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Disney goes for the gold with “Treasure Planet”

Though it’s still eight weeks ’til Disney’s newest feature length cartoon pulls into port, Jim Hill gives you some inside poop(deck) about how the Mouse intends to promote its pirate picture.

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The feature length cartoon that Jeffrey Katzenberg continually tried to stop is finally coming to theaters next month.

For over 15 years now, director Ron Clements has had a dream. To make an animated version of “Treasure Island.” Only – this time around – Robert Louis Stevenson’s epic adventure would be set in deep space.

This dream of Ron’s seemed so flaky to the former head of Disney Studios that Katzenberg repeatedly refused to greenlight an animated film based on Clements’ ***-eyed concept. When Ron first brought the idea up after he finished directing “The Great Mouse Detective,” Jeffery said “No. Go make ‘The Little Mermaid’ instead.” When “Little Mermaid” opened to great acclaim, Clements again brought up “Treasure Planet.” And – again – Katzenberg said “No. Go make ‘Aladdin’ instead.”

Finally, when “Aladdin” opened and was (for its time) the highest grossing animated film in the history of the Walt Disney Company, Clements finally thought that he and his creative partner – Disney Feature Animation veteran John Musker – had a real shot at getting “Treasure Planet” made. But – rather than saying “No” – Katzenberg made a deal that deferred production of Ron’s dream project. If the pair would just agree to deliver a more commercial sounding cartoon first (Like – say – one based on the legend of Hercules), the Mouse House mogul would finally agree to let Ron’n’John make their space going pirate picture a few years down the line.

Of course, that was ‘way back in the early 1990s. And who could know that Jeffery was fated to leave Disney in September of 1994 to go co-found Dreamworks SKG? Musker and Clements did keep their end of the bargain, by the way. They delivered “Hercules” onto the Mouse House in June 1997, then immediately set to work bringing their wildly imaginative reimagining of Stevenson’s classic to life.

The end result of this epic behind-the-scenes struggle sails into “a theater near you” on November 27th. That’s when we’ll finally learn if Jeffrey Katzenberg’s instincts was right. Is “Treasure Planet” really just too wild an idea for audiences to embrace? Or is Ron Clements’ dream project going to pour tons of pirate gold into Disney’s corporate coffers?

One thing’s for certain. An awful lot is riding on the hoped-for success of Disney’s “Treasure Planet.” The Mouse House really under-performed at the multi-plexes this past summer. While “Lilo & Stitch” and “Signs” both raked in the dough, “Bad Company” didn’t do good business, “Reign of Fire” went down in flames and – as for “The Country Bears” … Well, insert your own lame “grizzly fate” joke here.

Anyway … Walt Disney Studios really needs a big fat hit right about now. And with Tim Allen once again donning his fat suit, “The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause” certainly looks like it has the “big, fat” part of that equation covered. That said, no one back in Burbank is entirely certain that this somewhat-overdue sequel to this 1994 Touchstone Pictures release will eventually emerge as a “hit.”

Which is why Disney is pinning a lot of its hopes for the end of this year on “Treasure Planet.” By that, I mean that Disney CEO Michael Eisner has certainly been talking up this pirate picture. The way I hear it, Uncle Mikey has reportedly been constantly drawing parallels between the Walt Disney Company’s performance in 2002 and how Disney did back in 1991. Why for? Well, because 1991 was also a pretty miserable year for the Mouse House, movie-wise.

Can any of you out there remember that seemingly endless string of duds that Disney delivered back in 1991? Here’s just a sampling of that year’s cinematic stillborns: “Scenes from a Mall,” “The Marrying Man,” “V.I. Warshawski,” “Billy Bathgate,” “The Doctor,” “Deceived,” “Paradise,” “Oscar,” “The Rocketeer” (Which I actually personally think is a pretty good movie. Even so, “The Rocketeer” – just like all of the rest of the films that I just listed – didn’t even come close to covering its production & marketing costs).

But then – on November 22, 1991 – one film came along that turned the whole year around for the Walt Disney Company. Can you name that picture? (What am I saying? You’re all Disney dweebs. Of course you can answer that picture. Which was …) “Beauty and the Beast.”

