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“It’s a Small World” … The movie?!

Strange as it may seem, Walt Disney Productions — way back in the mid-1970s — actually did toy with the idea of turning this much beloved theme park attraction into a major motion picture. Jim Hill now gives you the skinny on this most-unlikely-sounding of projects.

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Given the surprising success of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie (which to date has grossed over $295 million during its initial domestic run), you have to wonder why the Mouse didn’t think about doing something like this before? I.E. Turning the company’s most popular theme park attractions into fodder for feature films.

Well, as it turns out, the Walt Disney Company HAD tried to do something like this before. And — no — I’m not talking about that lame “Tower of Terror” movie that ABC ran on “The Wonderful World of Disney” back in October 1997 or that less-said-about-it-the-better “Country Bears” flick that Walt Disney Pictures released to theaters last year. But rather, a ride-based feature film that one far-sighted Disney Productions executive actually tried to get the studio to produce back in the mid 1970s.

“And what — pray tell — was the proposed title of this ride-based movie the Mouse missed out on making?” you ask. Would you believe … “It’s a Small World?”

I sh*t you not, folks. “Small World – The Movie.”

Now, I know. That sounds like a really unlikely premise for a feature film. But … you know what, gang? I’ve actually read the screenplay for “It’s a Small World.” And it’s not half bad. In the hands of the right director, this script could have been turned into a charming little feature.

Now who was it exactly who came up with the idea of turning Disney’s “It’s a Small World” attraction into a major motion picture? Well, some of you may already be familiar with Larry Pontius. He’s the writer who dreamed up “Waking Walt,” that extremely entertaining fantasy novel that was bouncing around the Web for a while before the nice folks at Writers Club Press finally published Pontius’ book.

Well, back in the mid-1970s, Larry was the head of marketing at Walt Disney World. And Pontius was doing such a nice job with his campaigns for the WDW resort that the boys in in Burbank decided that they needed a guy like this back in the home office. Which is how Larry eventually found himself on the main Disney Studio lot with a brand new job title: Director of Creative Concepts.

“(This) was a new position that (then-Walt Disney Productions Chairman) Card Walker had invented (for me) when he decided to bring me back to Burbank,” said Pontius in a recent interview with JimHillMedia.com. “My (assignment) was to put some zing into the creative end of the company’s marketing projects … and anything else that I could think of. That’s why (Card) insisted that my (job) title not be restricted to (just) marketing.”

So Larry hit the ground running. And he did help turn around Disneyland’s flagging attendance levels by cooking up clever ad campaigns like “It Could Only Happen at Disneyland” and “What’s Gotten into the Matterhorn?”

But when it came to Disney Studios itself, Pontius knew that this was where the real challenge lay. Now some of you may recall the dismal quality of the films that the Mouse Factory was churning out during this pitiful period. But — for those of you who don’t — let me lay a few titles on you: “Gus,” “No Deposit, No Return,” “The Shaggy DA” et al.

You get the idea? The studio side of Walt Disney Productions seemed to have run out of ideas. Creatively, this part of the company was running on empty. Which why Larry decide that it was high time that somebody did something to turn this awful situation around.

“I was casting around for a new idea,” Pontius continued. “Something unique. That only Disney could do … I knew that Walt had used the (studio’s) film library as a source for (Disney’s) theme park attractions right from the beginning. So why not do the reverse?”

So Larry began looking over all of the attractions that the Imagineers had dreamed up for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. And — eventually — he settled on “It’s a Small World.”

Why “It’s a Small World?” Pontius explained that “The reason that I picked ‘It’s a Small World’ is simple. More people have seen it, either at Disneyland or in Florida, than any other attraction ever built. (Plus it was) something that we could market.”

So — beginning in September 1977 — Larry began working up a treatment for a film that was (loosely) inspired by the “Small World” attraction. And its story … well, to quote from its synopsis:

Imagine (that) it’s the day afternoon tomorrow, with the constantly escalating tensions of the world raised to fever pitch. (When) even the smallest spark can start a fire. And then it does.

