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Discoveryland U.S.A. — Part 2

So how come this cool version of the future never made it over to Orlando? Jim Hill explains how too many hotels in France eventually resulted in Disney World getting a downsized Tomorrowland.

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Okay. We’ve already talked in detail about WDI’s extra cool plans for turning WDW’s tired old Tomorrowland into a dazzling Discoveryland. So why didn’t this charming Magic Kingdom revamp ever make it off the drawing board?

Two words. Euro Disney.

Ask any senior Disney Company official about how the resort outside of Paris is doing these days and you’ll hear nothing but good things. They’ll go on and on about how the Disneyland Paris theme park now draws more tourists visits annually than the Eiffel Tower (Which – according to the Mouse’s math – now makes the DLP resort the most popular tourist attraction in all of France).

But 9 years ago this month, Disney was singing a very different tune. Why? Because Euro Disney wasn’t even coming close to meeting its financial projections. Oh sure, the theme park was doing great. But – Oy! – those hotels …

When the Euro Disney resort opened in April 1992, the Mouse had six different hotels on property (The Euro Disneyland Hotel, the Newport Bay, the Sequoia Lodge, the Hotel Cheyenne, the Hotel New York and the Hotel Santa Fe). With a total of 5700 rooms to fill.”

But during the resort’s first year of operation, folks who came out to see Euro Disneyland really didn’t seem to want to stay in Mickey’s hotels. They preferred to drive (or take the train) out from Paris for the day, check out the theme park, and then – at closing time – just scurry back into the city.

This meant (particularly during the Fall of 1992) that there were times when the Euro Disney resort had fewer than 20% on its on property rooms occupied. Which – of course – had a disastrous impact on the project’s financial projections.

Now – when pressed nowadays about Euro Disney’s disappointing start – senior Disney officials will insist that it was actually the 1990-1991 recession as well as the lingering effects of the Gulf War that got the resort off on the wrong foot.

Not the Imagineers. Were you to ask a WDI vet (As I did. Just this morning) why the Euro Disney Resort got in financial trouble so fast, here’s the sort of reply you can expect: “The answer’s simple, Jim. We built too many f***ing hotels.”

“I mean, think about it. When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, we had less than 2000 rooms on property. (JRH note: To be exact, The Contemporary Hotel had 1050 rooms; the Polynesian 600 rooms and the Golf Resort 150 rooms. For a total of 1800 on property hotel rooms). And – since the resort was almost 20 miles outside of downtown Orlando and all those other hotels along 192 hadn’t sprung up yet – people really had no choice but to stay in our hotels.”

“And then there’s Disneyland Paris. Where they built twice as many on property hotel rooms as Walt Disney World had on its opening day. Then – to add to the stupidity – they open a high speed rail station right outside the theme park. Which made all the more easier for guests to get away at the end of the day. And then they seriously wondered why no one was staying in their hotels.”

To hear this WDI vet tell it, the real key to Euro Disney’s initial financial problems was the greed of the executives running the Disney Development Company (AKA DDC). [JRH note: For those of you who don’t know, DDC was the unit within the Mouse House that – from 1984 to 1996, anyway – designed and built all of Disney’s on property hotels. FYI: Disney Development no longer exists. It was folded in with WDI in the Spring of 1996 to form one somewhat cohesive business unit.]

“Those greedy p****s didn’t want another Harbor Boulevard or I-Drive (JRH note: By this, the unidentified Imagineer seems to be referring to the large number of cheap hotels & motels that quickly leaped up around the outermost edges of Disney property in Anaheim and Lake Buena Vista) on their hands. With all that money going off property into somebody else’s pocket. Money that rightfully belonged to Mickey.”

“So they built these…huge hotels and opened them all at once for Euro Disney. Never mind that the resort is just 30 kilometers outside of Paris – a place that already has hundreds of the world’s best hotel rooms in it. Never mind that the RER made it ridiculously easy for tourists already staying in Paris to get out to Euro Disneyland. These guys seriously expected all 5000 on property hotel room to be full on opening day and stay that way ’til the end of time. You see what I’m saying, Jim? These guys were thinking with their wallets, not their brains. They were absolutely morons.”

