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“Don’t Toy With Me”: Giant Incredibles Movie Merchandise blowout!

“The Incredibles” is set to hit theaters on Friday, and there’s a ton of toys already on the shelves. With such a glut of product, how can you know what to buy? DTWM’s taken a bullet for you this week, and sorted it out. PLUS!! Another JHM contest that could have you well supplied with “The Incredibles” toys.

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Just a few short years ago, the toy companies were talking in the mainstream press about the failure of product lines licensed from movies. After massive failures like the toys based on the Jurassic Park and Batman sequels, Titan AE, Atlantis, the first X-Men, Small Soldiers, and many others, toy manufacturers were moving away from these licensed movie lines. And the theory was sound – a movie has both a limited story and a limited time in the public consciousness. While certain lines may have sold reasonably well before or during their theatrical releases, what happens when it’s a month or two later? The product just didn’t perform to expectations, especially when licenses for big budget movies were so pricey for toy companies. A consensus was formed in the industry and movie lines were downsized; less product meant less expense and less risk. And many movies went without licensing, at least from the big two: Hasbro and Mattel.

Sure, there were the big successes to point to, but they were few and far between. There was Star Wars, of course, but even that wasn’t a sure thing given the absurd level of overproduction on the product for the Prequels. The original Jurassic Park did ok. Toy Story’s popularity was a surprise and caught retailers short. But again, these were the exception, not the rule, and it took over a decade of heavy movie licensing to convince the manufacturers to be wary of these risky ventures. Some more recent film-based toys were only released as retailer exclusives. These lines proved generally unsuccessful, as Spy Kids figures and the horrible E.T. product line both took quick trips to the clearance aisle.

Monsters Inc., the last Pixar film to receive wide merchandising, was another one that could be chalked up in the “lose” column. Despite a pretty nice looking line of basic figures and some larger electroniky-geegaws from Hasbro, this stuff languished on the shelves. It was eventually clearanced out at ridiculously low prices.

So now we have “The Incredibles” product line, based on the Pixar/Brad Bird/Disney collaborative effort. And an enormous line of licensed product there is. Just from Hasbro, we have 6″ Basic and Deluxe action figures, an “Incredobile” car (that recycles an old gimmick from the Kenner Superman line), plush toys, large rotocast figures, a Violet fashion doll, an electronic talking Mr. Incredible, Electronic talking Edna Mode doll (This character didn’t seem like the most marketable, but what do I know?), RC robot-spidery guys, a giant wheeled vehicle for the badguy goons, a larger scale running Dash toy, PVC figurine sets and I’m sure there’ll be more. And let’s not even talk about the clothes, candy-toy combinations, costumes and such from other licensees.

So, after Monsters Inc.’s failure in the toystores, and Finding Nemo being barely a blip on the merchandising radar (just a few plush toys and lil’ playsets), what in god’s name is Hasbro thinking pulling out all the stops with this ginormous offering?

Well, for one thing the very concept of superheroes is still reasonably hot right now, due to the fantastic Spider-Man and X-Men films, and the possibly not-too-stinky upcoming “Batman Begins”. Even if hasty licensing on Marvel’s part has produced the terrible, terrible Daredevil and Punisher films, superheroes are still pretty big. Plus, if you consider the play-patterning of the Incredibles toys beyond the movie, it seems to pan out fairly well. Unlike some licensed properties, the characters seem strong enough to inspire kids to invent new stories rather than just playing out the movie plot again and again. The addition of the ‘family’ concept along with some strong female characters may even make this stuff play well with girls. But if you ask me, it’s still some risky business to be laying out such a huge amount of money for development and tooling on top of the shelf space it’s gobbling up.

Let’s talk about some of that product then. What I’ve done is bought *some* of the toys from *most* of the price points. As I’ve said, there’s a lot out there, and I just can’t afford all of it.

The Deluxe assortment of Hasbro’s figures is heavily based around some amusing action features. The case pack includes Super Strength Mr. Incredible, which features a tossing action which propels a small, suited man through the air; Rapid Run Dash, who plows through two bad guy goons; Ice Action Frozone, who fires an “ice” missile from his hand; Energy Blastin’ Syndrome, who fires a missile at a drawing of Bob Parr; and the one I’ve picked up: Punch N’ Rescue Mr. Incredible. I chose this one because it features a well-executed sculpt of the younger, blue-suited Mr. Incredible. All of the Incredibles merchandise from Hasbro has similarly-themed packaging with a yellow field of speedlines and “Kirby dots” behind the figures, and the rest decorated with a sharp red, yellow and black scheme. It’s too bad that there aren’t individualized illustrations for each character, but the packages grab your attention on the shelf well.

