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Monday MouseWatch : WDI hopes that its “Living Character Initiative” will make up for losing “Harry Potter” as well as Kuka’s robotic arm technology

It’s been a bruising couple of months for the Imagineers. What with Universal Studios acquiring the theme park rights to J.K. Rowling’s characters as well as gaining exclusive use of a technology that the guys in Glendale already had plans for. But Jim Hill details how WDI hopes to bounce back with a little help from Pixar

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By now, you’ve probably heard that Nikki Finke has confirmed what I wrote back back on February 5th (Though — to be fair here — I guess I should acknowledge that it was actually Arthur Levine of About.com & Lance Hart of Screamscape who first reported this story). That Universal Studios has in fact scored the theme park rights to J.K. Rowling‘s characters. More importantly, that Universal will shortly be announcing its plans to add a whole “Harry Potter” -themed land to the line-up of attractions that the company currently has at its “Islands of Adventure” theme park.


Mind you, Universal can’t be all that happy about Ms. Finke (Or me, Mr. Levine & Mr. Hart, for that matter) letting Crookshanks out of the bag. Given the elaborate security precautions that the company had put in place in order to keep “Project Strongarm” under wraps. With a 24-hour guard being placed on the Universal Studios Hollywood soundstage where that mock-up of the flying Ford Anglia had been built. Where only key members of the creative team and/or senior General Electric / NBC / Universal officials were actually allowed in to view and then ride the prototype.



Copyright 2002 Warner Bros.


Now you’d think — given the enormous amount of time, money & effort that the Walt Disney Company had wasted over the past few years in trying to woo Ms. Rowling, so that the Mouse could then score the exclusive theme park rights to “Harry Potter” — that the Imagineers would be rather upset to see Universal Studios wind up with those rights instead. But that’s honestly not the story that I’ve been hearing coming out of Glendale.


If anything, the guys at WDI are breathing a sigh of relief that it’s Universal — rather than Disney — that will now have to deal with J.K. on a daily basis. Based on the tales that I’ve been told about Mickey’s protracted negotiations with Ms. Rowling … Well, let’s just say that the author of the “Harry Potter” series is said to be somewhat difficult to deal with.



Photo courtesy of Google Images


Wait a minute. It’s probably not all that fair of me to characterize J.K. in this fashion. So how’s about instead that I say that Ms. Rowling was reported to be very protective of her characters. More to the point, that she supposedly had some very definite ideas about what a theme park version of Harry Potter’s world should look like.


How so? Well, according to the folks that I’ve spoken with who worked on the Disney version of this project … J.K. allegedly wanted each & every guest who was experiencing the theme park version of Harry Potter’s world to do so by first entering the Leaky Cauldron pub. Where — by tapping on just the right brick (“Three up and two across … “) — they’d then gain access to Diagon Alley, that odd collection of Wizards-only shops & restaurants that’s hidden away in the heart of London.



Copyright 2001 Warner Bros.


From this area (Which was — at least in the stand-alone version of the proposed “Harry Potter” theme park — supposed to have been the equivalent of Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. As in: That area that established the style & the tone of the theme park to follow. More importantly, Diagon Alley would have been where most of the guests purchased their souvenirs before exiting the park that night), these folks were then supposed to have made their way to Platform 9 & 3/4 at King’s Cross Station. Where — after magically piercing the barrier that separates the Muggle world from the Wizard world — guests would have then been able to board a full-sized version of the Hogwarts Express for a trip to Harry’s alma mater.


Which admittedly (on paper, anyway) sounds wonderful. But to the folks who actually run the Parks & Resorts side of things at the Walt Disney Company, what Rowling was reportedly asking for sounded unfeasible. Never mind the costs involved in building such an elaborate recreation of Harry Potter’s world, just the guest-flow issues (EX: In order to give each & every guest the experience of entering Diagon Alley through the Leaky Cauldron … Well, that meant that the Mouse would have had to have built multiple versions of this seedy pub and then staffed each of these) were enough to give these Ops experts agita.



Copyright 2001 Anheuser-Busch, Inc.


Even though this “Harry Potter” project was once viewed as Disney’s possible answer to Anheuser-Busch‘s Discovery Cove (Where every day, 1000 guests each pay nearly $300 for the opportunity to swim with dolphins at this ultra-exclusive theme park) … In the end, given everything that Ms. Rowling was allegedly insisting upon, Mouse House executives thought that it would take a decade or more to finally get a return on their initial investment. And given that no one within the company could actually guarantee that the public’s interest in “Harry” wouldn’t wane after the seventh book was published and the last “Potter” motion picture had been released … Well, it was then thought that it might be best if the Mouse took a pass on this particular project.


Plus (to be blunt here) given that — just about this same time — the Walt Disney Company was wrapping up its deal to acquire Pixar Animation Studios … Well, it was felt that the characters that John Lasseter & Co. had already created (Not to mention all of the animated features that this talented group of film-makers would be making for the Mouse in the future) would more than off-set the loss of the theme park rights to “Harry Potter.”


