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Can Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” avoid a grizzly fate at the box office?

Walt Disney Studios learned some very hard lessons from the failure of last summer's "Country Bears" film. Lessons that Mickey wisely applied to the production of "Pirates." But the big question is: Will it be enough to finally overcome Hollywood's legendary pirate movie curse?

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Ah, what a difference almost-a-year makes.

Some of you may recall how in late July 2002, Disney's "The Country Bears" opened in theaters nationwide. This Walt Disney Pictures production got absolutely hammered by the critics. Grossing only $16.9 million during its entire domestic run, "Country Bears" didn't even come close to covering its $20 million production budget (let alone the additional $10-$15 million that the Mouse had poured into promotion).

That entire production was an enormous embarrassment for the Walt Disney Company. And the Mouse was soundly ridiculed by its Hollywood rivals for daring to try and turn one of its theme park attractions into a major motion picture.

But now it's July 2003. And "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" is sailing into multiplexes today on a veritable wave of good buzz. Movie fans all around the country seem are eagerly lining up at the box office to see … a major motion picture that's based on a Disney theme park attraction.

Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, left) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, right) join forces
in Walt Disney Pictures' Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
© Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc. All rights reserved.

What gives? How is it that — in just 347 short days — the public's perception of what makes a really good movie can make such a radical shift?

Well, the answer lies in the Mouse's ability to learn from its mistakes. And — believe you me — there were dozens made on that "Country Bears" project. For example:

GET THE WRITE … ER … RIGHT TALENT FOR THE JOB
When Walt Disney Studios initially decided that it finally wanted to get serious about developing major motion pictures that were based on the corporation's most popular theme park attractions, it initially looked in-house for writing talent. Which is how Mark Perez — a recent graduate of Disney's screenwriting fellowship program — got assigned to write the first draft of "The Country Bears" movie script.

Later, at the insistence of "TCB" director Peter Hastings, TV animation vet Paul Rugg (best known for his work on the WB's "Animaniacs" and "Freakazoid!") was brought in to punch up and polish Perez's screenplay. But — given that neither Mark or Paul had extensive screenwriting experience at the time — it's easy to understand how the screenplay for Disney's "Country Bears" film might have gotten off track.

Now … having learned from the quick but painful flame-out of "The Country Bears" at the box office, Disney did things decidedly differently when it came to developing "Pirates of the Caribbean" into a full fledged feature film.

Sure, it was Mark Perez who reportedly still got to do the first pitch on the project. But — when Perez's ideas were found wanting — Disney quickly turned to Jay Wolpert (the screenwriter behind Touchstone Picture's 2002 release, "The Count of Monte Cristo") and asked him to take a pass at the material.

Wolpert turned in a "Pirates" screenplay to Disney in December 2001. And the Mouse allegedly liked Jay's take on the tale very very much. But even so, the studio then hired Stuart Beattie (an Australian screenwriter who's said to be quite an expert on the world of pirates) in March 2002 to try and add an air of authenticity to the production.

Which got the screenplay of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie ever more closer to being something worth filming. But it wasn't 'til "Pirates" producer Jerry Bruckheimer brought in the big guns — Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (the very talented gentlemen best known for their work on the screenplays of Disney's "Aladdin" and Dreamwork's "Shrek") — to rework what Perez, Wolpert and Beattie had done previously.

It was Ted and Terry who finally came up with the real hook for the film — that the movie's pirates are doomed to walk the earth as living skeletons until every piece of a cursed treasure is returned. This was the plot twist that ultimately convinced Bruckheimer — as well as Disney studio execs — that they finally had the makings of a really good movie. Which is how "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" (with an estimated production budget of $130 million: $100 million+ for the film itself, $30 for the movie's promotion) finally got greenlit.

AND THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS: Don't settle for a just an okay script, gang. Doggedly keep at it 'til you've a really good screenplay in hand … then see if you can persuade your screenwriters to stay on set while the movie is being shot. (Strange but true, folks. Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were actually on set every single day as Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" was being shot. Which made them instantly available should Gore Verbinski, the film's director, or cast have any questions or concerns.)

KNOW WHAT TO HANG ONTO AND WHAT TO TOSS OUT
Among Disneyana fans, one of the main complaints about Disney's "Country Bears" movie was "Those bears up there on the screen don't look anything like the AA figures in the "Country Bear Jamboree" show."

Well, that was a deliberate choice by the "Country Bears" production team. Their exact orders to the folks over at the Jim Henson Creature Shop (the FX company that actually produced — as well as puppeteered — all of the bear suits in "TCB") were: "Don't be afraid to deviate from Marc Davis' original designs for the bear characters. We're trying to do something different here."

Well, maybe the Creature Shop's take on the bears was a little too different. Making these well-known characters virtually unrecognizable to moviegoers. Which — in the end — is perhaps what made the "Country Bear" movie difficult for audiences to embrace.

Peter Hastings, the director of "The Country Bears" seemed to recognize this. Perhaps that's why — very late in the film's shooting schedule — Hastings attempted to insert a scene in the movie that recreated one of the more popular moments from the "Country Bear Jamboree" theme park show: where Big Al sings "Blood on the Saddle."

