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Monday MouseWatch : Will the third time be the charm with Disney’s Muppet revival project ?

Jim Hill walks us through the recent history of the Muppet Holding Company / Muppet Studios LLC. Which has blown through a trio of seasoned Disney VPs in the past three years. So now the question is: Does Lylle Breier really have what it takes to restore Jim Henson’s once-beloved set of characters to their former glory?

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It was three years ago this week that — after more than a decade of doggedly pursuing Miss Piggy & pals — the Walt Disney Company finally completed its acquisition of the Muppets.


And on the heels of the completion of this deal came news of Mickey’s very ambitious plan to revive this much beloved franchise. With Chris Curtin — formerly the Mouse House’s head of synergy — being named as Vice President and General Manager of the Muppet Holding Company. And given that Chris had previously been then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s special assistant … Well, it was thought that Curtin might then be able to use his political clout to bring about a fast-moving, broad-based revival of the Muppet franchise within the various divisions of the Disney corporation.


Well, it didn’t quite happen that way. Unfortunately, Chris was placed in charge of Muppet Holding just as Michael was being major-league distracted by Roy Disney & Stanley Gold’s efforts to unseat him. And following Eisner’s September 2004 announcement that he would be stepping down as Disney’s CEO in one year’s time … Well, Michael’s power within the Mouse House rapidly began to wane after that. Which — in turn — made it that much more difficult for Curtin to “persuade” various Disney department heads to get on board with his Muppet revival project. Given that his once all-powerful patron would soon be out of power.


Still, Chris & his team at Muppet Holding did what they could to quickly put Piggy & pals back in the spotlight. That fall, production of a new TV movie — “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” — was greenlit. A Muppets.com website was launched in November of 2004 while Curtin arranged for the characters to appear on the Christmas 2004 edition of “Saturday Night Live.”



Copyright 2004 NBC / Universal


Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes, Chris met with various high powered players in an effort to kick-start Disney’s Muppets revival. And Curtin seemed startled by the calibre of the talent who were anxious to work with these characters. Take — for example — one of the original creators of “The Simpsons” (And — no — I can’t tell you his name) who actively campaigned to become the creator of the next Muppet TV series.


Still, Curtin felt that the real key to successfully relaunching this franchise was to make Kermit & Co. appear to be as hip & edgy as possible. Which is why he persuaded the oh-so-trendy Fred Segal stores to begin selling pricey Muppet themed t-shirts. Chris also had Animal & Pepe the Prawn appear at the 2005 X Games while a team of top-flight writers readied these characters’ first foray into the world of reality television by drafting an “America’s Next Muppet” pilot script.


But what Curtin really hoped would bring about the Muppets revival was a world-wide celebration of Kermit’s 50th birthday. This 15-month-long event was to have sent the world’s most famous frog around the globe to meet with his fans at far-flung locations like the Great Wall of China and the Eiffel Tower. There was (of course) supposed to have been tons of 50th anniversary merchandise as well as a TV special that would have then featured footage of Kermit’s trip ’round the globe.



 Copyright 2005 Muppet Holding Company, LLC


But just days before “Kermit’s World Tour” was to have begun (Appropriately enough, with a visit to Kermit, TX.), Chris Curtin was suddenly removed as the head of the Muppet Holding Company. And in his place, Disney’s newly installed CEO Bob Iger put Russell Hampton. Who was then the Senior Vice President and General Manager of the company’s Baby Einstein franchise.


Why exactly did Bob swap out Chris for Russell? Given that Curtin still works for the Walt Disney Company (He’s now the Vice President in charge of Global New Media for Disney Parks & Resorts. Which — given the size of Chris’ new staff as well as the budget that he now rides herd on — this new position was arguably a promotion from his old gig at Muppet Holding), it wasn’t that Iger was unhappy with Curtin’s work. But — rather — that Disney’s new CEO felt that a somewhat different approach should be taken with the Muppets.


And rather than spending Disney’s money on this elaborate world-wide celebration of Kermit’s 50th birthday … Well, Russell Hampton made it his mission that the Muppets should start making moolah for the Mouse. And the sooner, the better.


So even though Kermit had already made the first three stops of his world tour (I.E. Visiting Kermit, TX, touring the Johnson Space Center in Houston as well as dropping by Radio City Music Hall in NYC to share some birthday cake with the Rockettes), Russell abruptly pulled the plug on the rest of that project. He also significantly scaled back Chris Curtin’s effort to make the Muppets appear hipper & edgier than they actually were.


Truth to be told, Hampton approached Kermit & company the exact same that he had handled the Baby Einstein franchise. Not as a beloved set of characters. But — rather — as a product that was to be exploited. Which is why — on Russell’s watch — Muppet Holding was quick to cut a deal with the Ford Motor Company so that Kermit could then appear in commercials for their new Escape Hybrid (You can see Kermit’s new on-line ad for the 2008 Escape Hybrid by clicking on this link).



Copyright 2005 Ford Motor Company / Muppet Holding Company, LLC


Of course, what made Hampton’s efforts to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible off of the Muppets particularly difficult was … Well … Many of the licensing deals that the Jim Henson Company had originally cut with vendors prior to selling off Piggy & pals to Mickey had yet to expire. Which meant that (in some cases for specific lines of goods) it would be years before Disney Consumer Products could really start cashing in on the Muppet franchise.


