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Idle hands … make a really funny musical

In honor of “Spamalot” opening on Broadway tonight, Jim Hill looks back on Eric Idle’s association with the Walt Disney Company … as well as revealing a really great scene that wound up getting cut out of the original screenplay for “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

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In case you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, let me quickly bring you up to speed here. There’s a new musical opening on Broadway tonight: “Spamalot” .

A project that features the very apt subtitle “Lovingly ripped-off from the motion picture, ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail,’ ” “Spamalot” is a ridiculously hot ticket right now. “How hot?,” you ask. So hot that the Broadway run of the play is already sold out for months in advance. And that’s before the sure-to-be glowing reviews come in from the New York papers later tonight.

Now, you’d think that — what with somebody else’s show about to be the new hot ticket in NYC — that the guys over at Walt Disney Theatrical Productions would be somewhat jealous. Envious, even. But that’s not really the case.

As one WDTP insider that I spoke with on the phone yesterday explained it to me:

Having a hot new show on Broadway that’s really hard to get tickets to is actually a good thing for a select number of older shows in the city.

You see, if people can’t get into “Spamalot,” they’ll usually then just opt to go with their second choice. Which — typically — is another hit show that used to be really hard to get tickets for. Which — these days — describes “The Lion King,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Avenue Q,” “Hairspray” & “The Producers.”

So — in the weeks after “Spamalot” initially opens up — we’ll actually probably see our box office numbers for the New Amsterdam go up rather than go down. As “The Lion King” becomes someone’s default choice.

Which is why Disney Theatrical is perfectly happy to let “Spamalot” become the hot ticket in town. At least for a while. After all, “Mary Poppins” blows into town in 2006. Followed by “Tarzan” and “Mermaid.” So we’ll be back on top again soon enough.

Besides, Eric Idle is a really nice guy who’s been really good to the Walt Disney Company. So we’re happy for his success.

What’s that you say? You’re shocked hear that someone at Disney could be that gracious to a person that the Mouse would typically view at competition? Well, you have to understand that Eric Idle really is a very nice guy. At least in Disney’s eyes.

“How so?,” you query. Well, picture this: You’re the Walt Disney Company. You’ve just spent over a million dollars on the development and preproduction of a new 3D movie for your theme parks. But the day before you’re supposed to shoot “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” the actor that you hired to play Nigel Channing (I.E. The head of the Imagination Institute in the film) suddenly falls ill and can’t take part in the shoot.

So what do you do? Obviously, you have to recast. But — meanwhile — the clock’s ticking. And each day that goes by when film isn’t moving through the camera means that hundreds of thousands of dollars is going down the drain.

A situation like this is every producer’s worst nightmare. But — thankfully for Disney — “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” only lost a single day of shooting.

How come? Well, You see, the day that the cast got the call about production being postponed, Marcia Strassman (You know? The actress who plays Diane Szalinski in the “Honey” movies?) stops by the lounge in her hotel. And who does she discover seated at the bar but “Monty Python” vet Eric Idle.

Copyright 1994 The Walt Disney Company

So Marcia walks up to Eric and introduces herself. These two thespians strike up a conversation. And — after a couple of drinks — Strassman casually mentions what happened to the actor who was originally slated to play Nigel Channing.

And Idle thinks for a moment, then says: “Well, I’m not doing anything tomorrow …”

Strassman quickly gets on the phone to “Honey” ‘s director, Randal Kleiser. Kleiser — in turn — calls Thomas G. Smith, the producer of this Theme Park Productions production. Smith gets ahold of someone much higher in the Mouse House food chain (I.E. The money guy). Who — in turn — calls Idle’s agent. And a deal is quickly reached.

Which is why — 36 hours later — Eric Idle finds himself on set, dealing with mice cloning devices and over-sized sneezing dogs …

This one gracious gesture on Idle’s part (I.E. Stepping in at the last possible moment. Saving the company tens of thousands of dollars) bought him years of good will from the folks working at Disney. Which was why — when the folks at Disney Television animation were looking for new celebrity voices to use in the “Hercules” direct-to-video sequel, “Zero to Hero” — they immediately gave Eric a call. As did the crew that produced the “Mickey Mouse Works” TV show, when they were looking for someone unusual to play the voice of Pluto’s conscience in a “Minnie Takes Care of Pluto” cartoon.

Copyright 1997 The Walt Disney Productions

And let’s not forget about Idle’s vocal performance in Disney’s “102 Dalmatians.” Where he did the voice for Waddlesworth, the macaw that thought he was a rottweiler.

Obviously the folks at WDI also love Eric. Otherwise, why would they have called him back to play Dr. Nigel Channing not once, but twice? (I.E. First in the dismal “Journey into Your Imagination” ride. Which initially opened in October of 1999. Then in the revamped version of this same Future World attraction, “Journey into Your Imagination with Figment.” Which opened to the public in June of 2002.)

Yeah, Idle has sort of become Disney’s go-to guy when it comes to adding additional whimsy & fun to some fairly troubled projects. It was Eric who helped give “Ella Enchanted” a little extra oomph by agreeing to become that film’s on-screen narrator. Idle also helped raise the profile of a Disney Channel Original film (Thereby making it okay for parents to sit & watch this cable flick with their kids) by playing Coffin Ed, a disgraced Revolutionary War soldier, in the 2002 made-for-TV movie, “The Scream Team.”

Even the folks at Disney Publicity love Eric Idle. Back in the summer of 2003, when they needed a little extra star power for the world premiere of “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (After all, who wants to battle traffic all the way out to Anaheim just to see a movie that’s based on some theme park attraction?), the Mouse’s PR department made a call to Idle. Eric graciously accepted Disney’s invitation. Which is how Idle, his wife, Tania and their daughter, Lily found themselves on the red carpet.

