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Is Disney Feature Animation ripe for another revolution?

As WDFA vets continue to grumble about how cruel and clueless Disney Company management has become during this time of extreme upheaval in the animation industry, Jim Hill wonders: Is it time for another Don Bluth?

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Next September marks the 25th anniversary of a very auspicious event in animation history.

That’s when Don Bluth — who was then a Walt Disney Productions employee — walked about the door at the Mouse Factory. Taking Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy and 14 other animators and assistants with him.

Why did Don leave Disney? Because he was a very ambitious man who had grown tired of watching Mouse House managers continually second-guess themselves into making mediocre movies. Of corners constantly being cut.

Bluth longed for the days when Disney actually made great animated films. Sparing no expense when it came to the creation of feature length cartoons that would delight and awe audiences. When it looked like those days were gone for good (more importantly, when it appeared that Walt Disney Productions management was extremely resistant to the idea of resurrecting the “good old days” of WDFA … when rain drops glistened, when pools of water rippled and the stories that Disney told in its animated films actually had some guts …), Don bailed out of Burbank and started up his own studio.

Now there are people who will tell you that the Second Golden Age of Disney Feature Animation actually got underway with the November 1989 release of “The Little Mermaid.” Not me. I think that the rebirth of the Mouse Factory as an animation powerhouse should be tracked back to Don Bluth’s rebellion. When he told his friends and co-workers that “Disney should be doing better than this. That we shouldn’t have to settle for doing things half-assed. That maybe we should go out and start our own studio.”

And so they did. Which gave the Mouse a real kick in the ass. Meaning that — for the first time in nearly 40 years — Walt Disney Productions actually had some serious competition in the feature animation field. That’s why — when Bluth’s initial effort, “The Secret of NIMH,” came out in June of 1982 and was widely praised for its lush backgrounds, full animation and thrilling story — Mouse House managers were forced to sit up and take notice. To rise to Don’s challenge, so to speak.

Sure, there were some stumbles along the way. Disney’s highly touted summer 1985 release, “The Black Cauldron,” comes immediately to mind. Where so much time and money was wasted on trying to create cutting-edge special effects for this alleged animated epic (remind me sometime to tell you all the story of the millions the Imagineers blew through, trying to create a workable holographic sequence for “The Black Cauldron” where it was supposed to have appeared as if one of the Cauldron-born were actually coming out of the screen to menace the audience. Admittedly, this was a really intriguing idea. Too bad it was impractical. Not to mention that the holographic technology never quite worked the way the wizards of WED intended. Anyway …) that the film’s story was woefully neglected.

To my way of thinking, it wasn’t until Walt Disney Pictures’ July 1986 release — “The Great Mouse Detective” — that WDFA finally seemed to have gotten its act together again. Here was a film — keenly crafted by the then-newbie directorial team of John Musker and Ron Clements — that finally got the mix right. Heart, wit and thrills. Where the movie’s elaborate special effects didn’t overwhelm or interrupt the story. But rather — in the film’s then-ground breaking clock tower sequence — the CGI setting actually added to that sequence’s thrills.

Of course, that was back in the day when Walt Disney Feature Animation only had a handful of executives that the artists had to answer to. Nowadays … well, to hear one WDFA vet tell it: “There’s a reason that there’s a sorcerer’s hat on top of our building. It’s the only sort of hat that would fit the dozens of pin-head executives that we have to deal with.”

I won’t lie to you, gang. This is a time of extreme unhappiness and upheaval at Disney Feature Animation. When studio execs — who are positively frantic to return WDFA to its former glory days of maximum profitability — have once again begun to continually second guess themselves. Where corners are routinely cut to keep costs down.

And — since WDFA execs now seem genuinely reluctant to greenlight a new traditionally animated feature — that’s why many Disney Animation vets are now reportedly talking about “… pulling a Bluth.” As is: a group of artists and animators deliberately breaking away from the Mouse Factory to go set up their own studio.