The spark’s name is Aleksei, the nine-year-old son of the Russian Consul General in Paris. Full of curiosity and the stories that he’s heard about the “evil” Chinese, the boy ventures across the boulevard and over the fence to the Consulate of Communist China — where he is caught by Chinese security guards who take him into custody. When the Russians learn of Aleksai’s capture and detention, they demand his immediate release and, naturally, are refused. The rankled tempers become a shouting match of spying and kidnapping accusations.

And — when the story of Aleksai hits the media — millions of people hear (about) it. (And resulting media firestorm brings Red China and the U.S.S.R. to the very brink of war.)

Suddenly the “Aleksai Affair” is an urgent matter for the United Nations. However, it quickly becomes clear that — while there may be calmer heads here — (there is fuel being thrown) on the fire. There are people (in the world) who would like to see a conflagration for their own profit. Particularly Alexander Bashillian, the despotic ruler of a small nation in a backwater of the world that only has one major industry — munitions.

Into this desperate situation walks a most unlikely group of heroes: the students of the United Nations school, a special educational facility for the children of U.N. Ambassadors. They’re a small group of kids of different races, from different countries and ethnic backgrounds that — (when they’re) forced together, have found that they can get along just fine.

These kids are young enough to think that the world should do as they do. But what can the children of the U.N. Ambassadors do keep the world from blowing apart?

Disappear.

When they do, in a faked mass kidnapping plot hatched by the son of the U.N. Ambassador from Iceland and the daughter of the U.S. Ambassador, the “Aleksai Affair” is instantly old news. Forgetton by everyone … except for Bashillian, the munitions despot.

Alexander tries to stir the fires (of war) by casting blame for the crime on one — or both — of the nations entangled in the original affair. When that fails, Bashillian sends his agents to join the thousands already on the hunt. But with a dark goal in mind: to find & kill the children of the U.N. Ambassadors. With the hope of making a bad situation worse.

But the United Nations’ children have other plans. Not just to stop Bashillian and his evil agents. But to stop the world as well. To bring our planet back from the brink of disaster.

This is just a bare-bones version of the plotline of Pontius’ proposed picture. His actual screenplay for “It’s a Small World” is loaded with charm. Lots of great little moments that really make this somewhat simplistic sounding story truly come alive.

Take — for example — the role of Alexander Bashillian, the double-dealing munitions dealer who is the villain of the piece. The way Larry wrote this character, First Citizen Bashillian could have become one of Disney’s great comic villians. It’s a part that Peter Ustinov would have loved to have sunk his teeth into.

So — with a fun script that was based on a Disney theme park attraction — why didn’t “It’s a Small World” go into production? Well, it wasn’t for lack of trying on Pontius’ part.

You see, Larry hand-delivered copies of his “Small World” script to many of the movers and shakers at Walt Disney Productions. “Irving Ludwig, then President of Buena Vista Distribution … got a copy,” he explained. “I know that Card Walker got a copy of the treatment. He copied me on a memo (that Card had) sent to Ron Miller about (my proposed “Small World” movie. Walker’s note on that memo read) ‘Interesting idea.’ Something like that.”

And Pontius saw to it that Ron Miller — Walt Disney’s son-in-law, the man who was then in charge of the studio side of things at Walt Disney Productions — was also given a copy of his “Small World” script. With the hope that it might help improve the project’s chances, he even had Bob Moore — the artist who created the posters for many of Disney Studios’ feature releases during the 1970s — create a prototype poster for the picture.

(That explains the photograph above. That was a picture of the proposed “It’s a Small World” movie poster. Which Larry Pontius still has in his Disneyana collection. Anyway …)

But Pontius’ proposed “Small World” project never went any further along Disney’s development track. Why for? Because — at that time — the studio side of Walt Disney Productions was in turmoil. Audiences just weren’t turning out to see the Disney films they way they used to. Which is why movies like “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” and “The Cat from Outer Space” were performing so miserably at the box office.

So Walt Disney Studios — rather than being an industry leader (which is what Walt Disney Productions really was when Walt was in charge) — became a follower of trends. 20th Century Fox’s Summer 1977 release “Star Wars” made a ton of money? Okay. Then Disney would quickly crank out a sci-fi epic of its own, 1979’s “The Black Hole.” Universal’s gross-out comedy “National Lampoon’s Animal House” made a fortune in the Fall of 1978? Then fine. The Mouse would swiftly slap together its own gross-out college comedy, “Midnight Madness.”

