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Ken Anderson and the Haunted Mansion — Part I

JimHillMedia.com proudly introduces its newest columnist: Disney historian Wade Sampson. Wade makes a pretty spectacular debut at the site today by presenting the first installment of his two part series on Disney Legend Ken Anderson’s contributions to Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion.”

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Hey, gang!

Jim Hill here. You know, a month and a half ago, we were wondering how we were ever going to replace that that Disney-history-lovin’, comic-book-collectin’ writing machine known as Jim Korkis. His unexpected departure back in September left a large void at JHM (not to mention a huge hole in our hearts).

Of course, who could have known that — just five weeks later — we’d have had so many great new writers suddenly come on board at JimHillMedia.com. Truly talented folks like Jackson “Pop Culture” King, Jean de Lutèce, Larry Pontius, Monique Pryor and Matthew Springer. Who — while they can never really replace the amazing Mr. Korkis — do have some really great stories of their own to tell.

Well, today, I’m pleased to announce that we’re adding another writer to the roster: Disney historian Wade Sampson. Who — not-so-co-incidentally — happens to be an old friend of Jim K. who — when he heard that Mr. Korkis was leaving JHM — volunteered to take over the Disney history side of the site.

Well — given that I actually know a few stories about the Mouse House — I wasn’t entirely sure that JimHillMedia.com needed another Disney historian. But Jim K. (Who says “Hello,” by the way) put in a good word for the guy. And then Wade delivered this absolutely killer two part story about Ken Anderson’s conceptual contributions to Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion.”

After reading both parts of this article, all reservations that I may have had about Mr. Sampson immediately evaporated. Which is why I’m pleased now to introduce to you Wade Sampson. Who — while he’s no Jim Korkis — can still spin a pretty mean yarn about the Mouse.

Part I of Sampson’s seasonal appropriate tale will run today. Part II — which will actually go into great detail about what Anderson originally wanted to do with Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion” — will run on Thursday.

Okay. Enough with the prolonged introductory comments. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Wade Sampson!


 

There are times when I wish I was in Florida and a cast member at Walt Disney World (and just as many times when I am grateful not to be) because in November there are several learning activities offered to those who work there including early morning behind the scenes tours of the Haunted Mansion with the lights on, a presentation on the various Haunted Mansions around the world and an intriguing presentation by Disney Historian Jim Korkis on “The Haunted Mansion That Never Was” which will explore some of the early concepts of the famous Disney attraction. (In fact on Halloween, Jim will be presenting to cast members his famous “Mickey Meets the Monsters” presentation about the horror influences in the early black and white Mickey Mouse cartoons.)

Many, many years ago, I attended a Mouse Club event where Jim was eloquently and passionately trying to convince some Disneyphiles that while Marc Davis and Yale Gracey and X. Atencio were well deserving of the attention they were getting for their contributions to the Haunted Mansion that the “forgotten” man in the story of the Haunted Mansion was Ken Anderson whose early work on the project strongly influenced some of the things we love best about that attraction.
Over my years of research, I have come to agree with that viewpoint and thought that the readers of this website might enjoy during this Halloween season a look at one of Ken’s early concepts of the Haunted Mansion in particular.

And I strongly recommend to those interested in how Disney projects develop to purchase a copy of the recent book THE HAUNTED MANSION: FROM THE MAGIC KINGDOM TO THE MOVIES by Jason Surrell which is available at www.amazon.com . Jason did an outstanding job despite the fact that Disney Press severely limited his page count just as they did with John Canemaker on his recent book about Mary Blair. Both Jason and John had many more great stories to share. I was happy to see Jason devoting some pages to Ken Anderson’s contributions.

Ken Anderson (1909-1993) had a Bachelor of Architecture degree and fully intended to pursue a career as an architect but kept getting sidetracked. He was employed at MGM Studios as a sketch artist (working on films like THE PAINTED VEIL and WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS). One day driving by the Disney Hyperion Studio in early 1934, he went in and applied on a whim even though he told his wife Polly that he didn’t know how to draw cartoons.

Impressed with his portfolio, the Disney Studio hired him and Ken began his Disney career in 1934 contributing to many animated classics as art director beginning with SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. Since he had an architectural background, he came up with innovative perspective on such Silly Symphony cartoons as GODDESS OF SPRING and THREE ORPHAN KITTENS.