Copyright 2003 The Walt Disney Company

And if the rumors that I’ve been hearing lately are true … The post-Weinstein version of Miramax Pictures may soon be making Eric Idle’s acquaintance as well. Several sources at the studio have recently told me that Disney execs feel that — on the heels of “Spamalot” — the public will probably take a renewed interest in “Python” related projects.

Well, as it turns, Eric Idle has written a movie that he’d dearly love to get made: “The Remains of the Piano.” This is a feature length parody of all those oh-so-proper British class struggle films like Merchant Ivory’s “Howard’s End,” “Room with a View” and “Remains of the Day.” This motion picture came within inches of being filmed in the Summer of 2003, only to to have its financing fall through at the very last moment.

Anyway … In many of his pre-opening interviews for “Spamalot,” Idle has mentioned that he wants to try & get “The Remains of the Piano” off the ground again. And this seemingly casual comment has not gone un-noticed back in Burbank. Given that Miramax’s Dimension Films’ division made a buttload of money off of feature-length parodies like “Scary Movie” & its sequels, the thinking now is that — once Harvey & Bob are gone — that “The Remains of the Piano” might be just the sort of movie that Disney would want to make with its new version of Miramax / Dimension.

So the plan (As I understand it) is that — during “Spamalot” ‘s post-opening hoopla — a senior official from the Disney corporation will contact Idle to offer the company’s congratulations on the musical’s enormous success. And then — as the conversation unfolds — this Disney rep will then bring up the topic of “The Remains of the Piano.” And what happens next … Well, that “Remains” to be seen …

Anyway, getting back to “Spamalot.” What makes this new musical so exciting to so many Python fans is that their favorite bits from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” are now being acted out live on stage. In fact, I’ve been hearing that — at some previews of the show — some members of the audience have actually been calling out punchlines ahead of the performers. As if “Spamalot” were the second coming of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

(Well, I gues that’s what you get when you cast “Rocky Horror” vet Tim Curry as King Arthur. Anyhow … )

Me personally? I’m really looking forward to seeing “Spamalot.” Particularly with its current cast (I.E. Tim Curry, Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce et al). I’m just not sure when I’m next going to get down to NYC to see the thing.

But even so … I’m betting that my very favorite “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” gag didn’t make it into the musical. Why for? Well … Because this particular gag didn’t even make it into the finished film.

To explain: Were you to pick up a copy of the “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” screenplay (Which Metheun was nice enough to reprint back in 2002), you’d find that this book actually contains two separate drafts of the script. The first draft — which was originally entitled, appropriately enough, “Monty Python’s Second Film” — was a movie that kept shifting back and forth from medieval & modern times. Which — at one point — had King Arthur & his Knights of the Round Table searching for the Holy Grail inside of Harrods department store!

By the time the second draft of the script was complete, most of “Holy Grail” ‘s sidetrips to modern times had been cut from the screenplay. Along with one really wonderful gag. Which went something like this:

Picture — if you will — King Arthur and his knights assembled at the top of a wind-blown heath. They’re all about to depart on their quest to find the Holy Grail. To cover as much ground as possible, Arthur has decided that each of his Knights of the Round Table should head off toward a different point on the compass.

KING ARTHUR: You, Sir Lancelot, to the North. And you, Sir Gawain, to the South.

LANCELOT: Oh, couldn’t I go South?

GAWAIN: Yes, and I have some relatives in the North.

KING ARTHUR: Shut up.

Given how long & treacherous this search is sure to be … No one knows if — or when — they’ll ever see each other again. So there is much roman handclasping as well as a heartfelt speech by Arthur. Who thanks his good knights for agreeing to take part in an enterprise that is sure to be fraught with hardship & peril. And yet it will also be a glorious campaign on behalf of God & country.

With the film’s soundtrack creating this beautiful underscore to the speech that the King is giving, Arthur wishes them all Godspeed. With a fanfare of trumpets, the knights all turn and — each heading out in separate directions — set off on their certain-to-be long quests.

As the music swells, the camera pulls back as Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table all ride triumphantly out of the shot. The camera holds on the now-empty windblown heath for a moment. There’s the briefest of pauses. And then …

GALAHAD: (Off-screen) Found it!

Arthur and his knights now come stumbling back into the shot. Seemingly incredulous that the object of their sure-to-be epic adventure has been found less that 30 seconds into the quest.

KING ARTHUR: What did you say?

GALAHAD: I found it.

Galahad now holds aloft the Holy Grail. Its other-worldly glow immediately reveals the cup to be the real thing.

KING ARTHUR: The Holy Grail? Just now? Where?

GALAHAD: (Gesturing off-camera) Over there. In the weeds.

KING ARTHUR: “In the weeds”?!

LANCELOT: (Clearly disappointed) Well, that wasn’t much of a challenge, now was it?

No. It probably wasn’t. But — that said — it’s one of my favorite moments that never quite made it into a movie.

Anywho … We here at JHM wish to pass along a hearty “Break a leg!” to the cast & crew of “Spamalot.” We also hope to hear — sometime very soon — that Walt Disney Company has agreed to underwrite the cost of producing Eric Idle’s “The Remains of the Piano.”

And — while we’re cramming in the gratitious plugs here — Eric Idle has written a book about about his recent American tour, “The Greedy *** Diaries.” Which — being a greedy *** myself — I highly recommend that you purchase this very funny volume by clicking on the Amazon.com link that you’ll find at the bottom of this article.

Sooo … Do you folks have any Idle thoughts that you wish to share?

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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