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How Universal Creative turned “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast” into “Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem”



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sk anyone who’s ever worked in themed entertainment about what
the tougher job is: building a brand-new ride, show or attraction from the ground
up OR finding a way to shoehorn a brand-new ride into a pre-existing show
building. And to a man, they will tell you that the retrofit is always the
tougher, more challenging project.

And no one in the themed entertainment would know this
better than Mike West, the former Imagineer who is now an Executive Producer
with Universal Creative. West was one of the primary forces behind what many
now consider to be the gold standard when it comes to theme park attraction
redos (i.e. When “Back to the Future – The Ride” was transformed into
The Simpsons Ride“). And what Mike found was that many of the lessons he
learned while working on “Simpsons” could then be applied while West began
riding herd on turning “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast” in
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.”

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

“This particular project moved along very
quickly,” Mike recalled in a recent interview. “While there were some
discussions early on about how we could possibly bring Gru, the girls and the
minions in the Parks during the Summer of 2010 when ‘Despicable Me
‘ was initially
out to theaters, it wasn’t ’til January or February of 2011 that we began
talking in earnest about building a full-blown attraction around these

Now by theme park standards, to go from Universal Creative
having preliminary discussions about possibly building a “Despicable Me’
attraction to Guests actually being able to enter Gru’s secret lab so that they
then could be turned into minions in under 18 months is extraordinary. Which
West was quick to acknowledge.

“Yes, this was a quick turnaround. A year and a half is
fast. It’s far more typical in this industry that you first spend 3 to 4 years
on design & development before you then move forward with construction. But
with ‘Despicable Me,’ we had this property that had been a huge success for
Universal. It’s actually one of the Top 10 grossing animated films in U.S.
history. Plus we had the ‘Despicable Me’ sequel coming in 2013. So it just made
sense to get an attraction based on this super-popular intellectual property
into Universal Studios Florida as quickly as possible.”

And given the popularity of this IP, the folks at Universal
Creative wanted to place this new ‘Despicable Me’ attraction as close as
possible to the front of USF. Which quickly led them to decide that this
Illumination Entertainment-inspired production would serve as the replacement
of the then-8 year-old “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast.”

“Which isn’t the sort of decision that we made
casually,” Mike admitted. “Me personally, the Chicken Dance sequence
in ‘Nicktoon Blast’ is one of my favorite moments ever in a theme park
attraction. To be seated in a motion-based vehicle and to then have your ride
vehicle do that specific dance move is just a brilliant blending of music,
story and technology. I miss that scene even now. But that said, when Guests
come to our Parks, they always expect to find new experiences. So in order for
that to happen, Jimmy Neutron had to blast off for good so that Gru & the
girls could then move into his spot.”

But given that this particular show building in USF’s
Production Central area had already been home to two other attractions (i.e.
The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera” and “Jimmy Neutron’s
Nicktoon Blast”), West and his team knew that — if they wanted to catch people’s
eyes as they entered this theme park — Universal Creative was going to have to
make a very big statement. Which is why they decided to build a full-sized
version of Gru’s house. Which they then deliberately faced towards USF’s

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

“As Gru would say, ‘You can’t miss this baby,’ ” Mike laughed.
“We wanted the Guests to know — as soon as they came through the Main
Gate — that this was the real deal. That this wasn’t the same attraction that
you experienced the last time you visited Universal Studios Florida. That Gru
and the girls had moved in. More to the point, given the 37 minions that were now
hanging all over the outside of this show building, something fun had to be
going on inside of this new attraction.”

West wanted to make sure that repeat USF visitors understood
that “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” was a brand-new ride. Which is why
he and his team at Universal Creative had the entrance to this attraction moved
further on down the show building.

“We actually persuaded the Park to give up retail space
so that we could then add an additional pre-show scene. Which then helped us
better establish the world that Gru & the girls now live in,” Mike
continued. “After all, you can’t assume that every Guest coming through
the door is going to be familiar with the ‘Despicable Me’ film. Which is why
it’s always important to properly set the scene in every attraction. Make
people aware of the sort of story they’re about to experience.”

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

In the specific case of “Minion Mayhem,” this meant establishing a
version of Gru’s house that Agnes, Edith & Margo had clearly turned into
their home. If you carefully look around in this particular pre-show scene,
you’ll soon see all sorts of signs that this former super villain’s lair is now
a child-friendly space. Everything from how the girls’ crayon drawings are now
proudly displayed on the walls to how the iron maiden has now been
child-proofed by placing tennis balls on all of this medieval torture device’s
interior spikes.

“And given that we were trying for a far more sincere
feeling with the storyline of ‘Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem,’ we deliberately
steered clear of the you’re-in-a-theme-park jokes that you typically find in
other Universal shows like ‘Shrek 4-D’ and ‘The Simpsons Ride,’ ” West
explained. “In this entire attraction, there’s only one reference to theme
parks. That’s when Gru — in the pre-show movie — talks about the three
hour-long written exam that you’ll have to take before you can then be turned
into a minion. ‘So there’ll be no seeing the park today,’ Gru says. It’s only
then that Margo says ‘We’re not doing the written exam anymore.’ And Gru the
says ‘Oh. Okay.’ “

Another smart thing that Mike and his team did to make
“Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” different from “The Funtastic
World of Hanna-Barbera” and “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast” was
by taking another chunk of this show building’s former retail space and then
turning it into a new post-show scene.

