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Much Ado about Pooh

Jim Hill finally weighs in on the “silly old” controversy that continues to rage about Disneyland’s new “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” attraction.

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Even though Disneyland’s new “Winnie the Pooh” ride has already opened for several months now, I’m STILL getting e-mails like this:

Dear Jim:

I just got back from Anaheim and wanted to write to let know you about how shocked & appalled I was with Disneyland’s “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” ride. I still can not believe that the Imagineers had the b*lls to rip out the “Country Bears” show in order to make room for this bargain basement abomination …

… and this:

Jim:

Do you have any idea where I might send a letter to express my disgust with Disneyland’s new “Winnie the Pooh” ride? What a cheap piece of sh*t that was, Jim. It looks like WDI cut every corner they possibly could …

Typically, the people who send me e-mails like this then go on to say that “Walt would have hated that ride” and/or “I know that Walt Disney would be rolling over in his grave if he knew that the company that he founded was foisting such a cheap, tawdry attraction on the public.”

Which is why I typically just delete e-mails like this. Reading them makes my head hurt.

I mean, where are these people’s sense of proportion? After all, we’re just talking about a theme park attraction here. Not ripping out the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel so that we can put in a sky light.

I just can’t understand how some people can whip themselves up into a frenzy over something like this. I mean — yes — I understand that Disneyland’s “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” ride isn’t exactly on a par with Tokyo Disneyland’s “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt.” And it really is a shame that that TDL attraction — along with its cutting-edge ride technology — didn’t make it over to Anaheim.

But that said, is this really a good enough reason for someone to b*tch and moan for weeks at a time? To cry out continually about the horrible injustice of it all? That — because Disneyland didn’t end up getting a clone of Tokyo Disneyland’s “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt” attraction — their life has now lost all reason and rhyme?

For those of you who are playing along on the home edition of the game, the correct answer is: No, Jim. It would be really stupid to do something like that. To obsess about something like that. After all, Disneyland’s new “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” ride is — when you get right down to it — just a theme park attraction. Not a sign of the end times.

Okay. Now I can understand how what I’m writing here today may infuriate a few of you. After all, based on what I’ve been reading on various Disneyana discussion boards, many annual passholders are still obviously quite disappointed that the Walt Disney Company opted not to add a big new E Ticket themed around the Winnie the Pooh characters to the assortment of attractions that the Mouse offers at its Anaheim theme park.

But would it help if I let you in on a little secret? Were you to review long-kept secret documents, reports that would reveal — in great detail — Disneyland’s expansion plans from as far back as the mid-1970s … you’d discover that — even back then — the Imagineers were still thinking small when it came to possibly adding a Pooh-themed attraction into the Anaheim theme park.

Don’t believe me? Then allow me to pull out my copy of Disneyland’s long range master plan circa June 1976. This report was prepared by the park’s interdivisional team and laid out — in five separate phases — a definitive plan for the expansion of the Anaheim theme park that was to have taken place over a 20 -30 year period.

Phase I of this plan was to have focused on the Frontierland and Fantasyland part of the park. This project would have involved:

“… the rework(ing) of the west side of Fantasyland. A marquee type attraction similar to Dumbo or the Rocket Jets possibly with a Mary Poppins theme would be added where the Fantasy I food stand is presently located. This would serve to set the area off as a new experience and create interest as a visual and physically exciting attraction. In addition, a new dark ride type attraction possibly a Pooh theme with 900/hour capacity would be added near Casey, Jr. The major attraction of the reworked area would be a thrill show attraction of 2600/hour capacity. This could be developed around Mary Poppins and include a major merchandise complex at the exit. The Pinocchio attraction would round out the area fitting into what is now the Mickey Mouse theatre, with 1000/hour capacity.”

The above is an exact quote from Disneyland’s once-highly-classified long range expansion plan. I pulled this paragraph off of Page 10 of the report (for those of you who like to keep track of these sorts of things.)

Now there are a couple of things that I find interesting about this particular plan:

1. Only the “Pinocchio” dark ride ever actually made it off of WDI’s drawing board. All the other concepts for new shows and attractions that were proposed for Disneyland’s Fantasyland (with the possible exception of that “Pooh” ride idea) ended on WED’s cutting room floor.

2. Now you have to keep in mind that — as this expansion plan was being prepped in the Spring of 1976 — Winnie the Pooh was coming up on his 10th anniversary as a highly popular and extreme profitable member of Disney’s stable of characters. Yet the Pooh ride that the Imagineers were proposing for Disneyland was to only have had an hourly capacity of 900 guests. Which was less than the number of guests that the “Pinocchio” dark ride would theoretically have been able to accommodate on an hourly basis.

3. It’s Mary Poppins, NOT Pooh, who’s really getting the star treatment in this version of Disneyland’s long range expansion plans. With that practically perfect nanny serving as the central character of a Dumbo-like spinner ride as well as the star of a “thrill show attraction” which would have been able to entertain 2600 guests per hour!

You see what I’m getting at here, folks? For over two decades, the Imagineers have NEVER been all that enthusiastic about the idea using Edward Bear as the central character of some huge new attraction for Disneyland. Why for? Well, mostly it’s because — when you get right down to it — the Winnie the Pooh characters aren’t really all that dynamic. Okay, admittedly they’re sweet and all. But Pooh, Piglet and pals aren’t really all that compelling … from a dramatic point of view, that is.

