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Did Disney execs unintentionally slip “Philharmagic” a Mickey?

With three tepid reviews of the Magic Kingdom’s newest attraction in hand, Jim Hill wonders: Did Disney accidentally debut its newest 3D film in the wrong theater? And will this prevent “Philharmagic” from becoming the corporation’s next franchisable theme park attraction?



Sometimes I hate my job.

What do I mean by that? Well … I know that there are a lot of very nice people at Walt Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney Feature Animation who worked very hard on “Mickey’s Philharmagic.” Truly talented folks who labored for months to turn classic Disney characters (toons that — up until now — had only been done in the traditional 2D format) into believable 3D CG creations.

But — in the end — was all of their hard work worth it?

Well … Er … Um …



At least that’s the indication I’ve gotten. Based on the initial feedback that I’ve received from several WDW cast members and annual passholders who attended last week’s previews of this new Fantasyland attraction, “Mickey’s Philharmagic” is a near miss.

Not a flop, mind you. Nor a debacle or a disaster. Based on what I’ve heard over the past few days, the Magic Kingdom’s new 3D extravaganza sounds like it has some very nice moments. And there’s some CG in this film (particularly the work that was done with the computer-generated Donald Duck and Lumiere from “Beauty and the Beast”) that supposedly will put Pixar to shame.

And the post-show store that you’re funneled into after seeing “Mickey’s Philharmagic” is said to be very nice as well.

But … that’s not a very enthusiastic recommendation, is it? Well — you see — that’s my problem. That’s the sort of language that kept popping up in all the “Philharmagic” reviews that I received this weekend. Not “Great.” Not “Spectacular.” But “nice” and “okay.”

Which is what leads me to believe that the Magic Kingdom’s newest attraction may not be all that magical.

Don’t believe me? Okay. Then let’s get this news straight from the horse’s mouth. Here’s what Seabiscuit had to say in his note:

I had a chance to see Mickey’s (even though Donald is the real star here) Philharmagic the other day. After seeing “Finding Nemo,” I was truly disappointed in the computer animation. Also no pre-show, and standard “4-D” effects (spraying water again). The theater does have a wonderful “expanding” effect, and the flying scenes are very cool. Get out and see it when you can. Even if it’s only a “C” attraction.

Mickey and Donald really look like they went through the budget axe.

Which isn’t all that different from what my Friend Flicka had to say:

Saw Mickey’s Philimagic at a cast preview and it is…nice. It really is Donald’s show and the human characters (Aladdin) look like George Pal Puppetoons. Cast member reaction is divided: Those who love it and those who think it is too soft. (It was designed not to have “scary” moments like snakes popping out or a bug’s stinger in your back so that little kids could enjoy it.)

I saw it twice and would see it again. However, you can tell where they were saving nickels and dimes in the auditorium and pre-show. Sorry to see Mickey still a supporting character in an attraction named after him but Donald is a more flexible character in terms of “roughing him up” as animators discovered nearly fifty years ago.

[The show] seemed very respectful to the source material…Lion King, Little Mermaid, etc….and you really have to see it more than once to catch all the little bits.

Some of the 3-D effects are good but it seemed they missed the boat on others.

Which (surprise, surprise) quite similar to what Mr. Ed had to say about this new Fantasyland show:

Warning !! Mr. Ed is quite the talkative Palomino. So there are some mild spoilers ahead. If you’d prefer that “Mickey’s Philharmagic” be a complete surprise to you (whenever it is that you actually finally get around to seeing this new Disney World show), then I suggest that you stop reading now. Or — at the very least — skip ahead of this indented section.

Good first scene. (They must know that CG Mickey looks like sh*t because he appears for less than 15 seconds in the whole show, and almost always from the back and 50 feet away. When he is seen from the front, they give him a really funny little action to do).

CG Donald is fan-freaking-tastic. Not just aesthetically, but they’re braver with CG Donald. He’s everything that made Don the coolest character of them all before, but more. Like Tex Avery more. It’s very, very faithful to the Jack Hanna/Bill Justice Don, but infused with some badass Chuck Jones.

