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JimHillMedia.com presents: The Monday Mélange

The dictionary defines a mélange as being a “motley assortment of things.” Well, that’s exactly the sort of column that Jim Hill’s serving up to JHM readers today: a motley assortment of moderately cool Disney-related stuff that popped in Jim’s in-box over the past 72 hours. Enjoy!

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You’re going to have to forgive me, gang, if I seem somewhat distracted this morning. But — but what with the holidays coming up at warp speed, my appearance at Mousefest 2003 next week and my book (which was supposed to be sent off to the publishers today. But — here’s a big surprise for all of you regular JHM readers — I didn’t quite get around to actually finishing writing the thing just yet)– I sort of feel like an air traffic controller at O’Hare today. Meaning that — if I’m not real careful here — I may unintentionally screw up large scale here. Accidentally land a plane in the middle of Lake Michigan, so to speak.

But you folks don’t care about that, do you? Understandably so. After all, you don’t come to JimHillMedia.com to hear Jim Hill whine about how overbooked he is. You come here for the stories.

The only problem is … I’m really not up for doing a full-blown story today.

So how’s about this: Instead of just pulling some old story out of the JHM archives, why don’t we try something new? As in: I’ll go through my e-mail in-box and share some of the more intriguing and informative items that have popped in over the past few days.

Take — for example — this message from the Masked Avenger, one of those truly talented folks who’s still hanging on at Walt Disney Imagineering, hoping to survive the next layoff. MA has some rather intriguing info to share about the Walt Disney Company’s next theme park. No, not the one in Hong Kong. The one that’s scheduled to go into Shanghai in 2010.

Good Christ, Jim. These idiots are never getting to learn. You would think that — particularly after DCA and Walt Disney Studios — Paris blew up in their faces — that those boobs back in Burbank would finally take a hint and not stint when it came to Phase 1 of their next couple of theme parks.

But you know how Hong Kong Disneyland is small, Jim? So small that HKD is sort of a Readers Digest version of Anaheim’s Disneyland? Well, Shanghai Disneyland is supposed to be even smaller than that. The joke that’s currently going around WDI right now is that — given how tiny in scope this project is supposed to be — this may be the very first Disney theme park to feature a drive-thru window.

Unless they significantly up the budget on this proposed park in the not-so-distant future, Shanghai Disneyland is going to be the equivalent of an outdoor Disney Quest. Okay, maybe two outdoor Disney Quests, Jim. The point is that SDL is — as it stands right now — going to be a project that isn’t properly funded that features far too few attractions. Which means that — when the thing opens in 2010 and is greeted with a shrug by Shanghai residents (Don’t forget, Jim, that we’re going to be following Universal into Shanghai. That they’re going to have their studio theme park open at least two to three years ahead of SDL. So that — by the time Shanghai Disneyland opens in 2010 or 2011 — Shanghai residents will know what to expect from an American-style theme park) — we’re just going to have to do to that theme park what we’re doing to DCA and Walt Disney Studios right now. Which is throwing a lot of unbudgeted, big ticket items into those theme parks — rides and attractions that SHOULD HAVE automatically been part of Phase 1 of these projects to begin with — with the hope that that’s what will bring the customers back.

That’s the thing that scares me the most of Mouse House management these days, Jim. They just don’t seem to be learning from their previous mistakes. They built a cheap theme park in Anaheim and the people didn’t come. They then built a cheap theme park in Paris and people didn’t come to that one either. Now Mickey’s building even cheaper theme parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai. But the in-house reasoning is “That’s okay. The Chinese don’t have a high quality Disney theme park right nearby to compare these two low budget projects to. So they’ll happily accept whatever it is that we give them. Which is why HKDL and SDL will be hits right out of the box.”

Can you believe these idiots, Jim? These suits have deluded themselves into thinking that no one in Hong Kong has ever made a trip over to Tokyo. That none of the Chinese have ever been to Tokyo Disneyland and/or Tokyo DisneySea. And that these people aren’t going to compare the tiny little theme parks that Disney foists on them to the grandiose ones that the Oriental Land Company operates just across the way.

It’s a recipe for disaster, Jim. But — of course — none of this matters to the lame brained MBAs that actually put the budget together for Hong Kong Disneyland and/or Shanghai Disneyland. By the time both of those theme parks have opened and begun taking on water, that short-sighted suit will long gone. He’ll have used his short time at Walt Disney Imagineering as a way to leverage himself into a better job somewhere else. And it’ll be up to us few remaining Imagineers to try and clean up this idiot’s mess while he’s off sitting in a cozy corner office at the Gap.