As one Imagineering insider told me last week:



“Given how difficult Rowling had been to deal with, losing “Harry Potter” wasn’t really that much of a loss. But Universal scoring an exclusive on Kuka’s robotic arm technology … That was a real heartbreaker.”


You see, to date, that’s been the under-reported part of this story. That it wasn’t just that Universal Studios had scored the theme park rights to the “Harry Potter” characters. But that Kuka had also awarded Universal a 10-year exclusive on using its amazing technology in a theme park setting.



Photo courtesy of Google Images


It was this news (and not that the Walt Disney Company & J.K. Rowling had failed to come to terms) that really upset the guys in Glendale. Mind you, before Kuka & Universal were able to hammer out their new deal, WDI did manage to score seven of these robotic arms. One of which is now being used in the angler fish sequence of Epcot‘s new “The Seas with Nemo & Friends” introductory ride. While the other six will then be used to create a similar sequence in Disneyland’s soon-to-be-opening “Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.” With three of these robotic arms being used to move angler fish around on each side of the sub.



Copyright 2005 Disney Enterprises, Inc.


But after that … The Mouse reportedly can’t get its hands on any additional Kuka arms for theme park use ’til at least 2017. Which definitely puts the kibosh on that “Incredibles” -themed “E” Ticket that the Imagineers were hoping to build. Which was to have gotten underway in a suitably incredible fashion. In that guests were first to board this free-standing ride vehicle that wasn’t attached to anything. Then this enormous robotic arm was to have reached down from above and attached itself to the top of this vehicle. Then that robotic arm was to have lifted that ride vehicle that was now full of guests up (in front of everyone who was still waiting in this attraction’s queue, mind you) and then carried it up out of sight into that show building.


Talk about your dramatic ways to start a ride ! So why didn’t Disney ever go forward with construction of this particular attraction? As one Disney official who was familiar with this project recently explained to me:



“(This proposed ride system) required the vehicle to connect and disconnect from the arm and no Kuka arm (to date) was capable of handling the capacity of a loaded concept vehicle. A more viable Kuka system had been under development by a more credible Imagineering group. With at least a couple of years co-development with Kuka on a custom-built, heavy-duty arm that could hold over 6 passengers. A mock-up, using the off-the-shelf arm, was presented to all sorts of Disney executives, including Eisner, Iger and Rasulo – and a lot of others from different parks. That mock-up supposedly had a ‘Harry Potter’ element.


‘The Incredibles’ version was a blue sky concept that, while looking like a out-of-the-box breakthrough, just wasn’t feasible.”


That’s perhaps the most ironic part of this entire tale. I mean, here was the Mouse — almost five years ago now — trying to use Kuka arm technology to create a “Harry Potter” -themed attraction. So what happens? Not only does Disney lose the theme park rights to J.K. Rowling’s characters to Universal, but then Universal goes on to lock up the theme park rights to Kuka’s robotic arm technology for the next 10 years.


Which you think would be a bruising loss for the folks at 1401 Flower Street. But — truth be told — the Imagineers that I’ve talked with are fairly philosophical about this whole situation. Okay, so Universal now has the theme park rights to the “Harry Potter” characters as well as Kuka’s amazing robotic arm technology. That just means that Disney will now have come up with some other way to wow its customer base.


And these days, the secret word at WDI seems to be interaction. Take — for example — that “Team Possible” interactive game that was play-tested at Epcot last summer? According to company insiders that I’ve spoken with, a much more elaborate version of this in-park-adventure is now due to debut in the parks in 2009.



Photo courtesy of Google Images


Or — better yet — how about the Muppet Mobile Lab? Most Disneyana enthusiasts already known about the field test that was done for this “Living Character Initiative” project at DCA back in late February / early March. But how many of you know about what became of that Imagineering prototype after all of those tests in Anaheim were complete?


Well, as it happens, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew & Beaker were then sent up to Emeryville. Where they delighted dozens of Pixar employees & their family members by rolling around that animation studio’s lobby and then trying to order lunch at the Cafe Luxo.


Which is pretty cool all by itself. But the Imagineers were also servicing their own agenda by bringing that Muppet Mobile Lab unit up to Emeryville. You see, what they were really trying to do was convince the powers-that-be at Pixar to allow them to create “Living Character Initiative” versions of the robots from “WALL * E.” So that — in the Summer of 2008 — just as this new Andrew Stanton film would be rolling into theaters … Well, seeming autonomous versions of WALL * E would then begin rolling through Disney theme parks around the world. With this cute little Waste Allocation Load Lifter units actually picking up & then disposing of various pieces of trash that they find on the ground as well as interacting with guests.



Copyright 2007 Pixar / Disney Enterprises, Inc.


Which (admittedly) may not be as much fun as going for a trip in the Weasley family’s flying car. But it does suggest a way that Disney can then make its theme parks seem that much distinctive & appealing than the Universal parks. By giving its guests one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art interaction with Disney / Pixar’s library of characters.


But what do you folks think? Is Disney going full force into the development of interactive theme park attractions as well as ramping up its “Living Character Initiative” program enough to make up for the loss of both the theme park rights to the “Harry Potter” characters & Kuka’s robotic arm technology?


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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