million barrier?

An awful lot is riding on Pixar’s next film. Jim Hill details the industry’s lofty expectations for this new CG feature as well as the Mouse’s hope that John Lasseter’s movie will finally be the one to shake Walt Disney Studios out of its six-month-long slump

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By this time next week, we’ll know.


By that I mean: By this time next Monday morning, we’ll finally have the preliminary box office results in hand for the opening weekend of “Cars.” And then we’ll know for sure if John Lasseter’s newest film has actually met Wall Street’s expectations.


“And what exactly are Wall Street’s expectations for ‘Cars’ ?,” you ask. Well, I just spent this past weekend working the phones. Talking with various investment analysts & entertainment industry observers about what the magic number might be. As in: What’s “Cars” actually going to have to earn over its opening weekend in order to please the investment community?


Mind you, none of these folks were willing to go on the record with me. Supposedly out of concern that something that they’d tell me might then come back to haunt them, offend the Mouse in some way.


But – that said – there was a fairly strong consensus among these folks about what the magic number for “Cars” had to be. And that was that Pixar Animation Studios‘ latest release has to earn at least $75 million over its opening weekend in order to be seen as a box office success.



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“And how did these people come up with that number?,” you query. It’s simple, really. They started by looking at how Pixar’s last six pictures did over their opening weekends. And – as you can see by the chart below …























Film Title


Domestic Opening weekend gross


“The Incredibles”


       $70.4 million


“Finding Nemo”


       $70.2 million


“Monsters, Inc.”


       $62.5 million


“Toy Story II”


       $57.3 million


“A Bug’s Life”


       $33.2 million


“Toy Story”


       $29.1 million


… at least two of this animation studio’s films (I.E. “The Incredibles” & “Finding Nemo“) have earned over $70 million during their initial weekend in domestic release. So – taking into consideration the rise in theater admission prices well as adjusting for inflation — $75 million in 2006 dollars is roughly the equivalent of $70.2 / $70.4 million in 2003 / 2004 dollars.


So – in order to maintain the status quo (I.E. Not show any significant erosion in the perceived value of the Pixar brand) – “Cars” has to sell at least $75 million worth of tickets during its first weekend in domestic box office release. To earn anything less would send the wrong message to Wall Street. Like “Pixar’s hot streak is now over.” Or – worse than that – “Disney really did over-pay when it shelled out $7.4 billion for Pixar Animation Studios.”


Mind you, some investment analysts that I spoke with said that “Cars” has to earn over $80 million in order to totally silence the nay-sayers.But that was mostly because of what this film’s competition had already earned.


And when I say “competition,” I mean both what other non-Pixar computer animated films have earned over their opening weekends …



































Film Title


Domestic opening weekend gross


  “Shrek II”


      $108.0 million


  “Ice Age: The Meltdown”


        $68.0 million


  “Shark Tales”


        $47.6 million


  “Madagascar


        $47.2 million


  “Ice Age”


        $46.3 million


  “Shrek”


        $42.3 million


  “Chicken Little”


        $40.0 million


  “Dinosaur”


        $38.8 million


  “Over the Hedge”


        $38.4 million


  “Robots”


        $36.0 million


… as well as what other major motion pictures that have been released during the first half of 2006 have earned over their opening weekends.














































Film Title


Opening Weekend


That weekend’s gross


   “X-Men: The Last Stand”


   May 26 – 28


   $102.7 million


   “The Da Vinci Code”


   May 19 – 21


     $77.0 million


   “Ice Age: The Meltdown”


   March 31 – April 1


     $68.0 million


   “Mission Impossible III”


   May 5 – 7


     $47.7 million


   “Scary Movie 4”


   April 14 – 16


     $40.2 million


   “The Break-Up”


   June 2 – 4


     $38.0 million


   “Ice Age: The Meltdown” (2ndweekend in release)


   April 7 – 9


     $33.8 million


   “Madea’s Family Reunion”


   February 24-26


     $30.0 million


   “Inside Man”


   March 24-26


     $28.9 million


   “Big Momma’s House 2”


   January 27-29


     $27.7 million


The message that I kept hearing over & over wasn’t that “Cars” had to be No. 1. As in: That it had to beat either “Shrek II” ‘s $108.0 million and/or “X-Men: The Last Stand” ‘s $102.7 million. But – rather – that Pixar’s latest animated feature had to finish in the No. 2 position in order to be taken seriously. Or – at the very least – as a very strong No. 3.


