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Finding John Lasseter

Jim Korkis returns with the profile of a man with the boyish sense of wonder that led to the imagining and creation of such films as “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo.” He’s Pixar’s Big Cheese, and now Jim shares a little on John Lasseter and the career of this CG pioneer.

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John Lasseter really is as nice a guy as you see him on that 60 MINUTES II report about Pixar. He is also as enthusiastic, sincere and creative. I know because I have met him and talked with him. Unfortunately, John Lasseter doesn’t remember me.

John visited WDW property a few months ago to take a ride on the CAROUSEL OF PROGRESS because of the rumors that the attraction would soon be heading into the realm of extinct attractions. While John talked about his love of Disney history, his guide asked if he had ever met me since I do so many presentations about Disney history but John couldn’t recall ever talking with me.

John meets so many people that I am not the least bit offended. I am sure if he saw me in person he would remember because I look like a living cartoon. Also, if his guide had mentioned that I was working at the Disney Institute teaching traditional, computer and stop motion animation when he gave a presentation there, it also might have rung a bell for him.

John, who is known for wearing loud, colorful shirts, opened his presentation at the Disney Institute Cinema by asking if the audience in the back row could “hear” his shirt (parodying the old presenter’s opening line “Am I loud enough? Can those of you in the back hear me?”). Fortunately, I still have my notes from John’s very pleasant conversation with those of us who worked at the Disney Institute as well as my notes from his presentation. So, for those of you who did not attend, I am going to include some of those comments in today’s installment.

I still mentor many young hopeful computer animators who are always puzzled when they scan the guidelines for the Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) Training Program at Walt Disney Feature Animation and discover that they will participate in the same three phase program as the trainees in the Traditional Animation Program including life drawing classes and improvisational acting workshops.

The information packet sent to applicants interested in an entry level position in Disney’s CGI program includes the following paragraph:

“Keep in mind, the computer is not a substitute for any of the core skills mentioned here. Like a pencil, a brush or mountain of clay, the computer is a tool the artist will use to create his/her work. Creating art or animation on the computer requires that the mind control the form of the end product. Woodworkers say, ‘It is a poor craftsman who blames his tools’. Likewise, flawed design or concept is not saved simply by having been created on the computer. The goal for the student using the computer is to translate examples of his/her skill in art or animation into the digital medium.”

Even professional computer animators who have been successful in their career echo these sentiments. As early as 1991, computer animators like Craig Good who was working at PIXAR stated, “Think of the computer as a pencil. A big expensive pencil that uses electricity. Sometimes it takes several people to operate the pencil. The important point is that until it’s picked up by the hand of an artist, it’s as inert and useless as a pencil laying on a desk. Computer animation isn’t done by computers any more than clay animation is done by clay.”

Computer animation began in the Sixties with films like James Whitney’s CATALOGUE (1961) which made use of an analog computer. As computer animation evolved, it became a major tool for special effects from rotating logos in television commercials to imaginary landscapes in theatrical movies. (Let me also warn potential computer animators, that those people reviewing their reel hate seeing “flying metal” which is a phrase they use to describe a reel where objects are manipulated and moved but not animated. Animation is the illusion of life and makes use of the basic concepts from “slow in/slow out” to “stretch and squash” to “anticipation” to countless others that a good animation should understand.)

In my opinion, it was the genius of John Lasseter and his training as a traditional animator that has literally transformed the world of computer animation into more than just a bag of technological tricks. Just like Walt Disney before him, John knew that the audience’s amazement at new technology was fleeting but it’s affection for characters and personality animation is what has made even poorly animated films so memorable and cherished. I try to mentor students that it is not the constantly changing technology that is important but how you use that technology to tell timeless stories.

John attended California Institute of the Arts and studied with teachers like T. Hee, a legendary Disney storyman, and Jack Hannah, the director responsible for many of the classic Donald Duck shorts among other credits. He was steeped in the Disney principles of creating traditional animation which were the strong foundation for his revolutionary work later in computer animation. (Every time I interviewed Jack Hannah, he spoke proudly of having been one of John’s instructors. He really felt that John “got it” when it came to understanding animation.)

John won a student Academy Award for his film, NITEMARE, which chronicled the adventure of a little boy who discovers the truth behind the shadows and sounds that lurk in a little boy’s bedroom when the light is turned off. It is wonderfully paced, with a great sense of humor and a hilarious final visual punch line.

“Everyone else was doing their final project with lots of dialog so I took it as a challenge to do one without any dialog at all,” remembered John recently when I talked with him in Florida, “I was embarassed that it was just done in pencil and not in a more finished form but T. Hee told me it was not about finished animation or whether it was in color or not but it was about the strength of the story. That’s a lesson I remember when I am working with computer animation.”

One of my greatest disappointments is that this student short did not appear on the supplemental material with the MONSTERS INC. DVD. While John, like most artists, are uncomfortable by their early work, this short still held the audience’s attention at the Disney Institute, still brought howls of laughter and still brought loud applause despite John’s misgivings about its technical shortcomings.

Eventually, John joined the Disney Studio as a traditional animator and worked on such projects as MICKEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL. It was during this time that he and Glen Keane saw the Disney film TRON and both of them got excited about the possiblities of computer animation. They worked together on a thirty second sample from Maurice Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.

John worked on the computer generated backgrounds while Glen did the character animation of the boy. They hoped to demonstrate to the Disney Studio not only the possibilites of using computers to aid in the telling of stories in animated features but also to suggest they could complete the Sendak project.

