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From the JHM Archives: Exploring Marc Davis’ Enchanted Snow Palace

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Go ahead. Ask a Disneyana fan who Marc Davis was. Better yet: Find yourself a comfy chair, sit down, and THEN ask a Disneyana fan who Marc Davis was.


Marc Davis shows Walt one of the Audio Animatronic figures that were built based on
his designs for Disneyland's "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Because you're about to get an earful.
First you'll probably hear about how Davis was this legendary animator at Walt Disney Studios. The guy who played a key role in bringing Snow White, Bambi
, Thumper, Cinderella
, Alice, Wendy, Malificent and Cruella De Vil all to life.
Then they'll undoubtedly talk about how Marc moved over to Imagineering in the early 1960s, where he became one of that organization's top designers. While working there, he created some of the most memorable characters and set pieces for "The Jungle Cruise," "The Enchanted Tiki Room," "it's a small world," "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "The Hall of Presidents," "The Haunted Mansion" and "Country Bear Jamboree." The list goes on and on.

Then – if they're sticking to the "Readers Digest" version of Davis' life – they'll probably close by telling you about how Marc retired from WED in 1978, but continued to draw and/or make appearances at various Disneyana events 'til his untimely death in January 2000. Which should tie up Davis' life story with a neat little bow.

Except that … Well … Were you to start poking around at that version of the Marc Davis story, some holes would begin emerging. And some questions would probably come quickly to mind.
Questions like: If Marc was really such a hot-shot designer for WED, why were all of his attractions for the Disney theme parks built and/or up and running by the late 1960s / early 1970s? Given that this guy didn't actually retire from Imagineering 'til 1978, it stands to reason that there should have been quite a few more Marc Davis classics popping up in the parks into the mid-to-late 1970s? So what happened? Did this guy lose his chops or what?


Marc working on the design for the new "Sacking the Treasury" finale sequence for
Walt Disney World's version of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Sadly, the answer is no. Marc never lost his chops. He remained a top designer – doing witty, wonderful work for the parks as well as Disney's consumer products division – right up until the year he died. Even after he'd formally retired, Davis still got calls from folks at WED/WDI – desperate to tap into his expertise. (This is how Marc ended up consulting on attractions for Epcot as well as Tokyo Disneyland.)

So – okay – if Marc was such a WED wunderkind, then how come all that Disney got out of Davis in the mid-to-late 1970s was "America Sings"? This "GE Carousel of Progress" replacement was pretty much Marc's last hurrah for the Mouse House. An ambitious Audio-Animatronic filled (109 figures!) tribute to American song, this Tomorrowland attraction was admittedly fun. But it was also no "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "The Haunted Mansion."

So where's that one last truly great Disney theme park attraction from Marc Davis? That final show that was supposed to have built on everything that Marc learned while working with Walt? That ride-to-end-all-rides? The one that was supposed to have blown our socks off?And the answer is … Davis actually designed at least two of these attractions in the 1970s. Rides that the Imagineers (who worked at WED at the time and saw Marc's beautifully drawn up plans) still talk about. I've already written at length about one of these shows – the Thunder Mesa project for Walt Disney World's "Phase One" featuring "Western River Expedition."
The attraction I'd like to talk about today was probably the last show of size that Marc Davis ever designed for WED: "The Enchanted Snow Palace."This ambitious attraction – which was proposed for the site that Disneyland's massive Fantasyland Theater currently occupies – was considered by many at Imagineering to be the most beautiful thing that they'd ever been designed for a Disney theme park.
So why did Mouse House managers from that era opt not to built Marc's beautiful "Enchanted Snow Palace"? Patience, Grasshopper.


One of the "plusses" Marc Davis was looking to add to Disneyland's version of "The
Jungle Cruise" in the mid-1970s. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Let's first talk about the ride as Marc originally envisioned it.
This whole attraction sprang out of Davis' desire to create something cool for Disneyland. Not cool as in "That ride was bitchin' fast" or "The kids seem to really get off on stuff like." But a place where guests could go to escape the cruel Southern California sun.

Davis – while on a field trip to Disneyland one hot summer's afternoon in the early 1970s (He was out at the park, scouting locations for the new sequences that he was dreaming up for Adventureland's "Jungle Cruise") – really felt beat down by the heat. As he drove back to Glendale, Marc thought to himself: "Wouldn't it be great if Disneyland had a place where guests could go to escape the heat on a day like today? Someplace cool & peaceful, away from the crowds?"
And from that slim notion … Marc spun out his entire "Enchanted Snow Palace." A cool & peaceful place, away from the crowds.

Picture – if you will – an enormous white & blue show building. Similar in size and scale to "it's a small world." Only this building isn't really a building at all. It's a glacier. (Or at least a mock-up of one. Carefully carved out of plastic and plaster by the artisans at Imagineering).
As we queue up for the ride, we notice that all the ice and snow seems to have melted into some very unique shapes. There – amid all the icicles – are graceful towers and windows and walls. All seemingly carved out of ice. Wait a minute. Could it be that someone actually lives inside this massive block of ice? As we trot down the faux snow covered stairs and get into a ice blue bateaux, I guess we're about to find out.


