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Don’t Toy With Me

Seeing as we’re sharing all sorts of geeky stories here at JimHillMedia.com today, Jim finally admits his deep dark secret: For years now, he’s been doggedly pursuing complete sets of McDonalds Happy Meal toys. But only the Disney-related ones.

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The following is a true story. It actually happened to Nancy and last Wednesday night. As we were driving from New Hampshire down to Peabody, MA. Where I was scheduled to speak at the Peabody Historical Society about Pleasure Island.

En route, Nancy started to get hungry. I suggested that — in order to save time — we quickly get off the highway, go do the drive-up thing at some fast food joint, grab some eats and then get back on the highway ASAP. She agrees … which is why we ended up stopping at the McDonalds in Chelmsford, MA.

Now keep in mind that I’m the one who’s actually driving the car. So we roll up to the outside speaker, place our order, then pull around to the first drive-thru window. Where we’re supposed to pay for our food.

So we pull up to that window. And — according to what Nancy tells me — there was this absolutely stunning woman working the drive-thru. Someone possible of Malaysian descent. With beautiful dark skin and oriental features.

But me? I never really noticed this woman. I mean, I paid her … But she didn’t really register with me.

Why for? Because just behind this allegedly stunning beauty, on a nearby counter, there was a freshly opened cardboard box full of brand-new McDonalds Happy Meals toys. And — as she handed me my change — I was craning my neck to look around this beautiful girl. To see if the toys behind her were from the restaurant chain’s upcoming “Brother Bear” promotion.

Oh the shame of it! Here I am, an allegedly grown man. Yet I’m hopelessly addicted to collecting Disney-realted McDonalds Happy Meal toys. Is that geek-like behavior or what?

How did I start down this ridiculous road? I can pretty much trace things back to the Summer of 1991, when Walt Disney Pictures put “101 Dalmatians” back into theaters for the fifth time in 30 years. As part of the studio’s cross promotional efforts for that film, Disney cut a deal with McDonalds. Which is why that fast food chain began offering (“For a limited tiome only!”) four “101 Dalmatians” themed toys as giveaways with their Happy Meals. If I’m remembering correctly, the figures that the restaurant chain offered its customers back in 1991 were Pongo the Pup, Lucky the Puppy, the Colonel and Sgt. Tibbs and Cruella De Vil.

Anyway … my good friend, Eric Craven, and I were headed to the movies. To see “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” at a multiplex in Natick, MA. As we were driving to the theater, Eric turns to me and says “I’m hungry. Can we go to Mickey D’s before we hit the cinema?” I say “Sure.”

So we drive up to the McDonalds that’s off of Route 9 in Framingham. And – seeing as we’ve got some time to kill – we opt to go inside and eat there.

So we’re in line at the counter. And — as I’m standing there — I see this child go by, happily clutching a Pongo the Pup toy. And I think to myself: “That’s a pretty good looking ‘101 Dalmatians’ toy. In fact, I don’t ever remember see a Pongo the Pup toy before. Maybe I should get one of those to add to my Disneyana collection.” So I step up to the counter and say — in a clear adult voice — “I’d like a Happy Meal. The one with the dog, please.”

So the smiling McDonalds employee takes my money & then hands me a Happy Meal box. So I take it back to the table that Eric had found for us, sit down and open the box. And – sure enough – there’s a dog inside (Along with my burger & fries). But it’s Lucky, not Pongo.

So back to the counter I go. Somewhat embarrassed, I explain that I had wanted the adult Dalmatian toy, not the cute little puppy. The McDonalds employee then apologized, but explains that their restaurant had just run out of Pongos. Which is why I unluckily ended with Lucky.

But came the two sentences that changed my life. The two sentences that I wish I’d never heard. The McDonalds employee then leans across the counter and says: “You know, if you’ve really got your heart set on getting a Pongo, you what I’d do? I’d drive around to some of the other McDonalds in the area and see which toys they’re giving away today.”

And you know what? That’s exactly what we did that afternoon. Cruised up and down the length of Route 9, with Eric continually yammering “But Jim … I thought we were going to see ‘Terminator 2’.” And me saying “We are, Eric. Just as soon as we find that damned dog.”

Of course, the second McDonalds that we visited that day didn’t have any Pongos for sale either. But they did offer a Colonel and a Sgt. Tibbs with their Happy Meals.

Now don’t ask me why, but I ended up getting a Happy Meal at that restaurant. Mostly because I thought that — if I crammed some food in Eric’s face — he’d stopped complaining about how he was missing out on all the senseless violence that he was sure to enjoy while watching that the AH-nauld movie.

So while Eric wolfed down that cheeseburger, I looked out at the Lucky the Puppy and the Colonel and Sgt. Tibbs that I had set up on my dashboard and … Damn it! I still could have gotten out then. I could have done what Nancy Reagan said we should do and just said “No.” I mean, it’s not like I actually needed a Pongo the Pup toy.

Looking back on this life changing event, I find it extremely ironic that — just weeks previous — I had attended the 1991 National Fantasy Fan Club’s annual convention. Where Imagineer Craig McNair Wilson spoke to a room full of Disney dweebs and warned us that “… If you have just one of something, that’s alright. If you acquire two of something, you’re treading on thin ice. But once you own three of something … That’s a collection, my friend. And once you start a collection of anything, you’ll be on the prowl for the rest of your life.”

