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“Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” is the latest step in Universal Studios Hollywood’s reimagining of its Upper Lot

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By now, you've probably already heard that Universal Studios Hollywood's
version of "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" opened on Friday.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

And as you might expect, there was the usual hoopla …


Gru is joined onstage by Miranda Cosgrove, Dana
Gier and Elsie Fisher, the three
talented young ladies who voiced Margo, Edith
& Agnes in "Despicable Me"
and "Despicable Me 2." Photo
by Shelly Valladolid

… that now comes with the opening of a brand-new theme
park attraction …


Universal Parks & Resort
management, dignitaries & celebrities all gathered with Gru
around a
detonator. Photo by Shelly Valladolid

… in the highly competitive Southern California
market.


As a blizzard of Minion-yellow balloons,
streamers and confetti descended on the crowd,
USH's version of
"Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" was officially declared open.
Photo by
Shelly Valladolid

Now a lot of other sites would use this
opening-of-this-new-USH-attraction as an opportunity to talk about the
"Minion Mayhem" ride itself …


Copyright 2014 Universal
Studios. All rights reserved

But here at JHM … Well, I'd prefer to use the debut of Universal Studios
Hollywood's new "Despicable Me" -themed "land" as a way to
talk about how Universal Creative has reimagining that theme park's Upper Lot
area.

Because — let's be honest here, folks — while Universal Studios Hollywood
does have a really strong entrance …


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights
reserved

… not to mention a retail corridor that does reinforce the
idea that you're now entering a theme park which celebrates the movies …


Copyright 2014 Universal
Studios. All rights reserved

… but everything kind of fell apart as soon as you got to the end of
Universal Studios Hollywood's retail corridor. Which was where the Upper
Lot then turned in this confusing tangle of games, shops,
attractions & restaurants.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights
reserved

And the folks at Universal Creative knew this. But — given
that they'd previously had to rehab USH's Upper Lot area
in a piecemeal fashion — there was just no way that they could address the Upper
Lot's visual confusion / guest flow issues in a comprehensive
manner.

But all that changed in November of 2011 when Universal Park
& Resorts
managers revealed that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would
be coming to Hollywood in 2016
.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights
reserved

And since a goodly portion of the Upper Lot (not to mention the entire Gibson
Amphitheatre
) would have to be torn up / ripped down in order to accommodate J.K.
Rowling
's characters … Well, Universal Creative took advantage of this
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redo much of the front half of its Southern
California theme park. Put together a new master plan for the Upper Lot that would — for once & for all — address all of the visual confusion / guest flow issues that had
previously existed in this corner of Universal Studios Hollywood.

The first portion of Universal Creative's new vision for USH's Upper Lot to come online was the Universal Plaza. The area first opened to the public back in August of 2013.


Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the Universal
Plaza features many of the same
design elements that the Guests had already seen as they passed through this
theme park's entrance archway and then wandered up its retail corridor. Ah, but
there's more to this architectural-celebration-of-Hollywood's-golden-age than
meets the eye.

You see, right from the get-go, the Universal
Plaza had been designed to be a
multi-use space. So in September & October, it could be used as an
over-flow queue area for Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights


Photo by Jim Hill

… while in November & December, this exact same space could then be
repurposed for Grinchmas. Giving USH visitors a place where they do holiday
crafts …


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

… or attend the nightly lighting of this theme park's 60 foot-tall Grinchmas
tree.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

During the hot summer months, Universal Plaza then converts into a massive
water play area. Which gives kids a place to cool down while Mom & Dad go
off and grab lunch at near-by counter service restaurants like the Snack Bar
& Pink's.


Copyright 2014 Universal
Studios. All rights reserved

Mind you, one of the main reasons that Universal Creative
was looking to rip out this tangle of shops, restaurants, games and attractions
which one used to encounter when they arrived at the very heart of the Upper
Lot was to ease guest flow through this area. Which is going to
become especially crucial when this theme park's expanded Springfield,
U.S.A. area opens in
2015. Not to mention when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter came online in 2016.

But you know what I like best about Universal Creative's
been doing with that theme park's Upper Lot area.
Whenever possible, they've been using this multi-million dollar redo as an
excuse to do some placemaking.

Now please don't misunderstand. While I love what the folks
down in Orlando did when the
original "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" opened at Universal Studios
Florida
back in July of 2012 …


Photo by Nancy Stadler

… because this attraction was located in that theme park's Production Central
area right across the street from Shrek 4-D, there was only so much placemaking
that Universal Creative could do. So they put some funny Minion-themed elements
on the exterior of Soundstage 42 …


Photo by Nancy Stadler

… not to mention some cute signage down at street level.


Photo by Nancy Stadler


Photo by Nancy Stadler

And I also have to give Universal Orlando's horticultural department props for
planting some banana trees right next to "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" 's queue area.


