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How Disney decides where to draw the line when it comes to restoring its classic films

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How does a well-intentioned restoration wind up being
thought of as a desecration of a once-popular motion picture?

That's what Steven Spielberg seemed to be wondering earlier
this week at the 30th anniversary screening of "Raiders of the Lost
Ark."
During the Q & A session following this Los Angeles Times-sponsored
screening, the topic of "E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial" 's 2002 release on DVD
came up. And Spielberg publicly admitted that he now regrets some of the
changes that were made to that version of this much-beloved movie (i.e. editing
out "You're not dressing as a terrorist" line, digitally altering the guns that the Feds were
carrying in the film so that they now appeared to be walkie-talkies).

In hindsight, Steven now feels that he shouldn't have listened
to all those parents groups who complained about the original 1982 version of this
Amblin Entertainment production. And that – by making the changes that he did –
Spielberg somehow managed to " … rob the people who love E.T. of their memory
of the film.
" Which is a mistake that this Academy Award-winning director seems
eager not to ever make again.


Copyright 2002 Universal Pictures. All rights reserved

I bring this issue up because … Late last month, I got to
take part in a WebEx Online event where I then got the chance to chat with the
folks who rode herd on the restoration of the 70th anniversary
edition of "Dumbo" (which hits store shelves next Tuesday). And as part of that
presentation, this dedicated team actually talked about having to deal with the
very same issues that Spielberg struggled with with his revised version of "E.T."
That – when you work in the preservation & restoration business – you don't
want to make so many fixes & futzes to a film that the audience then no
longer recognizes this movie as the one that they once saw in theaters.

Take – for example – this group's 2004 restoration of the
first theatrically-released Mickey Mouse cartoon, 1928's "Steamboat Willie."

"We actually did a pristine restoration on that black-and-white
cartoon. We took the flicker out, we took the weave of the film out and we
cleaned it up," Dave Bossert, the artistic supervisor of Walt Disney Animation
Studios
' Restoration and Preservation Team explained. "And when we were done, 'Steamboat
Willie' was absolutely perfect looking. So then we screened the restored
version of this cartoon. And afterwards, we all just sat there and said 'This
doesn't really look right.' At least from an artistic point of view."


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So they then showed this restored version of "Steamboat
Willie" to Roy Disney. And while Roy applauded the work that Bossert and his
team had done, he pointed out that – by cleaning up this iconic cartoon & then
restoring the print to the point that it actually looked better than most
contemporarily-produced animated shorts – they'd accidentally drained some of
the hand-drawn charm & historical significance out of "Steamboat Willie."

"And Roy absolutely agreed with us that you cannot make it look
that perfect, because that wasn't the way that 'Steamboat Willie' was created,
with the technology of that day, and it just didn't feel right," Bossert
continued.  "So it was our group – if you
will – groupthink that you had to leave a little bit of grain, weave, light
flicker, for it to feel of the period."

Mind you, as they're working on a film, Disney's Preservation and Restoration Team also try to take consideration the filmmakers' original
intentions. Take – for example – the wire-removal work that they just did while
restoring the Studios' 1954 live-action release, "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea."


This is a photo of the first version of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" 's giant squid battle.
Which Walt Disney disliked so much that he spent $250,000 on an 8-day-long reshoot.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"When they were originally shooting the giant squid fight in
'20,000 Leagues,' Walt went to huge effort to hide those wires. But when he saw
the footage of what was originally supposed to be a daylight fight, Walt went 'Oh,
this is not working.' And the Studio then went back at great expense and
re-shot this sequence at night to kind of help the squid look more real and to
hide some of its mechanics," explained Sarah Duran-Singer, the Senior Vice
President of Post-Production with Walt Disney Studios. "So by going in now and
digitally removing some of the more obvious wires … Well, I feel like we're
actually honoring the filmmakers' original intentions. Which was to hide – as much
as possible – how the giant squid figure in this fight sequence from '20,000
Leagues' was really being manipulated."

