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Detailing “Cars” : How Pixar’s artists & technicians turned John Lasseter’s family vacation into a full-blown animated feature

JHM guest writer Leo N. Holzer takes us behind-the-scenes in Emeryville, revealing many of the real-world places & people that inspired the creation of Radiator Springs and its residents

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Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” and now “Cars.” Call them Pixar‘s magnificent seven.

Making exceptional, family-friendly movies is hard but rewarding work. Unlike live-action films that can be completed in a year or less, animated films often take four or five years to finish and employ hundreds of creative artists, technicians and storytellers.

Some critics have tried to deflate the tires of “Cars,” finding fault with its “we’ve-seen-this-before” story and its nearly 2-hour running time. It could even be said that a certain box-office, numbers-driven curmudgeon has been trying to p— in Lightning McQueen’s gas tank after having a bad experience with his breakfast cereal. Still, even among the harshest of the critics, “Cars” has been widely praised for its glorious look and attention to detail.

Two of the artists responsible for the look of “Cars” are production designers Bob Pauley and William Cone. Both have worked at Pixar since 1993, when the upstart studio led by John Lasseter began working on its first film, “Toy Story.”

For “Cars,” Pauley spearheaded the design for two racetrack environments and all the vehicles. Cone led the design of the film’s settings, its roadways, the scenic Ornament Valley and all the quaint, somewhat dilapidated buildings in the small Route 66 town of Radiator Springs.

Research to enhance the story has always played an important role in Pixar’s films and “Cars” is no exception.

Lasseter started talking to Pixar’s head of story, Joe Ranft, about doing something with cars as characters in 1998 as the work on “Toy Story 2” began to wind down.


Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

Actually, even before then, Lasseter would talk about the various cars on the road and their drivers during his commute to the studio with Pauley, his carpooling partner and a native of the Detroit area. Pauley also remembers the extra time they’d spend in the Hot Wheels aisle when going on shopping sprees during their research for “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2.”

The research for “Cars” began in earnest with a small team that included Lasseter, Ranft, Pauley, Cone and a few others. They watched all sorts of documentaries on various topics related to automobiles and American culture.

One of the documentaries that struck a nerve was “Divided Highways,” which dealt with the interstate highway and how it affected the small towns along the way.

“We were so moved by it and began thinking about what it must have been like in these small towns that got bypassed,” Lasseter said in press material for his latest production. “That’s when we started really researching Route 66, but we still hadn’t quite figured out what the story for the film was going to be.”

The team eventually connected with Michael Wallis, the author of “Route 66, the Mother Road.” In “Cars,” Wallis is the voice of Sheriff, a 1949 Mercury Police Cruiser based in Radiator Springs, the gateway to Ornament Valley.

“Wallis visited Pixar and started to tell us some of the stories about Route 66 and an hour lunch meeting turned into a three-hour session,” Pauley said. “Jaws dropped just listening to him.”

After the theatrical release of “Toy Story 2,” Lasseter’s wife, Nancy, persuaded him to take a much-needed vacation.

“Nancy said to me that if I didn’t slow down and start paying attention to the family, the kids would be going off to college before I knew it and I would be missing a huge part of our family life,” Lasseter said. “And she was right.”


Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

That summer, in 2001, Lasseter, his wife and their five children packed up a used motor home and set out on a two-month trip with the goal of staying off the interstate highways as much as possible. They started by dipping their toes in the Pacific Ocean and headed east with the goal of dipping their toes in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lasseter carried a video-camcorder with him to capture some of the highlights. The trip turned out to be the inspiration he was seeking for the storyline of “Cars.”

“Everybody thought we would be at each other’s throats the whole time,” Lasseter said, “but it was the exact opposite. When I came back from the trip, I was closer to my family than ever and I reattached to what was important in life.”

“Suddenly, I knew what the film needed to be about,” he said. “I discovered that the journey in life is the reward. Our lead car, Lightning McQueen, is focused on being the fastest. He doesn’t care about anything except winning the championship. He was the perfect character to be forced to slow down, the way I had on my motor home trip.”

Once Lasseter returned to work with his batteries recharged from the family vacation, he knew that the “Cars” production team had to “get its kicks on Route 66.”

Lasseter made a second trip, taking Ranft, producer Darla Anderson, Pauley, Cone, and a few other key members of the Pixar team. They flew to Oklahoma City and headed out from there in a caravan of four white Cadillacs on a nine-day trip along Route 66. They traveled from Tulsa, Okla., to Kingman, Ariz, and then back into Kansas.

Wallis led the expedition and provided a running narrative along the way via two-way walkie-talkies in each car, Cone said. Wallis introduced the Pixar team to the people and places that make the “Mother Road” so special.

A short time later, Ranft led a second trip, revisiting some of the sites with Wallis and a new team of story artists from Pixar.


Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

Those trips became important to the film and were a bonding experience for all the participants.

“At the beginning of our trip, Wallis tried to prepare us by saying ‘you never know what’s going to happen on the open road,’ ” Pauley said. “You kind of say, ‘yeah, it’s going to be fun’ but then things change and it becomes this kind of magical experience … It was a great trip that I’ll never forget.”

Pauley and Cone gathered artistic design reference material and used the trip to determine where along Route 66 to set the fictional town of Radiator Springs. They split off from Lasseter, Ranft, Anderson and the others, who went to meet people who worked, lived or traveled along the Mother Road.