Punch N’ Rescue Mr. Incredible is articulated with swivel joints on the neck and shoulders. That’s it. His waist has a very strong spring-back action (kinda like the original Masters of the Universe figures, but much stronger) to break apart a simulated brick wall with a silhouetted villain on it. The paint on the figure is fairly good with only some slight definition problems between the blue and black, and his face is cleanly done. Mine however, seems to have errant bits of glue on his legs and arms. Good thing he comes with a blue “i” stand, as even without leg joints he can’t balance. It’s not awful, but there’s nothing to really distinguish it, and at $7.99 at TRU, I’d at least like to see basic, Star Wars-level articulation and a few more accessories.

Three PVC box sets have been produced by Hasbro. One of the family in civilian clothes, another of supporting characters, and a third of the main characters outfitted for battle. I chose the third with Mr. Incredible, Mrs. Incredible, Dash, Omnidroid, Syndrome, and Island Guard. The sculpts are solid, but the paint is sloppy – especially around the faces, and is too thin in places. If you look at some of the “Gashapon” toys coming out of Japan, Hasbro’s Incredibles PVCs don’t fare well. At $9.99 for a box set at TRU, the value just isn’t there.

Hasbro’s large scale (about 11″) rotocast figures should be the best looking pieces out there. Unfortunately, they fall a little short. The assortment is Mr. Incredible, Frozone, Syndrome, and a Violet doll. Violet isn’t a rotocast figure, but is more of a fashion doll with interchangeable clothes, and a fairly generic-looking body. She seems to have been included with the rotocast assortment only to streamline the product offerings for retailers and to have all of the product shelved in the same area. I chose to buy Frozone and Mr. Incredible.

With the amazing work Toy Biz has been doing with adding articulation to their large rotocast Marvel figures, these come out as a disappointment with only minimal articulation. Hasbro’s design teams should be taking more frequent trips to the store to check out the competition. Frozone is articulated at the neck, shoulders, and waist with swivel joints. His paint application is clean and well-defined, but his facial tone looks a bit too light – another layer of application might have fixed that. There’s nothing to distinguish the color choices, no special thought went into applying anything to further define his muscle tone. He includes a stand, which is good because there’s no way he could stay vertical without it. Mr. Incredible fairs a bit better with swivel joints at the neck, shoulders, forearms, waist, and lower legs. I’m not sure about the choice of having both arms bent as it leaves him with a bit of a midgety-arms thing going on, but the detailing of the sculpt is solid. Similar to Frozone, the paint application is clean, but the red plastic he’s cast in is a bit thin and tends to catch the light poorly. With a bit of work, Mr. Incredible can stand without his included base, but better to use it. $12.99 a piece at TRU places the cost a bit above Toy Biz’s better rotocast offerings. Again, a very mediocre showing from Hasbro.

Longtime Pixar licensee Thinkway (they did the first year or two of Toy Story stuff) is not to be left out. They’ve produced two figure-kits with electronic features – Mr. Incredible and Dash. Dash looked out of scale with his dad, so I only purchased Mr. Incredible. Thinkway’s product shows a hell of a lot more imagination than Hasbro’s. The assembly instructions include more steps then necessary for the way he’s packed in the box. Basically, you have to twist his waist into his torso, and plug on one of two included heads – either a set jaw with a full head of hair or a smug grin with male-pattern baldness. Other accessories include a phone with removable handset, a thermos, a lunchbag with “BOB” written on it, an “i” flag, an extra set of hands and best of all, A REMOVABLE GUT. This may be the coolest accessory ever – just snap the gut on and “tah-dah!”, Bob’s a tubbo.

On top of all this, each head selects a series of phrases to say when his chest insignia is pressed. Set-jaw head says stuff like, “Yeah, I like a little workout . . . just to stay loose.” and, “(sings fanfare) THIS looks like a job for Mr. Incredible!”. Grinning head’s lines are best sampled with, “Let’s save a few more people . . . then break for lunch.” and “You expect me to save the world on salad and rice cakes?” Great voice sampling – you can tell it’s sourced directly from movie dialogue. He’s articulated with a swivel neck, shoulders, biceps, hinged elbows, swivel forearms, waist, ball-jointed hips, swivel thighs, hinged knees, and swivels on the lower legs. MUCH better then Hasbro, even if I could’ve really used ball joints on the shoulders. The other downside to this toy is his inability to hold either his phone, lunchbag, or thermos. Still, a great value for $12.99 at TRU, and the playability and fun factor absolutely demolishes Hasbro’s rotocast figures. I highly recommend this one.

