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Monday Mouse Watch: Why Disney is counting on the international release of “The Lone Ranger” to bring in significant silver

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If you look around the Web today, you're going to see some pretty extreme "Lone Ranger" -related headlines. Take — for example — the one that Roger Friedman placed atop his after-actions article about this new Jerry Bruckheimer production over at Showbiz 411:

"Lone Ranger" Financial Disaster: Will Disney Heads Roll Again?

Yet over at Deadline.com, Nikki Finke (who is infamous for her take-no-prisoners, no-BS take on Tinsel Town) showed remarkable restraint while writing about this Walt Disney Pictures release. While she obviously didn't sugarcoat her coverage of how "The Lone Ranger" has been doing domestically (The headline that Ms. Finke affixed to her Sunday morning story about how various movies did over the long Fourth of July weekend deliberately talks about " … 'Lone Ranger' Disastrous $47 M" box office take), Nikki did also make a point of mentioning that …


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

… [Johnny] Depp's worldwide popularity may, repeat may, help overseas where oaters usually don't excel. Lone Ranger opened day and date in 30% of the foreign landscape but only 4 big markets: Italy and Russia (releasing July 2) and Australia and Korea (July 4).

And why is that worth mentioning? Because — as Lynda Obst points out in her terrific new book, "Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the NEW ABNORMAL in the Movie Business "  (Simon & Schuster, June 2013) — …

If a studio spends $200 million or more on a movie these days, that's because that studio is hoping that this film will be a success internationally, rather than a domestic blockbuster.


Copyright 2013 Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved

Welcome to — as Ms. Obst describes it — the NEW ABNORMAL ("Why the NEW ABNORMAL?," you ask. Because things were never normal in Hollywood to begin with). Where, thanks to the collapse of the DVD & Blu-ray sales back in 2008 …

… These huge tentpoles, $200-million-fueled missiles, are lined up on the studio distribution pads with "must-have" famous names and launched like international thermonuclear devices toward foreign capitals … International [box office] has come to be 70 percent of our total revenues in [modern day Hollywood]. When [Obst began in the business back in the 1980s] it was 20 percent.

Lynda was the perfect person to pen this 284-page industry exposé. Given that she's been in the business for 30+ years at this point (Her credits include being the associate producer of "Flashdance ," the producer of "The Fisher King ," and the executive producer of "Sleepless in Seattle " & "Contact "), Obst is close friends with some of the most powerful people in Hollywood. Which is how Lynda was able to get someone like Jim Gianopulos, the Chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, to talk frankly about the growing influence that the international market has been having on the types of movies that Hollywood has been making for the past five years or so.


(L to R) George Lucas and Jim Gianopulos, CEO and
Chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment

As Gianopulos explained in his interview with Obst:

"Those of us who have been in the [film] business for a while see it as a fundamental fact. We [the United States] are five percent of the world market. Ninety-five percent of the ticket buyers are out there. It does not take a lot of math to tell you that's where the future  and the opportunities are. [Which is why] more and more time and focus has been devoted to how we engage [foreign filmgoers], how we make sure our product travels."

And right from the get-go, there were some concerns at Disney about whether "The Lone Ranger" would actually appeal to international audiences. Why For? Well, it wasn't for the reason that you might think (i.e. that the Company was trying to build a $200 million tentpole picture around a set of characters that had last been considered genuinely popular with the public back in the late 1950s), but rather (as Lynda points out in "Sleepless in Hollywood') …


(L to R) Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels

[In modern Hollywood, it's considered] a rule of thumb that movies with what movie people called "dust" — i.e., westerns, or movies in the dusty hinterlands — never work abroad. Why this is, we don't really know. In the old studio days, we exported our classic westerns. But in the modern movie business, the mere presence of either "dust" or cowboy hats — or horses, for that matter — is thought to make a movie dead on arrival, even if it isn't a western.

This is why — even though Disney announced with great fanfare (with the USC Marching Band parading down the aisles of Hollywood's Kodak Theatre playing the William Tell Overture) back in September of 2008 that it would be producing a brand-new big screen version of "The Lone Ranger" starring Johnny Depp as Tonto — it would still be another 3 1/2 years before production would actually begin in New Mexico.

