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Say good-bye to Little Red: Finale of DAK’s Kilimanjaro Safaris to be retooled

Jim Hill freshens up a JHM readers’ favorite as he talks about the pending redo of Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s ride-through zoo attraction

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According to Mark Goldhaber over at MousePlanet, the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is about to undergo a fairly significant rehab. And that once the redo of this ride-thru zoo is complete, one of the events that used to drive the story of this DAK attraction (I.E. Little Red has been captured by poachers! And you — the Disney World tourist — must now cut your safari short in order to help save him!) will then be snipped from the script.


Which I know is going to offend a lot of you purists out there. Who always complain when Disney theme attractions depart from their original storylines and/or get dumbed down.


But — truth be told — Kilimanjaro Safaris has never really played as well as the Imagineers had originally hoped. Which is easy to understand. Given that — just weeks prior to the April 1998 grand opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom — Disney execs ordered the removal of one particularly gruesome setpiece from this attraction.


What scene am I talking about? That moment in Kilimanjaro Safaris where your ride vehicle was supposed to just happen upon the enormous corpse of Little Red’s mother, Big Red.


The way I hear it, the children of cast members (Who were visiting DAK as part of that theme park’s Cast Member Only previews which were held back in early March) just lost it as soon as they saw that enormous fake mother elephant lying dead in the grass. These kids then cried loudly all of the way back to Kilimanjaro Safaris off-load station. Which (obviously) was not the reaction that the Imagineers had been hoping for as the action-packed finale of this attraction got underway.


Of course, the more sensible of you out there are probably already asking: “Why the hell did the Imagineers put a big bloody fake mother elephant corpse next to the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride track in the first place?”


Well, to answer that question, you have to understand that — back when the Imagineers were initially designing Disney’s Animal Kingdom — they were honestly hoping to use this new WDW theme park to help educate people about conservation. However, recognizing that the Epcot approach (I.E. sugar-coating an attraction’s key concepts, then cramming them down the guest’s throat) wasn’t exactly working, the guys at WDI decided to take a different tact.


This time around, the Imagineers’ goal was try and be subtle. To fold important information about conservation right into the very plot of the attraction. All with the hope that — as WDW guests rode through this ride — they’d somehow acquire a clue.


This is why — as guests float through DAK’s Kali River Rapids — they suddenly encounter that stretch of fake, burned-out rain forest. The idea that these WDW visitors are supposed to get (particularly as they narrowly miss being crushed by that teetering logging truck) is that “Cutting down the rain forest is bad.”


Okay, I’ll admit it. This is not exactly subtle storytelling. The point is that the Imagineers meant well. That — by including this overly grim sequence in DAK’s Kali River Rapids — they were honestly trying to find an entertaining way to teach theme park visitors about the merits of conservation. (Whether or not anyone actually remembers this message after the second half of Kali River Rapids — where they’re almost drowned like rats — remains to be seen. Anyway …)


This brings us back to the Big Red story. When mapping out possible story lines for DAK’s Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction, the Imagineers struggled to find a way to make guests aware of the dangers of poaching. After knocking around a number of ideas, these guys finally decided to borrow a page from “Bambi.”


You remember “Bambi,” don’t you? The Disney film that taught us all that “Hunting was bad” by killing off Bambi’s mother? Well, WDI decided to use the very same plot device to nail home Kilimanjaro Safaris’ underlying message.


This is why — as you enter the queue area for Kilimanjaro Safari — you’re constantly fed information about Big and Little Red. While telling guests about all the other animals that they’re about to see, the overhead monitors and voice-over narration in the pre-show — every so often — also mentions KS’s newest addition: the cute baby calf — Little Red — that Big Red recently gave birth to.


This seemingly minor plot thread continues to weave through the narrative of the first two thirds of DAK’s Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. As your driver takes your vehicle through all of the other animal enclosures, he repeatedly checks in with Miss Jobson, the attraction’s pre-recorded airborne naturalist. You know? That woman who’s supposedly flying over the game preserve in a plane, continually asking “Have you seen Big Red yet?”


The rest of the attraction’s story line is just as carefully laid out. The off-hand radio message that suggests that there may be poachers lurking about. The back gate to the game preserve that seems to have been busted in.


So now your driver finally takes you through the elephant paddock (where — if you’re lucky — you actually get to see a pachyderm or two) where you begin looking for Big Red and Little Red. Only the mother and child elephant are nowhere to be seen. So your driver continues on, taking you past the lions’ den …


When suddenly your driver spies it! Big Red’s enormous bloody corpse off by the side of the road (partially obscured by tall grass). Since her tusks have sawn off, this is obviously the work of poachers. Your driver quickly radios in a report, and is immediately ordered to give chase.


This was the moment that the Imagineers had hoped would be seen as Kilimanjaro Safaris’s thrilling finale. The high speed pursuit of Big Red’s killers (highlighted by the poachers actually firing a few rounds from a machine gun directly at your vehicle). Your jeep avoiding erupting geysers as you chase the criminals up a not-so-dry river bed.



Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC


Kilimanjaro’s climax comes when we catch a quick glimpse of the authorities, who have successfully captured the poachers as well as rescuing Little Red. As we wave good-bye to our new Audio Animatronic baby elephant friend, we’re told that — as a reward for helping to capture these criminals — we’re now going to be given access to the most exclusive part of Harambe’s game preserve: The Gorilla Falls research station. As we exit from our ride vehicle, we’re told to just follow the signs to our next adventure.


On paper, this sounds like an exciting if fairly innocuous to end the attraction, right? Well, imagine WDI’s dismay when they actually began cycling WDW cast members and annual passholders through DAK’s “Kilimanjaro Safaris” ride and found that they were getting dozens of complaints about the dead Big Red.


What exactly was the guests’ problem with the faux elephant corpse? Well, where WDI seems to have miscalculated with DAK’s Kilimajaro Safaris was that — right up to the attraction’s finale — every single animal that WDW visitors had seen had been real. Not Audio Animatronics. But really-for-real zebras, gazelles and hippos. All roaming free.


So now — in the closing moments of the show — the “Kilimanjaro Safaris” vehicle suddenly rolls past what looks like an authentic dead elephant. Which is why most of the children on board the ride vehicle (as well as some of the more gullible adults) immediately burst into tears. Because a really-for-real animal had seemingly been killed.


Just like Bambi’s mother.


Typical of the comments heard in “Kilimanjaro Safaris”‘s off-load area was this line: “I can’t believe that they actually let the poachers kill that elephant. I’m never going on that ride again.”


It was the latter portion of that guest’s comment that particularly concerned the Imagineers. For they were really counting ofnKilimajaro Safaris’ re-ride-ability (I.E. due to the unpredictable nature of all of the animals on display in DAK’s signature attraction, WDW guests were virtually guaranteed a different experience every time they rode the ride. Which — hopefully — would translate into guests riding Kilimanjaro Safaris two or three times over the course of their WDW vacation) to help put WDW’s newest theme park on the map.


But — if Kilimanjaro Safaris’ finale was already putting a bad taste in WDW guests’ mouths during their initial ride-through of that attraction — obviously something had to be done to fix this situation. And fast.


The only problem was that Kilimanjaro Safaris’ slender plot line basically hinged on that awful moment where Big Red’s tragic death was revealed. Without that moment, everything that followed — the pursuit of the poachers up the not-so-dry river bed, etc. — made absolutely no sense. And it wasn’t like the Imagineers actually had the option of redoing the attraction at this point. Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park was due to open to the public in less than four weeks.


The “What to do about the dead elephant?” question flew up the Disney chain of command until it landed on the desk of the company’s then-CEO, Michael Eisner. Eisner — who had been a big fan of DAK’s conservation message — was obviously reluctant to remove the Big Red sequence. He felt that the powerful image of that dead mother elephant lying by the side of the road gave WDW visitors a poignant reminder of the real cost of poaching.


But then there were all these complaints that DAK Guest Services was reportedly receiving from all those angry parents whose children had supposedly been traumatized by glimpsing the dead Big Red near the end of Kilimanjaro Safaris. Surely Eisner couldn’t ignore all these negative comments. After all, Disney World resort’s family friendly image might be at stake (not to mention the $800 million that the company had just invested in the construction of WDW’s newest theme park).


Not sure exactly what he should do, Eisner hemmed and hawed for a couple of days. Finally — just three weeks prior to DAK’s grand opening — one of Michael’s minions actually watched “Bambi” and learned the real secret behind the film’s powerful anti-hunting message. Enlightened, the flunky quickly shared this crucial bit of info with his boss:



Yes, “Bambi” is a memorable and powerfully moving motion picture because they shoot Bambi’s mother. But the important thing to remember is Bambi’s mom is killed off-camera. You hear the shot, but never actually see the mama deer go down. Her death is implied.


Eisner was thrilled when he got this news (for it meant that no expensive, last minute fixes for DAK’s signature attraction were necessary). He immediately told the Imagineers to pull the fake dead mother elephant out of Kilimanjaro Safaris and to rewrite the attraction’s script so that Big Red’s death is not seen but implied.


This seemingly minor series of changes virtually eliminated all guest complaints about DAK’s Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. True, due to the deliberately vague language that the drivers now use while taking their vehicle full of WDW visitors through the attraction’s finale (“Big Red is down!” rather than the previous, more specific “Big Red has been shot!”), some guests get off the ride and have absolutely no idea what has just happened. All they know is that they were enjoying looking at some African animals … and then — suddenly — their jeep sped up.


But this — as far as Michael Eisner was concerned — was the sort of vague guest complaint that the Walt Disney Company could happily live with. Which is why DAK’s Kilimanjaro Safaris opened on April 22, 1998 with its dead Big Red hidden well out of sight somewhere backstage. For years now, I’ve been expecting that her giant plastic corpse would eventually turn up for sale over at Mouse Surplus. But — to date — that hasn’t happened.


Anyway … Here we are, nearly nine years later. With the Imagineers now hoping that this upcoming redo of Kilimanjaro Safaris will finally eliminate some of the story kinks that resulted of Michael Eisner’s last minute edit.


Do you think this is a smart move on Disney’s part? Just removing the whole Little Red storyline? Which means that — from here on in — this DAK attraction will just limp to a close? Or is it finally time to admit that just half a story is worse than no story at all?






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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