Which is why (Given that — in early 2006 — ABC seemed very reluctant to actually greenlight production of “America’s Next Muppet.” Opting instead to give that proposed show’s production team some notes and insisting that the program’s pilot be rewritten) Hampton began exploring other options. And among these was licensing these characters to TF1. In effect allowing that French television network to create a brand-new Muppet show (Featuring scripts that had first been approved by Russell’s staff, of course).


The end result — “Muppet TV” — wasn’t a disaster. But it wasn’t a smash hit either. Disney insiders who have seen all 10 episodes that were produced last year say that the main reasons that this French-language show didn’t quite catch on with viewers was A) it was in an odd timeslot (Sunday evenings starting at 5:30 p.m.) and B) each episode of “Muppet TV” was an hour long. Which (as NBC’s “The Jim Henson Hour” proved back in the Spring of 1989) is a particularly difficult length-of-show for the Muppets to maintain.


In the end, due to the fact that there’d recently been a change in management at the uppermost levels of this French television networks, TF1 opted not to order a second set of “Muppet TV” shows. Which — to be honest — suited the folks at Muppet Holding (Which recently changed its name to Muppet Studios LLC) just fine.


 
Copyright TF1 / Muppet Studios, LLC


Why For? Well, Russell Hampton left Muppet Studios back in May of 2006 to become the new president of Disney Publishing Worldwide. Which left Piggy & pals rudderless for a short while. At least until Lylle Breier arrived on the scene.


“And who is Lylle Breier?,” you ask. Well, are you familiar with that “Pocahontas in the Park” event that Walt Disney Pictures held in Central Park back in June of 1995? Or — better yet — that time when Disneyland‘s Main Street Electrical Parade rolled through the concrete canyons of Manhattan in 1997 to help promote the world premiere of “Hercules” ? Or any of the other elaborate events that the Mouse has used over the past 15 years to help launch some of its major motion pictures. If so … Well, then you have Ms. Breier — who is Senior Vice President of Special Events at Walt Disney Studios — to thank for those spectaculars.


And with Lyelle now serving as the Muppets champion at Disney … To be honest, this is great news for Kermit & company. Given that Breier reportedly doesn’t think that the Muppets need to be hipper & edgier in order to appeal to today’s audiences. Nor does she view them as some product that needs to be exploited. But — rather — Lylle thinks that the Muppets are just this truly entertaining, endearing & enduring set of characters that the Walt Disney Company has yet to use to their fullest potential.


And to make sure that the Mouse starts making better use of these characters … Breier’s first order of business (once she took charge of Muppets Studios LLC back in the Fall of 2006) was to move the company out of those industrial park offices that they’d been sharing with Baby Einstein over in Glendale. She then had the Muppets set up shop right on the Disney lot. So that they could see & be seen.



Copyright 2004 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Muppet Holding Company, LLC


From there, Lylle began meeting with writers to hear their pitches about what could possibly be done with the Muppets today. And one of the the more intriguing ideas came from sitcom vet Bill Prady‘s pitch. Who suggested that Fozzie & friends could appear in this “The Office” -like show about living & working in modern day Hollywood.


A 10-minute-long presentation reel version of Prady’s pitch was filmed back in January. To date, no official decision has been made about possible future development of this project. More recently, there has been talk about possibly doing this brand-new series of Muppet-related shorts & interstitials. Which would then be presented on the Disney Channel to help get today’s tweens interested in this classic group of characters.


Which (to some) may seem like an odd choice. Like Lylle is revisiting Chris Curtin’s old let’s-make-the-Muppets-seem-hip-and-edgy idea.


But know this: Breier is already fiercely protective of the Muppets. Having helped to shift control of these characters from Disney Consumer Products over to the Studio side of the Mouse Factory, she’s now determined to use Miss Piggy & pals in the way that Jim Henson originally intended them to be used. Not as nostalgic figures who can then be used to sell “Pizza Hut” products to baby boomers. But — rather — as characters who, first & foremost, are meant to entertain.


Mind you, reviving the Muppet franchise — returning these characters to the level of popularity that they once enjoyed back in the 1970s — may be a lot tougher than Lylle originally thought. Take — for example — what happened back in late February / early March, when WDI’s new “Muppet Mobile Lab” was being play-tested at DCA.


The crowds that stood around that theme park’s Hollywood Pictures Backlot area viewing this demo were admittedly wowed by this Living Character Initiative unit. The only problem was — when these people were asked afterwards to name the two mechanical Muppets that they’d just seen — almost none of them could then remember Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and/or Beaker’s names. Or — for that matter — could actually identify these characters as Muppets.



 Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc / Muppet Studios, LLC


But still Breier (While still overseeing her duties at Disney’s Special Events office) is determined to give this Muppet-franchise-revival project her very best shot. And given that Lylle has a great working relationship with Dick Cook, the Chairman of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group (Who’s also said to be a huge Muppet fan) … Well, we may see Kermit & company back up on the big screen before too long.


That said, you have to walk before you can run. So — for now — the folks at Muppet Studios, LLC are concentrating on making sure that each of these new short films that are currently in the works for the Disney Channel are as as entertaining as they can possibly be. So that — when tweens go to DCA and see that “Muppet Mobile Lab” unit roll by — they can then say: “Hey, there goes Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker !”


Here’s hoping that this third management team proves to be the charm for Disney’s Muppet revival project.


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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