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Former Disney CEO Ron Miller recalls his own “TRON” legacy



Without “TRON,” there wouldn’t be “TRON: Legacy,” and without former Disney CEO and producer Ron Miller, “TRON” may have never been made. Writer/director Steven Lisberger‘s “TRON” project had been rejected by at least three other studios before he submitted it to Disney, hoping for the best but not really expecting the positive reaction he received.

Miller, Walt Disney’s son-in-law, is listed as executive producer of “TRON” and, if you’re in your 40s or older like me, you probably remember watching dozens of Disney movies that are part of the “RON: Legacy” –  animated films like “The Rescuers,” “The Fox and the Hound” and “The Black Cauldron” as well as live-action films like “Never Cry Wolf,” “The Shaggy D.A.” “Tex,” “Freaky Friday” and many others. But the movies represent just a piece of Miller’s professional accomplishments.

Ron Miller in the story room for “The Small One” back in 1976.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Miller started working on the Disneyland project in 1954, joined the Directors Guild in 1957 as a second assistant director on “Old Yeller,” and continued to advance in the company. By the time of Walt’s death in 1966, he was a key executive and part of the management team. It was Walt’s team that worked to complete both Walt Disney World and EPCOT in Florida. Miller became president of Walt Disney Productions in 1980 and was named as CEO in 1983, before being replaced by Michael Eisner and Frank Wells in 1984 in a move orchestrated by Walt’s nephew, Roy E. Disney. Miller was there when the company entered the home video market, launched its cable TV network, made its initial foray on Broadway and when it negotiated the deal for Tokyo Disneyland, the first Disney theme park outside of the United States.

Miller was also directly responsible for creating the “Touchstone” label to broaden Disney’s appeal beyond the G-rated films branded by Walt’s era.

As Walt’s son-in-law and Disney Company staffer, Miller had a unique professional and personal relationship with the creative genius. He directed several of Walt’s introductions to Disney’s weekly TV shows and watched as Grandpa Walt enjoyed time with his growing family.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

I recently spent a few minutes with Miller discussing “TRON” in advance of Disney’s huge reboot with “TRON: Legacy,” a film that’s been widely promoted at Comic-Con and elsewhere for nearly three years. “TRON: Legacy” opens Friday with expectations of a possible $1 billion worldwide box office gross.

In the case of 1982’s “TRON,” Miller says, he was the executive producer because “I was the individual who said ‘Let’s do it,’ ” based in part from a recommendation by a trusted Disney studio executive.

“God bless Tom Wilhite because he was the one who really took notice of it and felt very strongly that (‘TRON’) was something that time-wise was perfect for us. Which it was. Certainly it was something that we were looking for … it was something unique. It was an area that hadn’t really been explored before.”

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Still before committing to the production, the company had Lisberger complete a test scene to give Disney executives some idea of what “TRON” would look like.

“I would have to say that I was impressed with what I saw,” Miller said. “I think everybody embraced it because it was so intriguing. We realized that it was a big challenge. We realized that it was going to be very expensive, which it turned out to be. But it was a gamble worth taking.”

Wilhite would become the executive in charge of the production along with Lisberger’s colleague Donald Kushner. Disney’s Harrison Ellenshaw was tagged as the associate producer and praised Miller for his unyielding support of the project. You can hear a bit of Ellenshaw’s interview along with highlights of my interview with Miller at Paul Barrie’s latest WindowtotheMagic podcast

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

For “TRON,” Miller oversaw “some of the production, but the producer – certainly – is more involved than the executive producer.” Still, Miller says he approved the casting, visited the set, watched some of the dailies and kept finding the money as costs climbed.

I asked Miller if there was any point during the production that he considered pulling the plug on “TRON” or changing the approach on the film.

“Never,” Miller said. “Once we approved the story, once we approved the cast, once we approved all the special effects, it was go. And you don’t stop in the middle of the river and try to back pedal. You’ve got to go forward.”

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Still he admits, “TRON” was a “difficult picture to evaluate as it was being shot because the scene was not in front of you. You had all kinds of parts that came together that ultimately made the scene. But to sit through dailies – in my mind – was a little baffling. I didn’t quite understand what was going on.”

