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Looking back on Burbank’s Disney-MGM Backlot project

Want to join Wade Sampson for a brief dip in the Burbank Ocean? Then take a look at this new column from Sampson, which talks about yet another promising project that never quite made it off of WDI’s drawing board.

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Most Disneyana fans already know the history of the Disney-MGM Studios theme park, which first officially opened its gates for visitors back in May of 1989. How this project initially started off life as an Entertainment pavilion which was proposed for Epcot’s Future World section.

This Epcot addition – which was to have been built between that theme park’s “Land” pavilion and the “Journey into Imagination” ride – was supposed have featured an exterior that looked like a giant blue sky. In order to enter Epcot’s “Entertainment” pavilion, you would have had to have pushed through the turnstiles at an old fashioned movie theater ticket booth.

Once inside, guests could have chosen between taking a ride through a new Future World show entitled “Great Movie Moments” (Which was WDI’s first pass at the attraction that eventually became Disney-MGM’s “Great Movie Ride”). Or they could wander through an interactive display that was designed by Disney vet Ward Kimball, which revealed how a Mickey Mouse cartoon was really put together.

It was Disney’s CEO Michael Eisner who first realized that the history of motion pictures really couldn’t be crammed into a single Epcot pavilion. That – if this idea was allowed to fully flower – that it could serve as the basis of a half day attraction. (To explain: A half day attraction is something like WDW’s “Typhoon Lagoon” water park. Where guests could spend the morning there, then go off and visit some other section of the resort).

So – with Eisner’s encouragement – the Imagineers greatly expanded their initial concept for Epcot’s “Entertainment’ pavilion. Using about the same amount of acreage as Disneyland as well as the same basic design of the Anaheim theme park (Please note how Disney-MGM’s Hollywood Boulevard echoes exactly the size & scale of Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. area. Right down to have a movie palace – AKA the Chinese Theater – standing in for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle), Disney-MGM Studios theme park came to life.

When the studio theme park opened in the Spring of 1989, it was immediately mobbed. Which was why WDI quickly abandoned the park’s original “half day” plan, as the Imagineers went into overdrive to quickly “grow” Disney-MGM out into a full-size Disney theme park. Among the project that got greenlit during the theme park’s frantic first five years of operation was the Sunset Boulevard expansion project, which included a certain Hollywood Hotel…of Terror!

Like I said, many Disneyana fans are already aware of Disney-MGM’s history. But how many of you are aware that – due to this new Florida theme park’s popularity with guests – that Michael Eisner actually toyed with turning the Disney-MGM concept into the Walt Disney Company’s next franchisable attraction.?

For a brief time there, Disney’s Big Cheese was deadly serious about building at least three more Disney-MGM Studio theme parks. The first one was to have been built right next door to Euro Disneyland. But – when that theme park under-performed after it initially opened in April 1992 – this plan was put on hold for nearly a decade. Before it finally went forward (in a severely truncated form) as Disneyland Paris’ second gate, the Walt Disney Studios theme park.

Eisner also tried at Michael Eisner actually toyed with turning the Disney-MGM concept into the Walt Disney Company’s next franchisable attraction.?

For a brief time there, Disney’s Big Cheese was deadly serious about building at least three more Disney-MGM Studio theme parks. The first one was to have been built right next door to Euro Disneyland. But – when that theme park under-performed after it initially opened in April 1992 – this plan was put on hold for nearly a decade. Before it finally went forward (in a severely truncated form) as Disneyland Paris’ second gate, the Walt Disney Studios theme park.

Eisner also tried to persuade the Oriental Land Company to allow the Imagineers to build a Japanese version of Disney-MGM Studio theme park. Which was to has served as Tokyo Disneyland’s second gate. But – after more than a year of considering the Imagineers’ plans – OLC executives rejected the studio theme park proposal. Preferring to go with a totally new concept (Which was based – in large part – on the aborted “Disney Seas” theme park that the Walt Disney Company had once hoped to build in Southern California, right down by the water in Long Beach.
Anyway …)

Speaking of Southern California … Perhaps the most intriguing Disney./MGM spin-off that was ever proposed was the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot. An ambitious entertainment complex that was to have been built right in “…beautiful downtown Burbank.” Right next door to the Disney lot.

How close did this project come to becoming a reality? According to a press release that the Mouse’s marketing staff released back in 1987:

“The Disney-MGM Studio Backlot has been approved and is destined to become the entertainment marketplace of the 1990s. This new generation Disney attraction will be located in the City of Burbank, home to the Walt Disney Studios and may run a construction cost of $300 million.”

“So where would this project supposedly have been built?,” you ask. On a forty acre site (approximately one-fourth the size of the Florida Disney-MGM Studios) that ABC Corporate Headquarters, the Feature Animation building as well as Disney’s multistory parking structure were eventually built on.

And the plans that Michael had for this Burbank expansion project were nothing short of ambitious. Again quoting from that press release, Michael supposedly said:

” … Entertainment will be our magnet. The behind-the scenes Hollywood themes, street performances, live theater, Disney animation tours and operating radio and TV media centers will create an entertainment attraction and shopping and dining experience unlike anything else in the country.”

Under an agreement with MGM/UA Entertainment Company, Disney obtained the rights in Burbank (as it had for Florida) use to the MGM name. In this same agreement, Mickey acquired the rights to use that historic movie studio’s famed “Leo the Lion” logo as well as MGM motion picture and television titles, excerpts, music, costumes, sets, artwork and props. (Some of those rights — like for the use of James Bond and “Gone with the Wind” — had to be negotiated separately. And here’s an interesting bit of trivia: Preliminary plans for Florida’s Disney-MGM Studios theme park called for a James Bond stunt show, not an Indiana Jones-themed one.)

Getting back to that press release again:

“We are already developing ideas for special effects thrill rides utilizing the simulator technology we created for Star Tours at Disneyland and night clubs using our ‘ghost’ techniques from the Haunted Mansion.”

Speaking of special effects … A huge part of the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot project was to have been a West Coast clone of the Florida theme park’s “Great Moments at the Movies” ride. Which Michael Eisner described as being the “… quintessential Disney adventure ride, totally based on the magic of Hollywood and the movies.”

But the key difference between the Florida studio theme park and what the Imagineers were proposing for construction in Burbank was that fully one third of the development’s space was to be devoted to retail. With WDI’s goal evidently being to create the world’s first entertainment marketplace. Where the shopping would range from traditional and contemporary stores to exotic specialty shops and street bazaars.

Getting back to that pesky press release, Michael Eisner said:

“We will enlarge upon the movie-set themes of our Backlot to provide international shopping, dinning and nightlife like Tokyo’s Ginza and Paris’ Champs-Elysées. We can expand the themes of ‘lost cities’ of the past, the Wild West, California’s Gold Rush Days or Disney Fantasy for retail, restaurant and entertainment experiences.”

One of the more intriguing aspects for the project was the “Hollywood Fantasy Hotel.” Which the Imagineers envisioned as being the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot’s tallest structure. A luxurious hotel that was deliberately themed to be a celebration of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Where the cast members who worked at the “Hollywood Fantasy Hotel” would have worn costumes that made them look like characters from memorable movies. And the individual rooms & suites at the resort would have been designed to look like replicas of famous movie sets.

And – at the very top of the “Hollywood Fantasy Hotel” – guests would have found the Celestial Dining Room, an elegant eatery that was to have featured a planetarium ceiling. Where – as you dined – the heavens would seem to rotate, showing guests how the night sky changes as we go through the calendar year.

To the southwest of the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot project, the Imagineers envisioned building something truly spectacular. On the topmost floor of a multistory parking structure, WDI wanted to the “Burbank Ocean.” A heavily themed outdoor area pool area which was to have cascaded down the side of that parking structure.

Other entertainment planned for the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot project included a ten screen movie theater, an ice and roller skating arena, an audience participation video theater as well as several heavily themed nightclubs and restaurants. Guest were also supposed to be able to tour Disney’s historic old animation buildings to see where classic films like “Cinderella” & “101 Dalmatians” were made.

In addition to all this, all of the scenic locals that the Imagineers were to have created for nightclubs, restaurants, shops, etc. were – in theory – to have doubled as possible movie sets. The idea being that – where you to visit the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot – that you might actually get to see a movie being filmed or your favorite Disney TV show being shot live on location.

The press release closes out by saying:

“All in all the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot will be more than just Lights! Camera! Action!….and Shopping too!”

Sounds like a pretty intriguing project, don’t you think? So why didn’t the Walt Disney Company actually go forward with construction of the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot project?

According to what Jim Hill tells me, the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot really does have one of the more bizarre back stories ever associated with an aborted Disney project. You see, Universal Studios execs were said to be extremely ticked off at Michael Eisner at the time. Reportedly because Disney’s CEO had “borrowed” many of the ideas for Disney-MGM’s shows & attractions from a Universal Studios Florida pitch that Eisner had supposedly seen while Michael was still head of Paramount Studios.

Which was why – when Eisner announced that he wanted to bring the studio backlot in Burbank – Universal allegedly declared war on the project. Even supposedly going so far as to pay for the printing of some anti-Disney-MGM brochures. Which were then distributed to people who lived around Walt Disney Studios, talking up how this ambitious project would cause traffic tie-ups, increase tax rates, etc.

So was it Universal’s anti-Disney-MGM campaign that got construction of the studio backlot canceled? Actually, to hear the folks at WDI tell the story: Eisner eventually decided to pull the plug on the project because Disney’s accountants told him that the Walt Disney Company would never get a big enough return on its investment.

Of course, just about the time that Disney canceled its Burbank studio backlot project, Universal announced Citywalk, the dining, shopping & retail complex that was built right outside of the entrance to Universal Studios Hollywood. A complex that reportedly makes mountains of money for that motion picture company.

Hopefully, someday Jim will actually get around to chronicling the full story of the Disney-MGM Studio Backlot project. I seem to remember Hill saying that – after he completes that Disneyland history book that he owes Intrepid Traveler Press – that Jim is going to do a book called “Neverlands.” Which will talk about all sorts of Disney projects that never quite got of the drawing board. Like Westcot, Mineral King, Riverboat Square and – of course – the aborted retail / entertainment complex planned for Burbank.

You see, the history of the Walt Disney Company is littered with projects like this. Even Walt had tons of proposals that never made it past the talking stage.

I remember reading – in a 1962 issue of “Newsweek” – how excited Disney was about audio animatronics. How he hoped to follow up the “Enchanted Tiki Room” show with an attraction that would feature AA versions of all the Disney characters. Where robotic versions of some of your favorite Disney characters would be performing on stage, while still others would be seated in the audience – heckling the various acts as they came on.

Of course, that attraction never actually made it off the drawing board. But bits & pieces of that proposed show that Walt was so enthusiastic about ‘way back when wound up in WDW’s “Mickey Mouse Revue,” “The Country Bear Jamboree” as well as “Kermit the Frog presents Jim Henson’s Muppetvision 3D.”

So – given that WDI never ever lets a good idea die – who knows? Maybe someday soon we will be able to spend a pleasant evening bobbing around in the Burbank Ocean.

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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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