According to confidential reports prepared for senior Disney officials in the Fall of 1992, had the Euro Disney resort actually opened with just on property two hotels – instead of six – the project would have probably begun turning a profit by mid-1994. (JRH Note: This might explain why – in an effort to contain cost – the Walt Disney Company ordered that Euro Disney’s largest hotel, the 1098 room Newport Bay Club, be closed for business during the winter of 1992.) But with those four additional hotels and all their empty rooms dragging the resort down, Euro Disney sank deeper and deeper into debt …

So where does WDW’s Discoveryland factor into all this? Well, faced with an overly ambitious project that was suddenly hemorrhaging red ink, Disney CEO Michael Eisner proclaimed “No new ambitious projects.” From here on in, anything that Disney built – be it theme parks or hotels – would have to be modest in scale with a moderate price tag.

Well, you can well imagine how this news went over at WDI. Here these guys had just finished work on the most beautiful Magic Kingdom that Imagineering had ever built. And the Imagineers were itching to take all those lessons that they’d learned while working on Euro Disneyland and apply them on the company’s stateside theme parks. Then here comes Eisner’s announcement: “No more ambitious projects for the parks.”

This news devastated the “Tomorrowland 2055” team. Given the Walt Disney Company’s new financial constraints, there was just no way that this proposed $100 million redo of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland was ever going to get off the ground now. So that project floundered for years, as the Imagineers struggled to find a way to work within WDI’s newly restrictive financial parameters. The end result was the New New Tomorrowland – which officially opened to the public at the Anaheim theme park in May 1998. Which (and I’m being really polite here) remains a work-in-progress.

Whereas Walt Disney World’s plans for a new Tomorrowland … Well, faced with a rapidly shrinking budget, the Imagineers in Florida treated this Magic Kingdom redo as if it were a triage situation. As in: The most critical of patients get immediate attention, while those who are really not in such bad shape are allowed to wait a while ’til they’re finally taken care of …

The first order of business was deciding which concepts stayed and which went. And probably the very first thing to get pitched was … the Astronomers Club. Why? Because it was a restaurant. To be specific, it was a proposed replacement for a restaurant that was already doing pretty good business. Its only flaw was that it was a bit of an eyesore. The Imagineers eventually decided that they could live with an ugly fast food place if it ultimately left them with more money to build rides.

Because that – ultimately – was the real top priority to the Imagineers in Florida: Making sure that this revamped version of WDW’s Tomorrowland had a few new rides. A couple of new shows to freshen up this side of the Magic Kingdom.

Keeping “From Time to Time” as part of the plan was really a no brainer. I mean, this retrofit of the old Circlevision 360 theater was relatively economical. After all, the film for the show – having already been created by Theme Park Productions for Disneyland Paris’ “Visionarium” show – was already in the can. So all WDI needed to do was build two new AA figures, redecorate the pre-show area and – POOF! – WDW’s version of “From Time to Time” was good to go.

Whereas “Alien Encounter” … The Imagineers knew – from the get go – that the installation of this new sensory thriller was going to be hideously expensive. But there was also the very strong possibility that “AE” could become a new franchise attraction for the other Disney theme parks. The sort of show that – once it had finally been debugged – could easily be dropped into any of the other Magic Kingdoms around the world. So – in spite of “Alien Encounter”‘s extremely high price tag, the Imagineers still opted to leave it in the mix for WDW’s New Tomorrowland.

Speaking of which … You may have noticed that – in the middle of this part of the article – I stopped calling the revamped version of WDW’s Tomorrowland as “Discoveryland” and just began referring to this redone section of Florida’s Magic Kingdom as “New Tomorrowland.” And there’s a reason for that. Figuring that they’d be able to save a few thousand dollars on signage for this area, the Imagineers opted to ditch “Discoveryland” and just stick with the old moniker.