That one film was such a huge hit with the public – moving mountains of merchandise, generating tons of acclaim for the Walt Disney Company – that everyone just seemed to forget about all the awful movies that had preceded it. (Which was a really good thing for Jeffery Katzenberg. Seeing as he was the studio exec who had greenlit all of those flops. If “Beauty” hadn’t come along when it did, Mr. K might soon have been out of a job.)

Michael Eisner seems to be hoping that – just like Jeffery Katzenberg did ‘way back in 1991 – that his fading professional fortunes can be revived by the soaring success of a single Disney animated film. But will that actually happen? Will Uncle Mikey’s ship really come in when “Treasure Planet” floats into view next month?

Maybe.

Disney insiders clearly have lots of differing opinions when it comes to “Treasure Planet”‘s chances at the box office. Some animators that I’ve spoke with say that it’s Ron’n’John’s “masterwork. It’s the very best thing that these guys have ever done.”

Still others aren’t so optimistic. Or – for that matter – particularly kind. A few studio wags have reportedly dubbed the film “Atlantis Revisited.” Which suggests that “Treasure Planet” – with its space based pirate storyline – might have limited appeal and may have trouble luring in audience members who aren’t boys 8-13 (The only demographic that actually turned out in great numbers for Disney’s summer 2001 release, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”).

Certainly films that appeal to very narrow demographics have a much tougher time recouping their production & marketing costs. I mean, look what happened to Dreamworks SKG’s latest animated release, “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” this past summer. Industry analysts had projected that this feature length cartoon would pull in at least $150 million during its domestic run. Instead, a significant hobbled “Spirit” had to struggle all summer to pull in a meager $73 million.

What went wrong? Industry experts suggest now that – in spite of Dreamworks’ valiant attempts to make “Spirit” appeal equally to boys and girls (Katzenberg reportedly told the animators at Dreamworks to pack on the thrills in that picture. Jeffrey was actually quoted as saying that “I want at least six ‘Die Hard’ moments in this movie. Moments when the audience thinks that there’s no way that this horse can survive that.’ “) – only little girls who really loved horses made their way to the multi-plexes to see the “Stallion of the Cimarron.” As one Dreamworks SKG animator put it to me yesterday: “Of course ‘Spirit’ only made half as much as it was supposed to. Only half the audience actually showed up.”

Which brings us back to “Treasure Planet.” Disney’s extremely anxious to avoid the half-sized audiences that turned out for “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” Which is why the film’s promotion got underway in earnest earlier this summer.

But rather than go with a monstrous promotional campaign (like the one that Disney rolled out for Musker and Clements’ last movie, “Hercules”), this time around, the Mouse opted for smaller and smarter. Take – for instance – the “Treasure Planet” preview that Mickey rolled out in “Disney Adventures” magazine back in June. For the last few months, tweens who read “DA” have been able to follow the comic book adventures of young Jim Hawkins, a rebellious teen who’s trapped on the backwater mining planet of Montressor.

Disney marketing execs hope that this low-key series of comic strips – which actually cover adventures that young Hawkins has on Montressor prior to the start of “Treasure Planet”‘s storyline – will help “Disney Adventure” readers bond with Jim’s character. Which – it’s hoped – will make these tweens that much more likely to drop by their local theater this coming November and go see “TP” (Rather than watch Warners’ “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” for the fifth time). A similar series of “DA” comic strips seemed to have a positive impact on “Lilo & Stitch” earlier this year. So Disney’s hoping to strike gold once again with DA’s “Treasure Planet” preview series.

Another way that Disney hopes to get the girls to come out for “Treasure Planet” is through the film’s unusual use of music. Rather than go the tried and true route (Which would have involved recruiting Academy Award winner Alan Menken to churn out yet another series of tunes for their new toon), Ron’n’John opted to go in a different direction. Which is why they recruited poster boy Johnny Rzeznik of the “Goo Goo Dolls” to write & perform two songs for the film.

