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Never mind about the $1.1 billion Disney just spent on its DCA redo. Why For isn’t anyone talking about the billions Mickey has poured into WDW over the past 3-to-5 years?



Brian K. dropped me a line on September 3rd to say:

Hey Jim!

I can't get enough of your site and I literally feel like I
"grew up" reading your insight into the parks and attractions, so
thanks! I feel like I already know the answer to this, but do you think we
might ever see a major investment in Walt Disney World's four parks? I know
none are near as fundamentally flawed as DCA was, but what about an announced
"five year plan" for the resort, divvying another $1 billion between
the four parks over the course of a half-decade? Indiana Jones at the Magic
; elements of Project: Gemini in Epcot; Cars Land at the Studios;
whatever big project (in my opinion, Beastly Kingdom) or an all-encompassing
World of Color fountain show in Discovery River at Animal Kingdom… With an
arguably "better" place to start than DCA had, even $250 million per
park could do wonders at WDW, and even just one major E-ticket per park could
really enliven things. If marketing plays it right, it could be an exciting

Concept art for Disney's Animal Kingdom's never-built Beastlie Kingomme area.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Keep it up, and thanks!

Brian K.

Thanks for the kind words, but … When you talk about The
Walt Disney Company making a major investment in WDW, you do understand that —
were you take a step back and take a cold-blooded look at what's been going on in
Lake Buena Vista  over the past 3-to-5
years — you'd see that the Mouse have already made / is making a DCA-sized
investment in The Walt Disney World Resort.

The original concept art of the Fantasyland expansion at WDW's Magic Kingdom theme
park (Please note the massive Cinderella / Sleeping meet-n-greet show building at the
very center of this image as well as the never-built Pixie Hollow area in the upper
right hand corner). Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

I mean, seriously, Brian K. Think about it: The Fantasyland
project? Depending on who you talk to, that's $380 – $400 million
right there (I'm told that the $250 – $300 million ceiling that had originally
been set on this project got blown through once Tom Staggs, the newly installed
Chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts decided to swap those elaborately
themed Cinderella & Sleeping Beauty meet-and-greet areas out for a Seven
Dwarfs Mine Train ride). Now fold in all of the design & construction costs
associated with taking that never-finished wing of Disney's Pop Century hotel
and then turning that abandoned  worksite
into the highly themed Disney's Art of Animation Resort PLUS those Villas at
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa that DVC is building right now. Then  factor in
the cost of all of the road widening that's 
been going on lately along Buena Vista Drive between DHS's back entrance
and Victory Way, the Golden Oak at Walt Disney World Resort project, the reimagining of Test
, that new "Phineas and Ferb & You: A Brand New Reality" at
Downtown Disney, the revamp of the Magic Kingdom's "The Magic, the
Memories and You!" show
, the costs involved with developing those
"Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom" & "Agent P's World Showcase
" games  … and we're now
up to  a billion dollars worth of additions
being added / improvements being made at  The Walt Disney World Resort without even
breaking a sweat.

And then when you consider all of the time, money and
research that the Company has already poured into WDW's  Fast Plus Pass project (which — FYI — begins
its second round of onsite field testing at the Magic Kingdom later this month)
… Well, that's another $100 million plus right there. And should these tests
go well and The Walt Disney Company then opt to go forward with full-blown implementation
of its NextGen program for  the Walt
Disney World Resort  … Between all of the
actual physical changes which the Imagineers will need to make in & around
this 43-square mile piece of property  (EX:
Doing things like changing the Rose Gardens off the Hub at the Magic Kingdom
into a gated fireworks viewing area. Not to mention significantly upgrading the
WDW Resort's overall wireless capabilities so that it can then actually support
& serve all of those Guests who'll now be trying to make dinner
reservations & book Fast Passes through their iPhones and Droids) … Well,
spread over four theme parks and 20+ onsite hotels, that'll easily be another
billion right there.