The gem of Incredibles product isn’t even from Hasbro. Exclusive to the Disney store (and presumably parks) are six 7″ scale figures of a far superior quality to Hasbro’s offerings. Each figure comes in a clamshell package with the logo stickered on the front, and behind the figure, a giant “i” insignia. On the opaque red back, there’s a sticker showing the whole assortment. It’s a simple, durable and reasonably attractive-set up for both shelf display and peg hanging. These toys outshine Hasbro’s offerings in almost every respect – sculpting, paint and most especially articulation. Each figure includes two cards with strong, graphic imagery depicting some action from the film or aspect of a character, and a different colored “i” logo ring. They’ll just barely fit over my fat fingers, so if you wanted to wear one, you probably could. Hey, maybe you’re the type that doesn’t embarrass easily, I don’t know.

Mr. Incredible is articulated with a limited ball jointed neck, ball shoulders, bicep swivels, hinged elbows, swivel wrists and waist, limited ball hips, and hinged knees. Quite a sight better then Hasbro’s meager posing options. The sculpt is great with lots of subtle musculature, and a sharp, smug expression on his face. The paint is pretty clean,and even distinguishes between the glossy black of his gloves and boots and the matte black found on his undies, chest insignia. and collar. In a feature that he shares with the Mrs., Mr. Incredible’s chest insignia lights up yellow for about four seconds after it’s pressed.

The villain Syndrome has a goofily maniacal headsculpt and flexible rubber cape. He’s articulated with a limited ball neck, ball shoulder, bicep swivel, hinged elbow, swivel wrist, swivel waist, limited ball hips, and hinged knees. Syndrome’s left arm only has the shoulder and wrist joints due to a light-up gauntlet feature, but it’s not too intrusive. There’s also a great bit of detailing on his jet-boots. The paint’s surprisingly clean except for some sloppy definition between his pants and the top of his boots.

Frozone’s probably my favorite of the assortment and it has little to do with the fact that I’m a drooling Sam Jackson fanboy. He’s articulated with a swivel neck, ball shoulders, hinged elbows, forearm swivels, hinged wrists, swivel waist, ball hips (the only ones not limited by sculpt), hinged knees and ankles. He’s got nice paint with a little slop around the face, but a great sparkly, pearlescent white that gives the appearance of a layer of frost. Frozone’s also got the most useful accessories with his included skis and sled that can plug into his feet for downhill action . . . or cross-country action if you prefer, but that’s not too exciting.

Violet makes for a sharp package with her included invisible transparent double. Even if it’s only articulated at the neck, it’s an impressive sculpt in a groovy kung-fu pose with a glued-on stand to keep her spindly form relatively stable. The visible Violet has a limited ball neck, ball shoulders, hinged elbows, swivel waist, “Y” jointed hips (ugh), and hinged knees. There’s some paint slop around the edges of her mask, gloves and boots, but nothing too tragic. They probably could have done more with the articulation, but her form is pretty thin so I don’t look upon the designers too harshly. A flexible hairpiece would have been nice to allow for more head movement though.

Mrs. Incredible has a ball jointed neck, ball shoulders, hinged elbows, swivel waist, “Y” hips (ugh again), and hinged knees. She includes only the aforementioned light-up logo feature, and an immobile figure of baby Jack Jack. The sculpt on Mrs. Incredible is good with some nice work on the face, but Jack Jack’s great expression and well-executed folds in his baby clothes really shine.

Large-headed tyke Dash is articulated with a limited ball jointed neck, ball shoulders, hinged elbows, swivel waist, limited ball hips, and hinged knees. Notably, those limited hips prevent Dash from being put into convincing running positions. Bad form. Dash has the light-up chest insignia as well. A stand with dust being kicked up behind him would’ve looked great.

At $9.50 a piece are these things worth it? Well, yeah. If you really dug the movie, then I’d say go with these over Hasbro’s merch. You won’t regret it. I’m gonna hold out hope there’s a second series of these containing goons, blue costumed Mr. Incredible and some of the other super heroes seen in the film.

My, that’s a lot of toys, isn’t it? If the film is as good as I hope, then most of you are probably going to want some of them. I’d say that the verdict is head over-heels for the Thinkway and the Disney store exclusive figures. Hasbro’s offerings aren’t bad, but why not spend a little more and get the product that looks and plays better?

An Incredible Contest
Create a scene of your favorite Incredibles character interacting with any Pixar character or group of characters from other Pixar films.  You can draw an illustration, create something in Flash, photograph toys or your friends dressed up as characters-whatever!  Entries will be judged on creativity, so even if you don’t have an art school edjumacation, you’ve got a shot!  The prize package will be a big ol’ pile of Incredibles toys including two Hasbro rotocast figures, Hasbro Basic and Deluxe figures, and whatever else strikes my fancy on the next trip to the toystore!
Send all entries to cory@jimhillmedia.com
Deadline Monday November 8th at Midnight EST.

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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