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E.T. goes home today. “Shrek 4D” arrives shortly.

Shifting away from the Mouse for just a moment, Jim Hill shines a spotlight over on Universal Studios’ theme parks today. Revealing what went on behind-the-scenes that led up to today’s closure of USH’s “E.T. Adventure” attraction … as well as giving JHM readers an exciting, exclusive peek at Universal’s soon-to-be-opening “Shrek 4D” show!



Today, with little or no fanfare, Universal Studios Hollywood will be closing its “E.T. Adventure” attraction. Why the lack of hoopla? Because the folks who run Universal’s theme parks are deathly afraid of offending Steven Spielberg.

You see (as you all are already no doubt aware), Mr. Spielberg is a major media mogul. A rich and extremely powerful man in the industry. Someone that you certainly don’t want to piss off … for fear of ending your career.

That’s why — for months now — the folks who run Universal’s theme parks have been putting off letting Steven know about their intentions. How they were planning on pulling down Universal Studios Hollywood’s gentle “E.T. Adventure” to make room for a thrilling new indoor roller coaster ride that would be based on Stephen Sommers’ “Mummy” movies.

I mean, it’s bad enough that Spielberg is the Academy Award winning director who actually helmed the much beloved film that USH’s “E.T. Adventure” is based on. But — as it turns out — Steven is also the guy who rode herd on the folks at Universal Creative back when they were originally designing this attraction. Back in the late 1980s, he literally spent hours in meetings discussing the layout of the ride. Talking endlessly with artists about what E.T.’s home planet should look like, what the other inhabitants of “The Green Planet” should look like.

And Spielberg pulled in all sorts of favors to help make Universal’s “E.T. Adventure” a truly special attraction. EX: He even persuaded Academy Award winning composer John Williams to come write the score for the ride.

The end result — Spielberg hoped — would be Universal’s equivalent of Disneyland’s “Peter Pan” ride. An amazing attraction that flew USH guests to a magical place. A ride that could entertain theme park guests for generations yet to come.

Well, I’ll say this much … the interior queue for Universal’s “E.T. Adventure” really is quite impressive. With its darkly atmospheric forest setting (with that semi-authentic pine scent) as well as those periodic appearances by Botanicus. I always marveled at that part of the attraction. What a nice job Universal had done.

And that moment at the very end of the ride — where E.T. said your name, just before your bicycle reached the off-load area — that was nice too. (Though I guess I should also come clean here and admit that I — and some of my more mean spirited friends — used to get a big kick out of getting E.T. to say somewhat inappropriate things. How’d we do that? Well, we’d get on line to pick up our boarding passes, then give the poor attendant bogus one syllable names to input into her computer. Then — provided that the cast member in “E.T. Adventure” load area had swiped the cards through their machine in the proper order, you could get E.T. to say things like “Goodbye … Bo … Bo … Dill … Doe …” You get the idea … anyway …)

But as for the rest of the “E.T. Adventure” … with its somewhat scary but decidedly unlifelike policemen and government agents threatening guests as they race through the forest to all of those nauseatingly cute Cloud Bearers, Tickley Moot Moots and Jumpums that populated the Green Planet, I just found this attraction to be a huge disappointment.

And I’m guessing that I wasn’t the only one. Given that — within a year or so of the official opening of USH’s “E.T. Adventure” back in 1992 — attendance levels for this multi-million dollar attraction started heading for the basement. For the last few years, even when every other ride or show at Universal Studios Hollywood has had a 30 – 45 minute wait, the “E.T.” ride was always a walk-on.

Why for? Because the word of mouth on Universal’s “E.T. Adventure” attraction has been absolutely terrible. Typically, people say that it’s a ride that’s good to ride if you have small children. Or if you really liked the movie that the attraction is based on. But — after one trip to the Green Planet via the “E.T. Adventure” — you’ve pretty much had your fill of cute little aliens.