Of course, the key difference between 1979 and 2003 is the Mouse now has most of its animators tied up with long term contracts. That — during the infamous animation talent bidding war that broke out between Disney and Dreamworks in the mid-1990s — that Mickey locked up a lot of talent by signing them to extremely lengthy deals. (Never mind that — as the box office numbers began to slide for Disney’s animated features in the late 1990s — Mouse House managers renegotiated a number of these deals. Keeping the length of the contracts the same, but significantly scaling back the compensation that Mickey was willing to pay out to his top animators.)

Which means that a lot of Disney’s artists aren’t actually in a position where they can act on their rebellious urges. At least not right now. But that hasn’t stopped a number of them from talking about eventually going off and setting up their very own new traditional animation studio. A place that would continue to create the sort of animated film that Walt Disney Pictures seems so determined to make a part of their distant past.

That’s the thing that many Disney animation vets seem to find so hard to swallow right now. That execs at WDFA just don’t seem to want to make traditionally animated films anymore. That the films that the Mouse currently has in its development pipeline — “The Snow Queen,” “Chicken Little,” “Rapunzel,” “Fraidy Cat” et al — projects that had initially been envisioned as being a mix of CG and traditional animation … are now being thought of as strictly computer animated films.

Which means that — if Disney’s veteran animators (I.E. The brightest and the best at the Mouse Factory) expect to keep working for Mickey — they have to be retrained. Which is why many of these folks are currently suffering through Maya classes. Which — to hear one highly praised Disney vet explain it — ” … makes me feel like I’m going from being an artist to becoming a puppeteer.”

Okay. Admittedly, change is inevitable in the entertainment industry. Let’s think back to the time in the late 1920s when pictures went from silent to sound and thousands of people were put out of work because they were unable or unwilling to embrace the new technology that had risen up so suddenly to dominate the industry.

That’s what I keep wondering. Can some sort of parallel be drawn between what happened back in Hollywood when “The Jazz Singer” first burst on the screen and what’s happening now with the animation industry? Particularly at a time when audience’s tastes in animated features appears to be changing so radically. When films like “Shrek,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Ice Age” are eagerly embraced by mainstream movie-goers. While more traditionally animated fare like “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Treasure Planet” seem to have trouble just covering their production costs during their initial domestic release.

So Disney Feature Animation — in order to stay competitive in this dynamically shifting marketplace — has to change with the times … or does it? Many Disney animation vets have suggested that — if they weren’t constantly have to deal with the lame-brained suggestions of WDFA execs (many of which seem to have next-to-no-practical experience when it comes to the production of a feature length animated film) — that they would still be able to make movies that could connect with modern audiences. Projects that would still have some wit and edge to them.

Me personally? I don’t think that it’s a co-incidence that WDFA’s most recent successful feature — 2002’s “Lilo & Stitch” — was primarily produced in Orlando. Or that Disney Feature Animation’s most successful film prior to “Lilo” — 1999’s “Tarzan” — was animated mostly at the Mouse’s now-defunct Parisian facility.

You see what I’m saying here? The greater the distance from Burbank (and the middle management meddling that naturally goes with being right on the main studio lot), the better the movie turns out. The less WDFA executive involvement, the higher a film’s box office.

This, of course, is NOT a world view that the creative VPs at Walt Disney Feature Animation share. They believe that they actually make a valuable contribution to the production process … like insisting that Chicken Little be changed from being a boy to a girl (to make that film’s title character come across as being more sympathetic) … or by insisting that most of the monster sequences initially proposed for “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” be cut (thereby keeping production costs down — never mind that this one cost cutting maneuver robbed “Atlantis” of many of its more thrilling scenes — which made it that much more difficult for this Disney animated feature to be marketed to its alleged core audience: pre-teen boys).