Marc Davis concept painting for "The Enchanted Snow Palace"
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Just like on "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "it's a small world," the power of the water itself (as well as a few well hidden conveyer belts) sends our boat floating gently into the show building. Once we slip through a hole in the glacier, we're dazzled by all the blue and the white inside. To the strains of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite," Audio Animatronic polar bears and penguins caper on iceflows all around us. Timber wolves stand on top of nearby snowdrifts, howling at the moon. Robotic walruses pop up next to our boat and playfully squirt water at us. It's a magical – if somewhat naturalistic – environment.

But then the aurora borealis shimmers in the sky above our heads. Which somehow causes our boat to drift into a mysterious snow cave … And – once we're inside – the real magic begins. Immense snow giants – carrying huge icicles clubs – tower over us. But we needn't fear. For these snow giants seem dazzled by the frost fairies that are flitting in the air in front of them. (What do the frost fairies look like? Remember the ones from Fantasia
's "Nutcracker" sequence? Well, Marc brought them back to life. Only in 3D form.)

We then pass the Snow Queen's beautiful hand maidens – each dressed in an ornate Ziegfeld Girl-seque gown. Every one of them wears an elaborate head dress made out of ice. Each is attended by a snowy owl or an arctic fox or snow white ermine.
Then our boat finally floats into the throne room of the Snow Queen herself. As the music builds, we see that the Queen is getting ready to make her nightly rounds. Her sled – with a team of snowshoe rabbits – is standing by the palace door. Her majesty gestures gracefully toward us … and suddenly the air is filled with snow. We drift through this brief blizzard back into the sunlight … out toward the "Enchanted Snow Palace" 's load/unload area.


Marc Davis' design for the Snow Queen. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

There. Doesn't that proposed attraction sound beautiful? Not all that compelling from a narrative point of view, of course. And – to be honest – the ride itself (in spite of all its elaborate, ornate tableaus) sounds fairly passive. A bit on the dull side. That said, you've still got to admit that Marc Davis' plans for his "Enchanted Snow Palace" do sound like they would have been very beautiful.

Yes, Davis put his heart and soul into this project. Making sure that all of his concept sketches for this Fantasyland addition were as dazzling as possible. Which is why he did his drawings for this proposed attraction in the style of Erté, the famous Parisian designer best known for his extraordinary sets and costumes for the Follies Bergeres.
And Marc's drawings were beautiful. The trouble was – back in the mid 1970s – Disney Company management wasn't really looking for passive but pretty rides like "The Enchanted Snow Palace." They were looking for attractions that thrilled and dazzled guests, not shows that caused them to smile & snooze.

The real problem was that – circa 1975 – the American theme park industry was undergoing a fundamental change. The era of the steel coaster had finally arrived. And amusement park owners – particularly Disney – were noticing what rides like these could do for a corporation's bottom line.
Mouse House managers couldn't help but notice the immediate, positive impact that the original Space Mountain had on Walt Disney World attendance levels when this Tomorrowland thrill ride first opened back in January 1975. Which is why the company rushed construction of an Anaheim version of this attraction (which eventually opened at Disneyland on May 4, 1977).And if one thrill ride could drive up attendance levels at the company's theme parks this much, Disney's operations staff wondered: What would TWO thrill rides do? Which is why management decided to dust off Tony Baxter's plans for his runaway mine train ride … And the rest of the story, you know.


Tony Baxter's concept painting for the exterior of Big Thunder Mountain Railway.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Of course, with all of WED's funds being funneled into quickly creating high speed thrill rides for Disneyland and Walt Disney World (not to mention the development of rides & shows for Epcot), there just wasn't any money left to build something that was just – well – beautiful like Marc's "Enchanted Snow Palace." So the project languished. And Davis – feeling somewhat out of step with what Imagineering was up to at the time – decided that now might be a good time to retire.

The question now is: Would Marc's "Enchanted Snow Palace" have really been a good addition to the parks? Would it have been a show like "small world" or "Pirates" that the public immediately embraced and loved for years to come, or would it have been more like "America Sings" (Which – to be honest – fell out of favor fairly quickly, playing to mostly empty houses 'til the attraction finally closed in 1988)?

My personal feeling – while I love Marc's concept sketches for this attraction – is that his "Enchanted Snow Palace" was almost too artsy – fartsy for its own good. The proposed storyline for the show was just too slender. There weren't enough laughs or thrills to really entertain guests as they floated through the building. All the "Snow Palace" had going for it was that it would be A) cool inside and B) pretty to look at. Which was really not enough to justify the proposed attraction's estimated $15 million construction costs.
Which is WED opted to take a pass on the project.


A litho that Marc Davis personally put together towards the end of his life which
touched on many of the projects that he worked on during his career at Walt
Disney Imagineering. Please note which never-built attraction has the
centermost / most prominent position in this image. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But the beauty of Marc's work for this proposed attraction lives on. Both in the hearts of the Imagineers who were lucky enough to see Davis' original sketches when he was first working on the project, as well as the cast members who work in the Disney Gallery.

A few years back (around the holiday season), the Gallery sold a limited edition lithograph of one of Marc Davis' concept paintings for "The Enchanted Snow Palace." It showed one of the Snow Queen's hand maidens in all her icy glory, dressed in a long blue & white gown, with a snowy owl at her feet. The lithos – which included a crystal "Snow Palace" Christmas ornament – sold like hot cakes.

Which proves – I guess – that there really is an audience out there for a strictly beautiful Disney theme park attraction. Whether or not it would have been as big an audience as – say – the folks who like "Big Thunder" or "Space Mountain," who can say?

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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