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How “Something Wicked” went from being a best seller to the big screen

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You know, it's kind of appropriate that D23 and ArcLight
Cinemas are kicking off their classic Disney movie series tonight with a
screening of "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Especially since this 1983 Walt
Disney Productions release is being shown at the ArcLight Hollywood.

"And what's so appropriate about that?," you ask. Well, this
dark fantasy really owes everything to Hollywood. I mean, I seriously doubt
that Ray Bradbury would have even written the 1962 best seller that this Disney
film was based on if Ray hadn't first been friends with screen song-and-dance
man Gene Kelly.

Bradbury flat-out thought that Kelly was a genius and
praised Gene's work in "Singin' in the Rain" to the skies. A few years later, Kelly
invited Bradbury to come see a work-in-progress version of his latest film, "Invitation to the Dance." And as Ray and his wife walked home from the screening that
night, Bradbury confessed how badly he wanted to work with Kelly on something
for the cinema.


Copyright 1956 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer,
Inc.
All rights reserved

Bradbury's wife then suggested that Ray go back through his
files. See if he could dig up an old story that might lend itself to
becoming a screenplay. So Bradbury went digging through his filing cabinets and
eventually found "The Black Ferris." Which was this 10 page story that dealt
with two young boys and a mysterious carnival that had come to town and had
originally been published in "Weird Tales" back in 1948.

Ray took this 10 page story and fleshed it out into a
80-page-long script treatment which he called "Dark Carnival." Bradbury
then handed off "Dark Carnival" to Kelly and asked for his opinion. Gene called
Ray the very next day and said that he thought the script was terrific. More
importantly, that Kelly wanted to make "Dark Carnival" his very next film. Which
is why Gene asked Ray's permission to take the treatment along with him to
Europe during the Summer of 1955 as Kelly sought out financial backing for the
film.

Bradbury gave Kelly his blessing and eagerly awaited his
return. Gene returned two months later with some disheartening news. Though
everyone he showed the material to agreed that "Dark Carnival" would make one
heck of a film, none of these financial backers were interested in underwriting
production of a new Gene Kelly movie where this legendary song-and-dance man
didn't sing or dance. So Gene reluctantly handed the treatment back to Ray, and
back into the files "Dark Carnival" went.


Copyright 1962 Simon & Shuster.
All
rights reserved

Okay. Now jump ahead to 1961. Bradbury is casting about
for an idea for a new novel when he realizes that he's got "Dark Carnival"
still sitting in his files. So Bradbury takes this 80-page-script treatment and turns it into a full-blown book, "Something Wicked This Way Comes." And to
honor Gene Kelly for the vital role that he played in the development of this
project, Bradbury dedicates this book to the screen legend.

And – of course – once "Something Wicked" becomes a best
seller, Hollywood comes calling. But Ray … he has some very specific ideas
about which filmmakers – more importantly, which studio – he'd like to have the
movie version of his latest book produced by. So Bradbury sent a copy of "Something
Wicked" to Walt Disney. Only to then get a note back from Walt saying that –
while he personally enjoyed the book – Disney doesn't feel that this dark
fantasy would be a good fit for his studio.

No matter. There are lots of other great movie makers out
there. Which is why Ray reached out to David Lean. Who also seemed intrigued but
ultimately passed on the project. Bradbury also had some definitive thoughts
about who he wanted to see play Mr. Dark, the ringmaster of the sinister carnival
that comes one Fall to Green Town, Illinois. Ray wanted Peter O'Toole or
Christopher Lee to play this role.


(L to R) Irwin Winkler, Sylvester
Stallone and Robert Chartoff at the
1976 Academy Awards. Copyright The Academy
of Motion Pictures
Arts and Sciences. All rights reserved

But given the way Hollywood works, Bradbury didn't really have
a whole lot of say about who was going to direct and/or star in the movie
version of "Something Wicked This Way Comes." So as the film rights for this
book bounced around Hollywood in the 1960s & 1970s it eventually wound up
in the hands of Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler (i.e. the producers of "Rocky"). Ray approached Robert and Irwin with a wish list. As in: Bradbury wanted Sam
Peckinpah
(of "The Wild Bunch" and "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" fame)
to direct "Something Wicked." What's more, Ray suggested Academy Award-winner
Jason Robards (who would eventually play kindly Charles Halloway in the Disney
version of this book) for the role of sinister Mr. Dark.

