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Disney Deja View: Sorting out the sequels V

JHM guest columnist Dan Weckerly continues his multi-part series on the various film series that Walt Disney Studios has produced over the years.

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Something Fishy

Disney recaptured the magic of its animated classics in 1989 with “The Little Mermaid,” a fanciful, bright, witty, tuneful, upbeat update on the Hans Christian Andersen original story. Ariel (Jodi Benton) gets more than she wished for when she asks for legs from the evil Sea Witch (Ursula) to spite her mer-father, King Triton (Kenneth Mars), and pursue a human love interest. A slew of seaside friends, including a daffy seagull (Buddy Hackett) and a calypso crab (Samuel E. Wright) make sure everything lands happily ever after.

“The Little Mermaid” sent shockwaves throughout the industry: Disney animation was back in a *huge* way, and the phenomenon was pulling in audiences from every demographic. Moviegoers loved spunky Ariel, and the Broadway-style presentation of the story had them literally applauding in the aisles.

Milking the concept, the Studio released a DTV sequel “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea” in 2000. Luckily, most of the vocal cast is intact, but the muddy plot turns the original inside-out. Ariel and Eric have married and produced a daughter, but she wishes she were a mer-kid rather than a human. It doesn’t take long for Ursula the Sea Witch to happen by and grant the request.

The animation is passable and the performances are adequate, but among the missing puzzle pieces in the sequel is a memorable score. The Menken/Ashman brilliance in the original has been replaced by five (count ’em) other tunesmiths, none of whom contribute much that is worthwhile.

Ringing Belles

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“Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young prince lived in a shining castle.” So begins the narrator in “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), the only animated feature ever to be nominated (rightfully) for Best Picture. The plot is familiar but has been contemporized slightly: Belle (Paige O’Hara) is a headstrong bookworm. In escaping the man she’s *supposed* to marry — the lout Gaston (Richard White) — she finds the Beast (Robbie Benson), a tortured creature living out a cursed existence. She falls in love with the unlikely suitor, to the delight of the rest of the household, namely a teapot (Angela Lansbury), a candelabra (Jerry Orbach), and a mantle clock (David Ogden Stiers), who are also living the curse.

“BATB: The Enchanted Christmas” came on the DTV market in 1997. It was the first “mid-quel,” meaning neither a sequel nor a prequel, covering details merely glossed over in the original film. We see Belle’s winter at the Beast’s castle, specifically the Christmas they spent together. There’s the usual blather about learning the “True Meaning of Christmas,” but Tim Curry provides some fun as the Beast’s evil pipe organ.

An animated series was considered for Belle/Beast, but when plans were scotched, the DTV market got three episodes strung together clumsily in “BATB: Belle’s Magical World” (1998). The special edition DVD added one more story to pad the running time to 92 minutes, but the powers that be at Disney may well have not even bothered.

Three Wishes

Another outta-the-park box office giant was released in 1992 with “Aladdin.” Here, the computer imagery was stunning and extensive — not only producing such eye-popping backgrounds such as those used in the escape from the Cave of Wonders (which plays like a thrilling theme-park ride) but also the characters themselves, notably the magic carpet. Also pulling in audiences by the aisle-ful was Robin Williams as the manic Genie of the Lamp. His ad libs were fast and furious (and more than a little anachronistic and dated), and only the quick pens of the Disney animators could keep up with them.

“Return of Jafar” went direct-to-video in 1994, filling in further chapters in the story of Al and Jasmine. They are about to be married, but the vexed Jafar, captive in his lamp from the original film, is released and bent on revenge.

The biggest asset in the first film — Robin Williams — becomes the biggest liability in the second, because he chose not to participate, owing to a contract dispute. Who, then to replace him? The Studio went for Dan Castellaneta, of “The Simpson’s” fame. Castellaneta tries hard, but he’s a far comparison for the rapid-fire stream of consciousness of Williams. The trimmed budget is also reflected in the look and feel of the film, which is flat and listless. Regardless, on the strength of the original movie alone, “Return of Jafar” sold 10.5 million copies, becoming the best-selling DTV release ever at that time. Around the same time, “Aladdin” was brought to the Disney Channel as a series.

“Aladdin and the King of Thieves” hit the home vid market in 1996. Back was the rapid-fire comedy of Robin Williams. The plot brings Jasmine and Al closer to their actual wedding, interrupts the nuptials with an appearance by the 40 Thieves, and introduces Al’s pop, Cassim. Although the animation remains of lower quality, the storyline takes a slight jump in quality from “Jafar.”

