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Don’t like the way your cartoon is turning out? Hit “rewind” & recast.

So what do you do when that big name performer that you hired isn’t quite in tune with the toon that you’re trying to make? Jim Hill talks about one of the lesser known aspects of feature length cartoon production: celebrity recasting.

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I gotta tell you guys that I am really looking forward to “Chicken Little.

Why for? Because — back in August, while Nancy and I were attending SIGGRAPH — I was lucky enough to see about 20 minutes of this Mark Dindal film. And based on what I saw, this is going to be one funny flick.

Of course, half of what made watching these scenes from “Chicken Little” so enjoyable was hearing the movie’s great vocal cast go through its paces. I mean, some of the people that Disney recruited to do voicework in this film — Steve Zahn as the Runt of the Litter, Gary Marshall as Buck Cluck, Joan Cusack as Abby Mallard (AKA the Ugly Duckling), Don Knotts as Turkey Lurkey — just do an incredible job with their characters.

But it’s Zach Braff (of TV’s “Scrubs” and last year’s Indy hit, “Garden State”) who — I think — is really going to surprise people. His vocal performance in “Chicken Little” is actually this delicate balancing act. By that I mean: Given that this film has some huge comic scenes, it’s important that audiences find the film’s title character funny. Which Braff pulls off with ease.

But — at the same time — because “Chicken Little” is really a story about a father & son who are trying to reconnect with one another … You also have to care about this little bespectacled bird.

Well, the good news is (based on what I’ve heard so far) Braff does brilliant work in the film’s quieter scenes. Where you see Chicken Little struggling to put the whole unfortunate “The Sky is Falling” incident behind him, where he aches to be accepted by the residents in Oakey Oaks and (more importantly) his dad again.

Which is why I can’t wait ’til November 4th to roll around. So that I can finally get a look at the rest of this movie.

But — at the same time — while I’m sure that (based on what I’ve seen so far) I’m going to enjoy Zach Braff’s performance as this film’s title character, a tiny part of me is still going to be wondering how Holly Hunter would have played Chicken Little.

What’s that? You didn’t know that Ms. Hunter was once the voice of Chicken Little?

Yep, back when this movie was built around a little girl chicken, Holly was busy recording vocals for the part. She supposedly worked on this film for about eight months before Disney decided to ditch Dindal’s original story for the film (Which had Chicken Little [Who — because of that whole “The Sky is Falling” incident — had been sent off to Camp Yes-We-Can] uncovering a nefarious plot that her camp counselor [Who was literally supposed to be this Wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, voiced by Penn Jillette] was planning on pulling on her hometown) in favor of a whole new storyline. Which asked: “What would Chicken Little do if the sky really was falling?”

As this film was being reworked, “Chicken Little” then became much more action-oriented. And — since it was felt that it would be much easier for an audience to accept a male chicken as an action hero — the film’s title character underwent a sex change. Which was why Holly Hunter (in spite of the great work that she’d done to date in her “Chicken Little” recording sessions) was suddenly out and Zach Braff was eventually in.

Okay. I know. That’s kind of an interesting behind-the-scenes story. But — to be honest — this sort of thing happens all the time in Hollywood (I.E. Studios recasting roles because the celebrity that they originally hired — for somer reason or another — just isn’t working out).

Sometimes it’s done for unfortunate reasons. Take — for example — the reason that Lloyd Bridges was replaced as the voice of eccentric billionaire industrialist Preston Whitmore in “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” Lloyd lost out on the “Atlantis” gig because the “Sea Hunt” star died while this film was still in production.

And — given that Bridges hadn’t finished recording all of Whitmore’s dialogue before he passed away — “A:TLE” directors Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale had no choice but recast this role. Which is why they eventually hired “Frasier” star John Mahoney to play Lloyd’s part in the picture.

Other times, it’s more a case of the project suddenly shifting gears midway through production. This is what happened when “Kingdom of the Sun” underwent its meltdown in the late 1990s. Suddenly Owen Wilson’s sincere voicework didn’t really fit the film anymore.