“TRON” reportedly cost about $17 million and grossed $33 million in its initial North American theatrical release. Worldwide box office figures were unavailable.

“I and a lot of other people were disappointed in the theatrical gross,” Miller admitted. “I think that the film should have done at least 50 percent better than what it did. I thought it was going to be a much bigger picture because its freshness and uniqueness and all that. But maybe we didn’t communicate what we had correctly, maybe we didn’t market it correctly. … We just missed the proper sales pitch on the film. I think people were a little bit confused with computer animation: What the hell is that, it was brand-new. Is it animation? Well, no. It’s not animation as you know it.”

Copyright 1982 Universal Pictures.
All rights reserved

“TRON” came out at the same time as “E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial,” which was in the cute-and-cuddly mode more common to Disney films. I asked Miller if he thought “E.T.” hurt “TRON” or if he thought that maybe audiences were more interested in outer space than cyberspace.

“I don’t think that one competed against the other. (They were) two totally different approaches to filmmaking,” he said. “When you’re up against (Steven) Spielberg, it’s tough.  … I elude back to something that I said before, that unfortunately I just don’t think that we hit a home run with marketing and sales.”

Still, Miller says, he considers “TRON” an artistic and commercial success. The film was a huge hit when it was released on home video. He also knows the film proved to be important and inspirational to several filmmakers, including a young Disney animator, John Lasseter.

John Lasseter when he first began working for
Walt Disney Animation Studios. Copyright
1979 Walt Disney Productions.
All rights reserved

Lasseter has said that “Without “TRON,’ there would be no ‘Toy Story,’ ” even telling the former Disney CEO that directly years later.

While at Disney, Lasseter “used to poke his head in (‘TRON’) dailes and see what was happening,” Miller said. “He was very enamored with computer animation,” even pitching “The Brave Little Toaster” as a computer animated film before he was dismissed from the company.

“… Yeah, John was let go shortly after that, (but) I had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Miller said, wanting to set the record straight. Leslie Iwerks’ documentary film, “The Pixar Story,” said “that the CEO fired John. Well, I was the CEO and I would have never fired John,” he said. “No, I think that Ed Hansen – who was the production manager – had nothing more for John and that was it.”

(L to R) Diane Disney Miller, John Lasseter and Nancy
Lasseter at the Walt Disney Family Museum’s opening
gala. Image courtesy of The Walt Disney Family
Museum. All rights reserved

Despite Lasseter’s dismissal, Ron and Diane Disney Miller share a good relationship with him and his wife, Nancy. Both families have wineries in the Napa Valley and they see each other a few times a year. Lasseter has been one of several current Disney employees who have been very supportive of the Walt Disney Family Museum at The Presidio of San Francisco.

“I like John a lot,” Miller says. “And we go all the way back to when Diane and I used to go to CalArts and there he was greeting us when we walked in. In fact, we thought that it was because of his affection towards Diane that he was there. But, we found out later, he was told to be there.”

I asked Miller if at the time when “TRON” was pitched to him, if he or his children, some of them in their teens, played video games.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“… It’s about 28 years later and I still don’t play video games,” he said, laughing. “But we did have one in our house, the ‘TRON’ game. In fact, my youngest son, Patrick, became very efficient at it and he went to the – I think – sixth or seventh stage out of 10, which was amazing. I could get to the second stage. That was a very popular game out there. We sold a lot of them and I think my youngest son still has his.”

Miller also praised Disney’s decision a few months ago to pull the “TRON” DVD off retailers’ shelves with the new film coming out. “TRON” is reportedly being prepared for a Blu-ray release sometime in 2011.

“I think that it’s a fairly interesting move … I like it,” he said. “Let’s get (‘TRON’) off the shelves, let’s concentrate on (‘TRON: Legacy’). When people see this, they’ll want to see the original if they haven’t seen it already.”

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“TRON: Legacy” is certainly shining a blue laser light on Miller’s period at Disney and reminding people that he laid the foundation for several changes that helped fuel the growth of the company in the late ’80s and beyond. I asked him if he feels some vindication for what’s going on, that more people are taking a look at the things he accomplished that other people seem to have gotten credit for over the years?