“Be Our Guest” is lame, but Lumiere is so freaking well built and animated, no one cares.

The Brooms from “Fantasia” scene is my favorite. It’s everything I’ve been waiting for in an attraction. True cartoon comedia.

“Part of Your World” is good too. Though kids (in half of the four shows I saw) thought Flounder was “Nemo!” They figured out how to fix Ariel, and it was to turn her into Fiona [The princess from “Shrek”]. Swear to God, they rendered Fiona’s face to fix Ariel. It works. Her hair — however — looks like a placenta full of wet weasels.

But Ariel has a great, great, great moment with Don. So all is forgiven.

“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is okay. The CG is good if uninspired. But the 2d stuff they stuffed in looks great, just underutilized. The CG Zazu is marvelous.

Peter Pan is a close second favorite. Beautiful and funny as hell!!!!!!!

“A Whole New World” is crazy lame. Other than immensely poorly boarded and paced, the CG Aladdin and Jasmine look like those gnomes [that Lord] Farquaad kicked out of Duloc [in “Shrek”].

The finale is ok. The Donald butt in the back of the theater has great movement but placed so poorly, like 4 people saw it. Didn’t we learn anything with “Muppetvision”? Oh, yeah. All those people were fired.

[The post-show “Mickey’s Philharmagic”] shop was beautiful – natch. Of course, they get the good design.

[WDW annual] passholders [who attended Saturday’s preview] liked the show. But remember how those guys talked themselves into loving “Mission: Space”? [Well, it’s the] same thing here, but with the elderly Kissimmee crowd. [“Mickey’s Philharmagic”] will play pretty good [with the regular] guests, but only for three or four years.

Overall, I liked [the show] and would wait as much as 10 minutes to see it again.

You see what I’m saying here, folks? This is pretty tepid praise. I mean, individual characters and sequences got pretty high marks. But the show as a whole seemed to be somewhat … underwhelming. None of the people who e-mailed me this past weekend about “Mickey’s Philharmagic” really sang the show’s praises. By that I mean: They all liked the Magic Kingdom’s newest attraction. They just didn’t love it.

So — sadly — it appears that this new Magic Kingdom attraction won’t the smash hit that Disney had hoped it would be. The Mouse’s 3D movie that was supposed to have kicked “Shrek 4D”‘s butt. (Just so you know: Universal’s newest attraction is still supposedly racking up incredibly high marks on guest satisfaction surveys at that park. Many USF visitors reportedly consider “Shrek 4D” to be a much better show than that theme park’s previous top vote getter, “Men in Black: Alien Attack.”)

And given that Disney Company executives had reportedly been counting on “Mickey’s Philharmagic” becoming the corporation’s next big franchise (I.E. a new attraction that could be dropped — virtually unchanged — into any of the Disney theme parks worldwide), I got to wondering if the somewhat underwhelming reaction to the Central Florida version of the show would put the kibosh on “MP” going global.

So — with that question in mind — I called my super secret source at WDI, Deep Mouse. After I started peppering the poor guy with questions about “Mickey’s Philharmagic,” there was this long sigh at the other end of the line … followed by a prolonged explanation.

“You have to understand, Jim,” said Deep Mouse. “That ‘Mickey’s Philharmagic’ wasn’t supposed to debut at Disney World. This 3D movie was initially supposed to have had its world premiere at Hong Kong Disneyland. In a brand-new theater that would have been built specifically to support this attraction. With a lobby and a pre-show area that would have done a marvelous job of setting the stage for the film that was to follow.”

“But sometime over the past two years, the guys in Team Disney Burbank suddenly changed their minds. Instead of bowing in the Orient, ‘Mickey’s Philharmagic’ would now have its world premiere in Orlando. Several years ahead of schedule. In a retrofitted facility. With little or no theming in the lobby. And with no pre-show.”