The production designers photographed and sketched details like weeds, peeling paint, the architecture of old civic brick buildings, the look of advertisements that had been painted over and over to where there was this collage-type layering. Careful studies were made of rock and cloud formations, the color of the soil, and the variety of vegetation along the way.

Cone said Ranft found inspiration for the character of Mater after seeing this abandoned tow truck along the side of a road in Kansas. Ranft gave Mater the oddball talent of being the best backwards driver after meeting a man along Route 66 who could turn his legs around 180 degrees and walk.

Ranft was the also the storyman who came up with the idea of Mack making faces seeing his reflection in the tanker truck, Cone added. “That’s what a truck would do looking at himself in a mirror during a long journey.”

That gag is part of Cone’s favorite section of the film. While many critics and film-goers have talked about the “drive with Sally” section for its sheer beauty, Cone really enjoyed mapping out the drive across country to the point Lightning McQueen enters Radiator Springs.

“Working all that out was fun,” Cone said. “We all got together and talked about the things we enjoyed about road trips as kids, the rolling hills and the telephone lines, the vast flat expanse and a horizon that seemed to go on forever.”


Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

One of Pauley’s favorite sections of “Cars” is the “Life Would Be A Dream” cruise enjoyed by all the characters after McQueen finishes fixing the road and the moment when Lizzie tells her long-departed husband Stanley: “I wish you could see this.”

Pauley also enjoyed the story in tying to figure out how to get McQueen to connect with everyone in Radiator Springs and their services.

In addition to the Route 66 trip, Cone found inspiration for Radiator Springs on additional journeys to the desert and to Sedona, Ariz., visiting old silver mining towns in Nevada with a few other artists.

All the buildings in “Cars” are inspired by real places, Cone said. For example, the Cozy Cone motor lodge was inspired by a motel in Arizona where the units were shaped like teepees.

“I think of the style for this film as cartoon realism.” Cone said. “You have talking cars, so you’ve already taken a step away from reality in that regard. The forms are a little whimsical. You’ll see these car shapes on the cliffs, and the clouds are stylized.

“I reached the conclusion that humans in a human universe would see their own forms in nature, which they often do. They name things like Indian Head Rock. So, in a car universe, they would have car-based metaphors for forms,” he continued. “Suddenly, you could see these cliffs that looked very much like the hoods of cars, or an ornament.”

While Cone was coming up with Flo’s V-8 Cafe, Luigi’s tire shop and other settings, Pauley had his own challenges designing the cars, keeping them somewhat realistic and believable. During a recent interview, he displayed a scale model of Lightning McQueen alongside a real NASCAR model.

“Our wheels are huge relative to a what a real NASCAR has,” Pauley said, admitting the artists at Pixar did some tinkering on proportions to bring the illusion of life to the characters. For example, the windshields of many of the vehicles were altered to accommodate its character’s eyes.


Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

“Doc Hudson’s grill was also challenging,” he continued. “There’s 100 pounds of chrome out there. How do you get it to move without it becoming distracting?”

Lasseter’s mandate to have the car characters look as real as possible posed some daunting new challenges for Pixar’s technical team. Having a film where characters are metallic and heavily contoured meant coming up with resourceful ways to accurately show reflections. Ray tracing allowed the car stars to credibly reflect their environments.

Pauley took what he learned on the Route 66 road trip and added it to the materials he collected from auto designers and manufacturers in Detroit, visits to long-closed factories in the Motor City, experiences at car shows and NASCAR events and his team’s extensive study of the materials used to make cars.

It was important to Pauley and to director Lasseter to get some well-known car designs into the film as characters.

“We got the Model T in. We got the 1942 WWII Army Jeep in and the 1960 VW bus. We got some really good icons,” Pauley said. “What’s nice about the Jeep and the VW bus, Sarge and Fillmore, is that they bring with them all that cool baggage of their history — the military guy and the hippie. Sarge is all hard angles and his top is flat like a crew cut and Fillmore is softer with rounded edges.”

“Now, for McQueen,” he continued, “we didn’t want to use a regular car that exists because then we’d have to deal with whatever the history is of that vehicle. But, he’s a rookie, so he could be new.”

Still, not every car made it. At one time there was a Packard in the film, but it was dropped. Pauley wasn’t able to get in his own beloved Volvo into the cast and Lasseter never really found a spot for a classic American hot road, a 1932 roadster.

During a research trip to Detroit, Pauley learned a lot about the Hudson Hornet and how perfect it would be for Paul Newman‘s character of Doc Hudson, the judge in Radiator Springs.


Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

He found some Super 8 footage that his father took at auto races in the 1950s. “Here’s these old home movies and there’s the Hudson Hornet winning races,” Pauley said. “It was really great reference material.”

Pauley also talked about how one Pixar team member’s family ran a gas station that was devastated by the construction of a nearby interstate, although it wasn’t one located along Route 66.

The Pixar staff also learned John Ratzenberger‘s dad was a Mack truck driver so they assigned the former “Cheers” star and their “lucky charm” the voice of Mack.

“It’s kind of cool how these personal things — these histories — kind of formulate themselves and get used for the film,” Pauley said. “One of the unique things about Pixar films is that the stories come from our hearts. They come from things that are personal to us, and that move us.

“That gives special emotion and meaning to our films.”

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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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