Photo by Jim Hill

But that was pretty much all Universal Creative could do in Florida,
given the time & the budget that they were working with. Whereas the team
who was in charge of converting USH's "Terminator 2 – 3D" attraction


2014 Universal Studios. All
rights reserved

… and that theme park's old Coke Soak area really went all
out. They didn't just build Gru's house this time around. They decided to create a whole
"Despicable Me" -themed neighborhood. Which starts with "Miss
Hattie's Home for Girls," the orphanage where Margo, Edith & Agnes lived
until Gru adopted them.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

If you actually make it out to Universal Studios Hollywood
this week to check out "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" (Speaking of
which, to accommodate the crowds that USH official anticipate will be coming to
this theme park over April School Vacation Week, now through April 20th, both
"Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" & "Transformers – The Ride
3D" will open 30 minutes before the rest of the park), I urge you to walk
down "Despicable Me" street and hammer on all the doorbells you see


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

… so that you can then hear all of the fun audio clips that Universal
Creative put together for this area.

Likewise as you exit "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" …


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

… and then find yourself in the gift shop …


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

… be sure and continue on outside. Where you'll then find that Universal
Creative has turned USH's old Coke Soak area in a smallish sized version of Super
Silly Fun Land.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid


I really have to applaud Universal Creative for their attention to detail in
this corner of that theme park. For Super Silly Fun Land apes the look at that
seaside theme park which  Chris
Meledandri
& Co. created for that 2010 Illumination Entertainment release.


Copyright 2010 Universal Pictures. All rights reserved

Everything from the Silly Swirly ..


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

… which is this bug-themed spinner …


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

… to this area's climbing structure …


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

… the water play area …


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

… even the shade structures …


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

… keep that silly cartoon bug look of the original film going. Best of all,
if you wander over to Super Silly Fun Land's boardwalk gaming area …


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

… you can then relive one of the comic highpoints of the first
"Despicable Me" movie

and attempt to win a fluffy unicorn by trying
your hand at "Space Killer."


Copyright 2010 Universal Pictures. All rights reserved


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

One of the other smart differences between the Universal Orlando version of
"Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" and the Universal Studios Hollywood
version of this same attraction is the addition of Gru's Lab Cafe. Which is
where parents can linger over their counter service lunch or dinner while the
kids run off and explore Super Silly
Fun Land.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

To be honest, there are lots of reasons to linger in Super
Silly Fun Land.
You could easily kill 15 minutes just trying find all of the Minions that
Universal Creative has stashed in & around this part of that theme park. There
are Minions standing guard …


Beware of the fart gun. Photo
by Shelly Valladolid

… Minions helping to safely operate this theme park's
attractions …


Ready for take-off. Photo by
Shelly Valladolid

… Minions who are touching up Super Silly Fun Land's paint job.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

There are even Minions who are just goofing, enjoying a quick toasted
marshmallows & banana break.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

"And why has Universal Creative loaded up USH's new
'Despicable Me' land with all sorts of detail instead of just building a
straightforward clone of the USF version of this attraction?," you ask.
Because Universal Creative learned a very valuable lesson when it opened the
original Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure
back in June of 2010. Which is that — when you create a hyper-detailed
environment which has far more than the average theme park guest can take in in
a single glance — they then slow down …


Copyright 2014 Universal
Studios. All rights reserved

… They linger. They loiter. In a theme park environment like this, these
people are far more likely to visit shops and/or sit down and order a meal
& a drink.


Less than seven months after The Wizarding World
of Harry Potter opened at Universal's
Islands of Adventure, this theme park
within a theme park sold its millionth glass of
Butterbeer. Copyright 2014
Universal Studios. All rights reserved

Which perhaps explains why the version of Springfield,
U.S.A.


Copyright 2014 Universal
Studios. All rights reserved

… which is currently under construction at Universal
Studios Hollywood will be significantly larger & more elaborate than the
Universal Studios Florida original.


Copyright 2014 Universal
Studios. All rights reserved

Which is why — as you take a closer look at that concept
art for USH's version of Fast Food Boulevard
— you're going to see details which only a true Simpsons fan would appreciate.
Like Snake breaking out of the second floor of the Springfield Police Station
as Eddie & Lou look on obviously at street level.


Copyright 2014 Universal
Studios. All rights reserved

Or how — high up in the hills behind Moe's Tavern — Mr. Burns
has just released the hounds.


Copyright 2014 Universal
Studios. All rights reserved

"But why is Universal Creative extending the facades for USH's version of Fast Food Boulevard to such a great height?," you query.


Copyright 2014 Universal
Studios. All rights reserved

Ah, that's because the Universal Hollywood of The Wizarding World of Harry
Potter is being built right across the way. And the folks at Universal Creative
are doing everything within their power to make sure that worlds of Harry &
Homer don't visually intrude on one another.


Copyright 2014 Universal
Studios. All rights reserved

As for what rides, shows & attractions will be featured
in the Hollywood version of The Wizarding World? …
Well, given that the opening of this new USH "land" is still more
than two years away, Universal Creative is (understandably) being kind of
close-mouthed for the moment.


Copyright 2014 Universal
Studios. All rights reserved

Though, from what I've been told from a few insiders, the
Universal Hollywood version of the Wizarding World will have several aspects
that will then make this new theme park "land" different from IOA's
Hogsmeade, USF's Diagon Alley and even that version of the Wizarding World
which is currently under construction at Universal Studios Japan.


Copyright Universal Studios.
All rights reserved

So what do you folks think of what Universal Creative has
been doing with the Upper Lot at Universal Studios
Hollywood? Does this radically reimaging of the front-most portion of this
theme park make it that much more likely that you'll visit USH the next time
you're in Southern California?

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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