And why did it take 'til February of 2012 before filming finally began? To be blunt, both Disney & Bruckheimer were looking for some additional international insurance. They were hoping to persuade another big name performer to pair with Depp's Tonto. With the hope that two world famous film stars might then be enough to overcome the fact that westerns don't actually play all that well overseas.


George Clooney and Brad Pitt

And just who was on Bruckheimer & Disney's dream list when it came to casting the Man with the Mask? As Johnny himself explained in an December 2010 interview that he did while working on "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides " :

"There's so many interesting possibilities out there. Brad [Pitt] would be great. [George] Clooney would be great. Don't know who it's going to be just yet."

But in the end, a decision was made to go with Armie Hammer as this film's title character because … Well, as you may recall, the Studio initially put a lot of pressure on director Gore Verbinski to keep "The Lone Ranger" 's production costs down. They even went so far as to shut production of this Jerry Bruckheimer film down back in August of 2011. Then-head of Disney studio Rich Ross wanted Gore & Jerry to shave at least $50 million off of this film's proposed production budget so that "The Lone Ranger" would then cost $210 million or less to shoot. When Verbinski refused to compromise in regards to his creative vision for this film, Ross publicly pulled the plug. And it would take another two solid months of behind-the-scenes wrangling before the Studio would then finally agree to allow production of "The Lone Ranger" to go forward.


Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski talking up "The Lone Ranger" at CinemaCon 2013

Of course, the downside of this very public fight over this film's financials is that the start of production on "The Lone Ranger" had to then be pushed back from Fall of 2011 to March of 2012. Which meant that this Jerry Bruckheimer production had to sacrifice its original release date — which was December 21, 2012 — and go with July 3, 2013 instead.

Which brings up an interesting question: If "The Lone Ranger" had actually been able to make it into theaters on December 21, 2012 (when the films that this Walt Disney Pictures release would have been opening up against would have been "This is 40," "Jack Reacher" and "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D"), would this Jerry Bruckheimer production have done any better at the box office? Based on what studio insiders have been telling me over the past few days, they now believe that it was a grave mistake to have "The Lone Ranger" go head-to-head with "Despicable Me 2." Given that the family audience which was out there over the long Fourth of July weekend was undoubtedly going to chose Gru & his girls over going to see Kemosabe & Tonto.

One other interesting side note: "The Lone Ranger" wasn't the only high profile motion picture that was forced to give up its originally announced December 21, 2012 release date. Paramount Pictures initially announced that it would be releasing "World War Z" on this exact same date. But when that studio opted to reshoot the third act of this Marc Forster film, the release date of this Brad Pitt pic then got pushed back 'til June 21, 2013.


Copyright 2013 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

Anyway … Getting back to "The Lone Ranger" : Another factor in Disney's decision to go forward with production of this Gore Verbinski film with Armie Hammer in the title role was how well Johnny Depp's movies typically perform internationally.

Take a gander at how the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films did overseas:

"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl"    $305.4 million domestic         $348.8 million foreign       $654.2 million total
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"                      $423.3 million domestic          $642.8 million foreign          $1.06 billion total
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End"                              $309.4 million domestic              $654 million foreign      $963.4 million total
"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"                          $241 million domestic              $802 million foreign          $1.04 billion total


Copyright 2003 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Did you pick up on the pattern there? While the last three "Pirates" movies have done less & less well domestically, foreign ticket sales for these films have continued to rise. And that's largely because of Mr. Depp's stardom overseas.

Even movies that Johnny has made that weren't all that successful in the States …

"Dark Shadows"        $79.9 million domestic        $165 million foreign
"The Tourist"               $67.7 million domestic     $210.7 million foreign


Copyright 2012 Warner Bros. All rights reserved

… have still managed to sell two & three times the tickets they sold stateside overseas.