Sorry to keep droning on and on like this, Jim. But you’d think — particularly given what a mess Disney’s California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios in Paris turned out to be — that these guys would have finally learned that in order to get a return on your investment, you actually have to invest something.

But — when it comes to the executives who currently run the Walt Disney Company — I find that it’s best to never underestimate how stupid and/or clueless a suit can be.

Yikes! That was a two-fer, folks. Two pieces of bad news for the price of one. Shanghai Disneyland is supposed to be even smaller and cheaper than Hong Kong Disneyland. And the folks who currently run the Walt Disney Company don’t seem to have learned anything from the mistakes that were made on DCA or Walt Disney Studios in the Paris.

Not a very upbeat way to start off your Monday, is it? Well, let me dig around in my in-box and see if I can’t come up with a happier Disney-related story … Ah … Here we go! This message comes by way of Kingdom of the Sun:

What’s the deal with all these people talking up Disney’s first CG project, “Rapunzel Unbraided?” The fairy tale spoof that Glen Keane supposedly directing? The computer animated film that’s not due out in theaters ’til 2007 or 2008?

Don’t all you Disney dweebs realize that “Chicken Little” is currently in production? It’s this really funny film by the guys who did “The Emperor’s New Groove”: director Mark Dindal and producer Randy Fullmer.

And don’t give me that “Wasn’t ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ a flop?” crap. Far from it, folks. “Groove” actually turned a modest profit during its initial theatrical release, then proved to be a huge hit in the after-market: video, cable and DVD. That’s why Disney is currently producing a direct-to-video sequel to the film — tentatively titled “The Emperor’s Newer Groove” — as well as seriously looking into doing a “Groove” TV series.

So where does “Chicken Little” fit into all this? Everything that made “Groove” great — the film’s stylish look, its snarky story qualities, not to mention it’s a-huge-new-laugh-every-3-seconds pacing — “Chicken Little” has got in spades.

Of course, the film has undergone a significant number of changes over the past year or so. Chicken Little’s now a little girl. And Penn Jillette (You know? Of Penn and Teller fame) is no longer doing any vocal work for the film. Which is a shame. Why for? Because I really loved his wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing camp counselor character.

But — beyond that one minor quibble, Jim -“Chicken Little” is going to be this great little movie. The film that will finally show the world what Disney can do when it decides to get serious about CG. This won’t be another “Dinosaur” -sized dud, Hill. Slow moving and far too serious. “Chicken Little” is going to be light on its feet and funny as hell. By that I mean: we’ve got Nik Ranieri — one of Disney’s top traditional animators — working on this film. And he’s doing some of his best work ever on “CL.”

So let the Wall Street Journal do front page articles on “Rapunzel Unbraided” and how wonderful that film is supposed to be. Never mind that Glen Keane has never actually directed a movie before. Or that — here inside of Walt Disney Feature Animation — Keane isn’t nearly as revered as he is on the outside. (Why for? Well, the guys in the story department all hate Glen because he always redraws and reboards their stuff. And then — what with his personal assistant and all — a lot of people at WDFA feel that Keane’s “gone Hollywood.” That he’s actually begun to believe his own publicity.)

Then add to that that “Rapunzel Unbraided” ‘s producer has never actually produced a film before … A film directed by a guy who’s never directed before which is being produced by a guy who’s never produced before doesn’t seem like a sure-fire recipe for success to me.

That’s the beauty of “Chicken Little, ” Jim. No one knows yet that it’s out there, lying in the bushes. Waiting to surprise the hell out of people with how funny and good looking a Disney CG film can really be.

So please spread the word, Hill. Make people aware that it’s not all gloom and doom when it comes to Walt Disney Feature Animation. That this division of the Mouse Factory does indeed have a future.

Provided — of course — that both “Chicken Little” and “Rapunzel Unbraided” succeed at the box office. Because if either of these two films fail … I shudder to think about what might happen next to Walt Disney Feature Animation.

And — speaking of Disney Feature Animation — let’s head on over to Disney Television Animation, where Mike Teevee (via a recent e-mail) attempted to bring me up-to-date on what’s going on on that side of the Mouse House.

You know, Jim, there is an upside to this whole Disney-Feature-Animation-sinking-into-the-sunset thing. It’s that Disney Television Animation was able to grab the cream of the crop (when it came to Disney’s story artists, that is) as they came streaming out from under that Sorcerer Mickey. A lot of those guys are toiling away inside the Frank Wells building on the Burbank lot (Also known as the “Twos” building, given the huge number of sequels that DTA currently has in production there).