Okay. Obviously, that’s a pretty high goal to shoot for. But given that there’s already pretty good buzz going about “Cars” (More importantly, that all the initial reviews for this new Pixar film have been generally positive) … That $75 – $80 million target for an opening weekend gross is still very achievable, right?


Well … In theory, yes. But according to a number of folks that I spoke with this past weekend, there has recently been a perceptible softening of audiences’ interest in animated features. Which could possibly have a significant impact on “Cars” opening weekend gross.


Don’t believe me? Okay, then check out the chart below. Which lists all of the significant animated features that has been released to theaters over the past 12 months.






































 


Title


Film’s total Domestic Gross to date


    “Madagascar


    $193.5 million


    “Ice Age: The Meltdown”


    $191.0 million


    “Chicken Little”


    $135.3 million


    “Over the Hedge”


    $112.3 million


    “Curious George”


      $58.3 million


    “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”


      $56.1 million


    “Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride”


      $53.3 million


    “Hoodwinked”


      $51.3 million


    “The Wild”


      $35.3 million


    “Valiant”


      $19.4 million


    “Doogal”


        $7.4 million


Admittedly, the grosses for “Madagascar,” “Ice Age: The Melt Down,” “Chicken Little” and “Over The Hedge” are below impressive. But – if you look just below those four film titles – you should be able to quickly pick up on a pattern.


Yep, at least seven of these animated features actually ran out of gas before they were able to cross the $60 million threshold during their initial domestic releases. With two of these films crashing & burning before they were even able to sell $20 million of tickets.


Now as to why exactly that happened … To be honest, it’s hard to say. Given that four of these under-performing pictures were done in CG, two others were stop-motion while the seventh & final film was traditionally animated … Blanket statements like “Movie-goers have grown tired of seeing feature length cartoons like this” really don’t work in situations like this.


But that said … A significant number of animated films have already been released to theaters this year. And right behind “Cars” comes Sony’s “Monster House” & Warner Bros. “The Ant Bully& Paramount’s “Barnyard& Fox’s “Everyone’s Hero” & Sony’s “Open Season& Dreamworks’ “Flushed Away& Warner Bros. “Happy Feet.” And given that there’s now the Cartoon Network as well as Toon Disney along with animated television series in prime-time like “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “American Dad” … Well, how much animation is too much animation? When does all this stuff stop seeming special?


I’ll say this much: Based on survey work that the Walt Disney Company has done, Pixar’s animated features are still considered appointment cinema. As in: A lot of movie-goers make a point of heading out for their local multiplex whenever a new Pixar picture is released. Rather than waiting ’til that same film is released on VHS & DVD. Which is evidently what happened with Disney’s last two traditionally animated features, “Brother Bear” and “Home on the Range.”


And Disney Company officials are certainly hoping that “Cars” turns out to be appointment cinema too. Given that the studio is currently trying to shake off a six-month-long box office slump.


