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Monday Mouse Watch: Excuses abound as to why “Cars” under-performed

Disney’s spin machine went into overdrive yesterday, as the Mouse tried to explain away why it wasn’t actually disappointed that “Cars” (Which had originally been projected to take in $70 – $75 million) only managed to pull in $60.1 million over its opening weekend. Jim Hill now shares some of the more interesting rationalizations that are currently making the rounds

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The good news is … “Cars” was No. 1 at the box office this past weekend, raking in $60.1 million. Which (according to Box Office Mojo) gave this John Lasseter film the second highest opening weekend gross ever for a film that was released in the month of June (Only Warners’ “Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban” — which debuted back in June of 2004 — earned more. Taking in $93.6 million over its opening weekend).





  

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The bad news is … $60.1 million is a figure that’s significantly south of what had originally been projected for this Pixar Animation Studios production.


You may recall how — early last week — I reported that various unnamed industry insiders were looking for “Cars” to pull in $75 – $80 million over its opening weekend. But by Friday afternoon (Reportedly based on internal projections that Disney Studio staffers had begun discreetly sharing with various investment analysts), box office estimates for this new animated feature were already being revised downward. With Jessica Reif Cohen of Merrill Lynch stating that she expected “Cars” to earn just $70 million over its opening weekend, while Marc Sharpiro of Banc of America took a more conservative approach. Suggesting that it was far more likely that Pixar’s latest release would gross between $65 million to $70 million during its first three days in release.



Copyright 2006 Disney/Pixar


But — in the end — all three of us were wrong. With $62.8 million being the estimate as of Sunday afternoon. And then — late Monday afternoon — came the devastating news: The film’s final official tally was actually $60.1 million. $2.7 million less than had originally been reported.


Given that Shapiro reportedly said that — were “Cars” to earn less than $60 million over its opening weekend — that this new Pixar film would be viewed by the investment community as a real disappointment … Well, it’s hard to understand how a gross of just $60.1 million could still be seen as a cause for celebration.


Mind you, that didn’t stop Disney from breaking out the party hats. According to Chuck Viane, president of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution:



“This is John Lasseter’s biggest opening ever. We are so thrilled for John and everyone at Pixar. Which is now seven for seven at the boxoffice.”


Of course, what Mr. Viane neglected to mention is that — while $60.1 million may be the most money that a motion picture that was personally directed by John Lasseter has ever earned over its opening weekend — “Cars” is not, in fact, the strongest opening movie that Pixar Animation Studios has ever produced. That honor should actually be awarded to Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles,” which sold more than $70.4 million worth of tickets over its opening weekend back in November 2004.




























Film Title

Opening Weekend Gross

“The Incredibles”

$70.4 million

“Finding Nemo”

$70.2 million

Monsters, Inc.”

$62.5 million

“Cars”

$60.1 million

“Toy Story 2”

$57.3 million

“A Bug’s Life”

$33.2 million

“Toy Story”

$29.1 million

Truth be told, in spite of being released during the summer months (A period when motion pictures traditionally do better, in comparison to tickets sales for similiar films that are released during the spring, fall & winter months), “Cars” still managed to do almost 17% less business than both “The Incredibles” and “Finding Nemo” did over their opening weekends. A fact that Wall Street is unlikely to ignore.


Then when you factor in how “Cars” did over its opening weekend in comparison to all the other top grossing CG features that have been released over the past 10 years …





































Film Title

Opening Weekend Gross

“Shrek 2”

$108 million

“The Incredibles”

$ 70.4 million

“Finding Nemo”

$70.2 million

“Ice Age 2: The Meltdown”

$68 million

“Monsters, Inc.”

$62.5 million

“Cars”

$60.1 million

“Toy Story 2”

$57.3 million

“Shark Tale”

$47.6 million

“Madagascar”

$47.2 million

“Shrek”

$42.3 million

… To be honest, this John Lasseter film isn’t looking all that strong, now is it? Particularly when you check out the per-screen average for “Cars” opening weekend.



























































Film Title

Opening Weekend Gross

Numbers of Screens

Per-Screen Average

“Shrek 2”

$108 million

4,223

$25,951

“Finding Nemo”

$70.2 million

3,425

$20,821

“Monsters, Inc.”