John was even able to convince his boss, Tom Wilhite, to take an option on a book entitled THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER as a possible feature. (When Wilhite left the studio and Disney was uninterested in the project, he took the option with him and made the feature film. John admits that it never occured to him to use computers to create the characters but felt that it was an excellent project for computer generated backgrounds.) Unfortunately, the Disney Studio determined that at that time computer animation was just too expensive to pursue aggressively.

Intrigued by the possiblities of computers, John left Disney and joined PIXAR. His first film was ANDRE AND WALLY B., a simple tale of a man annoyed by a bee. John was told to build characters based on geometric shapes and to have the film ready for SIGGRAPH, the computer convention, as a sample of what PIXAR could do.

“When it premiered at SIGGRAPH, I was totally unprepared for the response,” claimed John. “People loved the film but they kept asking me what software I was using and what programs I used and quite frankly, I was simply not well versed in all of that. They kept saying, ‘It is so funny. What did you use?’ and I realized they were so consumed with programs that it had not occured to them that the character personality and humor really came from traditional animation foundations.”

Every year after that, John’s main responsibility was preparing a special film for SIGGRAPH. LUXO JR., the story of a parent lamp and its child playing with a ball, was based on a lamp he had on his own desk. When John talks about the film, he doesn’t talk about the technology even though the film represents a breakthrough in the use of shadowing. John talks about handling the lamp and realizing that the base was so heavy that the character would have to prepare for a leap before leaping and that the baby lamp is not a miniature but a baby because “the rods grow longer before they grow out but the bulb is exactly the same size in each lamp because that doesn’t grow; you get that at a hardware store.” John assumes the parent lamp is a father rather than a mother because it allows Luxo Jr. to jump on the ball and a protective mother would stop that kind of activity. In short, when John talks about the film, he talks the same way a traditional hand drawn animator would analyze and describe his work.

LUXO JR. was followed by TIN TOY and KNICKKNACK and soon John was receiving Academy Awards for these computer animated shorts and he was still getting asked questions about programs and software rather than how he used them as effective tools in the telling of stories.

It was time to expand further and John started developing a feature length animated film in partnership with his old company, Disney. It was John’s original intent to use the toy from TIN TOY as the centerpiece for this ground breaking film. Eventually, the characters of Woody and Buzz, loosely based on John’s childhood toys, took over although even they went through a rapid evolution.

“We wanted to appeal to kids and adults and teenagers and Disney was very worried that because it was toys and we were calling it TOY STORY that it would just have kid appeal. How we got adult appeal was by making the toys be adults with adult concerns. Notice that they have a ‘staff meeting’ which is a very adult thing. And Mr. Spell had done a presentation on plastic corrosion. And you hear Mr. Spell and you realize how boring it must have been. And another thing, plastic does NOT corrode! We just put all these layers in the film so it appealed to several groups,” enthused John. “We definitely did not want to make it a typical Disney film with songs and the boy gets the girl. We wanted it to be a buddy film where two different people who may not even like each other are tossed together where they have to work together towards a common goal but by the end, the goal is no longer important. It is only important that you are together.”

Traditionally, animation has twenty-four frames for each second. In animation using a computer, it can escalate to thirty exposures for each second. On TOY STORY, it sometimes took sixty hours to render just one frame. “And sometimes we would go in after sixty hours and the things weren’t completely rendered because the computer was set up that at sixty hours it would shut down because there was obviously an error and it was running a continuous loop that needed to be stopped. So we had to change the computer,” emphasized John.

There were ten story artists on the original TOY STORY but almost twenty-five worked on the sequel. One of the storymen was Floyd Norman whose story career goes back to JUNGLE BOOK. Since that time, Floyd’s writing has graced a number of projects including several Disney feature films, the Mickey Mouse comic strip and the CD-ROM program DISNEY’S MAGIC ARTIST. (Floyd is deserving of several columns just about him. He is one of the nicest, most talented storyman/animator in the business and has always been generous with his praise for his co-workers.)

“John is very similar to Walt,” noted Floyd when I saw him a while ago. “He really ‘gets it’. They asked me to come over which was very flattering but I told them I really didn’t know much about computers. But you know what? I didn’t need to know about computers. You storyboard for a computer feature the same way you storyboard for a traditional feature. You ask the same questions about telling the story or if the gag is funny or if this action will help reveal the character.”

“We have made a really big mistake when we do these films,” admitted John. “Disney artists take these trips to China and Paris and all these exotic places for research and we devise films like TOY STORY that take place in a bedroom in Anytown, America or in the dirt like A BUG’S LIFE. However, I must admit that I did get to go to TOYS R US with the corporate credit card to buy all these toys for research. ‘Yeah, I think we need one of those and one of those’…”

John feels there are probably two strong career tracks today in animation. One emphasizes the computer but from the standpoint of modeling and design primarily. The other is that traditional grounding in the basic principles and philosophy of animation.

“When I was doing hand drawn animation, I often got frustrated and wrapped up with the individual drawing. I soon discovered that working with computers that some of that tedium is eliminated and I can concentrate more on the movement and animation and how it helps the story,” stated John.

John’s final word of advice for future computer animators emphasizes the importance of the same skills the great animation storytellers have used for the last century: “Using a computer to move an object around does not make me an animator any more than my buying a typewriter would make me a writer capable of authoring GONE WITH THE WIND.”

John has been described as the “Walt Disney of the Digital Age” and that is closer to the truth than many suspect. He certainly has the same boyish sense of wonder as Walt Disney and certainly the same strong sense of story. It doesn’t bother me that he doesn’t remember meeting me because he continues to inspire and entertain and I would much prefer him using a brain cell to continue doing that than use it to remember an encounter with me.

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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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