An Avalanche from Pride Rock

“Hamlet,” with a heavy dose of “Bambi” thrown in was how “The Lion King” (1994) was perceived. Regardless of the inspiration, the Disney Studios hit another home run with its African Lion. Again, the supporting characters, Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) and Timon (Nathan Lane) were standouts. And a fantastic score helped bound box office returns north of $300 million when all was said and done. Is it any wonder the decision to tell us more about Pride Rock was made?

In 1995, Timon and Pumbaa got their own TV series. Ernie Sabella returned for the role of the porky one, but Nathan Lane was replaced.

1998’s “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride” at least dealt with Simba (somewhat) rather than the sidekicks. In this direct-to-video sequel, Kiara (Neve Campbell) meets the Pride Outcasts and befriends Kovu (Jason Marsden), unbeknownst to her that he and his mother, Zira (Suzanne Pleshette) have been plotting revenge for years. One question for the makers of this re-do: Who casts the gentle Mrs. Bob Hartley as a villain?

One more sequel was born in 2004, the interesting and experimental “The Lion King 1½.” The makers decided to retell Simba’s story from the perspective of Timon (Nathan Lane again) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella again), but this time, turn the legend on its tawny, tufted ear. Full of metahumor and irreverence, “LK v.1.5” was a breath of fresh air in a sea of Disney sequels that were blandly forgettable and wholly unnecessary.

Colors of the Rewind

The look and feel of Pocahontas (1995) is more ‘West Side Story” than historical drama, but the movie benefited from some terrific animation and an Oscar-winning main tune. Once more, it was the comic relief of the secondary characters (Flit, Percy, Meeko) who kept the youngsters in the audience from getting too antsy. $141 million in ticket sales meant a sequel was almost a certainty from the start.

Direct-to-video “Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World” (1998) takes the Indian princess to England, where, clearly, she does not fit in. Flit, Meeko, and Percy are along for the ride, but the flat quality to the animation and the tired theme of Poc-as-ambassador make this a DTV must-have for only the most ardent fans.

Toys to the World

Fast, funny, bright, innovative, evocative, and striking universal chords among the younger set and their boomer parents, Toy Story (1995), was a deserved box office smash. Pixar studios had finally reached a level where their computers and animation programs could handle a full-length feature, and what resulted was both eye-popping and well-scripted and -acted. The last act has a sequence that is downright disturbing, like something from Tod Browning’s “Freaks,” but audiences adored it, and Walt would surely have approved.

“Toy Story 2” popped out of its (toy) box in 1999, a true rarity: a sequel that works. It was intended to go DTV, but when early scenes worked so well, the big-screen treatment was okayed. By shifting the focus from Buzz (Tim Allen) to Woody (Tom Hanks) and layering on familiar touch points like the eBay craze of buying and collecting vintage toys, “TS2” stands tall next to its original. The sequel also tugged at our heartstrings, with Sarah McLaughlan’s ode “When She Loved Me” as a Kleenex-necessary highlight.

Hyucks!

“A Goofy Movie” (1995) deals with the TV show suburban-Goofy (Bill Farmer), not the cinematic sportsman-Goofy of the shorts of the 1940s and 50s. The Goof’s son, Max (Jason Marsden), makes a last-day-of-school promise to his girlfriend, Roxanne (Kellie Martin). Max gets swept away in a cross-country road trip with his dear ol’ bumbling Dad, but they eventually cross paths with a disco-dancing Bigfoot and the mega-group PowerLine, where Max finally has a chance to make good — if Goofy can stay out of the way long enough.

Inside jabs with “AGM” make it more entertaining than expected, especially a funny roasting of the Disney Theme parks’ Country Bear Jamboree audio-animatronics.

“An Extremely Goofy Movie” looks and feels DTV but saw a theatrical release in 2000. It plays like Rodney Dangerfield’s “Back to School,” without the raunch (this *is* Disney, after all). Max and Goof sharing a dorm room at college, where they prep for some Olympic-style games and Goofy finds a soul-mate.

Hunches in Bunches

The Tin Pan Alley approach to Disney animated features continued as the 1990s wore on, but source material was beginning to become a problem. New ideas, apparently, were scant; therefore the decision to revisit known properties — begun with the historically themed “Pocahontas” — continued with the literary-inspired “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996). To make the story “more palatable” to children (or avoid poking a stick at the beehive of religious institutions, some of whom were already in an angry buzz over WDC), Archdeacon Frollo is changed to Judge Frollo. Most of the Victor Hugo story stays relatively intact, except for his tragic ending… oh, and three talking gargoyle sidekicks.

The artistry — for whatever its role in making the original “HOND” memorable — was completely gone in the DTV sequel in 2002. The plot was a rehash, the animation was clunky and ugly, and the songs insufferable.