$62.5 million

3,237

$19,331

“The Incredibles”

$70.4 million

3,933

$17,917

“Toy Story 2”

$57.3 million

3,236

$17,734

“Ice Age 2: The Meltdown”

$68 million

3,969

$17,162

“Cars”

$60.1 million

3,895

$15,086

“Ice Age”

$57.2 million

3,316

$13,996

“A Bug’s Life”

$33.2 million

2,686

$12,382

“Dinosaur”

$38.8 million

3,257

$11,929

Now I know, there are those of you out there who are saying: “Now wait a minute, Jim. We’re just talking about a single weekend here. ‘Cars’ will undoubtedly develop some legs. This Pixar film is almost certain to run all summer long. So wouldn’t it be wiser to wait until Labor Day — to see what this John Lasseter movie earns over the next 12 weeks — before labeling this motion picture a disappointment?”


Well, that’s certainly the scenario that Chuck Viane is now trying to sell to the press. Here’s a quote from yesterday’s press release:



“It’s going to be fun watching how quickly the grosses add up for ‘Cars’ because during the summer, (where) every day is a holiday.”


Expanding on “Cars” box office potential, Viane went on to say:



“On Monday, 61 percent of (the children in the U.S. will be) out of school. Then a week from Monday, 81 percent. That’s the great thing about the summer. It’s not just about the weekend. The week takes on the aura of being a seven-day playdate.”


But what Mr. Viane is neglecting to mention is that — over the past eight months — the drop-off in ticket sales that top-grossing films have typically experienced during their second weekend in release has been brutal.


Don’t believe me? Then take a look at the chart below:






















































Name of film

First weekend’s gross

Second weekend’s gross

Percentage of drop-off in ticket sales

“X-Men: The Last Stand”

$102.7 million

$34.1 million

66.9%

“Madea’s Family Reunion”

$30 million

$12.6 million

57.9%

“King Kong”

$50.1 million

$21.2 million

57.6%

“The Da Vinci Code”

$77 million

$34 million

55.8%

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”

$65.5 million

$31.8 million

51.4%

“Ice Age 2: The Meltdown”

$68 million

$33.8 million

50%

“Mission: Impossible III”

$47.7 million

$25 million

47%

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”

$102.6 million

$54.7 million

46.7%

“Over the Hedge”

$38.4 million

$27 million

29.6%

You see, in this era, where studios frontload films (I.E. Place as many prints as possible in theaters for a motion picture’s opening weekend. With the hope that this move will then allow that movie to achieve a record-breaking box office total during its first few days at the multiplex), it’s very rare that a film develops legs nowadays.


And then when you factor in that — on average — tickets sales for a Pixar picture tend to drop off by 37.6% from that film’s opening weekend to its second weekend in release … Well, that indicates that Mickey probably doesn’t have another “The Incredibles” or “Monsters, Inc.” -sized hit on its hands right now.


Which perhaps finally brings us to the real problem here. That Wall Street had unrealistic expectations for “Cars.” That — given the $7.4 billion that the Walt Disney Company just paid out in order to acquire Pixar — that the investment community had just assumed that box office totals would continue to climb. That this animation studio’s string of smash hit films would just go on forever.


Well, instead of having another “Finding Nemo” -sized home run on its hands, Disney now appears to be dealing with another “A Bug’s Life.” A film that did rather well when it was initially released to theaters back in November of 1998, earning $162.7 million domestically & an additional $200.6 million when it was released overseas. For a final total of $363.3 million.


Which ain’t exactly chump change. At least to Chuck Viane’s way of thinking. When asked if he was disappointed by “Cars” only earning $60.1 million over its opening, the president of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution said:



“”To me, a home run is a home run. Once it goes over the fence, it doesn’t matter how far it goes. And a $60 million opening is over the fence in anybody’s ball park.”