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

“I mean, given that people no longer got to experience
what it was like to do the Chicken Dance while seated inside of their ‘Jimmy
Neutron’ ride vehicle, I thought that the very least we could do was turn this
attraction’s post-show sequence into a dance party where USF visitors could
then boogie-down right along with the minions,” West said. “So we
have a CG line of minions dancing across the top of  our Jumbotron. Plus two Universal cast members
dressed as minions out there on the dance floor as Guests exit the main
theater. So what we’re trying to do here is keep that dance party feeling from
the very end of the attraction going for a little while longer. Before Gru cuts
off all the music and says ‘Alright. Back to work.’ And then basically forces
all of the Guests to exit the dance floor and then go straight into our Super
Silly Stuff store.”

Speaking of the attraction itself … I don’t want to give
away too much of the “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” storyline other
than to say that Mike and his team have crammed an awful lot of fun into this 4
minute-long ride film.

“And I want to stress here that Universal Creative
didn’t do the ‘Despicable Me’ ride film all on our own. Chris Melandri and his
team at Illumination Entertainment were very much involved in this project,”
West stated. “Reel Effects of Dallas did a lot of CG work on this project,
as did Ken Duncan Studios of Pasadena. And Chris Bailey did a brilliant job of
directing this ride film, making sure that every inch of this screen was filled
with minion craziness.”

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

And speaking of that screen, Mike wanted to make sure that USF visitors
understood that it wasn’t just the exterior of the “Despicable Me Minion
Mayhem” show building that received an extensive overhaul. The interior of
the main theater underwent a pretty intense makeover as well.

“The screen inside of that theater now is 70% bigger
than the one ‘Jimmy Neutron’ used to be projected on. So it really fills your
field of vision now,” West enthused. “The 3D projection system that’s
used in this attraction is the exact same one that we use over in Spider-Man at
Islands of Adventure. It’s the best 3D that I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean,
you can be seated off-angle and it’s still pretty spectacular.”

Speaking of “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” ‘s
theater … This big open space — coupled with the motion based ride system
that West & Co. carried over from “Hanna-Barbera” and “Jimmy
Neutron” — really influenced the sort of story that Universal Creative
tried to tell with this attraction.

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort  / Fox. All rights reserved

“Let’s face it. ‘Minion Mayhem’ isn’t really like ‘The Simpsons Ride.’ I
mean, sure. They both are motion based attractions featuring CG ride films that
are populated with yellow people. But when you’re on ‘Simpsons,’ once the doors
of your ride vehicle come down, you’re now kind of cut off from the rest of the
world. Which is why what happens on that attraction seems to be happening just to
you. That’s why the characters in ‘The Simpsons’ ride film often seem to be
talking directly to you,” Mike said.

Whereas on ‘Minion Mayhem,’ because the space that this
‘Despicable Me’ motion based attraction occupies is far more open and better
lit that ‘The Simpsons Ride,’ you can always see the other Guests who are experiencing
this USF attraction along with you. Which is why West and his team decided to
turn ‘Minion Mayhem’ into a far more communal experience.

“That’s why we filled this show’s scenes with hundreds
of minions. We’re hoping that — by cramming in so many bits of business, so
blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gags — that Universal Orlando Resort visitors will
then be forced to ride this new attraction a second and a third time. Just so
they can then try and catch all of the stuff that they missed on their first ride-thru,”
Mike stated.

(L to R) Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher — the voices of Gru’s daughters
Margo, Edith and Agnes — ride “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” on July 2, 2012, the
official opening day of this new Universal Orlando Attraction. Copyright
Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

“But you want to know my favorite part of the
‘Despicable Me Minion Mayhem’ attraction? It’s that — in spite of everything
that’s going on onscreen, all of the craziness with the minions, plus the
movement of the vehicle — people are still able to keep track of this
attraction’s emotional storyline. I love it when I’m on the ‘Despicable Me’
ride and I can hear all of the little girls who in the main theater the same
time as me say things like ‘Save the present!’ ,” Mike said. “It’s
the moments like that when you realize that people are really getting into
something that you helped create. That they’re now emotionally involved in the
storyline that you helped write. Which — given that these ride films are
typically only 4 minutes-long — is a pretty hard thing to do. Hook them in
like that. Make them actually care about these characters and their storyline.”

Which is why — when you talk with people who work in the themed entertainment
industry these days — it would now appear that there’s a new gold standard. At
least when it comes to retrofitting an old show building with a brand-new,
story-driven attraction.

So the next time you’re at the Universal Orlando Resort, be
sure at drop by Production Central to experience “Despicable Me Minion
Mayhem.” So that you can then see why so many people who work in the
themed entertainment industry are now calling this new USF attraction one in a
minion … er … million.

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

Your thoughts?

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 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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