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JHM welcomes a new guest writer, Sean Kennelly. Who — in his debut article — talks about how Disney and DreamWorks attempts to make animation for grown-ups backfired and almost destroyed their core audience. Until Pixar saved the day and may help bring back the very style of animation that Disney & DreamWorks supposedly killed

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Hey, gang!

Jim Hill here. And what a pleasure it is to welcome Sean Kennelly on board at JHM. At this website, we pride ourselves on trying to bring you a different take on what’s really going on in the entertainment industry. And given that Mr. Kennelly is a hardened industry vet, I’m sure that Sean is going to bring something interesting to the table.

To give you a brief bit of background on Mr. Kennelly:

Affectionately dubbed “the Disney freak” by his family, Sean comes to us on the heels of a 7-year tour of duty at several of the major Hollywood studios (Fox, DreamWorks, Columbia Pictures) and is a regular contributor to “Creative Screenwriting” magazine.

That’s a rather impressive set of credentials, don’t you think? Alright, that’s enough jabbering on my part. Without any further ado, here’s Sean Kennelly with his take on what’s currently going on the feature animation field …

For the last few years we’ve all been hearing how traditional forms of animation are dead (2-D, stop motion) and that computer animation is now the king. The problem with all this is that it focuses all the attention on the format and forgets that it is the story that keeps people in their seats. That and being aware of the expectations of your core audience.

What’s a core audience you ask? It’s the people who come back every time to see a certain genre of film (horror, drama, action-adventure, umm…animation?). Given some core audiences age and either drop the genre and move on, or they keep coming back. The key for any studio is to figure out who that target audience is and do all in their power (and marketing budget) to get them there for the opening weekend. Beyond that they hope word of mouth from that weekend is positive and will bring in even more people outside the demographic, making the film a box office winner.

Sounds simple enough. Unless you fool yourself into thinking that you can somehow change or broaden your core audience by adding elements you believe will appeal to another audience – one you hope will bring you even more praise and money. But sometimes pride can get in the way. And serving two masters is trouble in the making.

Take the example of Walt Disney Feature Animation. Started by Walt Disney back in the 1930s with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” they created films of such quality that they became a brand name which was synonymous with quality. However after Disney’s death in 1966, the guardians of his legacy could not hold on to the magic and it faded.

Still it was the only game in town and it stayed that way for years. No other studio had a feature animation division and no one wanted to challenge the king, even if Disney was no longer alive. But Disney badly needed some innovation and change.

Ron Miller, Disney’s son-in-law and head of Disney, made some improvements with the launch of the Disney Channel and the creation of Touchstone Pictures. Yet it wasn’t until Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg came on board in 1984 that things really began to move. Hailed as an animation renaissance by many enthusiasts, the new Disney era saw an ever increasing box office [world-wide box office in millions with parenthesis – including the U.S., Canada & the rest of the world markets]. New classics such as “The Little Mermaid” ($211), “Beauty and the Beast” ($377), “Aladdin” ($504) and “The Lion King” ($783) came out on a regular basis and there seemed to be no end in sight.

Consumer confidence was riding high with each new release and parents lined up with their kids to see every Disney animated film knowing that they were in for a good time. It was a golden age. But then something happened.

Pocahontas” ($346) came out. While the initial weekend at the box office seemed to indicate that the film was loved by all ($29 million vs. “Lion King” $40 million), it dropped off 45% the next weekend. While this is almost standard in the movie industry these days, Disney never experienced such drops with their animated films.

For comparison, “The Little Mermaid” actually gained +39% in its second week while “The Lion King” dropped a small -16% in its second week. And while you can argue all you like about the film or the market place, the numbers don’t lie. If people like it, they come and the movie makes money. A good movie always has “legs” meaning it doesn’t drop off dramatically and continues to play or sometimes to even build an even bigger audience over time. It may not be the #1 film but it will do business.

Some fans and parents were disillusioned. It looked like Disney, smelled like Disney, but inside it was an entirely different experience. Beautiful as the visuals were it was, at its core, an adult drama with a few songs and cute animals thrown in to pacify the little ones. Only the little ones were not pacified. Mom and Dad weren’t too happy either. No wonder families were headed to the exits.

Still, Disney usually made great animated films so everyone was willing to let this one pass. I mean, you can’t expect to bat a thousand every time you release a movie. It just doesn’t happen. So while audiences were disappointed, they eagerly waited for the next film.

Then “Hunchback of Notre Dame” ($325) came out. Audiences came out in droves hoping to see what magic Disney had conjured with this classic tale…but got burned. Again. The movie contained even more adult drama with some very suggestive and lusty dances thrown in just to add fuel to the fire. The film actually managed to frighten the little ones at times, not to mention how tough it was to explain why the villain was singing “this burning desire is turning me to sin”. Mom and Dad were red in the face this time.

