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John Lasseter: “Quality is a great business plan”

With the hope that this article might even out the score a bit, make it not seem like JHM is always picking on Pixar, Jim Hill shares a transcript of John Lasseter’s remarks at Disney’s annual shareholder meeting last month. But then – to balance things out – Jim shares a bit of news that will probably upset both Mr. Lasseter & Disneyana fans

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You know, I’ve been hammering pretty hard on John Lasseter & Ed Catmull lately. Faithfully reporting on virtually every misstep that these two have made as they move through the Mouse House.


 


Which – I think – is giving JHM readers the wrong impression about how I actually feel about these guys. A lot of people who read this site seem to think that I’m gunning for Ed & John. That I’m actually pulling for Team Pixar to fail.


 


Nothing could be further from the truth, folks. Yes, I think that Disney really over-paid for Pixar. And – yes – I do believe that there are going to be some significant culture clashes as well as some badly hurt feelings as the management of the younger animation studio tries to remake the older studio in its own image.


 


But – that said – I still would really like to see Ed Catmull & John Lasseter ultimately succeed here. To have Pixar Animation Studios continue to make great movies. More importantly, to have Disney Feature Animation come out of its funk and get back to making great movies again.


 


How can I prove that I really want Ed & John to succeed. Here. Let me share with you a transcript of one of the more optimistic, hopeful speeches I’ve heard in the past 10 years.


 


These are the remarks that John Lasseter made last month as he stood on stage at Arrowhead Pond. As the new Chief Creative Officer of Disney Feature Animation addressed Disney shareholders for the very first time.


 


As you read this transcript, notice how passionate John is as he talks about the real connection that he feels toward the Walt Disney Company. More importantly, notice Lasseter’s enthusiasm as he talks about the future.


 


Better yet, let’s back up here a bit. And let Disney’s new CEO introduce WDFA’s new Chief Creative Officer. Take it away, Bob!


 


BOB IGER: Here to tell you about the exciting future in animation at Disney is a man who has a great love & passion for the art and also a great love & passion for the Walt Disney Company. Ladies & gentlemen, John Lasseter.


 


(John enters to huge applause from audience as “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from “Toy Story” plays underneath)


 


JOHN LASSETER: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause continues) Oh, stop! (Applause finally subsides) For the Disney stockholders meeting, my wife said that “You’ve gotta dress up, John.” So I wore black tennis shoes and I put a jacket on. Look at it, baby. This is as dressed as I get.


 


Anyway … I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be here. Not here at the Pond. But to be here at Disney.


 


As you know … Maybe you don’t know … I was born in Whittier, California about a half hour from here. All I ever wanted to be was an animator. All I ever wanted to do was work for Walt Disney.


 


You know, when you really love cartoons but you’re in high school and you’re supposed to be cool and you would run home … This was before the Disney Channel, before video cassettes … And you’d need to run home for 4:30, “Bugs & his Buddies” on KTTV, Channel 11, to catch it even in high school. That was me.


 


And then when I was in high school and read “The Art of Animation” by Bob Thomas and it dawned on me: People make money doing cartoons? Then that’s what I want to be.


 


Then I went to Cal Arts. In fact, I got a scholarship through the Disney Foundation. And while I was there, I worked as a ride operator at Disneyland on the Jungle Cruise.


 


My favorite joke is – remember the natives that are on the pole and the rhino is there? And you’d come up and “Oh, there they are. It’s the famous Hantas tribe. They’ve been lost for a long time. And look! The rhino is trying to poke a Hantas.” Number  1 joke.




Copyright Walt Disney Productions



Anyway, I worked at Disney after I graduated from Cal Arts in 1979. And then I saw something that I felt was amazing. It was the very first bit of 3D computer animation ever done. And I knew that Walt would have loved this. Walt always tried to get more dimension into his animation. And I thought that “This is amazing.”


 


So I followed my dream to work with who I think is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known in my life: Ed Catmull. To Lucasfilm’s computer division. And in 1986, Steve Jobs bought us from Lucasfilm and we formed Pixar.


 


And for the first 10 years, we lost a lot of Steve’s money. A lot of Steve’s money. But he believed in us. He believed in what we were doing.


 


Pixar is people. An amazing group of people that Ed & Steve & I have been fortunate enough to lead for all these years. And all of us believe in one simple thing: Quality is a great business plan. Period.


