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It’s going to take more than just magic to pull off all of WDW’s “Magical Gatherings” program

If you saw last Thursday’s “Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade” special on ABC, you no doubt heard (over and over and over again …) about “Magical Gatherings” at Disney World. But here’s something that you may NOT have heard: WDW’s resort staff is not entirely sure that they can actually pull off this much hyped program.

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Okay. Quick show of hands. Who here watched the “Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade” on ABC last Thursday morning?

(God, look who I’m asking. You’re a Disney dweeb, right? So of course you watched this program …)

Well, I — like you — sat and watched this year’s special. And just marveled at this Frankenstein-like production.

“Why ‘Frankenstein-like’?” you ask. Well, that sequence that featured the Brady Bunch wandering around Disney-MGM? That was actually shot back in October during Disney World’s annual press event. And that bumper where Susanne Lucci and several other actors from “All My Children” (also while standing around in the Disney-MGM Studio theme park) wished the viewing audience “… a very Merry Christmas”? That was shot back in early November during this year’s Super Soap Weekend.

George Lopez’s play-by-play of Disneyland’s Christmas parade? That was actually shot back on Saturday, November 15th. One of my JHM tour groups and I actually got to watch Lopez and a large film crew shoot a portion of that special while I was taking them through the theme park that morning.

Yet all these celebrities were saying “Hello” to Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa. Talking with the two “Live with Regis and Kelly” co-hosts as if they were all down there at Disney World at the exact same time. Ah, the magic of television. Sequences that were shot months apart, all artfully stitched together so that nary a seam does show.

Mind you, it was the stuff that was shot in the Magic Kingdom where the most artful stitching was done. You see, Ms. Ripa hadn’t actually been able to make it down to Walt Disney World for the first day or two of filming. Why for? Because she accidentally got snowed in in NYC on Friday, December 5th. So Kelly wasn’t actually able to make it down to Orlando ’til Sunday, December 7th. When 90% of this year’s “Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade” special was already in the can.

But not to worry. The folks at Lightship Productions (I.E. the television production company that actually put together this year’s parade special) just set up their cameras again. They had Regis and Kelly sit in their festively decorated broadcast booth in the foreground while they rolled a small number of parade floats through the background. They then shot a scene which had Phlibin and Ripa stood with the crowds along Main Street U.S.A. And Presto Changeo! It looked like Regis and Kelly had been on hand for the entire shoot.

(How do I know so much about the above story? Because — just like what happened back in Disneyland on November 15th — I was actually in the Magic Kingdom hosting a JHM tour [which was being offered as an exclusive to the nice folks at Mousefest 2003] on Sunday, December 7th when they were shooting all of that additional Kelly footage. I remember poor Jim Korkis, struggling to make himself heard in Town Square as various floats came rolling through and Ms. Ripa’s exteremly amplified voice rang out through the park. That may sound kind of annoying, but it was a really great time.)

Anyway … enough about the logistics of putting ABC’s “Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade” special together. Now let’s talk about the show itself. Or — as I like to call it — that two-hour-long commercial for Walt Disney World’s “Magical Gatherings” program … Oh, yeah. And the Christmas parade too.

Seriously, could the Walt Disney Company have crammed any more references to this new WDW program into the show? During the first hour alone, it was mentioned — in a veiled sort of way — by Michael Eisner himself:

“Join us as we continue the celebration of families and gatherings on the most joyous day of the year.”

Kelly Ripa then mentioned the program as part of her introductory remarks for the parade:

“What a beautiful place to celebrate the joy of Christmas and that special magic that happens when you get together with your friends and your family. It’s something called ‘Magical Gatherings’ and you’ll be hearing more about it throughout the show.”

Did you ever? Regis repeatedly talked about WDW’s “Magical Gatherings” program:

“Hey, welcome back everyone to the Christmas Day parade at the Magic Kingdom. Thanks for joining our Magical Gathering of friends and family.”

“Here’s a perfect song for our Magical Gathering this morning. Jump 5 singing ‘Welcome to Our Family’ from ‘Brother Bear.'”

The program was also mentioned by this anonymous family as a filmed insert leading out of commercial:

“Hi! We’re here from all over the United States. Chicago! Nebraska! Birmingham! And we’re happy to be having a Magical Gathering here at the Magic Kingdom with our great grandmother, Alita. Merry Christmas!”

And — if that wasn’t bad enough — parade viewers were then treated to a 5-minute-long sequence that hyped WDW’s “Magical Gatherings” program. This part of the show started off with the current Miss America, Ericka Dunlap, and her family gathered at WDW’s recently-opened Pop Century Resort Hotel. As she smiled for the cameras, Ms. Dunlap said:

“I’m lucky enough to spend time with my family at the Walt Disney World Resort. We’re having what’s known as a ‘Magical Gathering.’ It’s a great new way to bring friends and family together at Walt Disney World.”

Ericka then introduced a sequence which supposedly showed this typical family — the O’Sheas, a family of 15 from New Bedford, MA — who were having a “Magical Gathering” at Walt Disney World. As this warm-and-fuzzy filmed interlude got underway, parade viewers were told that this was the first tike that the family had all been together on vacation. The O’Sheas were then shown — all dressed in matching “Magical Gatherings” t-shirts — walking hand-in-hand through the Magic Kingdom.

Which was all well and good. Except that — every so often — there’d be these close-ups of various O’Shea family members reading what had to be carefully scripted remarks. I mean, can you imagine any of your relatives turning toward a camera and spontaneously saying:

“A ‘Magical Gathering’ is a group of family and friends who join together to experience Walt Disney World … just being together. Creating a special moment in time. There’s no better place to do this than here.”