What happened? Jeffrey Katzenberg decided to make a bold move into a new demographic – adults. Though much of the public was not aware of it, Katzenberg’s animation philosophy came out in a 1999 interview. “Seventy years ago, Walt Disney took a certain technique called animation and told the kind of stories he wanted to tell, which were fairy tales, stories and films for children, which was a lovely idea and informed everything he did. I respect and admire that. But it’s not what I want to do. What I want to make is a Spielberg movie in animation, or a Barry Sonnenfield or a Martin Scorcese or a David Lean. The tradition up to now has been to do things cartoony. We don’t mean to be pretentious, but we set out to do fine art. I’m not saying that cartooning isn’t fine art, just a very, very different style.” [“Fine Tooning,” Caroline Westbrook, “Empire,” Issue No. 115, January `99, pp 108-111.]

Though he left Disney in 1994, just after “The Lion King” was released, his influence and philosophy was all over the releases that followed. You see with a 3-5 year production pipeline, it was years before Katzenberg’s philosophy left the building. But the damage was already done. Disney was no longer golden. They lost the touch. The core audience deserted the Disney brand at an ever increasing rate until the real low point was reached years later with “Home on the Range” ($103).

So who is the core audience for a Disney animated film? David Stainton, former Disney animation chief, nailed it in a 2003 Los Angeles Times interview where he said that the core audience for Disney animation was 4-10 year-olds and their parents. That doesn’t mean other ages or demographics don’t enjoy or appreciate the films, it just means that the boatload of the box office cash will come from this group. Deny it at your own risk. Disney did and DreamWorks joined them in playing to the wrong crowd.

When Jeffery Katzenberg left Disney to form DreamWorks SKG in 1994 he brought with him his adult animation philosophy, creating films such as “Prince of Egypt” ($218), “Road to El Dorado” ($76 million) and “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” ($122). Gone were the cutesy characters of animation days gone by, replaced by more adult themes and stories (“Prince of Egypt” & “Road to El Dorado”) as well as experiments in realism (“Spirit”) where the animals never really spoke or sang. Beautiful animation? Yes. But it produced a pitiful box office (with the exception of “Prince of Egypt” which had a core religious audience that helped drive the numbers up). Remember these are world-wide numbers, not just U.S. & Canadian box office (known as domestic box office).

What went wrong? David Stainton again summed it up nicely. “If you think you’re making a movie for everybody, you’re making a movie for nobody.” And that’s what happened. By ignoring the core audience (4-10 year-olds and their parents), they actually undermined their own business. Nobody came to see the films. So where did the audience go? They fled to the only company making animated films for children and their parents, Pixar Animation.

Before he left Disney, Katzenberg made a 3-picture deal for Pixar Animation. The deal saved financially troubled Pixar, which was surviving by producing computer animated commercials for outside companies. The result was “Toy Story” ($361) which came out in November 1995, the very same year as “Pocahontas”. Yet it was still #13 at the domestic box office when “Hunchback of Notre Dame” opened…in JUNE of 1996. This was a film with legs. Eerily similar to Disney’s rise in the 80s and 90s, Pixar built an ever increasing audience with each new release. “A Bug’s Life” ($363), “Toy Story 2” ($485), “Monsters, Inc.” ($525), “Finding Nemo” ($864), and “The Incredibles” ($631). And while “The Incredibles” did less business than “Finding Nemo,” keep in mind that it did better box office than every Disney animated movie ever released with the exception of “The Lion King” and “Cars” looks to be another kid-friendly picture.

DreamWorks caught on and had monster hits with “Shrek” ($484), “Shrek 2” ($920), “Shark Tale” ($363) and “Madagascar” ($527). While there still seems to be a more “adult” influence in these films, they manage to be kid-oriented enough to bring in the core audience and a whole lot more.

Even other studios such as 20th Century Fox figured it out. After making an animated teen action-adventure bomb called “Titan A.E.” (hint: teens are the LAST demographic to see an animated film) that brought in $36 million world-wide, they bought Blue Sky Studios and made “Ice Age” ($382) which has already spawned a sequel. Obviously they learned their lesson too.

But did computer animation save the day? I don’t think so. It was lucky timing. Pixar came on the scene and picked up the core animation audience just as Disney took aim at a different demographic. And like any brand-loyal consumer, the public figured if it was computer animated, it must be good. Studios caught on and thus we have a whole new herd of computer animated films coming out. Will they all be winners? If they have good stories and play to the core audience, they might. And 2-D or “traditional” animation has just as much a chance at succeeding as any other style of animation out there, but it may take time to rebuild the brand. Disney and DreamWorks collectively killed it yet they may be the very ones who could save it. In fact it was no surprise to me to hear about “Enchanted” and the possibility of a traditional animation revival. The fact that Pixar’s leadership is spearheading this effort just shows that they understand that the style of animation has nothing to do with the success of the picture as long as you remember the moral of this story.

What is the moral of this story, you ask? Play to your core audience. Whether it’s a demographic or fans of a particular genre, know your audience and give them what they expect. Even DreamWorks finally realized this after “Sinbad” ($73 million) performed so poorly. I honestly loved the film, but it was nothing more than an animated action-adventure film which was NOT geared to 4-10 year olds. I worked at DreamWorks when it was released and I saw it coming. I knew there was no hope for it because it played to the wrong crowd. That summer as DreamWorks solicited story pitches from the employees (something they do annually), the written notice specifically stated that this year they would not be taking any action-adventure stories. Lesson learned. To infinity and hopefully beyond!

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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