So — in 2004 — when you’re looking at “The Lion King 1 ½” and “The Three Musketeers” and thinking “Boy, this direct-to-video thing almost look as good as one of Disney’s old animated features,” now you’ll know why. All those guys who used to do storyboards for Disney Feature Animation are now pushing pencils for Disney Television Animation.

Here’s some good news from PhinPhan for all of you “Finding Nemo” fans out there:

Jim,

I just wanted to give you a heads-up about the “Drawn to Animation” redo that’s currently in the works for the “Disney Animation” exhibit at California Adventure. The Imagineers had originally thought that they were going to put that interactive Stitch show in here (You know, the one where Disneyland guests seemed to get to talk with a CG version of the little blue alien in real time?). The only problem was … people in the test audiences were having trouble understanding Stitch. The character’s voice (which was based on how “Lilo and Stitch” director Chris Sanders initially did the voice for the character) was just too garbled for some adult Disneyland guests to understand what Stitch was saying.

So WDI’s new plan is to do the same sort of interactive show, only with a new character. So who’s supposed to be the new star of the “Drawn to Animation” replacement show? Crush, the dude-speaking sea turtle from “Finding Nemo.”

Now the Imagineers already understand that it’s probably going to be a sore point with Disney’s animators that a show at DCA’s “Disney Animation” exhibit is going to be built around a Pixar character. But — given that none of Disney’s animators ever really groused when images from “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life” were prominently featured as part of the overhead display in the building’s lobby — WDI believes that they’ll be able to deal fairly quickly with any animator’s complaints.

And speaking of animator’s complaints, El KaBongo says that David Stainton — the new head of Disney Feature Animation — is incredibly gaffe prone. And that — try as he might — David can’t help but put his foot in his mouth whenever he appears before an assembly of WDFA staffers.

Jim:

By now, I’m certain that you’ve heard the story about David Stainton’s serenade of the Disney Feature Animation staff. You know? Back on October, when Stainton took part in the outdoor ceremony where it was revealed that Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders had been signed to do “American Dog”? When David — showing a complete lack of sympathy and tact — stood on the second floor balcony and (doing his best Madonna — Evita Peron impression) warbled “Don’t Cry for Me, Animation” to all the soon-to-be-laid-off animators assembled on the lawn below.

Well, Stainton topped himself with his appearance at last Monday’s WDFA staff meeting (The one where David tried to reassure everyone that things would still be okay in Burbank. After Stainton had just told all the Disney-MGM animators that they should probably start looking for work elsewhere). After the very start of the meeting, Stainton said “”First the good news. ‘Brother Bear’ beat that awful Warner Bros. movie, ‘Looney Tunes: Back in Action,’ this past weekend.” A remark that was met with stony silence.

Why for? Because the animation in “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” was directed by Eric Goldberg, a much beloved and respected WDFA vet. Whereas David Stainton … You’d be hard pressed to find anyone at Disney Feature Animation who would call their division’s president “much beloved” and/or “respected.”

The good news is — if he keeps committing gaffes like this in public — Eisner will probably eventually let Stainton go. After all, Uncle Mike doesn’t have much love for Disney execs who constantly put their foot in their mouths. Remember what happened to Bob Weis, the Imagineer who tripped up the entire “Disney’s America” project by saying that the proposed Virginia history park would allow Disney theme park guests to “feel what it’s like to be a slave.” The press fell on that remark, repeated it endless. Which — to Eisner’s way of thinking — is why Disney’s America never got built. Which is why — right after this project got canceled in October 1994 — Bob Weis was quietly shown the door at WDI.

The concern now at the WDFA management level is that some Southern newspaper, TV or radio station is going to pick up on David’s widely reported comments that “The fundamental idea (behind “A Few Good Ghost”) is not strong enough or universally appealing enough to support the kind of performance (that the Walt Disney Company’s animated) movies must have today” and realize that Stainton is actually dissing country music and/or country music performers.

If that happens (And the inevitable firestorm about that sort of comment erupts), David Stainton may find himself following in Bob Weis’ footsteps. Having effectively talked himself out of one of the more prestigious if high pressure positions in today’s animation field.

So there you go, folks. Five intriguing new Disney-related stories for the price of one. Hopefully, the above article provided you with something to talk about around the water cooler later today.

Now — if you’ll excuse me — I gotta get back to work on that book.

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.

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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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