I’ll Make a Sequel Out of You

Girl-power was the theme of the day with the Disney take on the Chinese legend of a warrior princess who disguises herself as a man to take her ailing father’s place on the Hun battlefield in “Mulan” (1998). Fluid animation (completely from the Florida animation studio, R.I.P.), noteworthy songs, and detailed backgrounds — as well as an anachronistic but humorous dragon sidekick from Eddie Murphy — helped make the movie a hit.

But betting that we’d want, as Paul Harvey puts it, “…the *rest* of the story,” “Mulan II” appeared DTV in 2004. The story’s much thinner (involving the escort of princesses necessary for an alliance), as is the animation budget and the musical score. Murphy, now playing a wisecracking sidekick in the “Shrek” franchise over at Dreamworks, was replaced as Mushu, with middling results. “MII” isn’t as unbearable as some of the other DTV installments, but it’s not exactly a must-own, either.

Hollywood and Vines

More literary inspiration for animation begat “Tarzan” (1999), with song-writing duties handed over to Phil Collins. Technology took the Studio on another leap forward as mere computer-aided backgrounds were fully realized in Deep Canvas depth. They fit the story of Lord Greystoke perfectly, as he swung around, through, and over his lush jungle setting.

In 2001, the ape man and his jungle pals came to the small screen in “The Legend of Tarzan.” Three of these dreary episodes were packaged with some bridging animation in “Tarzan and Jane,” released on video in 2002. None of the original cast from the film was involved, and it showed.

“Tarzan” got yet another DTV treatment in the 2005 mid-quel, neither sequel nor prequel. It tries to fill in some missing details from the original — as if anyone missed them in the first place. We see more of Tar’s growing-up and the issues he faced — wasn’t this all covered in 1999? – and although some of the strong original cast has returned and Phil Collins lends more tunes, it’s all a rather pale imitation.

A Tizzy of Lizzies

In its quest to dominate the middle-school market with Disney Channel programming, the Studio created “Lizzie McGuire” (2001) a *** comedy/soap. The show survived by sticking to mostly inoffensive “safe” themes, by creating a sweet-as-pie central character (played by Hilary Duff), and by inserting animated pop-ups to heighten the comedy and give Lizzy a clever way to engage in her internal monologues. The show became a merchandising workhorse, selling CDs, posters, games, toys, dolls, etc.

The Junior Hi crowd got a big-screen opportunity in “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” (2003), when they all traipsed off to Italy to find adventure and romance. Critics blanched, but the prepubescent set broke into their piggy banks to the tune of $42 million.
Lizzie’s TV antics continue to be repackaged and released on video.

Digging for Gold

Disney sci-fi has been hit/miss in the live action realm (“20,000 Leagues under the Sea”? Hit. “The Island at the Top of the World”? Miss), but the genre had never really gotten an animated feature from the Studio until “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” (2001). Adventurer Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) and a scrappy crew set off to find — what else? — the lost city of Atlantis. Along the way, there is treachery and danger and a li’l cross-cultural romance. The style of the film is a departure from Disney of the 1990s, where every feature had a Great White Way feel and a gang of comic side-kicks, but it also was decidedly downbeat and rather hard to follow for the under-10s in the audience.

“Atlantis: Milo’s Return” (2003) was a three-play of Atlantis-related vignettes, strung together for DTV length. With most of the vocal cast gone and none of the budget to recreate the detail of the original, this “Atlantis” sinks pretty quickly.

In Stitches

Another franchise came to light with the original story “Lilo & Stitch” (2002). Set in Hawaii and using an ice cream parlor of soft colors, the movie was a breath of fresh air, turning the “E.T.” story comically on its ear. Lilo, a lonely parentless girl, befriends Stitch, an intergalactic escapee and defends him against a steadfast bounty hunter. The film was bright, fresh, funny, and tuneful, making liberal use of original Elvis songs.

The film was serialized in 2003 on the small screen with “Lilo & Stitch: The Series” (it was kicked off with a DTV release, “Stitch, the Movie”). The genetic experimentation that resulted in Stitch has also produced other weird offspring, and the series followed the continued efforts to reign in these creatures. The episodic structure made for a good television cartoon.

2005 brought the DTV “Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch.” Seems some programming errors have been plaguing Lilo’s pal, and something must be done about it. The movie involves a hula competition for Lilo (now played by Dakota Fanning, taking over for Daveigh Chase) and an almost tragic ending to Experiment 626. But the engaging Elvis soundtrack remains.

Next up: Some final thoughts on Disney and its sequelization/remakifying.

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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