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Never Mind About “The Future That Never was.” What about the Tomorrowland that Tokyo Disneyland almost got: Sci-Fi City.

With “The Timekeeper” and “The Carousel of Progress” no longer even listed in the 2005 edition of Birnbaum’s WDW Guide, Jim Hill has to ask: Are Tomorrowland’s days as a viable concept at the Disney theme parks numbered? Will WDI ever get the chance to build even more outrageous takes on tomorrow — Like Tokyo Disneyland’s abandoned plans for Sci-Fi City?

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Let me share a piece of e-mail that I got earlier this weekend:

Jim —

Have you seen the 2005 Birnbaum WDW guide yet? I picked up my copy today at Barnes & Noble and was shocked to find absolutely no listing for WDW’s Carousel Of Progress and The Timekeeper show.

Was this just a printer’s error on Hyperion’s part? Or are the rumors true? Will both of these Magic Kingdom favorites be closing for good in 2005?

Trudy C.

Dear Trudy —

I wish I had some better news for you here. But — according to my sources within WDI — both the “Carousel of Progress” and “The Timekeeper” will be closing for good once “Stitch’s Great Escape” opens in November.

Which (I’m sure) will be sad news to all you “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” fans out there and/or you people who like Robin Williams. But it’s time to face facts, folks. It’s been years since either of these Tomorrowland attractions has even come close to drawing a crowd, In fact, in the ten years that “From Time to Time” has been open, this Circlevision 360 show has never once met its THRC (I.E. THRC = theoretical hourly ride capacity). In spite of repeatedly changing the signage out front in front of this show building, adding promotional banners to “The Timekeeper” ‘s marquee, etc., “From Time to Time” has never really caught on with WDW visitors.

“So what will we see as replacements for these WDW shows?,” you ask. Well … For nearly 15 years now, the Imagineers have been toying with the idea of bringing a Disneyland favorite — the Flying Saucers — to Florida. Only — in this incarnation — this rather troubled Tomorrowland attraction would be built indoors. Which would hopefully prevent this actually-pretty-popular-in-its-day ride from becoming the maintenance nightmare that the Anaheim original once was.

“So which Tomorrowland attraction would be gutted for the Flying Saucers?,” you continue. Well, there are two schools of thought when it comes to which show building would best be suited for the Magic Kingdom version of this old Disneyland favorite. Some Imagineers are pulling for the “Carousel of Progress” because … Well … The show building’s already round. So — with a little work on the COP’s exterior — this Tomorrowland icon could easily be turned into a full-sized replica of a flying saucer. With the idea being that WDW guests would then queue up outside of the full-sized saucer so that they could eventually go inside and test drive a smaller version of the same vehicle.

Of course, the only problem with this proposed retro fit is that most of the “Carousel of Progress” ‘s queue area is exposed to the elements. So when it rains, even the guests who are standing under the attraction’s outside overhang still sometimes get wet.

This is why some Imagineers are pushing for “From Time to Time” to become the home of the Magic Kingdom’s proposed “Flying Saucer” ride. You see, the Circlevision 360 show building has a huge internal queue area. Which would (in theory) eliminate all of WDI’s concerns about Central Florida’s changeable weather having any sort of a negative impact on WDW guests being able to enjoy this alleged Tomorrowland addition.

There’s no official word yet as to which show building this proposed new Disney World attraction will eventually end up in. To date, all that my sources within WDI will say is that they hope to have the Magic Kingdom’s “Flying Saucers” ride up and running by October 2006. Just in time for WDWs’ 35th anniversary celebration.

I know that the above news will disappoint a lot of you “Carousel of Progress” and “Timekeeper” fans out there. But — me personally — I’m more concerned about what the Tomorrowland purists will say. You know, those folks who are becoming increasingly upset because more cartoon-inspired attractions like “Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin” and “Stitch’s Great Escape” are being built on this side of the theme park.