 


We always believed, no matter what we did – be it a feature film or a DVD, a lunchbox, a t-shirt – if we make it the best quality it can be … Where an animated film can entertain someone from the moment that the lights dim in the theater to the moment that they turn back on. From every moment, you’re deeply entertained.


 


That’s why we do what we do. We believe in that. That’s what I love to do. I love to entertain people thoroughly.


 


And so when Bob Iger came to the three of us and said that “We’re interested in acquiring you,” I was worried. Because we have built this incredibly wonderful culture at Pixar about creativity and quality. And everyone there – 850 of us – believe in that single thing.


 


And I was worried until I got to know Bob Iger. Ladies and gentlemen, you are led by a great man. He’s amazing. That’s why we’re here. That’s why Pixar joined up with Disney.


 


And that’s why Ed & I are so proud to lead Disney Feature Animation into the future. I promise you we will make films that will entertain you from the moment the light dim ‘til the moment they come up. I give you my word on that.




Photo courtesy of Google Images



And you know what we found at Disney Feature Animation is the most amazing group of talented artists that have been wanting to make amazing motion pictures for a long time and we are going to work with them and it is just going to be phenomenal. And I am so excited. We’re bringing back some amazing people that have left and we’re making Disney the place that you have to work at again. 


 


And I get to help design theme park rides. I never understood why you wouldn’t start designing a ride when you’re coming up with an idea for an animated film. So when a film comes out, two months later, a ride can open.


 


You know, it’s just  … We believe that you can make great stories with great characters that live beyond the boundaries of the film so that people want to be with those characters for the rest of their lives and experience it again and again and again. So I promise you – not only are we going to make great motion pictures – we are going to make theme park rides that as soon as you get off that ride you want to get back in that line no matter how long it is to ride that ride again. I promise you that …


 


So, I’m so excited … I get to direct movies too. And my new movie – which I’m very proud of – is “Cars.” I’ve worked on this movie since December of 1999, since I finished directing “Toy Story II.”


 


My father was the parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership in Whittier, CA. all my life. And I’ve loved cars. And my mother was a high school art teacher in Bell Gardens High School for 38 years. So this is a very personal story for me, ‘cause it puts my two loves together.


 


This is a very personal story for me. I worked non-stop directing “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story II.” And during that time, I actually had four of my five sons.


 


And towards the end of “Toy Story II,” my wife said “John” – she was very supportive of me and my career and Pixar – she said “One day, you’re going to wake up and your kids are going to have gone off to college and you will have missed it.”


 


I realized that she was right. I took the summer off that year. We bought an old used motor home. We put our feet in the Pacific Ocean. We turned and headed east. And we had two months, just the family. And it was amazing.


 


I changed. I came back and I said “That’s what I want that movie to be about. What I learned that summer.”




Photo courtesy of Google Images



And so this story is a very special one to me. It’s about a character called Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson. This unbelievable rookie race car in a world where there are no humans. Just cars are alive and — in this world — race cars are athletes.


 


And he’s driven to be the fastest, the quickest to get there. And on his way to the final race of the season, through his selfishness, he gets lost and stuck in an old Route 66 town. That the interstate – the modern world – has bypassed long ago.


 


And it’s inhabited by nothing but old cars from the 50s & 60s. The one commodity that they have a lot of is time. And he thinks that he’s stuck in hell. But he learns a lot about life.


 


There, he meets an old ’51 Hudson Hornet called Doc Hudson. He’s the town doctor and the town judge. They all have two jobs in this town. He’s voiced by Paul Newman. And he falls in love with a Porsche 911, voiced by Bonnie Hunt.


 


And he meets probably the most … The character that he could never possibly be friends with. You see, he only likes to hang out with new cars. It’s a beat-up, rusty tow truck named Mater. As he says: “It’s Mater. It’s like tamater without the ‘ta.’” And it’s voiced by probably the greatest living American actor today: Larry the Cable Guy.


 


I brought with me something special for just you. No one has seen this outside of Pixar. It’s a clip – it’s not a trailer – it’s a full clip from our movie.


 


In this scene, Lightning McQueen has been – they don’t know who he is – here’s this guy comes through town. He wreaks their main road. Their livelihood. And he’s sentenced …


 


Doc Hudson sentences him to community service. You’ve gotta fix what you broke before you can leave. So fixing the road, Lightning McQueen – being the prima donna – he has to pull this disgusting, smelly tar-covered rotating machine (Which they lovingly call Dusty) to fix the road. And he’s working really, really hard.


