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“Destination Disney” is a lot closer than you think

Well, whaddaya now? The future really IS now. Jim Hill’s back with even more info about this new guest experience enchancing program which will start making its Disney World debut in early 2003.

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I know, I know. What with the talking interactive plush and the hidden digital cameras, this all sounds like something out of Michael Crichton’s “Westworld.” But the fact of the matter is, kids, the “Destination Disney” program IS real. By that I mean, key components of this ambitious program are already in place, while other elements will be making their WDW debut starting in early 2003.

So what exactly are we talking about here? Well, for those of you who missed last Wednesday’s article, let me do a quick recap: “Destination Disney” is a guest satisfaction program that the Walt Disney Company will be rolling out in Orlando shortly that (to put it bluntly) will totally re-invent the theme park going experience.

Goal No. 1 of the “Destination Disney” plan is to get guests who have booked their WDW vacation packages through www.disneyworld.com into the theme parks with two hours of their arrival at Orlando International Airport. The Mouse hopes to accomplish this by:

1. Collecting these guests’ bags right as they come off the plane and taking this luggage directly to the guests’ on-property WDW hotel room. (Thereby sparing these folks all that standing and waiting around OIA’s luggage carousels as well as all the sweat and strain involved with schlepping their own bags out to Disney property.)

2. Using the “Destination Disney” desk – which will be located right inside the airport terminal – to allow these folks to check into their WDW hotel prior to actually arriving on property. (Thereby eliminating the need for these guests to drop by the front desk and physically check in once they actually arrive at the Disney World resort that they’re staying at.)

3. Immediately issuing these guests their room keys, which will also double as their passes to get into the theme parks. (Thereby eliminating any reason for these WDW visitors to stand on line at the admission booths once they arrive at the parks).

Goal No. 2 of the “Destination Disney” program will be to make the whole WDW experience as easy and convenient (and – more importantly – as entertaining as possible) for guests who have booked their WDW vacation packages on line. Disney hopes to accomplish this by giving these guests a variety of hi-tech devices. These include:

A handheld PDA (personal digital assistant) that – since it will be tied in directly with WDW’s intranet system – will be able to perform a variety of functions:

1. It will be able to give these guests real time quotes on what the current wait times are for various attractions around the theme park.

2. It will allow these guests to make breakfast, lunch and dinner reservations while on the fly. (Thereby eliminating the need to physically drop by that restaurant and/or call ahead in order to secure a reservation.)

3. As the guest walks through the theme park, the PDA will constantly “volunteer” new information. (I.E. offer up interesting bits of trivia about the park, suggest shows and attractions that the guest may be interested in seeing while touring a particular section of the theme park, point out where the nearest restaurant or restroom is located.)

4. Eventually, WDW’s PDA system will supposedly allow guests to pre-book their Fast Pass tickets. (Thereby eliminating any reason to actually go to that attraction prior to riding the ride.)

A device the size of a key chain that will allow these guests to make use of Disney’s new in-theme-park digital imagery system. (Thereby eliminating the need for these guests to carry a camera with them in order to record memorable moments during their Disney World vacation.)

An interactive plush toy that – thanks to sensors that already embedded throughout the entire WDW resort – will act as entertainer / ambassador for these guests’ Disney World trip. Among the many things that this doll is reportedly programmed to do is:

1. The plush will make suggestions about what the guest can do next while touring the park. (“Hey, we’re passing ‘Small World.’ Do you want to go ride on that?”)

2. The plush will try to entertain the guest while they’re waiting in line. (“Press my left hand if you’d like me to tell a joke.”)

3. The plush will also try to keep the guest updated on what’s going on in the park (“The 3 o’clock parade starts in just 15 minutes”) or any unexpected changes in the schedule (“Aw, shucks! The 3 o’clock parade has been postponed due to rain. Let’s find something fun and indoors to do.”)

I know, I know. This all sounds so outlandish. But wait ’til you hear about what guests who booked their Disney World vacation packages on line will be able to do once they get back to their on-property hotel rooms. Thanks to this great leap forward in Disney’s technological capabilities down in Central Florida, guests will be able to use the television in their room to:

Preview photos that they took (using WDW’s digital imaging system) that day.

Find out what the current total is on their hotel room bill.

Make breakfast, lunch or dinner reservations for the following day.

Check their at-home e-mail account for any new messages.

(Some of you JimHillMedia.com readers may be puzzling over why the Walt Disney Company will – at least initially – be restricting guests’ access to the “Destination Disney” program. [I.E. only allowing those who booked their vacation package via www.disneyworld.com to take advantage of this program.] The feeling is that – given the numerous hi-tech devices that play a prominent role in this new system – only guests who already have some technical savvy will be able to use “Destination Disney” to its fullest extent. More to the point, these folks will be comfortable with / won’t be intimidated by PDAs, interactive plush, using WDW’s intra-net to review their digital pictures, etc. As time goes by, Disney hopes that they’ll be able to offer the “Destination Disney” vacation package to a wider variety of tourists. But – for at least the first year or so – the program will be an on-line exclusive. [See? Now aren’t you happy that you learned to use the Internet. Now you get an exclusive WDW perk!] Anyway …)

Again, I know. This all sounds so outrageous. Like something straight out of Fantasyland and/or Tomorrowland. But here’s the facts, folks: many pieces of this program – like the digital imaging system, for example – have been in place since this past August.