It’s this constant interference by WDFA execs, the sense that they’re now actively being prevented from making successful traditionally animated film (so that Disney executives can justify their rush to change over their animation operation over to a totally CG affair) that currently frustrates many animation vets. Which is why — as I mentioned at the top of this story — a number of them are talking about “… pulling a Bluth.” Going off and starting their own animation studio. Where they could create new traditionally animated films that would compete directly with Disney and — hopefully — eventually beat the Mouse at what used to be Mickey’s game.

Is this actually going to happen? Well, it will be interesting to watch what happens over the next few years. As the long term contracts that tie many of Disney’s top animators to the Mouse Factory expire. And these artists are finally free to begin charting their own courses.

Mind you, these WDFA vets may have no choice but to go off and start up their own animation studio. Given that even Dreamworks seems to be getting out of the traditional animation game. (Word has it that — even though Dreamworks is reportedly gearing up to churn out three new animated features a year from here on in — that no new traditionally animated films are currently in the pipeline. That this studio is reportedly waiting to see how well “Sinbad” does before it actually greenlights production of yet another traditionally animated feature.)

But perhaps these artists should take some solace in a comment that comes from a conversation I recently had with one of Disney’s direct competitors: “Someone could have created the greatest animation studio that ever existed by just standing on the sidewalk outside of WDFA-Burbank and signing up all the artists and animators that Disney has let go over the past 18 months. The talent that those boneheads let walk out the door is just … stunning.”

So maybe it really is time for someone to “… pull a Bluth.” To gather up this group of suddenly disenfranchised Disney artists and create a new animation studio. A place where traditional animation (an art form that even Pixar creative guru John Lasseter says that he hopes doesn’t totally disappear) could continue to thrive and grow. Have a second flowering, so to speak.

Yeah, the history of feature animation is a never ending cycle of boom and bust. Right now, traditional animation seems to be on the bust side of the fence. But I can’t help thinking — given the truly impressive box office numbers that “Spirited Away” just wracked up in Japan (where this marvelous Hiyao Miyazaki movie became the highest grossing film in Japanese history, even surpassing the record ticket sales of James Cameron’s “Titanic” racked up) — that there’s still a serious market out there for a traditionally animated film.

More importantly, that the real reason that the more recent traditionally animated films that Walt Disney Pictures has been turning out haven’t been more successful is because studio execs won’t allow the company’s veteran animators to make the movies that they’re actually capable of making. Even longtime Disney boosters like animation legend Glen Keane have begun complaining about studio interference. In a recent interview, Glen was quoted as saying that he’s never ever seen a film that was as seriously micro-managed as “Treasure Planet” was.

So could Disney Feature Animation still be churning out successful traditionally animated features if the Mouse Factory seriously cut back on its cadre of alleged creative, continually interfering VPs? Sadly, given how firmly entrenched these executives are these days, I’m guessing that we’ll never know. That — given the current corporate culture at the Walt Disney Company (where execs constantly try to justify their enormous paychecks as well as their basically useless existence by ruthlessly cutting away at those underneath them. Which is why the staff levels at WDFA has radically shrunk over the past five years, while the number of suits that you’ll find in the Disney Feature Animation’s executive suite on the Burbank lot is now at an all-time high) — it’s the execs who are still managing to hang on. While artists and animation veterans are continually being shown the door.

I’m sorry if this is starting (“Starting?!”) to sound like a rant. But I’m just tired of seeing talented people — artists who actually contribute to the process — struggling to survive. While empty suits — people who continually waste time and money with pointless meetings where they try to justify why the Mouse keeps them on payroll — thrive.

This is why I’m honestly encouraged to hear this talk of revolt at the Mouse House. Of animators thinking about heading for the exits, of setting up their own animation studio, of showing Disney how it’s done.

Whether or not this actually ever happens … well, let’s just wait and see, shall we?

But I just thought you should know that all is really not well inside of the Mouse Factory. That 2003 is starting to look an awful lot like 1979.

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  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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