Why Rzeznik? Well, to hear master animator Glen Keane tell it, once he heard the “Goo Goo Dolls” lead singer belting out “Iris,” he just knew that Rzeznik could deliver the goods – vocally, that is – for “Treasure Planet”‘s angst-filled central character.

When approached by Disney to write & perform several songs for the film, Johnny was initially extremely hesitant. Rzeznik told the Mouse House reps straight out that “I can’t write show tunes.” Ron’n’John reportedly then told the pop star that they weren’t looking for yet another version of “Part of Your World.” But – rather – they needed a song for someone who didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. But in that patented “Goo Goo Dolls” style.

In the end, Rzeznik delivered two songs to the film-makers: A fairly melodic pop song called “I’m Still Here” and a more upbeat rock number, “Always Know Where You Are.” Johnny also recorded these songs for the film’s soundtrack (Though it should be noted here that Rzeznik’s version of “Always Know Where You Are” won’t be heard during the film itself. But – rather – will play over the film’s end credit).

Anyway … Truth be told, perhaps the most important role that Rzeznik will ultimately in “Treasure Planet”‘s production is in early promotion of the picture. How so? Well, Johnny’s pop single version of “I’m Still Here” goes into heavy rotation on Top 40 stations nationwide next Monday. The music video version of this same song has already begun airing on VH1. And Disney’s seriously counting on the pop star’s photogenic face to get that video plenty of air time.

If Rzeznik’s recording of “I’m Still Here” actually begins to climb the charts (More importantly, if TV viewers are actually intrigued by the two brief glimpse of “Treasure Planet” footage that appear at the very beginning & tail end of Johnny’s “I’m Still Here” video), that sort of exposure will hopefully compel young girls as well as older teens to come out and take a look at “Treasure Planet.”

Disney’s honestly doing everything that it can think of to try & compel people to come out and see “Treasure Planet.” For example: If you’re a young boy under 10, the Disney Store’s offering you the chance to bond with Jim Hawkins by getting to dress up like him. You too can own this limited edition “Treasure Planet” Halloween costume by shelling out $35.50. (Of course, if you’re a 10-year-old with a paunch, you might want to consider slipping into the Long John Silver costume instead. That Disney Store exclusive is only $45.50.)

Or do you prefer to see your movies on a really big screen? If so … Well, with the hope that this maneuver will help boost “Treasure Planet” ‘s box office, this Ron’n’John production is going to be the very first Disney animated film to debut on the very same day in both the conventional widescreen format as well as IMAX.

Are you a huge internet fiend? (Well of course you are! Look at how you get your news about the Walt Disney Company …) Then you’re probably going to eventually want to check out TreasurePlanet.com. (To be honest, a great number of the features at this Disney web site hasn’t gone live yet. For example, if you click on the “Games” or “Loot” tabs, all you get right now are messages like ” Please enter valid coordinates.” But – further on down the line – this site shows plenty of interactive promise. You’ll supposedly be able to access the manifests of all the crew members of the RLS Legacy. So you can see for yourself the villainous scum that John Silver recruited to help him carry out his horrible plot.)

TreasurePlanet.com – in addition to offering you access to the “Treasure Planet” teaser trailer – also allows you to enter a Caribbean cruise contest. (FYI: I’m not actually sure where this piece fits into the puzzle. But the Disney Catalog tacked this itty-bitty piece of fine print onto a “Treasure Planet” ad: “Join in the treasure hunt and enter to win fabulous prizes at Treasureplanet.com. Enter coordinates: 21-63-213 to win.” Where exactly you’re supposed to enter these coordinates, I have no idea. But – if you actually do win a Caribbean cruise – be sure to invite me along.)

Anywho … I know, I know. All of this sounds very impressive. But – no matter how clever a promotional campaign may be – all of the contests, Top 40 songs, hit music videos, interactive web sites and exclusive Halloween costumes in the world won’t be enough compel an audience to come out and see a lousy motion picture. So now we come to the real tough question: Is Disney’s “Treasure Planet” really any good?

For a detailed answer to that question, come back tomorrow … please?

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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