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Monday Mouse Watch: Why that AVATAR concept art got unveiled in Japan rather than stateside. And what’s in the works for the Disneyland Resort in regards to “Star Wars”

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It's been a busy couple of days, Disney news-wise. With all
sorts of official announcements being made and weird rumors bubbling up. So as
a special Columbus Day treat, I thought that it might be fun to dig down into
this pile and then offer some additional information about some of the stories
that have been swirling around out there.

Guests stroll through Avatarland in Disney artist concept art recently released at D23 Expo Japan
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

First of all, let's talk about that concept art for James
Cameron's World of AVATAR that was showcased at Japan's
first-ever D23 EXPO. And while the stateside Disneyana fan community of course immediately
began carping about the 2017 projected opening date for this Disney's Animal
Kingdom
expansion, there was also much "Oohing" &
"Aahing" about how lush & ambitious this Camp Minnie-Mickey
replacement looked.

Mind you, no one seemed to be questioning why this James
Cameron's World of AVATAR artwork had been released at Japan's
D23 EXPO rather than the stateside version of this Official Disney Fan Club
back in August. But there is method to Mickey's madness.

Long story short: Walt Disney Imagineering has been trying
to convince the Oriental Land Group (i.e., the company that actually owns &
operates the Tokyo Disney Resort's two theme parks & four onsite hotels) for
over two years now that they should add a World of AVATAR area to Tokyo
DisneySea. But so far, OLC execs have been resisting WDI's entreaties. So the
thinking within the walls at 1401 Flower Street was that — if they filled a
hall at the Tokyo Disney Resort with some of Japan's most passionate Disney
fans and then allowed these folks to be the first to see concept art for James
Cameron's World of AVATAR — Oriental Land Company officials then couldn't help but notice the huge, passionate & vocal reaction that this proposed DAK
addition would receive from the crowds at this past weekend's Official Disney
Fan Club event. And after that … Well, maybe OLC execs might then be willing
to revisit WDI's proposal to add a version of James Cameron's World of AVATAR
to Tokyo DisneySea.

Toy Story Mania ride in the American Waterfront area of Tokyo Disney Sea
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The only problem with this idea is … Well, WDI's
relationship with OLC has recently hit a rough patch. As I understand it, Oriental
Land Company executives took issue with what it cost to add Toy Story Mania!
and the Toyville Trolley
Park to the American Waterfront
area at Tokyo DisneySea back in 2012. And ever since then, Imagineering has
been getting considerable pushback from Oriental Land Company, Ltd. when it
comes to the proposed budgets for any WDI-designed additions to the Tokyo
Disney Resort. (This is why the Cars Land project — which was to have replaced
Tokyo Disneyland's Rivers of America with a clone of DCA's Radiator Springs
area — reportedly went off the rails. All because OLC execs supposedly began
questioning what the Imagineers said it would cost to bring Radiator Springs
Racers to Japan).

So long story short here: No matter how enthusiastic those
Japanese D23 members were at the EXPO this past weekend when that James
Cameron's World of AVATAR concept art was unveiled, I seriously doubt that
we're going to see a clone of this proposed DAK addition begin construction
alongside Tokyo Bay
anytime soon. Which I know is going to disappoint a number of vice presidents
at Walt Disney Imagineering. Who were allegedly hoping that they'd then be able
to split the development costs of this obviously enormous project and its
ambitious attractions between The Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disney Resorts.

And speaking of enormous … There's this huge rumor making
the rounds right now about how The Walt Disney Company is reportedly in the
process of cutting a deal with Peter Jackson & Co. to acquire the theme
park rights to "The Lord of the Rings" & "The Hobbit"
movies. Which — I'm sorry to disappoint all of you J.R.R. Tolkien fans out
there — just isn't true. At least not according to the Imagineering insiders
that I've spoken with over the past few days.