 


Mater – who’s hanging out with him the whole time because there’s this new person to talk to —  is given the job to watch him so he doesn’t escape one evening. So instead of just watching him, Mater takes him to do his absolute favorite pastime.


 


(The tractor tipping sequence from “Cars” is then shown. As the lights come back up in the hall, John is again greeted with great applause)


 


JOHN LASSETER: Thanks you so much for having me here. I am so proud to be a part of this company again. And this guy’s a great guy. Thank you, Bob.


 


BOB IGER: John, hold on one second. I think you’re holding back. I think you’ve got a little bit more.


 


JOHN LASSETER: Oh, that’s right. I’ve got one more thing. How would you like to see what Pixar is doing next after “Cars”? This is the world premiere of the trailer for our new movie. I’d just like to show it to you.


 


(The “Ratatouille” teaser is then shown. It too is received with much enthusiasm from the crowd at Arrowhead Pond)


 


JOHN LASSETER: “Ratatouille” is our eighth motion picture at Pixar. It will come out in the Summer of 2007. It is creatively being led by Brad Bird, the director of “The Incredibles” from a story idea by Jan Pinkava and it is … We’re very, very excited about it. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like this.


 


So, anyway, I’m so glad to be here. Thank you, Bob, for having me.


 


BOB IGER: Thanks, John.


 


(Lasseter exits stage to thunderous applause)


 


BOB IGER: Obviously from your reaction, you join in welcoming John and Ed Catmull, who’s also with us today, as well as the entire Pixar team to the Walt Disney Company. We’re incredibly optimistic about what the future holds ….


 


You see that? In his remarks to Disney’s shareholders, John Lasseter comes across as being this incredibly sincere guy. Sincerity with feet, if you will.


 


And given all the great nights at the movies that I’ve had over the past 10 years because of John & his team at Pixar (As Joel Siegel so amusingly put it in his introduction of Lasseter at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: “This man has shown me more good times in the dark than my ex-wife ever did”) … It’s hard not to pull for this guy. To wish he & Ed continued success.


 


But – that said – as a reporter, I’m not allowed to be a fan. I’m supposed to be a dispassionate observer. Which (in theory) allows me to be even-handed. To report on the good and the bad.


 


Which is why I’ve been somewhat disturbed of late to learn that Iger’s reportedly been telling reporters that Lasseter’s other job at Disney (I.E. Principal Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering) will be largely ceremonial. That John’s No. 1 responsibility will be stoking the creative fires at both Pixar & Disney Feature Animation.


 


Well, I hope that someone’s told John that. Given the amount of time that Lasseter has allegedly been devoting to that new “Monsters, Inc.” attraction that’s supposed to be opening at WDW’s Magic Kingdom in 2007. The way I hear it, he’s been regularly meeting with Imagineers & animators as they all try & get a handle on this “Laugh Floor” show. Which – just like “Turtle Talk with Crush” at DCA & Epcot – will be another one of WDI’s “Living Creature Initiative” projects.


 


Given all the effort that Lasseter has supposedly been pouring into this new Disney theme park show … Well, that doesn’t sound as if John knows that his position at WDI is supposed to be largely ceremonial.


 


One wonders what else Iger hasn’t told Lasseter. Like … Is John aware that the Walt Disney Company has reportedly hired a New York-based headhunter to find a new CEO for WDI? I mean, given how buddy-buddy these two seemed in Anaheim last month, I’m going to assume that Bob has kept John in the loop on all this. But then again …


 


Oops … Let me guess: I’ve just upset all you die-hard Disney fans out there. All because this article suddenly took a sharp left turn. Going from being a rah-rah-rah let’s-all-be-upbeat-about-John-Lasseter-and-the-future-of-the-Walt-Disney-Company piece to yet another corporate expose.


 


See? This is what comes with having to be a dispassionate observer. You really do have to report on the good (I.E. John Lasseter is an incredibly talented, very passionate filmmaker. Who – if all the breaks actually go his way – will hopefully be able to lead WDFA back to greatness) and the bad (I.E. I’m not sure that all those years of making movies up in Port Richmond and Emeryville is going to serve John well while he’s in Hollywood.  Given how cut-throat things can get in Tinseltown, Lasseter may be a little too touchy-feely & trusting for his own good. He may need to toughen up a bit, be less trusting in order to really succeed in his new position).


 


Here’s hoping that I’m wrong about all this. But what are your thoughts on this matter?

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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