Conversely, while they're scanning these movies for
restoration (which – in "Dumbo" 's case, anyway – involved going frame-by-frame
through 3.2 miles of film. 275,352 frames, to be exact), Disney's Restoration
and Preservation Team also tries to fix those glitches that – if the original
filmmakers back in the day had had the time or the technology – they would have
undoubtedly fixed as well.

"As we're cleaning up and inspecting each individual frame,
we've done things like removing reflections of the cameramen or of the light
spilling into the room when someone accidentally opened the door to that camera
room just as this frame was being shot," Bossert said. "When we look at these movies
as closely as we do while we're doing our restoration work, you'll notice all sorts
of oddities that really weren't meant to be in the finished version of these films."


As part of the Studio's 1951 featurette, "Operation Wonderland," Walt demonstrates
how the camera animation set-up works. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

One of the other challenges that Disney's Preservation &
Restoration Team had to deal with while working on this particular animated
feature had to do with the extreme economic conditions that "Dumbo" was produced
under. To explain: As the 1940s were getting underway, the Studio was just
coming off the release of "Pinocchio" & "Fantasia." And since these two
animated features had been prohibitively expensive to produce and hadn't nearly
done as well financially as Walt would have hoped, a decision was made at the
Studio level to take a far different approach with "Dumbo."In that this
particular animated feature was to be made for as quickly and as cheaply as
possible.

"And because 'Dumbo' was a lower-cost production and the
Studio was trying to save as much money as they could, they would reuse cells,"
Duran-Singer said.

The way that this process worked was: After the animation
had been completed and it had been hand-inked & painted on an acetate cell,
it was then photographed. And once this footage was developed & screened,
and Walt and his team had then looked at it and said "That's okay" … Well, then
these ink-and-paint covered pieces of acetate were sent to the cell washer. Where
all of the ink & paint were scrubbed off of that piece of acetate so that this
cell could then be used again in the production of another piece of animation.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And here's a fun piece of trivia for all you animation
history buffs out there," Dave Bossert chimed in at this particular point in
the WebEx Online conference. "Chuck Jones actually got his start in the
business by working as a cell washer for a little while here at Disney. Chuck
got his start here."

Anyway … The problem with reusing pieces of acetate that had
been through the cell washing process was that it often scratched the cell
material. Not to mention introducing some warpage, expansion and shrinkage to
the acetate. Which eventually became obvious when this repainted cell was once
again placed on the camera stand and then photographed.

"So now – some 70 years after the fact – we're now able to
scan movies like 'Dumbo' and then fix many production mistakes like this. Make
these films look as good if not better than they did when they were originally released
to theaters. But before we do anything like that, we always ask ourselves 'Should
we?' ," Duran-Singer states. "Since we don't want to repeat that 'Steamboat
Willie' situation … Well, we've had some very lively debates. We constantly ask
ourselves: if they had the time, the money, or the technical expertise, would
the Disney animators & artists who originally worked on this move have
fixed that? We always try to have Walt and the original filmmakers help guide
our choices here. We never want to change the original intention of any of the
films that we restore."


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Of course, what helps in a case like this is when you can
bring in animators who actually worked on these films back in the day and then
hear their opinions on how the restoration of a particular animated feature has
turned out. Case in point: That time back in 2002 when they showed the recently-cleaned-up version of "Bambi"
to Disney Legends Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.

"I've been at Disney for 24 years now. And that particular
screening of 'Bambi' was probably the most nerve-wracking moment of my career,"
Duran-Singer remembered. "When the lights went up, I was just petrified as we
all turned around and waited for Frank & Ollie's reaction.  And to see them smile and say, 'It's beautiful.  It's how we intended it,' was just so
satisfying for the whole team."

Sadly, as the years go by, it becomes harder & harder
for Dave & Sarah to bring in folks like Frank & Ollie to come consult
on these film restorations. Which is why Bossert & Duran-Singer find
themselves increasingly turning to Disney's Animation Research Library and the
70 million pieces of art that Lella Smith & her staff have on file there.  So that they can then make color comparisons
between the actual backgrounds that were painted for these animated features
and the way that these backgrounds now look in the scanned nitrate negatives
and then make the necessary color adjustments.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which kind of brings things full circle here … Since – just as
film fans have complained about Spielberg's retooled "E.T. : The
Extra-Terrestrial" with its guns-that-were-turned-into-walkie-talkies – some animation
fans have grumbled about how bright the colors are in these recently restored
Disney classics.