Which brings us to the real issue here. A concept that some  Disney fanbois seem to have real trouble
grasping:  The Walt Disney World Resort isn't
the Disneyland Resort.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

By that I mean: When you pour a billion dollars into the 510
acres that make up the Disneyland Resort, you can immediately see where most of
that money went. The changes that have been made to the Disneyland Hotel, not
to mention DCA's two new "lands" and all of the other rides, shows &
attractions that have been added to that theme park since its redo was
initially announced back in 2007 have been dramatic.

Conversely when you take a billion dollars and then try &
spread that across the 30,500 acres that make up the Walt Disney World Resort,
that seemingly huge amount of amount doesn't travel quite so far and/or have as
nearly huge an impact. At first glance, anyway

That doesn't negate the fact that Disney has in fact been
aggressively reinvesting in WDW over the past 3-to-5 years. But when you
compare road widening along Buena Vista Drive to — say — Disney California
Adventure getting Cars Land and/or Universal Orlando building the Wizarding
World of Harry Potter
… Spending money on improving resort infrastructure (which
is absolutely essential. Given the tens of thousands of people who travel those
roads every day) isn't quite as sexy or exciting as building another Radiator
Springs Racers
and/or coming up with an attraction that can possibly rival Harry
Potter and the Forbidden Journey

HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and copy-
written by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter publishing rights copy-
wright JKR. Copyright 2010 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

But to certain Disney fanbois, none of this sort of
reinvestment ever really matters. They just laser focus in on the chipped paint and/or
continue to moan about how the Disneyland Resort gets all of the cool stuff,
even though there's still $300 – $400 million worth of new rides, shows and
attractions about to be unveiled at the Magic Kingdom. If you
listen to these folks, the Fantasyland expansion (which none of us have actually
experienced yet) is already in the rear view mirror. These people (if you sample
various discussion boards around the Web) are already bitching about the budget
cuts that have reportedly been made to WDW's version of Radiator Springs Racers
which is reportedly in the works for Disney's Hollywood Studios. Or they're chortling about how
James Cameron and the Imagineers now appear to be having creative
when it comes to the "World of Avatar" project.

My advice is just ignore people like this. If Walt Disney Parks
and Resorts only built E Tickets in Orlando from here on in, these very same
fanbois would still somehow find something else to complain about. That's just the way that they're wired.  These people can't
help themselves. All they can ever see (and all they're ever going to see) are Disney's supposed shortcomings.

More to the point, when you're talking about a 30,500-acre
piece of property, you really have to take that 30,000-foot view. Take in the
property as a whole. And from that height / with that perspective, Brian K., you'll then clearly be able to see that Disney has been
pouring a ton of money into WDW over the past 3-to-5 years. But that amount has been
spread out over 43 square-miles. Not focused in on two relatively tiny little
areas like the Disneyland Hotel and the Disney California Adventure theme park.

The new monorail-themed water slide which was just added to the pool area at the
Disneyland Hotel.  Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Don't get me wrong. Would I love to see some major new
attraction being added to Disney's Hollywood Studios in the not-so-distant
future? Absolutely. But having said that, I also have to acknowledge that —
just last year — DHS did, in essence, get a brand-new ride with the arrival of
"Star Tours: The Adventures Continues" and the new multi-branching
version of that simulator's ride film.

Does saying / writing something like this make me a Disney
apologist? Nah. I prefer to think of myself as a Disney realist. Someone who
realizes that The Walt Disney Company is now a publicly held, multi-national
corporation with a board of directors who then have to answer to the Company's
shareholders  and  the investment community. I mean, Disney just
isn't the same Company that it was back in the early 1960s when Walt was
calling the shots. When it was only one man's taste, interests & fascinations that determined which films Walt Disney Studios made and/or which rides,
shows and attraction were added / subtracted at his theme park.