Well, if you’re not happy about Buzz & Stitch being in Tomorrowland, you’re certainly not going to be excited about the possible themes being considered for Disney World’s proposed “Flying Saucers” ride. One version would have the attraction being hosted by the Little Green Men featured in “Toy Story” & “Toy Story II.” While another version of this alleged Tomorrowland addition would feature the aliens from an alternate dimension who play the villains in Disney’s Summer 2005 release, “Chicken Little.”

That’s right. Aliens from an alternate dimension are the villains in “Chicken Little.” Why else do you think that that film’s teaser trailer ends with the catch-phrase: “This time, the sky really is falling”?

Anyway … I know a lot of your Tomorrowland purists out there are troubled by the idea that the Walt Disney Company seems to be turning its back on Walt’s original concept for this side of the theme park. Which was to have been a place where the hopes & dreams of tomorrow would be celebrated. Where hard fact as well as scientific speculation — rather than figures from the studio’s fantasy films — would serve as the inspiration for Tomorrowland’s attractions.

Well, those days are gone, folks. Over the past 50 years, the Imagineers have grown tired of trying to predict what tomorrow will be like. Of spending tens of millions of dollars on these hopeful, optimistic, futuristically-themed rides & shows … Only to have the future not follow the predicted path. Which means that — every 10-15 years or so — the guys from WDI are forced to go back to the drawing board and come up with yet another concept for Tomorrowland.

This explained why — back in 1994 in Orlando and in 1998 in Anaheim — the “Future That Never Was” theme was embraced by both of the stateside Tomorrowland. Rather than waste time & money on trying to predict how the future was going to turn out, the Imagineers began to indulge in this strange mix of sci-fi and nostalgia. Which is why Tomorrowland soon became a place where Buck Rogers would feel at home.

Speaking of Buck Rogers: Had executives from the Oriental Land Company actually okayed the Imagineers’ plans for the redo of Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, the original space ranger would have felt very much at home on this side of that theme park.

Never mind about the “Future That Never Was.” How would you like a peek at the “Tomorrowland that Never Happened,” Sci-Fi City?

Sci-Fi City would have been the most ambitious redo of any of the Tomorrowlands around the globe. These plans called for a top-to-bottom reimaging of this entire side of Tokyo Disneyland.

Mind you, some of TDL’s classic Tomorrowland attractions would have remained in place. According to the version of the plans that I’ve seen (circa 1998), both “Star Wars” as well as “Microadventure” (AKA TDL’s “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” attraction) would have stayed right where they were. Though the exteriors of both of these Tomorrowland shows would have recieved a significant redesign.

But everything else in Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland (And — yes — I’m including Space Mountain) would have received a significant upgrade. Soooo … You wanna take a peek at what might have been?

Guests entering Sci-Fi City would have come in from TDL’s Hub via Cosmic Way. Cosmic Way was to have been …

… the “Main Street” of Science Fiction … Bright, colorful and elegant, Cosmic Way is full of futuristic technology and labor-saving devices, gadgets and gizmos. Inspired by “The Jetsons,” “Buck Rogers” and “The Rocketeer,” guests can board Rockit Bikes and onto the Sci-Fi City freeway for fun and adventure.

Yeah, you read that right. Rockit Bikes. Just like Disneyland’s Rocket Rods, this …

… high speed new E-Ticket adventure guarantees to appeal to the teenage audience. Guests will be “rocket launched” to traverse Sci-Fi City on intergalatic motorcycles, maneuvering through craters, crashed spaceships, HyperSpace Mountain and Cosmic Way at fast speed and around sharply banked turns. THRC: 1800.

Okay. I know. One of the names in the above attraction description leaped right out at you: HyperSpace Mountain. That proposed Sci-Fi City attraction was to have been …

… an enhanced version of the existing TDL Space Mountain which includes on-board audio, new show elements in the pre-show and along the ride, a new facade as well as a new entrance queue. THRC: 2160.

Of course, that “Hyper Space Mountain” facade would have been just one of the amazing signs that you’d have been able to see as you strolled around Galactic Circle …

… the kinetic “Times Square” of Sci-Fi City, with video walls, kinetic sculptures and animated electronic billboards. Flashing against the backdrop of “Hyper Space Mountain.” Inspired by “Metropolis,” “Blade Runner” and “Judge Dredd.”

