Connect with us


I wonder if Walt would have liked this week’s “Why For”?

Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, he talks about Audio Animatronic figures in movies, the possible expansion of WDW’s monorail system, then shares even more images from this past Saturday’s ABC “Fun in the Sun” soap event



It never fails. At least once a week, I get an e-mail like this one from Jane P.


My family and I just got back from a trip to Disneyland. Which we really enjoyed, by the way. The park looks great these days.

But still I couldn’t help noticing how expensive everything seemed to be. From the price of admission tickets to the cost of food in the park to even the souvenirs. It seemed like every five minutes, I was having to open my wallet to buy something else.

I used to think of Disneyland as a place for family fun. But now when I think of Disneyland, I picture Mickey picking me up by my ankles and shaking me ’til all the money in my wallet falls out.

And judging by what I read at your site as well as other Disney websites out there, I know that I’m not the only person who feels this way.

So what do you think, Jim? Do you think Walt would be happy with the idea that people have begun to equate the theme park that bears his name with being nakedly greedy. I’m pretty sure that Mr. Disney wouldn’t approved of the way the current management team runs Disneyland. Where they try & get every penny out of every guest.

I’ll be intrigued to hear what you have to say about this e-mail. Thanks for running such a fun site.

Jane P.

Dear Jane P.

Look, I’ll admit that things do seem pretty expensive at Disneyland. But — then again — I think the same thing everytime I go to my local multiplex and have to take out a second mortage just so I can buy a box of Goobers.

But when you start asking me questions like “Do you think that Walt would be happy …,” that’s when I have to politely bow out of the conversation.

Why for? Because I honestly don’t think I can say what Walt would have said or felt. After all, I never met the man. I mean, I’ve certainly read a lot about Mr. Disney, watched various interviews that the guy gave over the years and have even talked with a large number of folks who worked directly with Walt … But — that said — that still doesn’t give me the right to pretend that I actually know what Walt Disney would have said or done in any given situation.

This is why it always makes me a little crazy to see other webmasters out there making these definitive-sounding pronouncements about how “Walt would have wanted the ‘Carousel of Progress’ to remain open forever …” and/or “Walt would have never taken the Dreamfinder out of Epcot’s ‘Journey into Imagination’ ride …” As if these guys somehow have a direct line to Mr. Disney in the other realm. Where Walt — from beyond the grave, no less — is telling them specifically what he would and would not have done in the theme parks.

Now me? The only thing that I’m actually comfortable with doing is saying something like: “Based on my own observations, I think that Walt might have done this or might have done that.”

Take — for example — this statement: Based on what I’ve observed in a number of motion pictures that Walt Disney himself put into production prior to his death in December 1966, I believe that — had he lived just a few years longer — Walt might have done some very interesting things by mixing Audio Animatronics and film.

The first time that Disney combined these two technologies was the studio’s 1964 release, “Mary Poppins.” How many of you recall that scene where the practically perfect nanny — as she was tidying up the nursery — noticed a pair of robins outside ” … feathering (their) nest”?

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

And the next thing you know, Mary Poppins has one of these birds on her finger. And the two of them are happily warbling “A Spoonful of Sugar” together.

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

As you might expect, Julie Andrews wasn’t really working with a live bird here. But — rather — a mechanical robin that was being controlled by several WED technicians who were just off camera. Ms. Andrews — in interviews that she’s given about the production of this particular Robert Stevenson picture — recalled how the Imagineers had to run the wires that actually controlled the robin up the sleeve of her blouse and then down through Julie’s dress so that they’d eventually reach the control console.

Of course, sometimes their efforts at concealment weren’t quite as successful as others. Me personally, I’ve always been amused by this moment in “Mary Poppins” …

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

… where it seems like Mary’s index & middle fingers seem to have suddenly become grossly enlarged & discolored. Obviously what we’re looking at here is some sort of temporary rig that the Imagineers cooked up that would allow the Audio Animatronic robin to appear to be perched on Julie Andrew’s hand. So that these two songbirds — one human, the other mechanical — could then warble together.

And — given that this particular scene in “Mary Poppins” went over like gangbusters — I’m told that Walt said: “Well, we’ve got to do that again. Only bigger and better this time.”

Which is why — in Walt Disney Productions’ June 1967 release, “The Happiest Millionaire” — Fred MacMurray and Tommy Steele got to perform with an Audio Animatronic alligator. (Which — the way I hear it — was only slightly less temperamental than the real gators that were on that set.)