Chartoff and Winkler ignored Bradbury's suggestions. As did
Kirk Douglas when he acquired the rights to the book in the mid-1970s for
$200,000. Feeling that he needed to break out of the virile leading man roles
that Kirk was typically cast in, Douglas bought "Something Wicked" with the
hope that he'd then be able to play against type. He wanted to play meek Charles Halloway, who
works at Green Town public library and is afraid that he's grown too old to
play with his son.

As you might expect, given Kirk  Douglas' demeanor and physique, no one in
Hollywood thought that the movie-going public would ever buy a movie where this
action star appeared in a milquetoast role. So "Something Wicked" languished
yet again. Until Thomas Wilhite, an aggressive young man who had moved up from
Disney's publicity & marketing  office
to become Hollywood's youngest production chief at that time, came calling. He insisted that Disney was now ready to tackle Bradbury's dark fantasy.


Copyright 1980 Walt Disney
Productions.
All rights reserved

Mind you, this came at a time when Ron Miller (i.e. Walt's
son-in-law and – as of 1980 – the president of Walt Disney Productions) felt
that the Studio needed to get out of the rut that it was in at that time. Stop
making stupid sequels like "Herbie Goes Bananas" and "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again." Which is why Miller put Whilhite in charge of the movie side of
the Mouse House and then ordered Tom to put some more ambitious motion pictures
in Disney's development and production pipeline.

And Whilhite – to his credit – did just that. Greenlighting
projects like "Never Cry Wolf" and "TRON." Not to mention acquiring the film
rights to promising literary projects like Gary Wolf's "Who Censored R. Rabbit?" And among the movies that were put into production at this time were "Something
Wicked This Way Comes."

And when it came to the production of this dark fantasy,
Disney really spared no expense. They actually pulled down the urban downtown
section of the Studio's backlot (where family comedies like "The Ugly Dachshund"
and "The Shaggy D.A.") so that they'd then have room to build a full-blown
version of Green Town. It took 200 men, three months and $2 million. But
eventually Disney's backlot resembled this small Illinois town.


Copyright 1976 Walt Disney
Productions. All rights reserved

And Bradbury … he was thrilled with the look of this Walt
Disney Production. In a Disney News interview from that time, Ray talked about
how happy tears ran down his face whenever he wandered through this film's set
which were so reminiscent of his own hometown.

Mind you, another reason that Bradbury may have been crying
was that – while he had hoped to convince Steven Spielberg to come direct "Something
Wicked" (Spielberg opted to make "Raiders of the Lost Ark" instead) – Disney hired
Jack Clayton, the director of "The Great Gatsby." Who then turned around and
hired John Mortimer, the English screenwriter of the "Brideshead Revisited" TV
miniseries, to come rewrite Ray's screenplay for this film.

This was particularly galling for Bradbury because … Well,
he and Clayton had worked on a previous version of "Something Wicked This Way
Comes." The one that Michael Eisner had almost greenlit while he was in charge at Paramount. And Ray had been so impressed with Jack's effort back then that – when
Disney came calling – Bradbury said that he'd only sell the movie rights to the
Mouse House if they'd sign Clayton to direct the movie.


Jack Clayton

Which (to be honest) was not something that Wilhite wanted
to do. He had wanted to hire one of Spielberg's contemporaries to come direct "Something
Wicked." But Ray wouldn't sell the film rights unless Jack was part of the
package. So Thomas reluctantly agreed.

The end result was a film that Clayton nor Bradbury were very happy with. Jack felt that his initial pass on "Something Wicked" was flawed because he had never done a special effects movie before. What's more, Clayton said that he didn't get the support from Disney that he needed during production because — while "Something Wicked" was shooting — all of Disney's very best special effects guys were tied up working on "TRON." Whereas Ray … He felt that the main problem with the movie version of "Something Wicked" was John Mortimer's screenplay. Which had eliminated much of the book's literary qualities and fantasy elements.