Disney Historian Paul Anderson once wrote that, “At Disney, he showed a versatility that has long since gone unmatched. He did so many different things for Disney, that it prompted Walt once to call him ‘my jack-of-all-trades’.”

In fact, Ken’s official credits list such titles at Disney as art direction, art supervision, story, color, styling, layout, production, character development and more.

He worked on the classic scene of the dwarfs dancing with Snow White but it became apparent that his talents lay not in animation but in such areas as production design on such films as SLEEPING BEAUTY and 101 DALMATIANS. Ken, in fact, was the one who okayed the use of xeroxgraphy in the later film which led to a temporary rift with Walt Disney as well as Ken’s first heart attack when he felt he had failed Walt.

Specializing in character design in later years, he designed such characters as Shere Khan in THE JUNGLE BOOK and Elliott the Dragon in PETE’S DRAGON. “I don’t know how I came up with Elliott,” Ken told the late Steve Fiott, “I like to think of him as an example of China’s concept of the dragon as a symbol of luck and good will which come to them when they need him. He just came to me, and I sure needed him!”

It is Ken’s innovative character design on the animated feature ROBIN HOOD (which basically was an animal head placed on a human body covered with fur) that inspired an entire generation of young artists including a group of character costume builders known as “furries”.

Ken also designed many parts of Disneyland, including major portions of Fantasyland like the early dark rides of SNOW WHITE and MR. TOAD as well as designing the Storybook Land Canal Boat experience and others. He retired on March 31, 1978 but continued to consult at WED Enterprises. He was honored with the Disney Legends award in 1991. One of the last contributions Ken made to Disney was on CATFISH BEND, a proposed animated feature for which Ken made some preliminary sketches.

Ken was eighty-four years old when he passed away. Forty-four of those years had been spent in the service of the Disney company.

While it had always been part of Walt Disney’s vision for Disneyland to include an old haunted house, he had originally considered having it located on a side street off of Main Street. By 1957, when Walt gave an interview to the BBC about his plans of a retirement home for ghosts, Walt envisioned it being located in an area of Frontierland that had a New Orleans theme. It was at this time that Ken had just moved over to WED (Imagineering) from the Disney Studio and Walt turned to his “jack of all trades” to research some possibilities.

As Paul Anderson told me, “We always hear about ‘the group of Imagineers’ that went out to research the Haunted Mansion. Actually, ‘the group’ was just Ken.”

While Ken Anderson’s initial sketch of a decaying mansion was apparently loosely based on the Evergreen House in Baltimore, Maryland and that is the sketch that Sam McKim transformed into the famous concept painting, it is also apparent that Ken’s approach to a Disney “walk through” Haunted House was greatly influenced by his experiences at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

Sometimes called the “ghost mansion”, this popular tourist attraction has doors and staircases that lead nowhere and a maze of rooms that were constantly being redone by the widow of the maker of the Winchester rifle. She was under the belief that the ghostly victims of the Winchester rifle had cursed her family and were haunting her to keep building more and more rooms for their earthbound spirits. It was even rumored that through “automatic writing”, she received building directions which she passed along to the carpenters.

Ken Anderson had two pages of notes on the Winchester House from the size of the tour group (maximum of 20), the mix of adults and children (roughly four times the number of adults to children), the maximum/minimum entrance and exit time in each area (25 seconds to 60 seconds), the maximum/minimum time the guide spoke in each area (32 seconds to three and a half minutes), as well as a variety of notes like “average group well behaved” and “rooms are all empty-nothing to touch”.

Ken strongly believed that a cohesive story was necessary to guide Disney guests through the Haunted Mansion. Not only was storytelling an important element of the Disney Brand and had positioned Disney’s “dark rides” as different from carnival amusement park dark rides but storytelling would be necessary to move guests through the experience rather than have them dawdle in one area and clog up the flow of traffic. In 1957, Ken literally developed four story concepts, all of which feature elements reflected in the final version of the attraction that was eventually opened at Disneyland.

Perhaps the best known version was Ken’s first attempt which featured the Legend of Captain Gore and was written in February of 1957. The mansion was the seaside manor of an old sea captain who had married a young woman named Priscilla. She discovers he is actually a notorious pirate. Gore killed his bride (and in one version tossed her bloody body into an outside well that still bubbles red) and she haunted him until he took his own life by hanging himself. This story would have been shared with guests by a butler or maid who worked in the mansion.