So — with just two of those “101 Dalmatians” Happy Meal toys in hand — I still might have been able to escape. Not give in to the madness. But at the very next McDonalds that Eric and I drove to … Guess what? They didn’t have any Pongos left either. But they were offering a cute little Cruella De Vil toy. And — given that I had already acquired the Lucky and the Colonel and Sgt. Tibbs toys — I thought: “Oh, what the hell. I might as well as get the Cruella toy too.”

And — with that one single purchase — my fate was sealed, folks. Without even realizing what had just happened, I had become a Disney-themed McDonalds Happy Meal toy collector. I was now doomed to wander the earth ’til the end of my days, dropping by McDonalds after McDonalds after McDonalds, forever asking “What toy do you have? What toy do you have?”

Why do I do it? More importantly, why is this such a hard habit to break? I don’t know what to tell you, people. Other than to say: I actually get this weird sort of buzz after I’ve managed to collect all the toys in a particular McDonalds Happy Meal set. A strange sense of accomplishment that I now trace back to my search for Pongo on that hot summer afternoon back in 1991.

(FYI: I actually did manage to finally find a McDonalds that afternoon that still had some Pongos in stock. Mind you, we ended up driving around 10 different restaurants before we finally found that particular McDonalds. But there was much rejoicing as we carried Pongo back to the car. Particularly from Eric. Who kept asking me: “So NOW can we go watch AH-nauld terminate people?”).

So then we headed off to the cinema to see “Terminator 2.” And — after the movie was over — I dropped Eric off at his apartment, and then headed for home. Once I arrived there, I carried my hard-won treasures into the house. Then — almost as a joke — I lined those “101 Dalmatians” Happy Meal toys up on my mantlepiece. As if they were some sort of hard won trophy.

Which — in a way — I guess they were. Which is why I kept the Happy Meal toys there for a couple of weeks. When they came to my apartment, people would ask me about them. And I’d then launch into the tale of my dogged pursuit of the “101 Dalmatians” Happy Meal toys. And the more I told that story, the more I thought: “I had fun trying to chase down all four of those McDonalds toys. I’ll have to do that again sometime.”

Fast forward 12 years. I’m now downstairs in my office, pounding away at the keyboard. If I turn my head to the right, I can see a complete set of “Treasure Planet” Happy Meal toys (I.E. the action figures as well as the cool orb that you could build out of the additional pieces that came along with each figure in this set) high up on one of my library shelves. Below those is a complete set of “Monsters, Inc.” Happy Meal toys (Each of these figures came with their own working door.)

I personally collected each and every figure in those sets. And — if I turn my head to the left — I can see my complete set of “Lilo & Stitch” bobbling Happy Meal toys. Which is on a book shelf right above my complete set of “Finding Nemo” talking / light-up Happy Meal toys. Figures that I also collected personally, one toy at a time.

Mind you, these are just the sets of McDonalds toys that I currently have out on display, folks. Elsewhere in the basement, I have boxes upon boxes full of other completed sets of Happy Meal toys. Figures that I have doggedly chased through the years down in McDonalds up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Out in the state of California. Even as far away as Hawaii.

Why do I continue to do this? Nancy asks me that very same question. And — to be honest — I don’t have a particularly coherent answer for this query. Force of habit? Because it’s there? Because I enjoy doing it?

You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s really that last answer That I actually enjoy the act of collecting. Going out and doggedly pursuing these toys. The thrill of the hunt, so to speak. Toughing it out. Visiting McDonalds after McDonalds after McDonalds until I’m finally able to pull together the completed set of … well … whatever it is the new series of Disney-related Happy Meal toys appears to be.

Mind you, I could cheat. By that I mean: I could go on eBay and just buy a completed set of Happy Meal toys. For example, right now, there’s someone on there who’s selling off a complete set of the “Mulan” McDonalds figures from 1998 here as well as a complete set of “The Jungle Book” Happy Meal toys for 1997 here.

And I know of several McDonalds around the country who have actually begun catering to the less ambitious collectors out there. The folks who aren’t willing to waste the time, money or gas necessary to drive from restaurant to restaurant to restaurant in search of the latest toys.

So how do these McDonalds cater to couch potatoes who collect? They do so by offering to sell you — for one set price, mind you — a complete set of whichever Happy Meal toys they’re currently selling at that time. (Heads up to all you Disneyland regulars out there who also collect Happy Meal toys. The McDonalds that’s right across from the entrance to the park — You know, the one at 1500 S. Harbor Boulevard? — current offers this service. So keep that in mind the next time you’re frantically charging around, trying to put together a complete set of the “Finding Nemo” figures. )

But me personally? I prefer to do things the old fashioned way. Which means going from McDonalds to McDonalds, always asking the same question: “Which toy do you have?”

You know, I just thought of something. You want to know the OTHER reason that I really enjoy collecting Disney-related McDonalds Happy Meal toys? Because it embarrasses the hell out of Nancy. And — given that I don’t really drink, smoke or gamble … well, a man has to do SOMETHING to annoy the woman in his life.

And in my case, it’s the dogged pursuit of those Disney-related Happy Meal toys. Which is admittedly geeky behavior. But — hey — at least it keeps me off the streets at night.

Unless — of course — you’re talking about later this month. On October 31st, to be exact. That’s the day when McDonalds introduces its new set of “Brother Bear” Happy Meal toys. So you can bet that I’ll be hitting the road on Halloween night, as I try to get a jump on collecting all eight figures in this series.

Okay, now that I’ve come out of the closet (so to speak) and revealed myself to be a Disney-related Happy Meal toy collector, who else has a geeky, somewhat embarrassing story to share? About their collection of rare, unique or just plain strange Disney-and/or-movie-related items?

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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