Take for example, the image capture system that’s already been installed inside the “Haunted Mansion” attraction at WDW’s Magic Kingdom. This particular camera can only be activated by guests who are carrying their “Destination Disney” key ring. The picture that this image capture unit will takes shows the guests in their doom buggy being menaced by a ghost that will be optically inserted after the fact. This photo opportunity will only be available to guests who taking part in the “Destination Disney” program.

As for the plush and the PDAs: they’re actually being constructed in China as we speak. The PDA will look a lot like that handheld “Magic Moments” electronic trivia game that’s currently on sale in the parks. (Which – given that the PDA will have access to 1500 different Disney trivia questions that it will lob at guests as they stroll through the parks – only seems kind of appropriate.)

The interactive plush? … I’m told that there will be just three different characters offered at the start of the “Destination Disney” program: Mickey and two other Disney favorites. (Should “DD” prove to be successful, other different versions of the interactive plush – featuring a wider variety of beloved Disney characters – are expected to be fielded.)

Now where this gets interesting is that I’ve been told that the interactive “Mickey” plush will NOT be a “Destination Disney” exclusive. To explain: The doll will be given – for free – to guests who have booked their “Destination Disney” vacation packages on line. But this interactive Mickey will also be available for sale in the park (current suggested retail: $50) or it can be rented for just $8 a day.

So guests who opt to buy and/or rent this interactive plush and lug it around WDW’s theme parks will have some sense of what it’s like to be taking part in the “Destination Disney” program. (Which – Disney hopes – will spur these very same tourists to book a “Destination Disney” vacation package the next time they journey to Orlando). FYI: The “Mickey” version of the interactive plush (barring any unforeseen delays, of course) is expected to hit store shelves at the Disney World resort on or about March 24, 2003.

Obviously, this sort of program takes a lot of advance planning (and – more importantly – a ton of money) to pull off. Which is why my sources are telling me that “Destination Disney” has been in the works for over two years now and that the costs involved in setting up the computer and technology infrastructure necessary to make this system go have been absolutely massive.

Toward this end, the Walt Disney Company has been leaning heavily on its corporate partners to contribute. To help pick up the tab for this several hundred million dollar upgrade of WDW’s technical systems. Which is one of the main reasons that American Express recently reportedly opted not to renew its 20 year long sponsorship deal with Disney. The credit card company just couldn’t see its way clear to contributing toward the creation of this bold new system.

But that’s okay. Because other corporations have been positively giddy to get on board with “Destination Disney.” For example: Compaq/HP. In lieu of cash, this computer giant will be providing much of the hardware necessary to drive the system. And Microsoft (which in the worst kept secret in Disney Company history, will soon replace AT&T as the new sponsor of the soon-to-be-revamped “Spaceship Earth” attraction at Epcot) will be pitching in to help out with the software. And good old Kodak is also a key partner with the “Destination Disney” project.

So what happens next? Well, in order for “Destination Disney” to succeed, every resort room on property will have to receive a major upgrade in PC/server connectivity and processing. Given the expense of doing all this, Disney will start with the higher end WDW resorts – with the Contemporary and the Yacht & Beach Club supposedly being the first to be wired up for broadband and intranet access starting in early 2003.

So when will the full blown “Destination Disney” system officially go live? Well, as I mentioned in Wednesday’s column, there are still concerns that in the wake of 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration may not allow the Mouse to remove WDW guests’ bags directly from OIA without having these travelers first come forward to identify their luggage. So that end of the program still needs to be sorted out.

And then – of course – there’s the always-essential debugging of any new technological system. Disney still has to put in hundreds of hours of field testing (not to mention idiot proofing) before the corporation can feel confident about handing out thousands of PDAs (Compaq iPaqs, actually) and interactive pieces of plush to WDW guests each day, knowing that they’re all going to perform flawlessly.

If it’s any consolation, Disney has already done extensive field testing of the PDA portion of the program. Folks who visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom back in 2001 may recall that a device similar to the one described earlier in this article was briefly available for rent at that theme park. It would direct DAK visitors to the nearest attractions, make them aware of show schedule changes, etc.

HP/Compaq has already put hundreds of hours into perfecting the PDA component of the “Destination Disney” program. Toward this end, the company built a 6 ounce iPaq which will be housed in a nearly unbreakable, waterproof plastic case that was deliberately designed to withstand the rigors of a busy day in a Disney theme park. They also tinkered with the unit’s power supply so that the battery could last all day without being recharged.

Which brings us back to the big question: When is “Destination Disney” – a program that the Walt Disney Company expects will boost WDW guest satisfaction rates right through the roof (not to mention creating a huge new revenue stream for the corporation) – go live in Orlando? To date, no one at the Mouse House is willing to go on the record about this program (or even admit that “Destination Disney” is actually in the works).

That said, company insiders are suggesting that “Destination Disney” will quietly be beta-tested throughout the spring and summer of 2003, with select groups of veteran Disney World vacationers being selected to take part in the program. Again provided that these tests go well, we can expect the official launch of “Destination Disney” (accompanied by tons of hoopla, of course) to kick off in October 2003. Just in time for WDW’s annual press event.

Again (let me stress this, folks), this is NOT conjecture. This is NOT science fiction. The pieces for many of “Destination Disney”‘s unique features are already in place and/or are already under construction.

So – if you want a really special Disney World vacation experience – you may want to hold off ’til late 2003 / early 2004 when the Mouse officially has its “Destination Disney” system up and running.

Remember: You heard it here first.

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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