That said, I still have to admit that I can't quite
understand why the folks running Downtown Disney felt it was so urgent to gut
Pleasure Island back in September of 2008 and have since done nothing with that
piece of property. I mean, I know. The Global Financial Meltdown scared away a lot of the would-be lessees who were supposed to come on board as part of the Hyperion Wharf redo … But that was four years ago
now. Even taking into account the somewhat tentative nature of the U.S. 's
financial recovery (More importantly, given how the spending patterns of Guests who visit Disney World these days have changed. These people just aren't buying plush and  pins the way that they used to back in 2006 & 2007) it just seems
bizarre to me that so many of the shops & restaurants that used to do a
halfway decent business in & around Pleasure Island have since been boarded
up and/or torn down.

Hyperion Wharf concept art which gives some indication of how this Downtown Disney
redo was at least supposed to fit in with the West Side of this shopping / dining
complex. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

I mean, if you take into consideration the primo location
that the now-basically abandoned Pleasure Island complex occupies at Downtown
Disney (i.e. between the West Side and the original WDW Shopping Village), it's
like having a smile where the front teeth have been knocked out. The folks
running the Walt Disney World Resort really need to address this issue.

Which I suspect they already know. But when you're managing
a 30,500 acre parcel of land which — just last year — was reportedly visited
by over 25 million people … Well, you're always going to have one hell of a
"To Do" list. And — yes — I will admit that it is high
profile, big ticket attractions like "Expedition Everest" which drive
attendance at the theme parks & put heads-in-beds at the Resorts. But as
the balky Yeti AA figure in that DAK attraction has proven, you can't stint on
back-of-the-house stuff like maintenance. Especially during this social
media-driven age where bad news travels at light speed.

Sorry, Brian K. But what started out as a short answer to your
Why For question somehow morphed into this lengthy lecture about Walt Disney World. To be
specific, how a certain segment of the Disney fan community just can't seem to see that
the Company has continually been pouring huge amounts of money into
maintaining, upgrading and improving the Florida property. Given the blinders
that these guys wear, if the Mouse isn't spending money on mega-attractions for
the Parks like Radiator Springs Racers, it doesn't count for some reason. Which
(to my way of thinking, anyway) is silly.

Discovery River, Disney's Animal Kingdom's somewhat over-grown
central waterway. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Anywho … To answer at least one of your questions, Brian
K: Don't look for a version of DCA's World of Color to be built in Disney's
Animal Kingdom's Discovery River area anytime soon. In order to keep the illuminated
thousand fountains that actually drive this nighttime show working properly, they
need to be placed inside of a closed water system that's regularly / heavily
filtered. And given that DAK's Discovery River is supposed to resemble a
natural body of water which is somehow winding its way in and around that
theme park … Well, those really-for-real lily pads that you
see floating in the image above are an essential part of pulling off this thematic
illusion. And since all this floating flora would obviously regularly clog up
the high pressure nozzles which are used for dramatic effect in World of Color

You get the idea, right?  It's kind of an either / or proposition. If
DAK wants to bring in World of Color, it needs to change Discovery River into a
closed-off, highly filtered body of water like DCA's Paradise Bay. Which means
that you then lose all of the weeds & grass lining its shoreline. Which
help make Discovery River look like this living thing, when then helps to re-enforce
the overall theme of this theme park (i.e. that Disney's Animal Kingdom is a place that celebrates all animals. Living,
extinct and imaginary).

So — knowing that — I can't honestly see World of Color ever
being built in DAK's Discovery River area. But that said, that doesn't mean
that we won't then be seeing this DCA show (or — to be specific — some of the
technology & effects used to power this nighttime extravaganza) being
folded in to new & improved editions of DHS's Fantasmic! and/or Epcot's

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm sorry if yesterday's article about Sony
Pictures Animation's 10th anniversary threw off the momentum of JHM's week-long
experiment with doing a daily Why For column. But I wanted to make sure that
JHM's Southern Californian readers got a shot at those tickets for next week's
"Surf's Up" screening on SPA's Culver City campus. Which is why I
thought it was essential to first get an article out there that talked up this
event before I then began JHM's ticket giveaway.

I'm now going to push ahead with production of two more Why
For columns to round out the week. So if you have any Disney, animation or
theme park-related questions that you'd like to see answered in a story which
will be posted on this site, please send them along to

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 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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