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Monday Mélange: From Show Tunes to Lunchtime Toons

This week’s column takes you from Broadway to Burbank, as Jim Hill reveals the latest scuttlebutt about what’s going on with Disney Theatrical and Walt Disney Pictures. Plus a brand-new JHM trivia contest.

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Since January is traditionally thought of as the start of the new year, I thought that it might be fun to use today’s “Mélange” to talk about what 2005 has in store for the Mouse. Particularly when it comes to Disney’s theatrical division.

2004 certainly ended well for that arm of the company. What with the stage version of “Mary Poppins” getting generally great reviews following its opening in London last month. So — naturally — stateside Disneyana fans are now wondering when that practically perfect nanny will be popping up on Broadway.

Well, now might be a good time to get yourself a “Spoonful of Sugar,” folks. For the medicine / message that I’m about to deliver isn’t all that good. Based on what I’ve been hearing, it may be as long as the Fall of 2006  before the stage version of “Poppins” finally crosses the pond.

“What’s the hold-up?,” you ask. “Is it because Mary is having trouble getting that carpet bag through airport security?” Well, no.  One of the main problems here is that the show’s creative team all already have other commitments for the coming year. So it’s actually going to be a while before Disney Theatrical can get director Richard Eyre & choreographer Matthew Bourne back in the same room together to begin the arduous task of casting, then rehearsing the Broadway version of “Mary Poppins.”

The other factor is that the Mouse is looking for just the right house for “Poppins” to land in. Which — right now — is actually a lot harder than you might think. Given that — for the first time in years — virtually every theater on Broadway is already spoken for. With many of the great houses for musical theater already occupied and/or waiting for previously booked shows to come in. So Disney’s carefully considering its options right now.

One theory has Disney Theatrical putting “Mary Poppins” in the Palace, the historic old vaudeville house that was once home to the company’s first Broadway show — “Beauty & the Beast” — for years & years. Only to have Disney shift “Beast” over to the Lunt-Fontaine in November of 1999 to make room for “Aida.”

The only problem with this theory is that — starting next month — the Palace is due to be occupied by a brand-new musical, “All Shook Up.” Mind you, given that this show’s gimmick is that its score is made up entirely of old Elvis Presley songs, the current belief among theater insiders is that “All Shook Up”‘s chances of having a very long run on Broadway seem shakey at best.  Should this show close before the Fall of 2005 … Well, that would then leave the Palace (and — more importantly — its 1,740 seats) open, making this theater the perfect spot for the practically perfect nanny to land.

“But what if ‘All Shook Up’ turns out to have legs?,” you query. “I mean, nobody though that ‘Movin’ Out’  — that show that was built around Billy Joel’s song catalog — would ever last. But that musical has been filling seats at the Richard Ridgers theater since November of 2002. So what if  ‘All Shook Up’ ‘s investors avoid ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and this Elvis-based show winds up hanging on well into 2006?”

To be honest, that’s exactly what worries the folks at Disney Theatrical as well. Which is why they’re supposedly exploring some alternate scenarios, like pulling a “Beast” with “The Lion King.” As in: Moving this Tony Award winner out of the New Amsterdam and having it set up shop somewhere in the 42nd Street area. So that “Poppins” can then drop into this historic old house (formerly the home of the “Ziegfeld Follies” !) and start filling up its 1,771 seats.

But that’s the worst case scenario, folks. Disney Theatrical really wants to keep “The Lion King” in the New Amsterdam (if only to avoid the cost involved with schlepping Julie Taymor’s extraordinary sets & costumes off to some other theater). Which is why they’re hoping & praying that another house — ideally the Palace — becomes available for “Mary Poppins” very soon.

“So what’s Disney Theatrical going to do to occupy its time ’til ‘Poppins’ arrives?,” you ask. Well .. That division’s president — Thomas Schumacher — kind of has his hands full right now. His latest pet project — “On the Record” — hasn’t been doing all that well since this new musical revue initially hit the road back in November.

This modestly budgeted show — which features a cast of eight singing 64 classic Disney songs — has been dogged by somewhat middling reviews. And it’s never a good sign when one of your name performers — Tony Award nominee Emily Skinner — suddenly bails out of your show a little more than a month after “On the Record” started its nationwide tour.