If you can believe it, the “Magical Gatherings” promotional push got even heavier as this sequence went on. Parade viewers got to watch as one of the O’Sheas supposedly used the Internet to download the “Magical Gatherings” planner. As one of the other aunts went on and on about how using the Disney website …

“… made things so much easier. They’d keep you up-to-date on arrangements. Where we’re going to have dinner. Where we’re going to have breakfast.”

The “Magical Gatherings” promotional portion of last Thursday’s “Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade” broadcast closed out with the O’Shea family having not one, but two “Magical Gatherings” experiences. First, the family had a group photo — taken by an official WDW photographer — taken while standing on the lawn in front of Cinderella’s Castle. Next, the O’Sheas experienced the “Magical Gatherings” fireworks voyage. Where the family was taken out onto Seven Seas Lagoon and shown enjoying “Wishes” as the Magic Kingdom’s new fireworks extravaganza was seen exploding over that theme park.

And — just to make sure that parade viewers got the message — as the sequence drew to a close, one of the O’Shea women — in a voiceover — was heard to say:

“When we’re coming here, we’re just making memories.”

Which — given that this comment managed to plug both the Walt Disney Company as well as Kodak’s old promotional slogan — must have made the Mouse’s promotional staff happy.

Then — just in case the television viewing audience didn’t get the point of the whole O’Shea family “Magical Gatherings” sequence — the camera now cut back to Ericka Dunlap and her family standing in front of the Pop Century Resort Hotel. Where Ericka said:

“And that’s just one example of friends and family from around the world who are having a ‘Magical Gatherings’ vacation at Walt Disney World. Something that everyone can do year ’round. Not just at Christmastime.”

And then — just to hammer the all-too-obvious point home — they then cut away to commercial. And what’s the first ad to air after the O’Sheas “Magical Gatherings” sequence? The “Circle of Life” version of WDW’s “Magical Gatherings” commercial.

Now no one has ever accused the Mouse of being subtle. But all this occurred just during the first hour of this year’s “Walt Disney World Christmas Day Program” TV special. The second hour of this show had even more ham-handed mentions of WDW’s “Magical Gatherings” program, with poor Robin Roberts from ABC News wandering down Main Street U.S.A. and supposedly spontaneously encountering yet another group of friends and family who were also having a “Magical Gathering.”

It was all just too much hype. Particularly for a program that’s already having more than its share of problems.

“What’s that you say, Jim?” you query. “Disney World’s ‘Magical Gatherings’ program is already having some problems?” Yep. Here, let me share an e-mail that I recently received from a veteran WDW hotel staffer. Who wrote to me to vent some of his frustrations about Disney World’s “Magical Gatherings” program:

“The real problem, Jim, is that the Walt Disney World Vacations people are actively promoting this ‘Magical Gatherings’ program, promising people all of these amazing experiences. But they started promoting the program before the people in Resorts could actually figure out how to make ‘Magical Gatherings’ work.

I mean, they’re telling people that we’re going to be able to arrange all of these adjoining hotel rooms for large families at the various Disney World resorts. Jim, we haven’t ever been able to do this. Not even for press events, when we knew months in advance that we had to block out large numbers of adjoining hotel rooms for celebrities and the media. And now they’re expecting us to be able to do this on a daily basis. Impossible.

The same problem applies to the resort’s restaurants. They’re telling guests that we’re going to be able to carve out these huge holes in each evening’s seating arrangements so that these large families can dine together. This means that we’re constantly having to turn away smaller groups of diners — who are actually ready to eat immediately — so that we can hold space for these large groups. Which — typically — never show up on time.

It’s just been a nightmare so far, Jim. We’ve really been struggling to deliver on all of the ‘Magical Moments’ that these guests have been promised as part of their ‘Magical Gatherings” vacation. For — when these people don’t get everything that the folks at Walt Disney World Vacations promised them — they come down to the front desk in the lobby and just scream at us about how much money they’re paying for this once-in-a-lifetime vacation with their extended family.

As a result, the front line people at Walt Disney World are getting a lot of abuse, Jim. All because Disney’s promotional department rushed to get all of those ‘Magical Gatherings’ TV commercials and print ads out there. Long before WDW’s resort staff had a chance to figure out how they were actually going to pull this program off. Seriously, Jim. On the specs for the WDW’s ‘Magical Gatherings’ program that was circulated around property, the last line of the document actually read: ‘I hope that we can pull this off.’

Resorts staffers are grumbling that ‘Magical Gatherings’ is just yet another ill-conceived effort by Walt Disney Company management to fill up all of those empty hotel rooms on property. Which is why they pushed this program through at warp speed, with little thought at to how the cast members in the field were actually going to deliver on all the ‘Magic’ that the Mouse’s promotional staff had promised the guests.

Don’t worry, Jim. Eventually, I’m sure that we’ll work all the kinks out. But I can’t help but think about how much easier this ‘Magical Gatherings’ thing would have been if they had just talked with us first. Rather than going to WDW’s promotional staff and dreaming up a new ad campaign for the resort, THEN — after the fact — trying to figure out how to actually make ‘Magical Gatherings’ work.”

So there you have it, folks. In spite of all the hype and promotion, the resort staff at Walt Disney World are struggling mightily to try and deliver all of the magic that the Mouse’s promotional staff says that you’re going to get when you, your family and friends sign up for a “Magical Gatherings” vacation.

Which is why I suggest that — if you’re really interested in having a “Magical Gathering” — that you hold off on having that “Gathering” ’til the middle of next year. Til the folks in WDW resort operations finally figure out how to make good on all the magic that WDW’s promotional staff promised.

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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