And for the studio’s July 1967 release — “The Gnome-Mobile” — Walt really upped the ante. He envisioned a scene where Jasper the gnome (I.E. Actor Tom Lowell in miniature form) had to act out a scene with a quartet of mechanical creatures: An Audio Animatronic racoon, owl and a pair of blue jays.

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

Speaking of those blue jays: Do they look familiar? They should. They’re actually the same Audio Animatronic figures that were used in the “a robin feathering his nest” scene in “Mary Poppins.” Only this time around, they’ve got a new coat of feathers as well as different beaks.

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

So obviously, what with Walt inserting AA figures into two pictures that he had Disney Studios produce for 1967, mixing-mechanical-creatures-with-movies was really an idea that the Old Mousetro was enthusiastic about. So one wonders what Walt would have done with combining these two technologies if he’d have just hung in there another couple of years.

But — as I mentioned earlier — Walt sadly passed away in December of 1966. And given the great expense involved with creating AA figures that could be used in front of a camera, Walt Disney Productions executives weren’t all that enthusiastic about continuing this practice. So — after this handful of films in the 1960s — Disney stopped using Audio Animatronic figures in their films.

Mind you, I’ve spoken with a number of people at the studio who wish that Walt Disney Productions had kept up this practice. That way, Disney would have been a better position in 1979 when they started getting panicked calls from Malta. Where Robert Altman’s “Popeye” (Which was a Paramount Pictures / Walt Disney Productions co-production) was being filmed.

It seems like the device that were supposed to have powered the giant rubber octopus that was to have menaced Olive Oyl in the film’s finale broke down as soon as this fake sea monster was exposed to salt water. So here was the “Popeye” production team, down by the edge of the Mediterranean, with a broken octopus and no way to film the end of their movie.

I’m told that it was Robin Williams himself who said: “Look, Disney’s got all those Imagineers. You know, those guys who make the dolls dance in ‘Small World’? So why don’t you have Disney fly a few of them over to Malta to come fix our octopus.” So the film’s producer — Robert Evans — called Disney Studios and begged Ron Miller to put a couple of technicians from WED on a plane to Spain. Only to have Mr. Miller say: “Our guys only do theme park stuff.”

Which is why — in the end — Robert Altman and his actors had to improvise. Which is why — the next time you see “Popeye” — keep a close eye on Shelley Duvall in the film’s finale. Notice how she’s got the octopus’ tentacles in her hands and is frantically waving them about herself. That’s to give the audience the impression that this sea creature is actually alive and menacing Ms. Oyl and her friends.

Ah, the magic of movie-making.

Next up, Thomas writes in to ask:

I’ve read that Disney has plans for monorail expansion and it’s too expensive But what about other forms of transportation to Studios, Animal Kingdom and resorts? Has Disney given any though into light rail, boats to Animal Kingdom, etc.?

Sorry, Thomas. But I’m afraid that I don’t know all that much about what’s up with WDW’s transportation system. So why don’t I turn this question over to Scott Liljenquist of Mouseketrips and see what he has to say?

Thank you, Jim.

Monorail expansion? It’s a popular topic (just do a Google search on Walt Disney World Monorail expansion to see for yourself) that’s been rumored for years. As anyone who has been to WDW recently can attest, something needs to be done to fix the overworked transportation system and reduce the vast number of smelly and slow buses that are the mainstay of WDW Transportation.

A monorail expansion is always everyone’s first wish, due to the novelty and history that this unique transportation method has with the Walt Disney Company. What most folks don’t realize, however, is just how close we came to enjoying a vastly expanded and improved WDW monorail system.

You see, an expansion of the monorail system to reach the two newest theme parks, Disney-MGM Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as well as the Downtown Disney district, has always been in the long-term plan for the Florida property. Costs, budget crunches, economic recessions, and other factors have all had a hand in preventing that expansion over the years.

However, during the late 1990s work on a complete overhaul of the transportation system really started to pick up steam. In addition to expanding the monorail system, options for additional boat service, bus service, a light-rail system, and even an ultra-futuristic customizable mass-transit system similar to this one and this one were all considered and in the mix. In addition to those plans, a high-speed rail line from the airport and a new transportation hub were planned and designed.

Anyone lucky enough to visit the interior of the monorail service barns during this time, and attentive enough to notice, could have seen the design plans posted on the wall for two additional monorail lines connecting Animal Kingdom, Disney-MGM Studios, and the Downtown Disney area to a new transportation hub.