You see what I’m saying here? Back in the mid-to-late 1970s, the studio side of Walt Disney Productions really lost its way. And — in trying to quickly update the company’s image, to make it appears as if the Mouse was suddenly “hip” and “with it” — Disney deliberately began to try amd distance itself from its heritage. Which is why a sweet little comedy like “It’s a Small World” — something safe for family audiences that still had a bit of a social message — never really had a chance.

Mind you, his “Small World” setback didn’t throw Larry Pontius off his stride. He soldiered on at the Mouse Factory. In late 1977, he was appointed Vice President of Marketing for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. And in 1979, Larry took on the added responsibility of corporate communications. Which means that Pontius wrote speeches for Art Tatum and Card Walker, the then-heads of Walt Disney Productions, as well as writing the company’s annual report.

But he also kept trying to get the company back on the creative track. Which is why Pontius would periodically pepper Disney company executives, constantly urging these guys to take some risks. Put some really ambitious projects into production. Among the many ideas that Larry pitched to Mouse House officials in the late 1970s was “Fantasia II.”

Yep, a sequel to the studio’s 1940 animated classic. And Pontius was trying to put this film into active development a full 12 years before Roy Disney ever even toyed with the idea of Walt Disney Feature Animation producing a follow-up to this ground-breaking animated feature.

But the suits in Burbank nixed that idea as well. Which is (perhaps) why — in 1980 — Larry finally left the Walt Disney Company. He returned to Orlando, where he started up his very own advertising and video production house.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean that Pontius totally left the Mouse behind. I mean, he took all of those great stories that he’d heard from Disney Company officials about the way Walt Disney really behaved and used them to help create the title character for his book, “Waking Walt.”

And Larry never entirely forgot about his idea of a Disney movie that could be based on “It’s a Small World” either. Which is why — back in the Spring of 2001 — when the Walt Disney Company announced that it was putting a film that was based on “The Country Bear Jamboree” into production, Pontius threw a note at his old friend, *** Cook. Who — over the years — has risen through the ranks to become Chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

Seeing as it looked like the Walt Disney Company was finally getting into the films-based-on-theme-park attractions business, Larry reminded *** that the script for “It’s a Small World” was still probably sitting in Disney’s files. But Cook (sadly) never responded to Pontius’ e-mail.

Still, Larry hasn’t lost all hope. Even though Disney CEO Michael Eisner said — in an interview last week with the New York Times — that the upcoming sequel to “Pirates of the Caribbean” would be the very last ride-based film that Walt Disney Pictures will ever put in production … Pontius knew that — should the movie version of Disney’s “The Haunted Mansion” prove to be a big enough hit when this Eddie Murphy film finally hits multiplexes on November 26th — that Eisner may change his mind. And that Uncle Mike would then send his minions scouring through the vaults, looking for other ride-based film ideas. And that’s when (perhaps) Disney will finally realize that it has had “It’s a Small World” sitting in its files all along. All ready to go.

Me personally? I’m not entirely sure that Larry’s “It’s a Small World” script really has what it takes to become a full-blown feature film for Walt Disney Studios nowadays. Back in the 1970s, sure. But today … I’m not entirely sure that those oh-so-cynical Disney execs could actually get behind a picture that was this upbeat. That had such an uplifting message.

But — that said — I also think that (with a wee bit of a rewrite) that Pontius’ screenplay would make one hell of a project for the folks over at the Disney Channel. Given that 90% of the roles in this proposed film could be filled by actors under the age of 12, Larry’s “Small World” script would be a natural for that tween hungry cable channel. Which is why this might be a nice project for that arm of the Walt Disney Company to take under its wing.

So here’s hoping that some enterprising development executive over at the Disney Channel actually reads this story and then decides to give Larry a call. I mean, wouldn’t it be funny if — 25 years after the fact — that Pontius is finally proved correct? That he gets to show the world that there really is a fun film to be made out of Disney’s “It’s a Small World” attraction?

Here’s hoping that actually happens.

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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