"We've gotten a lot of push-back on that issue,"
Duran-Singer admitted. "Which I understand. Given that so many of us saw these
movies in theaters during our childhoods. 'Pinocchio,' for example. My
childhood memory of that Disney animated feature was that it was dark. It was
loaded with dark reds, heavy browns and a lot of wood.  But when we scanned that nitrate negative,
what did we see?  All of these beautiful
pastel colors. These pinks, these lavenders. And Pinocchio's eyes were so blue.
That's when we began to realize that the prints of 'Pinocchio' that had been
out in theaters for decades now were not color-timed off of the original. Which
is why our memory of this movie is totally different than the one that people
who saw 'Pinocchio' during its original theatrical release back in 1940 have."

In situations like this, where people are going to compare
how the newly restored Blu-ray version of a Disney classic looks on a high-def
screen versus the way that they remember this same film looking when it was
projected theatrically … Well, obviously there are going to be differences.
Especially when you consider that the film print that you were viewing then was
probably several generations away from the original negative.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But based on their research, not to mention conversations with
the Disney Legends who actually worked on these films as well as the reference
material that they regularly pull from the Animation Research Library, Dave
& Sarah are very confident that the restored versions of the movies that their
unit at the Studio produces are great representations of what these Disney
classics actually looked like when they were originally released to theaters.

"You've gotta remember that – when we were working on restoring
'Bambi' – we had Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas and Tyrus Wong coming in to look
at our work. And these were the artists who originally worked on that film," Bossert
said. "So to have those three approve of our restoration effort … Well, I'd much
rather make Frank, Ollie & Tyrus Wong happy than some 'Bambi' fan who
vaguely remembers what that movie looked like when they saw it at their local
cinema 25 years ago. I can sleep comfortably at night knowing that I made those
three guys happy."

Which isn't to say that the efforts of Disney's Preservation
& Restoration Team can't ever be improved. Take – for example – this unit's
recent decision to revisit the work that they did on "Bambi."


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"We restored 'Bambi' back in 2003. And that was the first
restoration job that we did by scanning the original successive exposure negative,"
Duran-Singer stated. "But because the tools that we use have improved and our
artists' knowledge have grown so much over the past seven, eight years … When
it came time to produce a Blu-ray version of 'Bambi,' we immediately decided to
take another run at restoring this animated feature. Because we know, given
everything that we've learned since 2003, that we can do a far better job this
time around."

I have to admit that this was the part that I liked most of
this "Dumbo" WebEx Online event. The fact that Disney's Preservation &
Restoration Team was comfortable with the idea that they could revisit films that
they'd already worked on. That Bossert & Duran-Singer acknowledged that,
given the improvements in technology and film preservation techniques that will
undoubtedly arise in the years ahead, that it then just kind of made sense to
acknowledge that the restoration & preservation of Disney's classic movies would
be an on-going process. But – at the same time – Dave & Sarah knew where &
when to draw the line, so to speak, when it came to the sorts of changes & "improvements"
that they could / should be making to these Disney films.

Which kind of makes me wish that Bossert & Duran-Singer
had had a conversation with Spielberg before he "improved" "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial."
But given that Steven – during the Q & A portion of this week's 30th
anniversary "Raiders of the Lost Ark" screening – did float the idea that, when
"E.T." comes out on Blu-ray, the version that will be available for purchase will
the 1982 original rather than the 2002 version of this Amblin Entertainment
production … Well, maybe Spielberg is learning, all on his own, where the line
is. At least when it comes to tinkering with much-beloved motion pictures.


Copyright 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved

Now if someone could only show George Lucas where this line is.

Your thoughts?

The article was updated / corrected on September 15, 2011 to fold in additional information

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.

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“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.

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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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