Of course, because he had put so much time and effort into the creation of the “E.T. Adventure,” no one at Universal Hollywood had the heart (or the guts) to tell Steven that attendance levels for his attraction had been tanking. And — given that Spielberg never waits in line to board theme park rides anyway (To insure the privacy and safety of the Academy Award winning director and his family, Steven is typically “back doored” onto attractions whenever he visits any of the Disney and Universal theme parks. Which means that his party — which is typically escorted by several plain clothes members of the theme park’s security staff — quickly and quietly enters the ride, show or attraction via its exit. After the show’s over, the whole group quickly disappears backstage. Away from the prying eyes of the public) — it seemed highly unlikely that Spielberg would ever realize that USH guests just weren’t visiting his “E.T. Adventure” attraction anymore.

Comments that Steven allegedly made as recently as last year demonstrate how truly clueless the director was. When asked about the “E.T. Adventure,” Spielberg was reported to have waxed poetic. Supposedly saying how much it meant to him that — every day — little kids were boarding bicycles and flying across the Moon with his much beloved character. Just a hundred yards or so away from where his production office on Universal Hollywood’s lower lot is located.

Since they’ve known for several years now how truly badly attendance levels for USH’s “E.T. Adventure” attraction have been falling off, Universal Hollywood staffers have been talking at least since the late 1990s about what they should do to replace this under-performing ride. But — again, due to their fear of what Spielberg might do to them were they to suggest shuttering the “E.T. Adventure” — these creative types keep mum … and bided their time.

Finally, late last year, a window of opportunity presented itself. On the heels of the less-than-stellar box office performance of the 20th anniversary edition of “E.T.” (pulling in just $35 million, which reportedly didn’t even come close to cover the money that Universal Pictures poured into promoting the special edition of the film, not to mention the millions more blown on “E.T.”‘s enchanced special effects), the video and DVD sales of “E.T: The Extra Terrestrial – The Special Edition” didn’t exactly set the world on fire either.

Figuring that they could now use the somewhat-less-than-truthful excuse that the disappointing reception that “E.T.”‘s 20th anniversary special edition had received had suddenly caused attendance levels at USH’s “E.T. Adventure” to fall off sharply, the folks at Universal Hollywood finally broke the news to Spielberg that they were THINKING about shutting down the E.T. ride at their park. They (of course) immediately followed this up by stressing that the “E.T. Adventure” attractions at Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Japan would be remaining open. That it was only the E.T. ride in Hollywood that they were thinking of closing. The other two versions of the ride were sure to remain open for ages yet to come. (TRANSLATION: Let the folks at USO and USJ break their own bad news to Spielberg. We’re just trying to get our new “Mummy” thrill ride off the drawing board here.)

Surprisingly, Spielberg supposedly put up very little resistance to the proposed change. (It’s thought that the public’s recent less-than-enthusiastic response to E.T.’s return may have soured Steven’s attitude toward his sweet little alien character.) All Spielberg asked was that the closure of the Hollywood version of the “E.T. Adventure” be handled as quickly and quietly as possible. So that the media wouldn’t get wind of this and try to make a big deal out of this particular attraction closing.

Oops. Sorry.

So — with their “Mummy” coaster hopefully up and running by the Summer of 2004 (which, Universal is hoping, will put USH on a much better footing next year when its Hollywood theme park has to go head-to-head with DCA and its new “Tower of Terror” thrill ride) — what does Universal Studios have up its sleeve to help drive up attendance levels at its stateside theme parks this year? “Shrek 4D.”

I’ll say this much for the guys at Universal Creative. They’ve really kept the lid locked down tight on this particular project. For the past year or so that this new CG 3D film (which will be presented in Ogrevision, by the way) has actually been in production, virtually no information has leaked out about “Shrek 4D.” Everyone I’ve asked has kept their lips zipped. And no one at Dreamworks Feature Animation or Dark Horse Comics (the folks who are currently prepping the comic book adaptation of “Shrek 4D”) have been spilling the beans either.

So where then did I get the following outline of “Shrek 4D?” Sorry, but that would be telling. All I can safely say is that this intriguing bit of info comes from someone fairly high up in the Universal theme park food chain. Someone who seems justly proud of this new theme park show that’s just about to debut at Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando. Here’s a sanitized-for-his-or-hers-protection version of the e-mail I received late yesterday afternoon:

Hey, Hill

I saw last week that you were looking to expand the turf you cover. Maybe move out beyond the Mouse. Well, then how would you like a story about “Shrek 4D?”