Lord of the Rings: The Hobbit movie poster
Copyright Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

That said, I can understand how this rumor might have gotten
started. You see, back in December of last year, some WDI officials took a
contingent of New Line Cinema (i.e., the studio that has produced all of the
"LOTR" & "Hobbit" films) execs for a tour of Cars Land
at Disney California Adventure theme park and then very publicly wined &
dined these Hollywood types.

"And what was the point of doing something like that if
Walt Disney Imagineering wasn't actually wooing New Line to then award them the
theme park rights to 'Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' ?," you ask. As
I understand it, it was supposedly about this same time that James Cameron had
once again become difficult when it came to the development of World of AVATAR.
And given that WDI officials had reportedly grown tired of dealing with James'
I'm-taking-my-ball-and-going-home negotiating style … Well, it was then
decided that it might be time to at least pretend that The Walt Disney Company
was exploring other options. Maybe send a message to Cameron that the Mouse
might be considering dropping the World of AVATAR in favor of a "Lord of
the Rings" -themed area for DAK.

Now far be it for me to suggest that this tactic worked.
But here we are, some ten months later. And there's James Cameron posing for a
photograph with Tom Staggs & Joe Rohde, the three of them smiling down at a
finished-looking model for the World of AVATAR. So maybe this bit of theme park
theatrics on WDI's part actually worked.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

More to the point, given that The Walt Disney Company is
currently up to its knees in IP (EX: Marvel, Star Wars, The Muppets, Phineas
& Ferb
, Pirates of the Caribbean … to name just a few) that it owns
outright and has yet to leverage to full effect across its theme parks &
resorts, why would Disney then be pursuing the theme park rights for yet
another film franchise? Wouldn't it be smarter — strictly from a fiscal
point-of-view — for the Mouse to stick to its knitting? Make the most of the
intellectual properties that it already owns, rather than spend outrageous sums
to secure the theme park rights for another entertainment companies' IP?

And speaking of Star Wars … Just last week, MiceChat posted a piece about a
proposed Star Wars-themed redo of Disneyland's Tomorrowland area which
reportedly involved ripping out a good portion of that theme park's Monorail
track as well as shutting down the Autopia ride to make room for a new Speeder
Bike experience.

Well, I'm not going to say that MiceChat got it wrong. But I
think that what may have happened here is that MC may have gotten wind of a one
dimensional model that's currently sitting in WDI's model shop. Which — truth
be told — is just one of several different site plans for Star Wars-themed
redos of Tomorrowland that are currently being considered for that Anaheim
theme park.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

More to the point, given that there now are multiple
generations of Southern Californian drivers who got their first experience
behind the wheel by climbing into an Autopia car, Disneyland Resort officials
know all too well what sort of uproar would result should they ever decide to
replace this opening day attraction. Which is why they will look long and hard
at all other pieces of available Tomorrowland real estate before the Imagineers
then circle back on the idea of shutting down the Autopia.

And speaking of replacing Tomorrowland attractions at Disneyland
Park
… I did hear from one friend
at 1401 Flower Street that
one of the ideas that's reportedly being toyed with is relocating Buzz
Lightyear Astro Blasters
to DCA. Taking this interactive dark ride out of the
old Circlevision 360 show building and then moving it over to one of Paradise
Pier's expansion pads. Where it would then become a companion for Toy Story
Midway Mania
(not to mention help increase the hourly ride capacity for this
portion of that theme park). More to the point, once Astro Blaster vacates the
old Circlevision 360 building, that then would free up space for a new Star
Wars-themed experience.