To explain: A.A. Milne’s original Winnie the Pooh stories are these cute little tales filled with whimsical moments. But whimsy is a pretty darned difficult thing to recreate. Particularly inside of a theme park.

I mean, the Imagineers did at least give it a try with their latest “Pooh” project. As you wander through the queue of Disneyland’s “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” ride, you’ll find many attempts at whimsical little touches. Like the recreations of Poohsticks Bridge and Eeyore’s house that you wander by. It’s just too bad that — given how tightly people are usually packed inside of this Critter Country queue — that cool little details like this often get overlooked.

And then there’s those beehive-shaped ride vehicles. I just love the design of these things. Particularly the little heffalump who’s tacked on to the back of every beehive. It’s just too bad that the ride vehicle used in Disneyland’s “Pooh” ride are far too proximity sensitive.

How sensitive are we talking here? So sensitive that — if the cast member who’s manning the attraction’s off-load position isn’t getting guests out of their cars fast enough and the beehives start backing up inside the show building — the entire ride automatically shuts down.

When this happens (and it’s happened to me twice on recent trips to the park), your beehive will gently come to a halt wherever you are in the show building. You’ll then hear an audio announcement from the attraction’s narrator (Disney vet Pete Renoudet, if I’m remembering clearly), explaining that a “sticky situation” has arisen and to please remain in your seats.

The next thing you know, you’ll see Disneyland cast members — clutching flashlights — moving along the “Pooh” ride track with almost military precision. As they pass your beehive, they’ll pause briefly to reassure you and your party that everything is fine and that “We’ll be with you shortly.” The cast members will then pull out multiple sets of bright yellow plastic steps (which are hidden in closets all over the show building). Which they then use to help the customers safely climb out of their cars. Then, taking people in groups of ten, the “Pooh” crew eventually escorts all the guests out of the show building.

Once “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” has been completely cleared of tourists, the cast members begin cycling all the beehives through the show building. The reason that they’re doing this is that they’re trying to get all of the “Pooh” ride vehicles back to being an equal and safe distance from one another. Once that’s accomplished, then and only then are Disneyland visitors finally allowed to begin boarding beehives again.

A TIP TO REMEMBER: Should this ever happen while you’re riding Disneyland’s “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” ride, don’t ever make the mistake of wandering away from this Critter Country attraction and grumbling darkly. As you’re exiting the show building, be sure and tell the Disneyland cast member posted outside that you’d like to go back on the ride as soon as possible. They’ll then direct you to go back up “Pooh”‘s exit.

Here, you’ll wait briefly in an improvised queue while the cast members quickly cycle all the beehives through the show building. Once all of the “Pooh” ride vehicles are safely spaced apart again, you — and all the other guests who were unfortunately off-loaded — will be given top priority. You’ll even be allowed to board ahead of all of those other poor folks who are still waiting in “Pooh”‘s crowded queue.

Whatever you do, don’t make this mistake of walking away, thinking that — once it’s broken down — Disneyland’s “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” is now going to be down for hours at a time. That will just give the cast members a chance to laugh at you behind your back. “What a stupid maneuver,” said one Critter Country staffer to his pal as they both watched some angry tourists storm away from “Pooh”‘s exit area. “It only takes us five minutes to reset this thing nowadays.”

Sure enough, just five minutes later, Disneyland’s “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” was up and running again. As we climbed back into a beehive, ready to go for another spin through the Hundred Acre Woods, I heard that same Disneyland cast member say to his co-worker “See? We’re getting good at this.”

I’m told that now that the kids who are running this Critter Country attraction have gotten a lot more experience at operating “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”‘s extremely fluky ride system that these sorts of breakdowns aren’t happening nearly as often. Here’s hoping that this is actually the case.

Which brings us — finally — to the ride itself. Admittedly, Disneyland’s new “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” attraction is NOT an E-Ticket. Which may not make it a truly fitting companion for “Splash Mountain” and/or a worthy follow-up to “The Country Bear Jamboree” (I.E. the Critter Country show that “Pooh” recently replaced.)

But that’s enough talk about what Disneyland’s “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” isn’t. Let’s now talk about what this attraction is: Cute. Charming. Colorful.

In short, it’s a nice little dark ride. An attraction that — were you to lift it up and drop it down in Fantasyland alongside “Peter Pan’s Flight” and “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” — would fit in just fine over there.

Which — as you may recall from the earlier part of this article — was exactly where the Imagineers had originally wanted to place their “Winnie the Pooh” attraction in the first place.

So — if you really feel that you HAVE TO find fault with Disneyland’s “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” ride — at least pick a reason that makes some sense. Like: this attraction doesn’t really belong in Critter Country. It would have made a better fit over, thematically, in Fantasyland.

Which is admittedly true. But that still doesn’t take away from the fact that Disneyland’s new “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” attraction is a fun little ride. Not an E Ticket, but still one fun little ride.

Which is why I think that this ruckus that you diehards continue to raise about Disneyland’s “Winnie the Pooh” ride really is (to quote Willy S.) “… much ado about nothing.”

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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