I was actually on the set of "The Country Bears" the day that this particular scene was shot. This brief vignette was filmed inside that ornate recreation of Country Bear Hall (which was built at great expense out on Disney's Golden Oaks Ranch in Newhall, CA) in front of 300 cheering extras. Peter had the actor in the Henson bear suit lip sync to the very same vocal track that all the Big Al AA figures in the theme parks perform to (I.E. Tex Ritter's 1959 mournful recording of "Blood on the Saddle").

Unfortunately, Hasting's last ditch effort to deliberately put a piece of the "Country Bear Jamboree" theme park show into his "Country Bears" movie didn't pay off. When Disney's editors were piecing together the final version of the "Country Bears" film, that Big Al "Blood on the Saddle" scene was left on the cutting room floor. Why for? Because — to be honest — it was just too little too late. A ham-handed, last minute acknowledgement of the extremely popular theme park attraction that had spawned this very unpopular movie.

This is another hard lesson that the "Pirates of the Caribbean" production team learned from Disney's "Country Bears" movie: you really do have to make some sort of acknowledgment of your source material. Disneyana fans (as well as the millions of other folks who have been to the Disney theme parks over the past 36 years) are going to expect it.

Which is why Elliot, Rossio, Verbinski and Bruckheimer did a very bright thing. They chose to sprinkle little bits of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction throughout their "Pirates" motion picture. Mind you, they only pop up every now and then …

The dog who's holding the keys while Jack Sparrow's locked in the dungeon at Port Royal.
The pirate hugging the pigs in Tortuga.
The big busty redhead who slaps Jack.
The skeleton pirates as they guzzle the rum.

… not to mention that cave full of loot. But still these scenes are enough to get a rise out of the audience. A laugh of recognition from those folks who are familiar with the theme park ride that spawned this picture.

But the beauty of what Ted, Terry, Gore and Jerry have done is, even if you've never ever been on "Pirates of the Caribbean" (the ride), you're still going to enjoy "Pirates of the Caribbean" (the motion picture). The story's that solid. The film's that good.

WHEN YOU'RE GOING TO MAKE A MOVIE, MAKE A MOVIE. NOT A TV SHOW
One of the other things that Disney was soundly criticized for on its "Country Bears" movie was that production's far-too-heavy reliance on television talent. With the exception of Haley Joel Osment (the voice of Beary Barrington) and Christopher Walken (who played the film's comic villain, Reed Thimple), practically everyone else associated with the film — Diedrich Bader, Daryl Mitchell, Alex Rocco on down — were all sitcom vets.

Now — given how notoriously cost conscious the Walt Disney Company has become — this may have seemed like a smart move at the time. But the sad fact of the matter is: people don't like to pay movie theater prices for performers that they can easily see for free at home while seated on their couch.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer obviously kept this lesson in mind as he began to cast his "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie. Which is why Jerry went after top flight talent like Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush, screen heartthrob Orlando Bloom as well as promising newcomers like Keira Knightley. But Bruickheimer's real coup was in persuading Johnny Depp to star as the roguish but charming Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp's decidedly different take on this character (piracy by way of Keith Richards) just makes the movie. At least for me.

So here we have a expertly produced production backed by a top flight cast and a solidly written script. Now the big question is … can Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" overcome Tinsel Town's infamous pirate movie curse?

It's true, people. The major studios in Hollywood has not produced a truly great — or even remotely satisfying — pirate picture in over 50 years. The last film that really swashed anyone's buckle was 1952's "The Crimson Pirate" starring Burt Lancaster. Which is still really worth a look-see if you're in desperate need of a good pirate pic.

Prior to that … well, sure there had been earlier great pirates. Like 1935's "Captain Blood" with Errol Flynn or 1945's "Captain Kidd" with Charles Laughton.

But once the 1950s rolled around, the whole genre had showed some serious signs of running out of steam. Robert Newton's enthusiastic chewing of the scenery in Disney's 1950 "Treasure Island" put one nail in the coffin. As did Charles Laughton parodying of his earlier excellent pirate portrayal in 1952's "Abbott & Costello meet Captain Kidd."

But after "The Crimson Pirate" sailed off into the cinematic sunset, there was this 50-year long period of doldrums. Where not a single pirate picture seemed to win real favor with moviegoers.

Don't believe me? Well, then how many of you think back fondly on Robert Shaw's performance in 1976's "Swashbuckler?" Or Walter Matthau's piratical turn in Roman Polanski's 1986 dud, "Pirates?" And don't even get me started on Steve Spielberg's 1991 big budget bomb, "Hook," or Renny Harlin's 1995 fiasco, "Cutthroat Island." (The failure of that film actually cost Harlin his marriage to "Cutthroat Island" star Geena Davis.)

You have to understand that this was what was going through the minds of Disney Studio execs as they looked over the $100-million-plus budget proposal for "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" … that not a single pirate movie in the past 50 years has been a real box office success. And yet here was the Walt Disney Company, about to greenlight a big budget swashbuckler.

So will Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" finally be the film that breaks the curse? Will "The Curse of the Black Pearl" be the first pirate movie to make it into the black in over half a century?

Check back with JimHillMedia.com at the tail end of August when we'll discuss how Disney's summer offerings actually did this year.

In the meantime … I'm setting sail for my local multiplex. To catch a matinee and see how "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" fares with the average film-goer.

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.

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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