Beyond that … I guess I should mention that while it is
unlikely that Disneyland's Autopia will be closed anytime soon, simplifying the
route that the Monorail takes after it enters that theme park (to be specific,
eliminating a lot of the looping & the doubling-back that this
transportation system does as it travels over Disneyland's old Motorboat Cruise
area
) is something that the Imagineers have been wanting to do for over 25
years now. So the fact that they're once again exploring this idea so that WDI
could then drop an attraction of size in the area between the Matterhorn
Bobsleds
& "it's a small world" isn't really all that surprising.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, what's always prevented the Disneyland Resort from
doing this in the past is that — in order to simplify the Monorail route and take
out all of those lengths of track & support pylons … Well, that would
then mean having giant construction cranes inside of that theme park for months
at a time. Not to mention shutting down popular attractions like the Finding
Nemo Submarine Voyage
, the Autopia, the Disneyland Railroad and "it's a
small world" for much of the time that this work would be going on. And
let's not forget about inconveniencing the folks who'd be staying at the
Disneyland Hotel while all of this Monorail track removal work would be going
on.

But given that Monorail service was going to be disrupted
anyway in the not-so-distant future once work finally begins on the
"Monsters, Inc." -themed coaster that's supposed to replace
Muppetvision 3D as well as Soundstage 17 (i.e., the home of DCA's version of
"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — Play It!") in the not-so-distant
future … Disneyland officials are now wondering if
they should just bite the bullet here. And that — when construction finally
goes vertical on the Doors Coaster and it's time to bring the cranes in to lift
all of that structure steel & ride track into place — the Imagineers
should just take advantage of this necessary closure of the Monorail to then
simplify this now-54 year-old transportation system's  layout in & around Tomorrowland.

And speaking of construction projects that are sure to be a
bear … You did see that concept art for that new night-time show which will
be presented on, in and around DAK's Tree of Life, right? Well, as you might
expect, a project like this is going to be huge. It'll basically involve
replacing all 102,583 man-made leaves that currently hang off of this 145
foot-tall structure, with leaves that feature an internal lighting
mechanism. Not to mention running the wiring for all these leaves out through
the Tree of Life's 756 tertiary branches and 7891 end branches.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

All of this work means that the Tree of Life will then be
surrounded by scaffolding for the better part of a year starting in 2015. But
the upside is … Once the scaffolding comes down, all of the faded green
plastic leaves that currently cover this structure will then be replaced with
leaves that look far more life-like; that are a deeper, richer green. More to
the point, many of the paths that are currently closed on Discovery
Island and much of the safety
netting that's now in place due to falling leaves & branches will then be
removed. Which means that the Tree of Life will then be returned to its former
glory, looking better than it did when this DAK icon first opened back on April 22, 1998.

Beyond that … I have heard some rumblings about the
night-time water pageant for DAK's Discovery
River area. To be specific, that
this will NOT be a "World of Color" -like, moving nozzle-based show.
But — rather — that it will make use of a NextGen version of the water screen
technology that's currently used in "Fantasmic!"

And one final interesting little bit of trivia here: As part
of the site planning work that's currently being done on both Star Wars Land
for Disney's Hollywood Studios and James Cameron's World of AVATAR for Disney's
Animal Kingdom, the Imagineers are reportedly deliberately folding in multi-purpose venues that can then be used in the future for fan events like
Star Wars Weekends.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which means (you guessed it) after James Cameron's World of
AVATAR opens in 2017 (which will be right inbetween when the first
"AVATAR" sequel opens in theaters in December of 2016
and when the
second extension of this film franchise hits the big screen in December of
2017), you should anticipate that DAK will then annually begin hosting "AVATAR"
fan events. Which will feature appearances by those movies' stars, signings by
the authors of the "AVATAR" books as well as limited edition
merchandise.

Remember. You heard it here first, folks. So be sure and
save me a spot in line for that special collector's edition of a mountain
banshee. Which will undoubtedly be offered at that first "AVATAR" fan
event. Which — the way I hear it — could be held at DAK as early as the late
Fall of 2017 (and might even feature an early work-in-progress screening of
"AVATAR 3").

Okay. Here's hoping that the above info gives all of you Disneyana fans
/ theme park enthusiasts something to chew on / debate in the coming week. In
the meantime, have a Happy Columbus Day, okay?

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.

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“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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