And what Chuck says is true. A $60.1 million opening weekend for a motion picture is something that really should be celebrated. Until you remember that “The Incredibles” made $70.4 million over its opening weekend and “Finding Nemo” made $70.2 million over its opening weekend …


Then — when you take into account the box office performances of these two previous Pixar pictures … Well, it’s easy to understand why some on Wall Street might already be calling “Cars” a disappointment.


Now as to why this new John Lasseter film failed to break any records … Well, what I find fascinating is the wide variety of excuses that Disney insiders are already offering as to why “Cars” didn’t do better over its opening weekend. The rationalizations for the animated feature’s underwhelming box office performance include:



  • The Cuddle Factor: To most people, cars are cold, metallic objects. Which is why — in spite of the fact that the folks at Pixar had anthropomorphized all of the autos that appear in their latest motion picture — these characters still left a lot of potential movie-goers cold (FYI: This is also supposedly why 20th Century Fox’s “Robots” didn’t do better than it did last year when this Blue Sky Studios film was released to theaters. Audiences supposedly prefer their animated features to star warm-blooded creatures like Manny the Mammoth from “Ice Age” & “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown”).


  • “Cars” running time: Some folks at Disney are attributing this weekend’s disappointing box office returns to the movie’s running time. Given that this John Lasseter film clocks in at a whopping 1 hour & 56 minutes … Well, “Cars” excessive length supposedly made it difficult for the multiplexes to get in multiple showings of this motion picture each day.


Which is an interesting theory. Until you realize that “The Incredibles” was 1 hour & 55 minutes long. And given that that Brad Bird film had little or no trouble racking up $70.4 million in ticket sales over its opening weekend … Well, I hardly think that that one extra minute of running time actually had that significant an impact on “Cars” box office performance over this past weekend.



  • The film lacked female appeal: With much of the emphasis in “Cars” trailers & TV commercials being placed on the film’s racing sequences (With the hope that these ads might then convince the NASCAR crowd to come out & see this new animated feature), Disney’s PR department may have accidentally sent the wrong message to female movie-goers. Convincing this rather large market segment that “Cars” had little if anything that would appeal to and/or entertain women. Hopefully, a new set of commercials might be enough to turn that particular misconception around.




  • The World Cup: Given that Americans are probably the only people on the planet who aren’t paying strict attention to what’s been going on inside of Munich’s Allianz Arena this past weekend, I find it kind of laughable that some people at Disney are actually insisting that … Well, if all the people in the U.S. who had been watching (via satellite) those football matches in Germany had gone to the multiplex instead, “Cars” would have had a much healthier box office for its opening weekend.

Looking further on down the line now … There are already those at Disney who are expressing some serious concern about how “Cars” will play internationally. Given that this John Lasseter film stars a NASCAR racer who eventually comes to appreciate life in a small town that’s been bypassed by a super highway … Well, one wonders how foreign film-goers (Who aren’t all that familiar with NASCAR or our country’s car culture) will actually embrace a motion picture that celebrates this distinctly American institutions.


(Though — to be fair here — I guess that I should also mention that there are folks at Dreamworks Animation who has expressed similiar concerns about “Over the Hedge.” How that animated feature — which gleefully sends up the suburbs & America’s consumer culture — may have a real problem connecting with movie-goers overseas.)


Anyway … Getting back to “Cars” now. With the opening weekend performance of this John Lasseter film now officially being labeled a disappointment by Wall Street (Want proof? Once word got out that Pixar’s latest movie had failed to meet its initial box office projections, Disney’s stock price actually dropped by 3% when the New York Stock Exchange opened for trading on Monday morning), now all eyes turn to how “Cars” does over its second weekend in theaters.


A lot of people at Pixar & Disney are now hoping and praying that moviegoers prefer Lightning McQueen over the more realistic street racers that will be seen in “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (I.E. That Universal Pictures release that rolls into theaters next Friday. Which will offer this Pixar film some considerable competition for the young male audience over the coming weekend).


Because if this new John Lasseter film actually follows box office trends and sees its ticket sales fall off by more than 50% during its second weekend in theaters … Well, Disney could find itself with some pretty serious “Cars” trouble on its hands.


Your thoughts?

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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