I was lucky enough to see an incomplete work print of the 3D movie over the past two weeks. Jim, this film is going to blow the doors off of anything that Disney’s got. “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” is going to seem even more lame and dated than it already is when “Shrek 4D” debuts later this spring. “Mickey’s Philharmagic” is really going to have to pull out the stops if it ever intends to top Universal’s newest 3D movie.

So what’s the story. “Shrek 4D” picks right where the original “Shrek” movie left off. Shrek and Princess Fiona are off of their honeymoon. Only they’ve somehow lost their way en route. In order to get to their honeymoon hotel, should they follow the road that takes them through the pleasant green glade … or the one that takes them scary, scary woods.

As Shrek stands in the road, trying to decide which way to go, Donkey confers with Fiona. He asks why she’s crying … and the Princess responds that she’s tearing up because she’s been riding inside of a coach that’s been carved out of a giant onion!!

Suddenly a masked man on a dark horse races by and snatches Fiona out of the coach. Shrek and Donkey give chase — with the audience seemingly now riding along with them in the back seat of the coach. (Look for some really funny gags here as the rough ride causes Donkey to repeatedly fly up out of his seat, almost landing in the audience’s lap.)

This section of the film takes the audience through the scary, scary forest (but not before the ogre’s coach has an amusing run-in with the Gingerbread Man from the first “Shrek” movie). It ends with Shrek and Donkey wandering around a dark and misty graveyard, searching for Fiona. As mysterious shapes rise up out of the fog, the audience realizes that Lord Farquaad has somehow come back from the dead in ghostly form. More importantly, the evil little monarch seems determined to exact his revenge on Princess Fiona, the ogre, and the ass.

In order to do away with Shrek and Donkey, Farquaad uses his dark magic to bring to life an enormous stone statue of a dragon that’s on display in the gloomy graveyard. The dragon now stomps around the cemetery, his jaws snapping, fire spewing, menacing the orge, the ass and the audience. Shrek and Donkey seemed doomed until the Lady Dragon from the first “Shrek” movie swoops in and rescues them from the fierce stone dragon at the last possible moment.

From this point forward, “Shrek 4D” really starts packing on the laughs and thrills. Riding on the back of the Lady Dragon, Shrek and Donkey have an epic air battle with the evil stone dragon. Only some quick thinking (as well as some close canyon walls) save these three from certain death.

Meanwhile, Lord Farquaad and his henchman (You know? That executioner guy who wore a black mask in the first movie?) have tied Princess Fiona to a raft. They intend to send Fiona to her death over an enormous waterfall (So that — once the Princess dies — the princess will be free to marry Farquaad in the after-life). Shrek arrives at the last minute to try and rescue his bride. But the ogre bobbles his rescue attempt.

Fiona and Shrek both go tumbling over the waterfall. It looks like they’re goners for sure. When suddenly …

Well, you don’t want me to give the whole movie away, do you, Jim? Let’s just say that “Shrek 4D” ends happily and the folks at Dreamworks will have no trouble at all picking up Shrek’s story right where Universal Studios Orlando and Hollywood leaves it off. Think of this short but funny movie as a brief but clever bridge between the original “Shrek” and “Shrek II.”

Whenever you get the chance, Jim, you really need to come out of the woods of New Hampshire and go see “Shrek 4D.” It’s the first of a string of great new shows and attractions that Universal will be rolling out at its stateside theme parks over the next 18 months.

“Universal Studios Islands of Adventure” showed that we could build a theme park that was just as good as anything Disney could do. With “Shrek 4D” as well as USO’s “Mummy” coaster, we’re going to prove that our company can consistently produce rides and attractions that are BETTER than anything that the Mouse is producing these days. That IOA’s “Spider-Man” ride wasn’t a fluke.

So — if you’re getting tired of writing about Disney, Jim — feel free to start spreading the word about Universal Studios. We’re about to start really coming on strong.

Consider the word spread.

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 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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