Mind you, Skinner’s decision to drop out of Disney Theatrical’s new revue could wind up costing this musical theatre vet big-time. How so? Well, Emily was one of a handful of Broadway insiders who — back in February of 2003 — took part in a reading for the stage version of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” And it was thought (at that time, anyway) that Skinner had a virtual lock on the role of Ursula.

But now that Emily has exited “On the Record,” Disney Theatrical’s no longer under any obligation to cast this actress as the Sea Witch. Which means that “Little Mermaid” ‘s new director Francesca Zambello (Yep. The same woman who directed “Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular” at DCA’s Hyperion Theater) can now indulge her whims.

“And what sort of casting ideas is Ms. Zambello supposedly toying with?,” you wonder. Well, they allegedly go from the somewhat safe & predictable (As in: Having Emmy Award winner Megan Mullally play Ursula. Of course, the only problem with doing that is that Disney Theatrical would then have to wait ’til “Will & Grace” completes its run on NBC before it could safely sign Mullally to play this part) to the truly ballsy choice (As in: Hiring Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein to pull another Edna Turnblad. Meaning that Harvey would dress in drag every night in order to put his own special spin on the Sea Witch).

Seeing Fierstein dress in drag to play Ursula wouldn’t be all that shocking to theater-goers who’ve already seen his Tony Award-winning turns in “Torch Song Trilogy” and “Hairspray.” (And — to be honest — after hearing Harvey croak his way through “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” now audiences would finally understand why the Sea Witch really wanted to get her hands on Ariel’s voice.)  But — given that Disney Theatrical prides itself on producing family-friendly entertainment (More importantly, that your typical audience member for a Disney Broadway doesn’t actually have a lot of experience with attending other Broadway shows), it seems kind of unlikely that Mickey would have the cojones necessary to cast Mr. Fierstein as Ursula.

Which really is a shame. Given — as the well-recieved recasting of Broadway’s “Fiddler on the Roof” revival is now proving — sometimes it really pays to put Harvey in a somewhat unlikely sounding part.

Speaking of “Fiddler on the Roof” … Did you see who’s now playing Golde to Fierstein’s Tevye? “Second City Television” favorite (and Tony Award winner) Andrea Martin.

Now where this gets interesting is that this isn’t  the first time Ms. Martin has been cast to play the long-suffering wife of that Russian milkman. How many of you remember that — almost two years ago — that ABC was getting ready to produce a three-hour-long TV movie version of this memorable musical? Which was to have featured Andrea as Golde, opposite  “Alias” ‘s Victor Garber in the role of Tevye?

That television program — which was to have been produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the same folks who did “Annie” & “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” for Disney — was literally weeks away from shooting when the network suddenly got cold feet. Not because of the subject matter, mind you. But because of the war in the Middle East.

You see, Disney’s insurance company was concerned — what with “Fiddler” slated to shot in Prague in the late spring/early summer of 2003 — that production of this TV movie could potentially be interrupted by the war. To make matters worse, the insurance company was also insisting that Storyline Entertainment (I.E. Zadan & Meron’s production company) hire additional on-set security in order to keep Garber, Martin et al safe from potential terrorist threats.

Given that these additional security costs were turning an already expensive project into a prohibitively expensive one, Craig & Neil reluctantly pulled the plug on their “Fiddler” TV movie. With the idea being that — once the war was over and it was safe for their cast to once again travel overseas — that they’d then put this production back in motion.

Of course, given that the situation in the Middle East now seems somewhat open-ended, Storyline Entertainment supposedly has a different battle plan in place for their “Fiddler” TV movie. Which is to wait until the current Broadway revival ends its run in NYC and then completes a nationwide tour, THEN make the three-hour movie television version for ABC.

Now where this gets interesting is that Zadan & Meron — under their Zadan/Meron movie production banner — just signed with New Line Pictures to produce the movie version of Harvey Fierstein’s last Broadway hit, “Hairspray.” The musical version of this 1988 John Waters movie is actually supposed to begin production in Baltimore later this year, with the finished film due to hit theaters sometime in 2006.