Another version was Bloodmere Manor, which was the lakeside estate of “the unfortunate Blood family. It was built about 1800 in the swampy bayous near New Orleans and was moved here (Disneyland) intact because it was an example of early architecture from that section of our country. It had not been occupied for some time and was badly in need of repair, so we started the work of restoration as soon as it arrived at Disneyland, but strangely enough…the work of each day was destroyed during the night…and the night watchman reported that when he had passed the house he’d heard eerie screams and seen weird lights… In fact, we are sorry to report that the latest tragedy of all occurred here in Disneyland…when one of our carpenters engaged in restoration work on the house disappeared completely from sight…and he has not been seen or heard from since. The house is now too dangerous to live in, but we have succeeded in making it safe enough for a visit…when accompanied by our trained and competent guide, a former butler of the household.”

A third version had Walt himself as the narrator on tape as the guests wandered through the house to go to a ghostly wedding celebration. Still another version focused on the Headless Horseman from the Disney animated film about Ichabod Crane on Halloween night. This version also featured another wedding. This one was between Monsieur Bogeyman and Mlle. Vampire. The bride jilts the groom at the altar, sparking chaos and the need to quickly exit the mansion.

Let’s take a closer look at Ken Anderson second revision of the “Bloodmere Manor” version of the Haunted Mansion which is dated September 17, 1957.

This twenty-four page, double spaced document is amazingly detailed as evidenced by this description from the first page:

“Guests will be admitted to the grounds through a large wrought iron pedestrian and vehicle gate typical of New Orleans, Circa 1800. The ticket booth (REMEMBER THIS IS 1957 WHERE EACH ATTRACTION REQUIRED A TICKET) will be located in the brick and plaster gatehouse which terminates the wrought iron fence. Posted conspicuously on the gatehouse are copies of the Times Picayune and Leslie’s Magazine, with headlines about atrocities connected with the ghost house in the past. The approach to the house will be along paths lined with Azaleas and moss-festooned magnolias and southern oak trees. The garden shows evidence of a once well-planned symmetry and beauty, but is now overgrown and obviously out of control.”

“Vines and moss combined in the tall trees shut out much of the sunlight, and lend mystery to the shadowy exterior of the house. Being set well back from the street behind the grove of trees, the house will be scarcely visible until close upon it. It appears to be in a state of dilapidation common to all ghost houses. First at one upstairs window and then another, a girl’s face appears momentarily, screams and is throttled by a large hairy hand which draws her back into the darkness.”

Notations on this revision also indicate that Ken had utilized his experience at the Winchester House in terms of audience flow. Ken estimated that a group of no more than forty guests would gather on the front porch to enter the house. He figured that at regularly spaced intervals of one and half minutes that roughly eight groups of forty guests each (320 guests total) could be in the house simultaneously or a possible 16,000 visitors in a ten hour schedule.

“If the show in each room lasts a minute, it would leave fifteen seconds to enter the room, and fifteen seconds to clear the room. We are conducting tests with groups of forty people, using the ZORRO sets, to determine the practicality of this timing. In room clearance tests so far, times ranged from fifteen seconds to twenty-five seconds for an average of twenty seconds. As soon as construction of the test mock-ups for optical illusions are completed, we will utilize them for further crowd capacity tests; which will include a one minute show of the illusions. A tour of the house should take an average of about twelve minutes to complete,” wrote Ken.

So did you realize that on the Disney Studios backlot, the Zorro sets served as the first Haunted Mansion experience? The first episode of Disney’s ZORRO appeared on ABC in October 1957 but workers had started building the sets in June 1955 and they were the Disney Studios’ first permanent sets costing over $100,000. Do you recall the so-called Disney urban legend that one of the things causing the delays of the opening of the Haunted Mansion was that it was too scary for test audiences but other scholars aptly pointing out that the Mansion at Disneyland was just a hollow shell so test audiences couldn’t have experienced the Mansion? Well, apparently there were test audiences going through the experience as early as 1957 on the backlot of the Disney Studios. I wonder if something unfortunate happened then which resulted in the birth of that Disney urban legend?

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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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