“And keep in mind that the Fantasyland facility that ‘Mickey’s Philharmagic’ was shoe-horned into hasn’t ever really worked. Back in 1971, ‘The Mickey Mouse Revue’ didn’t play well in this theater. Nor did ‘Magic Journeys’ in 1988 or ‘The Legend of the Lion King’ in 1994. So I don’t see how the suits expect ‘Philharmagic’ to suddenly turn this situation around in 2003.”

“That Fantasyland Theater is a really poorly designed facility, Jim. The pre-show area there is infamous for not being able to accommodate all the bodies you need in order to fill all of the seats in that house. So you’re behind the eight ball even before you get started here. This is why each of the shows that previously played here never ever met their theoretical hourly capacity. Which is why WDW management was always turning to WDI — every five to ten years or so — and asking us to come up with a brand new show for the Fantasyland Theater at Walt Disney World.”

“It’s a real shame that Disney opted to premiere ‘Philharmagic’ at Disney World, Jim. It really is a cute little show that a lot of people here and at Feature Animation worked very hard on. It really deserved better than this.”

“By rolling the show out in Orlando first — rather than holding ‘Philharmagic’ for Hong Kong Disneyland, where it could have opened in 2006 in a brand new theater that was specifically designed for the show — Disney may have unintentionally cut the legs out from under this potentially quite lucrative theme park franchise. Which is a shame. Not to mention a really stupid business decision.”

“After all, a jewel only looks its best in the proper setting,” Deep Mouse concluded. “And the Fantasyland Theater is NOT the proper setting for ‘Mickey’s Philharmagic.'”

As I was listening to Deep Mouse speak, I found it extremely interesting that this unnamed Imagineer would bring up “Shrek 4D.” For — in a way — this new Universal Studios attraction was the prime example of how placing a new theme park attraction in the right (or wrong) facility can really impact how the public comes to view that particular show.

Take — for instance — the version of “Shrek 4D” that’ was set up at Universal Studios Florida earlier this year. It’s housed inside of that theme park’s old “Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies” facility with lots of highly detailed props and signs to entertain USF visitors as they wait in line. All this witty material — plus the clever pre-show that follows — really put guests in the proper mood to enjoy “Shrek 4D.” Which is why people who visit Universal Studios Florida — as they exit this attraction — always give the park’s new 3D movie extremely high marks.

Now contrast that with what happened on the other side of the country. Where Universal Studios Hollywood officials opted to drop their version of “Shrek 4D” into a facility that really wasn’t suited for showing a 3D film: the slightly retooled “Rugrats Magic Adventure” theater. Since this HSH upper lot venue had only an outdoor queue area until earlier this year, it was really hard to find a way to showcase all the signs and props that Universal Creative had created to set a proper tone of the show. Not to mention all the problems involved with finding a place to present “Shrek 4D”‘s pre-show film.

The end result? Universal theme park visitors on the West Coast like “Shrek 4D” quite a bit. But not nearly as much as the folks who see the same show in Central Florida do. Mind you, it’s the same exact 3D movie. Not a frame has been changed. But Universal Orlando’s guest satisfaction survey results clearly show that USF guests think that “Shrek 4D” is a much more entertaining show that theme park visitors in Hollywood do.

So maybe what Deep Mouse is saying is true. Maybe we’re all going to have to wait ’til “Mickey’s Philharmagic” opens at Hong Kong Disneyland in late 2005 / early 2006 before we can see if this new 3D movie actually lives up to its hype.

Of course, I could be jumping the gun here. Maybe some of you JHM readers also got to see this new Disney World show during its preview period last week. And maybe your opinion of this new 3D film is markedly from what Seabiscuit, My Friend Flicka and Mr. Ed had to say. If so, we’d love to hear from you. So drop us a line here at the site and let us know if you thought “Philharmagic” was really magical or not.

In the meantime … well, I’ll hope and pray that “Wishes,” Steve Davison’s brand-new fireworks extravaganza (soft opening scheduled for October 6th, official world premiere on October 8th) actually delivers the goods. Otherwise, we may all have to wait ’til the Fall of 2004 (when the”Stitch”-ified version of “Alien Encounter” is supposed to debut) before there’s a good enough reason to schedule a return trip to WDW’s Magic Kingdom.

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 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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