Now couple this with the fact that even Jerry Bruckheimer movies that seem to under-perform in the U.S. market …

"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"     $90.7 million domestic           $244.3 million foreign
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice"                        $63.1 million domestic           $152.1 million foreign


Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

… still obviously appeal to foreign film-goers.

And then when you factor in that the very last project that Johnny Depp & Gore Verbinski collaborated on …

          "Rango"        $123.4 million domestic             $121.8 million foreign


Copyright 2011 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

… did a quarter of a billion dollars at the worldwide box office (Which is pretty impressive for Paramount Pictures' initial foray into producing original feature-length animated films), in the end, what Disney thought they had with "The Lone Ranger" (as Lynda Obst so aptly describes in her book, "Sleepless in Hollywood ") was the sort of super-sized tentpole that the studios just crave these days.

By that I mean: It was a project which had pre-awareness [meaning that would-be moviegoers were already familiar with this title & set of characters and/or readily understood the key creative concept behind this motion picture] with a star who had international appeal attached. Which is why Disney Studio executives seemed so surprised when "The Lone Ranger" stumbled at the domestic box office over the long Fourth of July weekend.

So though there's bound to be all sorts of talk in the Trades today about whether the Mouse (just as they had to do with "John Carter") will soon be taking a write-down on "The Lone Ranger," execs at Disney Studios are already crying "Whoa!" They're insisting that this new Jerry Bruckheimer production can't honestly be considered a flop until they see how much box office silver can be hauled in from important new international movie markets like Russia and India.


Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer at the Russian premiere of
Disney's "The Lone Ranger"

This is actually why Depp, Hammer, Verbinski and Bruckheimer journeyed to Mother Russia last month and then walked the red carpet at the Moscow International Film Festival. They were there to help raise awareness about "The Lone Ranger" among Russian filmgoers. Lend a little star power to the international promotion of this production.

And speaking of promotion: A similar publicity tour to an equally important international market — China — was abruptly postponed this past Friday. All because Chinese film officials have yet to set a release date for "The Lone Ranger" in that country.

Which obviously has to be a point of frustration for Disney Studio officials. But given that China is now the world's second largest film market, Mouse House officials chose their words very carefully when they publicly discussed this abruptly cancelled promotional tour. In a statement that was released to TheWrap last Friday, an unnamed Disney Studio was quoted as saying:


Johnny Depp, Jerry Bruckheimer and Bob Iger smile for the cameras
at last month's ceremony when Bruckheimer was recognized with
his very own Star on Hollywood Boulevard.

"As part of their promotional activities for 'The Lone Ranger,' Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer plan to visit China in early September closer to an expected release date."

And in the meantime, The Walt Disney Company will continue to move forward with its long-in-the-works plans to promote & support "The Lone Ranger." Treating this new motion picture as a valuable asset that can then be leveraged across multiple platforms.

Case in point: The "Long Ranger" Play Set that will be part of the official launch of Disney INFINITY next month.  A Disney Interactive official that I spoke with last month at Disney Consumer Products' annual Holiday Preview Party insisted that — no matter how this Walt Disney Pictures release did at the box office in July — the Lone Ranger & Tonto were still going to be a vital part of the Disney INFINITY universe.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"They're great characters. And the Wild West world that Disney & Jerry Bruckheimer have created for the 'Lone Ranger' movie is just the sort of environment that little kids are going to love playing in and exploring," this unnamed official explained. "So no matter what happens with the 'Lone Ranger' movie, the 'Lone Ranger' Play Set is still going forward."

So how many of you got out to your multiplex over the long Fourth of July weekend and saw Disney's "The Lone Ranger" ? Did you (like me) find this Gore Verbinski film to be a great old-fashioned summer blockbuster loaded with colorful characters, great gags and amazing action sequences? Or were you among the millions who opted to go to "Despicable Me 2" instead?

If that was the case, what exactly was it about Disney's "The Lone Ranger" that turned you off? Was it the way that this motion picture was promoted? Its cast? Or was it that you just weren't in the mood for a western?


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

More to the point, if it had been George Clooney or Brad Pitt as the Lone Ranger (rather than relative newcomer Armie Hammer as the Man in the Mask), would that have made a difference?

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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