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, displaying a sense of modesty. “I think that Michael (Eisner) deserves the credit that he rightfully has. He brought a certain vitality to the company. The earnings every year went up and up and up. He hit some really big blockbusters early on. Though ‘Roger Rabbit,’ we were developing that …”

And, I interjected, “Splash” was yours.

Copyright 1984 Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

“You know, ‘Splash’ is interesting. I told the gentleman from ‘Variety’ that it’s something that I lived with for a long time,” Miller said. “A G-rated film and you can’t go beyond that because what … are you going to do with the image that we have?”

Miller recalled watching “To Kill a Mockingbird” with Diane, Walt and Lilly in the projection room of Disney’s Holmby Hills home. When the film was over and the lights came on, Walt pounded his hand on the armrest of his chair and said “Damn, I wish I could make a film like that.” But Walt, Miller said, “was caught in his own web. He couldn’t broaden. He couldn’t go beyond what he had established as good Disney material or entertainment.”

Still Walt was most proud of “growing his company.” In multimedia clips at the Walt Disney Family Museum, you can hear him discussing branching out from the Mickey Mouse shorts to the Silly Symphonies, moving into full-length animated features, then tackling live-action films, TV and creating Disneyland. With every step forward, Walt was met with some nay-sayers.

Copyright Touchstone Pictures, Inc.  All rights reserved

“He always kept growing,” Miller said. “There was always a curiosity with the man: What was on the other side of the hill? And that’s what drove him. I mean, look, he was willing to drop motion pictures when he came out of the hospital, he had just had lung surgery, and he sat there and he said, ‘You know, I’ve got to concentrate on EPCOT. That’s the most important thing in the company’s future right now. And you guys have done a good job. So I’m confident that you can go out and make motion pictures and all. I’ve put a good team together.’ But my point being that his next project was EPCOT. And beyond that was another project. … He was fascinating in that way.”

I asked Miller if he simply was following Walt’s philosophy and trying to grow the company while he was CEO by doing things like creating Touchstone.

“But we had to … . The question became – do we continue making G-rated films which we had lost our younger audience because they wouldn’t be caught dead going into a G-rated film. So – I’ll never forget – it’s interesting that, with ‘Splash,’ I just hired Richard Berger. And somebody put ‘Splash’ on my desk and I read it and I liked it. And I also liked that it was connected with Ronnie Howard. You know, good chemistry.

Ron Howard and Tom Hanks take part in a “Splash” publicity shoot in
the Spring of 1984. Copyright Walt Disney Productions.
All rights reserved

“So I went to Berger and I said, ‘You know, Richard. I’ve got something here that I think we should consider. Because now I had made the decision to go with Touchstone. And he said ‘What is it?’ And I said that ‘It’s a Ronnie Howard project and it’s called ‘Splash.’ “

Berger told Miller that he turned “Splash” down when he was at 20th Century Fox. Miller had Berger reread the script and they made a decision to go forward with it.

Eventually Miller screened the film to about 3,500 people after a shareholders meeting at Walt Disney World. Miller warned them that “Splash” was not a G-rated film, that it was “a bit more mature, a little bit more adult.”

(L to R) Disney CEO Bob Iger, Walt Disney Family Museum executive director
Richard Benefield, Ron Miller and Diane Disney Miller. Image courtesy of
The Walt Disney Family Museum. All rights reserved

He told them that after the screening there would be a cocktail reception and he was going “to be there with all my armor on and everything else so you can take shots at me. And I sat through the showing of the film and you could tell that it was very well received,” Miller said. “And afterwards, we met later on and I think everyone except two people that came up to me and said ‘You’re on the right track.’ “

A few months later, Miller’s Hollywood career came to an abrupt end leaving only the “RON: Legacy.” But the Disney Company continues its global growth, even revisiting films from Miller’s era, such as “Freaky Friday,” “Escape to Witch Mountain,” “The Absent Minded Professor” and others.

And given that “TRON: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski‘s next project for Walt Disney Studios may be a reimagining of another Miller era sci-fi adventure, “The Black Hole ” …

Copyright 1979 Walt Disney Productions. All rights reserved

it looks like we’re far from the “end of (the) line” when it comes to the “RON: Legacy.”

Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions. All rights reserved

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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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