“How long it been since the Mouse House has actually had a hit?,” you ask. “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was released to theaters back on December 9, 2005. And that elaborate fantasy epic was the very last Disney film to achieve blockbuster status. Everything else that the studio has released since then …


























































Film Title


Release Date


Film’s total domestic gross (to date)


    “Casanova”


   January 6, 2006


         $11.3 million


    “Glory Road


   January 13, 2006


         $42.6 million


    “Annapolis


   January 27, 2006


         $17.1 million


    “Roving Mars”


   January 27, 2006


           $3.4 million


    “Eight Below”


   February 17, 2006


         $81.5 million


    “Tsoti”


   February 24, 2006


           $2.8 million


    “GOAL! The Dream Begins”


   March 3, 2006


           $3.4 million


    “The Shaggy Dog”


   March 10, 2006


         $58.1 million


    “Stay Alive”


   March 24, 2006


         $22.7 million


    “The Wild”


   April 14, 2006


         $35.3 million


    “Kinky Boots”


   April 14, 2006


           $1.3 million


    “Stick It”


   April 28, 2006


         $24.7 million


    “Keeping Up with the   Steins”


   May 12, 2006


           $2.1 million


… have under-performed. Mind you, “Eight Below,” “The Shaggy Dog” and “Glory Road” all did fair-to-middling business. But of the 13 films that Walt Disney Studios has released through its various production arms (I.E. Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures & Miramax Films), not a one of them became a blockbuster. As in: Selling over $100 million worth of tickets during its initial domestic release.


So Disney officials are really counting on “Cars.” Not only to silence all of the company’s critics who say that the Mouse paid far too much when it spent $7.4 billion to acquire Pixar. But also to arrest the studio’s slide at the box office.


Mind you, one wonders how much “Cars” will actually be able to pull in this summer. Given that – just 19 days after this new Pixar film first rolls into theaters – “Superman Returns” flies into your local multiplex (A full two days ahead of when this $300 million Warner Bros. film was originally supposed to debut). And then – just nine days after that – here comes Disney’s other big movie for the summer, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”


I’d told that the folks at Pixar aren’t all that pleased that – just four weeks after it hits theater – “Cars” finds itself in direct competition with Captain Jack Sparrow. Which perhaps explains why – in the Summer of 2007 – this situation will be reversed. With Disney’s third “Pirates” picture (Tentatively subtitled “World’s End) bowing on May 25, 2007, while Pixar’s next animated feature, “Ratatouille” (A Brad Bird-directed opus which deals with the gastronomic adventures of Remy the Rat, who wishes to become one of France’s greatest chefs) will debut on June 29th.


Mind you … If both “Cars” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” under-perform … Well, Walt Disney Studios still has a few cards up its sleeve. I’ve heard that Mark Wahlberg’s “Invincible” (Which tells the story of that unlikely NFL star, Vince Papale) has sleeper potential. Also Tim Allen’s “The Santa Clause III” ….



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… and Mel Gibson’s Mesoamerican epic, “Apocolypto,” both look like they could make the Mouse’s holiday season brighter.


But – for now – all eyes are on “Cars.” To see if Pixar’s newest animated feature not only meets its initial box office projections (I.E. $75 – $80 million), but also to see if this automotive motion picture has legs. As in: Will “Cars” actually go on to earn as much as Pixar’s earlier pictures did?


Just to refresh your memory, here’s a chart that lists how well Pixar Animation Studio’s first six films did:





































Title


Domestic Gross


Overseas Gross


Combined Gross


     “Finding Nemo”


     $339.7 million


     $524.9 million


     $864.5 million


     “The Incredibles”


     $261.4 million


     $369.9 million


     $631.4 million


     “Monsters, Inc.”


     $255.8 million


     $269.4 million


     $525.3 million


     “Toy Story 2”


     $245.8 million


     $239.1 million


     $485.0 million


     “A Bug’s Life”


     $162.7 million


     $200.6 million


     $363.3 million


     “Toy Story”


     $191.7 million


     $170.1 million


     $361.9 million


So what do you folks think? Will “Cars” actually be able earn more than $75 million during its initial weekend in domestic release? Or is it even fair of Wall Street movers & shakers and entertainment industry observers to set such a lofty goal for a film to achieve prior to its release to theaters?


Your thoughts?

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.

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“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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