Now wouldn’t it be funny that  — as they’re working with Harvey on “Hairspray” — that Craig & Neil come to think of Fierstein as the absolutely perfect person to play Tevye in their “Fiddler” TV movie? So that — when it’s finally time to go over to Prague and shoot this picture — that it’s Harvey working with Andrea Martin again.

Unfortunately, that project is still a few years off. In the meantime, Zadan and Meron are already hard at work on their next project. Which they’ll be making with Dean Deblois, the co-director of Disney’s animated hit, “Lilo & Stitch.” Craig & Neil will be handling the production end of Dean’s next picture. Which will feature some animation but — truth be told — will mostly be a live action film.

This motion picture — tentatively entitled “Banshee” — will be a period piece set in Ireland. When I spoke with Deblois at last year’s Comic Con, he described the film as being family-friendly but suspenseful. Being in the tradition of such Disney films from the 1970s as “Escape from Witch Mountain.” As for details on the movie’s story  … They’re all being carefully kept under wraps right now. Except (of course) for the few bare bones plot points that were leaked out to the trades a few months back. Which described “Banshee” as being about …

” … a boy who is ignored by the world and pretends to be a ghost?until he comes into contact with a real ghost.”

As for Dean’s old partner — Chris Sanders — he’s already at work on a new project of his own. A CG animated feature for Disney entitled “American Dog.” Which isn’t due to hit theaters ’til sometime in late 2006 /early 2007.

Speaking of animation … I got a lot of e-mail this past weekend about all the concept art that was featured in Friday’s “Why For” column. It seems that you JHM readers just can’t get enough looks at what-might-have-been.

Well, with the hope that the following images will help make your Monday happier, I’ve unearthed a few more images from Maroon Studios. You know, the “Roger Rabbit” -themed area that was supposedly to be built as part of the Sunset Boulevard expansion project at Disney-MGM?

Anyway, what follows are some concept shots for a restaurant that was proposed for Maroon Studios: The Toon Commissary.


Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company.

The basic idea behind this restaurant was this was where the toon stars would dine when they weren’t busy making pictures for R.K. Maroon. This explains the Imagineer’s somewhat toony take on the place. From its “Caution! Wet Floor!” sign …


Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company.

… right down to the entrees that this restaurant would serve. Check out those baby carrots!

Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company.

Of course, while you were dining at the Toon Commissary, rubberhead versions of Roger, Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the gang would invariably wander through. Signing autographs, posing for pictures, etc.

Sounds like a pretty entertaining place to eat, don’t you think? So why didn’t Disney actually build the thing? It’s the same old story, folks. Steven Spielberg and the Mouse got into a p*ssing contest over who really controlled the rights to the “Roger Rabbit” characters. The end result was — over the past 10 years — virtually nothing of size has been done with these characters.

Which is really a shame. Given that I know that Disney’s already got a couple of scripts on file for “Roger Rabbit” sequels. And there’s at least one or two of these screenplays (Chief among these “Roger Rabbit II: Toon Platoon” and “Who Discovered Roger Rabbit?”) that would make really entertaining films. Remind me to tell you about them someday.

Well, that’s pretty much it for this week’s “Monday Mélange.” Except — of course — for this week’s JHM trivia contest.

In honor of Harvey Fierstein and Andrea Martin (I.E. The once and future Tevye & Golda), I thought that I’d make this week’s questions fairly easy for JimHillMedia.com readers. And the question is:

Andrea Martin & Harvey Fierstein both have ties to Disney animation. Can you name the movie and/or the TV show that these two Tony Award winners have done voice work for?

BONUS QUESTION: What were the characters’ names?

Just send your answers in an e-mail to me at jim@jimhillmedia.com. Later this week (on Friday, to be exact), I’ll announce which three randomly selected winners will recieve their very own bag of fresh roasted, whole bean “Just Plain Joe” Coffee.

That’s it for today, folks. Hope you enjoyed the somewhat random mix of  this week’s “Mélange.” Talk to you tomorrow, okay?

jrh

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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