So exactly how close was this revamp of the transportation system? In a speech given in early 2000 to Cast Members, Al Weiss, the president of the Walt Disney World Resort, said “in two years, we are committed to drastically reducing the number of buses required to fulfill our internal transportation needs.” He forecast a “transport system which will whisk guests from the airport to a new hub on property in five minutes.”

In fact, according to company insiders, this ambitious plan was to have been announced to the public during the company’s annual media event in October of 2001.

But then nothing happened. Why For? If you note the date of the proposed announcement above and subtract a month and a few days, you end up with 9/11. The tourism crash precipitated by that event caused Disney to immediately switch to survival mode. The rumored $750 million price tag of this transportation expansion was just too much to spend when visitors to the property were staying home with their money in droves. It just wasn’t wise, at that time, to spend so much on something that did not generate any revenue.

But wait, you’re saying. Aren’t things better now? Aren’t people returning to WDW en masse? Haven’t I heard that bookings at WDW are approaching and even exceeding, in some cases, pre-9/11 levels? Doesn’t that mean we can get the project back on track?

Well, yes and no. The entire project has been pulled back in for re-evaluation. Many readers, I’m sure, have been stopped in the past 18 months by the Disney survey takers at the entrances to the parks and asked their opinion on the transportation system. Disney is right now gathering data and will use it to decide if the old proposal still works or if better alternatives are now available.

No current time frame has been set for this, and I wouldn’t expect to see anything announced anytime soon regarding this massive project. Among other things, Disney has to wait to see what will happen with the proposed high-speed rail system before more concrete plans can be made.

Anyway, I guess that was a long way of saying that while it’s still possible, and as much as we’d all like to see it happen, it’s unlikely that any expansion of the monorail system is coming quickly.

That’s it for this question. Now let me hand the rest of the questions for this week’s “Why For” back over to Mr. Hill. Jim?

Thank you, Scott. It’s always nice to bring the guys from Mouseketrips to answer those travel-specific questions. They really know their stuff when it comes to the Disney resorts.

Now where were we? Ah, yes. Robert B.’s question. Who writes in to ask:

I really enjoyed Jeff Lange’s story about that new Soda Fountain that Disney built next to the El Capitan. But — as part of that article — he mentioned that you’re supposed to get some sort of commemorative button if you & your friends finish the restaurant’s signature sundae, “Mickey’s Masterpiece.” But because the soda fountain had just opened when Jeff initially visited the place, they didn’t have any buttons to give out yet. Which is why the manager promised to mail Mr. Lange & his friends their buttons.

So my question is: Did Jeff ever get his button? And — if so — what did it look like?

Robert B.

Dear Robert B.

Jeff did actually get his button. Which you’ll see pictured below:

Pretty snazzy, don’t you think? Though I’m thinking that this probably wouldn’t be the smartest thing to wear the next time you attended a Weight Watchers support meeting.

And — finally — BlackRose writes in to say:

Thank you, thank you, thank you for running those pictures of the ABC “Fun in the Sun” event at Fanieul Hall. I really wanted to get down to the city that day and see my favorite soap stars from “All My Children” and “General Hospital.” But getting in and out of Boston is such a hassle that I eventually talk myself out of doing it. But based on your article, it sounds like I missed out on a really good time.

So could you please post a few more pictures from last Saturday’s event? So I can see some more of my favorite hunks?



Ask and ye shall recieve …

Nancy picked out a couple of additional shots that I hope all of you ABC soap fans out there will really appreciate. First up, here’s a close-up on “General Hospital” ‘s newest heart-throb, Matt Marraccini …

Photo by Jeff Lange

… Followed  by kind of an artsy-fartsy shot …

Photo by Jeff Lange

… which has a sea of hands reaching out to snatch an autographed 8 by 10 away from Forbes March, who plays Nash on “One Life to Live.”

 But this picture — out of all the shots that Nancy took last Saturday — has been my absolute favorite. Just look at the faces in this photo:

Photo by Nancy Stadler

That’s Jeff Branson of “All My Children” cradling a newborn that some soap fan has just shoved into his arms. Please note the face of Jeff’s handler (I.E. The guy in black directly over Hanson’s right shoulder). Whose facial expression seems to be saying “Please don’t drop that baby!” While right next to Jeff is the official ABC photographer for this event. And his expression seems to be saying: “Boy, I bet I could get a really great shot if this soap star would just slip up and drop that baby.”

Anywho … That’s pretty much it for this week, folks. Here’s hoping that you have a great weekend and that we’ll see you all again here at JHM come Monday.

Til then, you take care, okay?




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.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading


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



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading


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



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading