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Mineral King: Disney’s project that we never got to see … or ski

As Jim gets ready for his next trip west, he talks a bit about Walt Disney Productions’ Mineral King project. That state-of-the-art ski area that Disney dreamed of building right next door to California’s Sequoia National Park.

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You know where I’m headed next week? The San Francisco Bay area. Why for? Because Nancy wants to check out some animation schools up thataway. There’s one in Emeryville, CA (home of Pixar!) that we’ll be checking out next Tuesday morning. Plus there’s some art academy in downtown S.F. that she also wants to take a peek at.

Yeah, that 7-to-8 hour drive up all the way from Anaheim is going to be a bit of a drag. But the upside is — since we’re going to be staying overnight in the Bay area — that means that, on our way down back to Southern California, we can take a detour … and visit a place that I’ve wanted to go to: Mineral King.

Why would I want to go ‘way out in the woods (particularly since I already live out in the woods of New Hampshire)? Because I’ve always wanted to see this section of Sequoia National Park. The place where Walt Disney wanted to build a state-of-the-art ski area back in the mid-1960s.

What? You’ve never heard about Mineral King and/or Disney’s dream to build a ski area up there? Don’t tell me that you’re one of those folks who thinks that the Walt Disney Company has only gotten interested with the world of sports over the past ten years or so? Truth be told, decades before Eisner opted to have the company create the Anaheim Mighty Ducks franchise for the NFL or buy a controlling interest in the California Angels or okay the construction of WDW’s Wide World of Sports complex, Walt himself had a keen interest in getting the company involved in both professional and amateur athletics.

Most folks date Walt’s athletic interest back to the 1960 Winter Olympics, which were held in the beautiful Squaw Valley area of Northern California. To make sure that these Olympic Games (tThe first to be held in the western United States, and more importantly, the first time the Winter Games would ever be televised) were particularly memorable, the California Olympic Organizing Committee knew that the Squaw Valley games would have to have some extremely impressive Opening and Closing Ceremonies. So which world-renown showman did they tap to ride herd on the festivities?

You guessed it. Walt Disney.

Walt came through in a big way for the California Organizing Committee, supervising a show that’s still talked about today in parts of Placer County. The pageant featured dozens of high school bands and choirs performing in unison, the release of 2000 white doves, fireworks, national flags that were dropped by parachute as well as the launch of thousands of multi-colored helium-filled balloons. This dazzling display featured over 5000 participants. According to accounts of the day, it was an eye-popping, jaw-dropping spectacle that set the standard for all Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies yet to come.

But — at least according to Disney history fans — the big thing that came out of Walt’s involvement in the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympic Games wasn’t that Disney forever raised the stakes for all those poor slobs who have to stage Opening and Closing Ceremonies. But — rather — it was that Walt fell in love with Northern California. He really came to appreciate the rough grandeur of this remote region of the Golden State, its lush green forests as well as the numerous seasonal recreational opportunities that this area offered. And Disney longed to find a way to make this beautiful terrain more accessible to the general public.

Much the same as Disneyland had re-invented the American amusement park, Walt now wanted to try his hand at improving how people experienced the great outdoors. So — five years later — when the U.S. Forest Service proposed turning the Mineral King Valley of Sequoia National Forest into an outdoor recreation area, Disney quickly made sure that Walt Disney Productions put in a bid on the project.

Most folks scoffed when they heard about this, figured that all that Walt wanted to do was pull down those 300-year old redwoods to make room for yet another theme park. Which was why a lot of people were stunned when they heard details about Walt Disney Productions’ plan for the Mineral King area.

Working directly with Willie Schaeffler, an Olympic course designer who had helped create the highly praised facilities for the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Walt’s plan was nothing if not ambitious. It called for building a $35 million ski resort that would attempt to give visitors the best possible experience while still having the smallest possible impact on the Northern California high country.

Even by today’s eco-friendly standards, some of Walt’s plans for the Mineral King project seem remarkably forward-thinking. Recognizing the negative impact that cars and their exhaust would have on the delicate woodlands, Disney proposed banning cars entirely from his Northern California resort.

Guests arriving for a fun weekend at the Disney-designed version of Mineral King would first be directed to park their autos inside of the resort’s heated subterranean parking garage. After unpacking their cars and checking in at the reception center, guests would have then been directed to the resort’s electrically powered cog railway. This environmentally friendly system would have quickly and quietly moved vacationers a mile and a quarter from the valley floor up to Mineral King’s main village (providing a breath-taking view of the wilderness in the process).

Here, visitors would have found a full assortment of Disney-run hotels, restaurants and shops done in the Alpine American style. At full build-out, the Mineral King resort would have provided overnight accommodations for just over 3000 guests. These hotel rooms would have been located inside dozens of low-slung, rough-hewn structures that would deliberately never be built any higher than 3 to 4 stories. That’s so that the buildings in Mineral King’s main village would never upstage the real stars of the show: the majestic mountain peaks that surrounded the ski resort.

With its dozen Olympic-quality ski runs cut carefully into the side of the mountain (to preserve the area’s beauty as well as have minimum impact on the forests right next to these ski trails), Mineral King sounds like a great place to spend a winter weekend, right? Well, Walt envisioned this beautiful piece of Northern California as being a year-round resort. A place that would still have plenty of entertainment opportunities for those folks who ventured up into the woods beyond Sequoia National Forest long after the snow was gone.

That’s why Walt’s plans for the place called for a series of hiking trails to be carved out of the wilderness. Guests could have joined trained staffers on nature walks through the woods, where they’d have learned all about Northern California’s flora and fauna. There’d also stables on site for those who wanted to go horseback riding for an afternoon. Plus a restful and refreshing pool complex for those who wanted to take a refreshing swim.

Of course, no matter what the season was, those guests staying in Mineral King’s main village complex were still going to be looking for fun things to do once the sun went down. That’s why the Imagineers put together a resort master plan that called for construction of a small movie theater (which would have shown only the very latest film from Walt Disney Studios, of course). These plans also carved out a spot for a comfortable bar area that would have featured an enormous fireplace as well as a huge series of picture windows that looked directly out on the ski trails & the beautiful mountains beyond.

Sounds like fun already, doesn’t it? Well, Walt felt that the place still needed a little something more. That little bit of Disney magic that would really help put the Mineral King resort on the map.

Walt puzzled at this one for a while. Then it came to him. Some sort of show — something similar to what Walt was doing at Disneyland. (After all — whether it was fair or not — people were still going to compare Disney’s new ski area to his world famous Anaheim theme park. So why not give them a little taste of Disneyland magic while they’re out here in the wilderness?) Only — to fit the rustic setting — the show should be built around … bears.

Though much has been written over the past 73 years about Walt’s affection for a certain mouse, what’s not as well known is Disney’s huge interest in bears. Putting it bluntly, Walt thought that bears were funny as hell. For example: Disney absolutely loved those “Humphrey the Bear” cartoons that Jack Hannah churned out for the studio back in the 1950s. That’s why Walt had the bears from these shorts play such a prominent role in the animated opening for “The Mickey Mouse Club.”

Recognizing that the public might also share his interest in the behavior of bruins, Disney insisted that — while WED was reworking Disneyland’s “Rainbow Cavern” ride in late 1959 so that it could become the “Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland” — that a huge section of the ride be devoted to bears. Many fans of this long-gone Frontierland attraction now consider the “Bear Country” section of the attraction — where guests rode across a high trestle and looked down at some robotic bears who were trying to catch some plastic fish — to have been the real high point of the show.

And let’s not even get started on Winnie the Pooh and/or Baloo the Bear from “The Jungle Book,” the stars of the last two animated projects that Walt personally green-lit … let’s face facts, folks. Walt Disney really liked bears.

Which was why — after he initially envisioned this bear show for Mineral King — Walt turned to one of his top Imagineers, Marc Davis, and asked him to personally take a whack at the project. After all, Marc had just finished designing all the characters to be featured in Disneyland’s soon-to-be-opened “Pirates of the Caribbean.” This was Davis’ follow-up to his daring work on Adventureland’s “Enchanted Tiki Room.” So here was a guy who could clearly build an entertaining attraction out of any sort of subject matter.

Walt handed off this task to Marc in the early fall of 1966, just about the same time that Disney and then-California Governor Edmund G. Brown held a press conference to officially unveil Walt Disney Productions’ plans for the Mineral King property. Disney’s proposal for the area was generally met with much approval and acclaim. (Though a small faction of the Sierra Club took issue with the proposed widening of the property’s access road through Sequoia National Forest, a key component to Disney’s Mineral King development. These club members’ concerns — which seemed minor and manageable back in the fall of 1966 — would eventually grow to the point where the Supreme Court of the United States had to get involved, deciding whether it was even legal for the U.S Forest Service to allow this sort of development to go forward on federally owned land … But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?) So much so that — just six weeks after the initial Mineral King announcement — Walt Disney was awarded the American Forestry Association award for “outstanding service in the conservation of American Resources.”

Mineral King — at this point, anyway — looked like a done deal. Which is why Marc Davis devoted weeks of his time to doing preliminary design work on the ski area’s bear show. Marc covered the walls of his office in Glendale — floor to ceiling — with comical pictures of bears. Bears singing in barbershop quartets. Bears performing in Dixieland bands. Bears riding on bicycles built for two. Bears in formal attire — full length gowns, top hat and tails — getting ready to sing opera. Davis did some of his very best work on this project.

On the other hand, Walt was going through a particularly rough patch. For years now, Disney had been troubled by what he thought was an old polo injury. Unable to take the pain any longer, Walt went across the street to Burbank’s St. Joseph hospital to undergo a battery of tests. The doctor’s verdict: cancer. Surgery was performed to remove a portion of Disney’s left lung. But overall, the prognosis was grim.

After a short stay at the hospital to recuperate from the surgery, Walt returned to the studio and tried to resume his regular schedule. Understandably, Disney didn’t have the energy now that he once had. But Walt still insisted on making his rounds.

Which is how — one day in December — Disney found himself in Marc Davis’ office. Walt spotted one sketch in particular — a fat little bear that was playing a tuba — and just laughed and laughed. He told Marc that “I think you’ve got a real winner with this bear band idea.”

With that, Walt got up and — as he turned to go — said “Goodbye, Marc.” This kind of took Marc by surprise, because Walt was never one for pleasantries with his staff. Disney usually exited a meeting without saying a word. At best, Walt would say “So long” of “See ya later” as he breezed out the door on his way to his next meeting.

But for Walt Disney to say “Goodbye, Marc” — and then turn in the hallway as he was exiting WED and wave one final time to Davis — was all that Marc Davis needed to confirm his growing fears. He went home that night and told his wife, Alice that “I think Walt’s dying.”

Sure enough, just a few days later, Walt Disney did pass away. And — as a direct result — Walt Disney Productions’ ambitious plans for the proposed Mineral King ski resort began to falter almost immediately.

Mind you, it’s not like this project didn’t have its supporters. The Skiing industry — immediately recognizing the ingenuity of what Walt was proposing for that U.S. Forest Services property outside of Sequoia National Forest — posthumously awarded Disney the Hans Georg Award, which is annually presented to the individual who has done the most that year to elevate the sport of skiing. That’s how strongly these folks believed in the Mineral King project. They honestly believed that — if the ski area that Walt had proposed had actually gone forward — it would have changed the skiing industry forever.

There are also those today who say that — if Walt had lived just a few more years — Mineral King would have happened. That Disney had the personal charm necessary to win over those environmentalists who were uneasy about the project. More to the point, Walt had the clout to get those government officials who were dragging their heals to move quickly to get the necessary clearances. Which meant that — if all had gone according to plan — the very first skiers could have begun shushing down those carefully groomed Disney-designed slopes by the winter of 1973.

But that obviously didn’t happen, folks. Thanks to a vocal minority within the Sierra Club which felt that any development of Sequoia National Forest — no matter how well planned and/or how ecologically friendly it might be — was just plain wrong. So these people kept the project tied up in court for years, until Walt Disney Productions — tiring of the endless legal maneuvering as well as all the bad publicity that was now associated with the Mineral King development plan — abandoned its plans for this site in the early 1970s.

The Walt Disney Company then tried to get a similar state-of-the-art ski resort built on Independence Lake right outside of Truckee, CA. But that project never made it off the drawing board either …

But Marc’s plans for a bear based attraction? Someday soon, I hope to do a full blown series for JimHillMedia.com about the creation of that particular attraction.

For now, I’m just trying to get ready for this week’s trip to California. Digging out all of my old Mineral King brochures and press releases. So — when I’m standing by the road next Wednesday morning, pointing out into the wilderness — I can tell Nancy “I think that the ski lodge was supposed to be built over there.”

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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