After a disastrous preview of this $17 million film in July
1982, Ron Miller called Ray Bradbury into his office and
asked for the author's help in overhauling this troubled production. Bradbury agreed – and $5
million and several months of reshoots later – the movie version of "Something
Wicked This Way Comes" was released to theaters in April of 1983.


Copyright 1983 Walt Disney
Productions.
All rights reserved

To its credit, "Something Wicked" did receive fairly decent
reviews (Janet Maslin of the New York Times called it " … a lively,
entertaining tale combining boyishness and grown-up horror in equal measure." But the film performed poorly at the box office. Which is why Walt Disney
Productions was forced to take a $21 million write-down on the movie in July of
1983.

And if you talk with film historians today about "Something
Wicked This Way Comes," they'll either tell you about what's not in the movie anymore
(i.e. George Delerue's original score for this film. Which was dropped at Ray
Bradbury's insistence. Disney then tried to recruit Jerry Goldsmith to come
write a brand-new score for "Something Wicked." But Jerry was busy working on "Twilight Zone – The Movie." Which is why the Studio hired James Horner instead) or about
the elaborate CG sequence that got cut at the very last minute ( this sequence
was to have shown the arrival of the Dark Carnival, with shadows & fogs
forming the tents and trees bending to form the struts of the ferris wheel. But
this was back in late 1982 / early 1983. Which was basically still the infancy
of CG. And given that the rough CG featured here tended to take people out of
the picture at test screenings, Disney felt that they had no choice but to drop
this very-expensive-to-produce scene just weeks before "Something Wicked" was
released to theaters).

Mind you, other folks may point out "Something Wicked" 's flaws.
How – if you're really paying attention in both the spiders-in-the-bedroom and
the lost-in-the-mirror-maze scenes – it's obvious that  these parts of the movie were shot long after filming
had initially wrapped in December of 1981. That the two boys playing Will
Halloway (Vidal Peterson) and Jim Nightshade (Shawn Carson) were so much taller
and the shapes of their faces had changed when they were called back to do those
reshoots in the Summer of 1982.


Copyright 1983 Walt Disney
Productions. All rights reserved

But me … What I like about "Something Wicked This Way Comes"
is the sheer ambition of this film. That Walt Disney Productions made a sincere
effort in the early 1980s to do something that wasn't a cookie cutter family
comedy. That they wanted to make a motion picture that had some literary style and heft.

Okay. So "Something Wicked" isn't perfect. Ray Bradbury
himself admits that. But at a screening of this film last year at the American
Cinematheque
, he also said that – in the end – he's very proud of this movie.

Which is why I'm hoping that a great number of Disneyana
fans turn out for tonight's screening of "Something Wicked This Way Comes" at
the ArcLight Hollywood. If only so they can then  see a truly rare piece of Mouse House history.


Copyright 1983 Walt Disney
Productions. All rights reserved

And – no – I'm not talking about the movie itself. But,
rather, the carousel that plays such a huge role in "Something Wicked." The one
that – depending on which direction it's running in – can either make you older
or younger.

Now before the special effects team at Walt Disney Studios
found this carousel and then lovingly restored it, it used to be one of the
attractions that entertained visitors who came by that tiny amusement park that Dave Bradley used to operate
at the corner of Beverly and La Cienega
.

Now Bradley closed this park back in 1974. But back in the
1940s, Walt Disney used to take his daughters here. And as Diane and Sharon
rode that carousel, Walt sat back on a park bench and wondered if there might
be a better way to build & run an amusement park.


Newsreel image of the amusement park
at Beverly and La Cienega

You can see this carousel for yourself if you drop by the
ArcLight Hollywood tonight at the Cinerama Dome at 8 p.m. For further
information on the rest of the Disney Movie Magic! film series (including the
movies that will be screening at the ArcLight Sherman Oaks and the ArcLight
Pasadena), I suggest you swing on by the D23 website.

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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