So, while “Kingdom” was being radically retooled to eventually become “The Emperor’s New Groove,” John Goodman was hired to replace Wilson. Since it was felt that this “Roseanne” star’s personna would be more in tune with the picture’s new anything-for-a-laugh sensibility.

A somewhat similar thing happened while “Finding Nemo” was in production. Back when “Nemo” director Andrew Stanton was originally casting the role of the harried father figure in the film, he decided to go with an actor who had previously done a great job playing people under pressure: “Fargo” star William H. Macy.

The only problem was — while Macy was super at making Marlin sound just like a stressed-out parent — the Academy Award nominee reportedly had trouble making the father fish funny. Which (I’m told) made the early leica reels for this film a little grim to watch.

Stanton knew that the only way that “Finding Nemo” was going to win over audiences was if movie-goers actually liked Marlin. That they cared enough about this character to join him on his epic journey. Going all the way from the Great Barrier Reef to 42 Wallaby Way in an effort to save his son.

Which meant that — in order to do this — movie-goers had to enjoy spending time with Marlin. Consider him good company. And this just wasn’t happening with Macy’s take on the character. Who — the way I hear it — was genuinely floundering in his effort to make the adult clown fish more amusing.

Which is why — in the end — Andrew opted to let William H. go. Replacing him with a performer who had an obvious gift when it came to making stress funny: Comedian Albert Brooks.

Sometimes, it’s just a case of the film-makers no longer needing a star’s services because they’ve decided to cut the character that they’re voicing out of the picture. This is what happened when “Aladdin” directors Ron Clements & John Musker followed then-Disney studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg’s order to “86 the mom.” As in: remove all references to Aladdin’s mother from the film.

Given that Emmy Award winner Kim Stanley had already recorded some killer vocals for this character, Ron-n-John were understandably reluctant to do this. But — sure enough — the mom-free version of “Aladdin” did play better with test audiences. So — in spite of Stanley’s superb voicework — cutting that part out of the picture did turn out to be the right thing to do in the end.

Other times, it’s more a case of a studio trying to improve a picture not by cutting something out. But — rather — by trading up. As in: swapping out one voice performer in a picture for another performer who’s a bit more better known. With the hope that this decision will then make the finished film that much easier to promote.

This is reportedly what happened with the Stinky Pete character in “Toy Story II.” Back in the late 1990s, David Ogden Stiers spent a number of months recording vocals for that character (And did a really great job, or so I hear) when Kelsey Grammar supposedly suddenly indicated that he’d love to work on a Pixar project.

Well, Stiers (Who had already done superb voicework with Cogsworth in “Beauty & the Beast” as well as Governor Ratcliffe in “Pocahontas”) was a guy who had already obviously demonstrated that he could do a great job when voicing an animated character. But — that said — David didn’t exactly have big-time name recognition with the movie-going public. What with “M*A*S*H” having been off the air for 15 years at this point and all.

Whereas Kelsey Grammar was the star of a Top 10 sitcom at that time. Which meant that — when it came time to promote “Toy Story II” — Disney’s PR department would have no trouble in persuading the talent bookers at “Today,” “The Tonight Show” and “The Late Show with David Letterman” to clear some space on the couch  for Kelsey. So that Grammer could then talk up the brand new movie that he’d just worked on with Katie, Jay or Dave.

Which was why — even though a lot of people at Pixar really liked Stiers’ performance as Stinky Pete (I’ve heard from a number of people who worked on that film that David actually did a better job with “Toy Story II” ‘s villain than Kelsey did) — the “Frasier” star was the one who finally won this role.

(Just so you know: There were no hard feelings on David Ogden Stiers’ part when he found out that he was being replaced with Kelsey Grammar. After all, Stiers has been in the block before. Having been in the business for 30+ years, he knew that these things sometimes happen. That — in spite of your best efforts — the studio will still decide to go with a bigger name.

Of course, what helped ease David’s disappointment is that he got a fairly sizable check for his six months worth of work. So that provided some consolation. More to the point, the folks at Pixar [Who had really enjoyed working with the “M*A*S*H” star. Finding Stiers to be a professional in every way] promised that they’d all soon work together on some other project.