In dropping the “Discoveryland” name, that also meant that WDI was free to abandon Discoveryland’s elaborate color scheme. All that burnished copper and green sea foam. What the Imagineers opted to do instead was something that would be much easier & less expensive to build. Which was to overlay show elements & new facades on top of the pre-existing Tomorrowland structures that gave the area a Buck Rogers-ish feel. The far off future circa 1930.

The end result … Well, it ain’t half bad. I – for one – find WDW’s New Tomorrowland to be very witty. I love the little details (The robotic newsboy. The pneumatic tube that supposedly zooms your package across the galaxy. The malfunctioning electric palm tree. All the neon. And – best of all – Sonny Eclipse!) that really help put you in that Buck Roger-ish environment. “The Future That Never Was.”

Best of all, this low budget take on Tomorrow has proven to be quite flexible. In 1998, when the Imagineers were thinking about building an attraction around “Toy Story”‘s Buzz Lightyear, they didn’t have to wonder: “Will this new ride fit easily within the theming and the storyline that we’ve already laid down for WDW’s Tomorrowland?” They just knew that the Buck Roger-ish environment and Buzz Lightyear would go hand in hand.

But – when all was said and done – when Florida’s Imagineers opted to go with “New Tomorrowland” rather than “Discoveryland,” there were still a few casualties. We’ve already mentioned the Astronomers Club. But the “Flying Saucer” ride got cut too.

Given what it would have cost to gut WDW’s “Carousel of Progress” and install a revised version of that Disneyland favorite, WDI opted to go with a cheaper fix: Which was to bring in noted humorist Jean Shepherd to redo the attraction’s narration and revamp the look of the theater-go-round’s final scene. Presto Chango! The tired old “Carousel of Progress” was now “Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress” – a somewhat less tired take on the old show which was now (allegedly) serves a tribute to the company’s founder.

Well, Disney World vets have noticed that – over the last year or so – the hours of operation for WDW’s “Carousel of Progress” have progressively grown shorter and shorter. So what’s going on? Well, the Mouse has been testing the public’s resolve. To see if Disneyana fans would really pitch a fit if this relic from the 1964 New York Worlds Fair were to suddenly close for good.

And the reason for that is … Do you remember the “Flying Saucers”? Well, keep in mind that – come 2005 – Disneyland’s 50th anniversary is coming up. And the Walt Disney Company wants to celebrate this monumentous event on a global scale. So they’ll be staging tributes to the world’s first theme park at all of their other theme parks around the world that year.

And what better way would there be for Walt Disney World to pay tribute to its predecessor than by recreating one of Disneyland’s classic attractions?

Yep. Remember, you heard it here first. Provided that the budget can finally be approved, look for the “Carousel of Progress” to stop spinning sometime in late 2003 / early 2004 (No exact close date has been selected yet). Then look for the “Flying Saucers” to land at Lake Buena Vista just in time for help kick off Disneyland’s year-long 50th anniversary celebration – which starts in January 2005.

Which I think will be a pretty neat addition to the line-up of attractions at WDW’s New Tomorrowland (Though I have to admit that I will miss this version of the “Carousel of Progress” with all of its sly tributes to Jean Shephard’s films & stories. Don’t believe me? The next time you take in this attraction, check out the son’s room in the 1940s sequence. Lying on the bed is a Red Ryder BB gun [With a compass in the stock, no less!]. Just like in Shepherd’s much beloved holiday film, “A Christmas Story”). But – still – I can’t help but wonder what this part of the Magic Kingdom would have ended up looking like if the Imagineers had actually gone forward with “Discoveryland.”

Which is why – whenever I visit this theme park – I invariably find myself in the Plaza Pavilion. As I grab a table down by the water and start munching on my pizza, I can’t help but think: “Now what would this restaurant have really looked like it had had a giant telescope sticking out in the middle of it?”

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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