One of the nicest new touches for this section of Sci-Fi City would have been the redo of Tokyo Disneyland’s Rocket Jets. Borrowing a page from Disneyland’s past (as well as Disney World’s future), this attraction’s rocket-like vehicle would have been replaced by saucer-shaped cars. So that you could …

… pilot your own spaceship in an updated version of Rocket Jets. New facades will allow the guest to load below the crater’s surface and emerge into the skylight for the flight above Crater Town.

” ‘Crater’s surface?!’ ‘Crater Town’ ?! What’s that?,” you ask. Well, Crater Town was to have been …

… This rambling gathering of temporary structures and cannibalized spaceships is literally a “Boom Town,” the product of on-going meteor showers. These meteors have provided Crater Town’s temporary residents the opportunity to set up a mining operation — uncovering rich mineral contents within the meteors. Guests can tour the craters via Lunar Rovers, or visit genetically engineered alien lifeforms in the Sci-Fi Zoo, or walk-through the craters. The thrill-seekers can search out the Space Pirates hideout … Inspired by “Mad Max,” “Waterworld” and “Outland.”

Okay. I know. I can hear you Disney theme park info junkies out there gibbering already. “Lunar Rovers?!” “Sci-Fi Zoo?!” Hang on. Here’s the breakdown on the Lunar Rovers. Which were supposed to have been …

… a modified version of the existing Grand Prix ride system, with upgraded vehicle bodies and tires, new electric motors and on-board effects, anti-collision software and a new track layout which will allow guests to traverse crater landscape and mining operations, exploring terrain that has been bombarded by meteor showers throughout the centuries. Ideal attraction for smaller children and their parents. THRC: 2160

As for the “Sci-Fi Zoo” … Well, this was to have been Sci-Fi City’s big new show …

... a new E-Ticket attraction that features an interactive alien zoo walk-through with amazing state-of-the-art audio-animatronic figures, climaxing in a huge theater show with large-scale animation and fantastic bottomless pit “fog effect.”

As for the “Space Pirate Hideout” … I’m told that this section of Crater Town was to have been inspired by the then-still-in-production animated feature, “Treasure Planet.” This was the area where Tokyo Disneyland guests could have queued up to meet Jim Hawkins, B.E.N. and Long John Silver.

Anywho … The above all sounds very snazzy, doesn’t it? So why didn’t Oriental Land Company executives opt to go forward with this radical redo of Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. Well, for starters, OLC was already pouring nearly $3 billion into an expansion of the TDL resort. With most of that money going into the construction & creation of the Tokyo DisneySea theme park as well as the Miracosta Resort Hotel.

Then there was the problem with Disneyland’s Rocket Rods attraction. Given that the Imagineers couldn’t ever seem to get the Anaheim version of this attraction working properly, Oriental Land Company execs were understandably reluctant to okay an expensive redo of Tokyo Disneyland’s own Tomorrowland section that would be built around yet another version of the troubled Rocket Rods ride.

So OLC executives tabled all of WDI’s plans for an ambitious redo of TDL’s Tomorrowland. Opting instead to take a more piecemeal approach. I.E. Adding one new attraction at a time. Like this year’s opening of Tokyo Disneyland’s popular “Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters” ride.

Still — with the announcement earlier this month that the Oriental Land Company is planning to do $1.28 billion worth of expansion at both Tokyo Disneyland & Tokyo DisneySea — some Imagineers are holding out hope that their ambitious plans for Sci-Fi City may yet rise from the ashes. Which would leave Tokyo Disneyland with the greatest Tomorrowland of them all.

But — as for all us stateside Disney theme park fans … Well, I guess (as of this moment) that the best that we can hope for is that — once the Imagineers decide which location Disney World’s proposed “Flying Saucers” attraction is going to get built in — that WDI will then get started knocking around ideas for what they can build inside of that other empty Tomorrowland show building.

Me personally? I think that a WDW version of TDL’s proposed “Sci-Fi Zoo” attraction would be pretty snazzy.

But what are 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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