And — true to their word — once they began casting “Cars,” the folks at Pixar immediately called up Stiers and asked him to come read for a role in that film. Which is how David wound up voicing the Mayor of Radiator Flats in this upcoming John Lasseter film.

So, you see? Every so often, one of these stories does end happily. Anyway …)

Of course, one of the reasons that Pixar agreed to replace Stiers with Grammar was that it was still relatively early in their production deal with Disney. So — at that point — Lasetter & Co. were still listening to WDFA executives when they said: “These pictures would be a whole lot easier for us to promote if you guys would just cast big name stars in your lead roles.”

Which why Pixar initially went after Al Pacino to play the part of Hopper in “A Bug’s Life.” Allegedly even going so far as to animate some sample footage to show Pacino. Which supposedly showed the villainous grasshopper in action, moving in perfect synchronization to a piece of dialogue that the animators had lifted from the soundtrack of “Scarface.”

The way I hear it, Al was really impressed by that demo. But — in the end — Pacino still wouldn’t agree to voice that role in “A Bug’s Life.” Which is how Kevin Spacey eventually won the part of Hopper.

But — as time went by (And — more importantly — as Pixar’s pictures began making more & more money) — the folks up in Emeryville began paying less & less attention to the casting “suggestions” that the suits back in Burbank would make. So, when Disney asked Brad Bird to find a star to voice Mr. Incredible, the director of “The Iron Giant” kind of went through the motions. By that I mean: They brought in both Harrison Ford & George Clooney to record some test dialogue for the film. To see if either of these two A-Listers could add anything to the mix with “The Incredibles.”

But — in the end — Brad went with the guy that he wanted all along: Craig T. Nelson. The “Coach” sitcom star who could bring just that right amount of humor, honesty & angst to his portrayal of this much-put-upon superhero.

If it’s any consolation, Disney and Pixar aren’t the only studios that regularly go through this sort of thing (I.E. This very expensive version of musical chairs, as film-makers struggle to find just the right actors to voice crucial roles in their animated films). For example: Dreamworks Animation seemed to have a hell of a time as it tried to put together the vocal cast for its upcoming feature release, “Madagascar.”

How so? Well, let’s talk about all the trouble that that studio had with casting the voice of Gloria, the female hippo in the film. For a while there, it seemed like every hot-looking woman in Hollywood was trying out for this part in “Madagascar.”

Initially, it was announced that Madonna had been signed to play this role. Then — suddenly — Madonna was out and Jennifer Lopez was in. Then J.Lo was replaced by Gwen Stefani. Then Stefani bailed out of the picture, only to be replaced by Jada Pinkett Smith.

And then there was the whole Melman-the-giraffe saga. Which — in a way — seemed an awful lot like what David Ogden Stiers and Kelsey Grammar went through on “Toy Story II.” Where the star of a once-hot sitcom (I.E. Jason Alexander of “Seinfeld” fame) who was originally voicing this part was suddenly replaced by another sitcom performer who was (back then) still appearing on a popular TV show (I.E. David Schwimmer of “Friends”).

And don’t even get me started on what happened with “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.” Where the actor who was originally hired to provide the voice of  that film’s title character (Russell Crowe) was reportedly let go because no one at Dreamworks Animation liked working with the guy.

Crowe was then followed for a brief time by George Clooney. But Clooney supposedly didn’t enjoy the whole working-all-alone-in-a-recording-booth-without-any-other-actors-around experience. Which is why George eventually exited the project, only to be replaced by his “Ocean’s 11” co-star, Brad Pitt.

Yeah, the history of modern feature animation is littered with stories like this. Of stars who don’t quite work out & films that suddenly drop characters and/or whole storylines. Meaning that perfectly good vocal performances winds up on the cutting room floor.

Still, I have to admit that I have a sort of fascination with all these what-might-have-been stories. Which is why (I guess) I’ve collected so many of them over the years.

Anywho … Here’s hoping that — as part of “Chicken Little” ‘s DVD release in 2006 — that the nice folks at Buena Vista Home Entertainment at least give us a little taste of what Holly Hunter’s take on that film’s title character might have been like.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  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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