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Scrooge U: Part XXXV — How “A Carol Christmas” kick-started William Shatner’s career

Jim Hill continues his look at many of the adaptations of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale. In today's installment, Jim talks about how a Hallmark Channel version of "A Christmas Carol" eventually led to Captain Kirk being cast as Denny Crane

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Are you a fan of William Shatner's Emmy Award-winning work on ABC's "Boston Legal"? If so, then you should be aware that one of the main reasons that William was cast as daffy Denny Crane was because "The Practice" creator David E. Kelley supposedly caught Shatner's performance as the Ghost of Christmas Present in "A Carol Christmas."

Copyright 2005 Goodtimes Entertainment

Strange but true, folks. This is the story that sorry-can't-reveal-my-source-on-this-one once told me about how William Shatner allegedly won the part of that Mad-Cow-Disease-stricken attorney. Late in 2003, Kelley had learned that the Hallmark Channel was putting together a new TV movie version of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale, "A Christmas Carol." Only this time around, the role of Ebenezer Scrooge was going to be played by Tori Spelling.

This Hallmark holiday special — to David E.'s way of thinking, anyway — reportedly sounded like it had the makings of some spectacularly bad television. I mean, "Empty Nest" 's Dinah Manoff playing the Jacob Marley part, "Diff'rent Strokes" star Gary Coleman as the Ghost of Christmas Past, the spokesman for Priceline.com as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Aaron Spelling's baby girl as Dickens' memorable miser? The casting alone made "A Carol Christmas" sound like it was going to be the TV equivalent of a train wreck.

So Kelley supposedly tuned in when this Matthew Irmas TV movie initially aired on the Hallmark Channel back on December 7, 2003. And much to David E.'s surprise, this veteran television producer allegedly found that there was a lot to like about "A Carol Christmas."

Copyright 2005 Goodtimes Entertainment

Of course, the fact that this satiric take on "A Christmas Carol" (Which reimagines Ebenezer Scrooge as Carol Cartman, the selfish hostess of a highly successful syndicated television talk show) even works at all … Well, writer Tom Amundsen deserves the lion's share of the credit for that. Given that he's the one who got the balance of elements just right here. Piling on the Hollywood in-jokes (So that this program would then appeal to the cynics in the crowd) while — at the same time — retaining just enough of the style & structure of Dickens' original holiday story that this TV movie still manages to tug at your heart strings.

As "A Carol Christmas" gets underway, Ms. Cartman's talk show is just hours away from a special live Christmas Eve broadcast. And Carol is being a b-i-t-c-h. She's running her crew ragged, sparring with Hal, (Holmes Osborne) the program's producer. This self-centered TV hostess is even abusing her loyal assistant, Roberta Timmons (Nina Siesmaszko). Sending this poor woman back to the malls on December 24th to do even more of Carol's holiday shopping. When all Roberta really wants to do is spend a quiet Christmas Eve at home with her daughter, Lily (Holliston Coleman).

But all that matters to Ms. Cartman is … Well … Ms. Cartman. Which is why Carol is really surprised after she leaves specific orders to not be awaken from her pre-show nap 'til 3 p.m. Only to find her slumber disturbed by her late Aunt Marla (Dinah Manoff).

Copyright 2005 Goodtimes Entertainment

Now given that her long-dead aunt is the one who taught Ms. Cartman everything she knows about how to treat people (EX: "Always keep your production staff waiting. It makes them realize how important you are"), Carol is somewhat shocked to hear Marla say "I was wrong." Because of all of the misery & ill-will that she caused during her time on Earth, Aunt Marla is now doomed to wander forever. Dragging her (admittedly stylish) gold chains behind her.

Anyway, Marla is there because there's still a chance to save poor self-centered Carol. And after warning her niece about the three holiday spirits who will soon be arriving, Aunt Marla disappears. Ms. Cartman … Well, she's quick to dismiss what she's just experienced as a hallucination. With Carol wondering aloud what Roberta put in her tea.

With that, Ms. Cartman tries to resume her pre-show nap, only to be disturbed by the Ghost of Christmas Past. Who Carol recognizes as the star of that old 1980s sitcom, "Little Pete."

Anyway, Gary takes Carol on a quick tour of her childhood. Which was far from idyllic, given that Aunt Marla was always push-push-pushing her to become a star. Doing everything that she could to put Ms. Cartman in the spotlight. Whether it be hectoring Carol's third grade teacher until her niece was finally given the lead in the school's Christmas pageant to deliberately sabotaging Carol's budding relationship with kind-hearted John Joyce (Jason Brooks). Who — though he only had a low-paying job working with Hollywood's homeless — still had planned on asking Ms. Cartman to marry him. Until — of course — Aunt Marla broke them up.

Copyright 2005 Goodtimes Entertainment

One particularly eye-opening moment comes when Carol & Gary find themselves in the back of a limousine. Where these two observe Aunt Marla cutting a secret deal with Hal, the producer of Ms. Cartman's talk show. Which involves slowly turning "The Carol Show" from a classy, high end chat show into a "Jerry Springer" -esque freak show. Which — while this change-on-focus will almost certainly ruin Ms. Cartman's reputation — it will also drive the program's ratings through the roof.

As Aunt Marla gleefully signs her new executive producer contract, she burbles: "I've worked my whole life for this." Which is when Carol realizes that — when her aunt had been pushing her all those years, taking Ms. Cartman to auditions, cold-calling agents — it wasn't because Aunt Marla really wanted what was best for Carol and/or believed in her talent. But — rather — because her aunt just thought of Ms. Cartman as a meal ticket.

From there, Gary takes Carol to Aunt Marla's funeral. Which — given how badly she treated people over the years — is pretty sparsely attended. Then Mr. Coleman sends Ms. Cartman to her dressing room. Where Carol tries (without much success, I might add) to dismiss everything that she's just experienced as some horrible dream.

Copyright 2005 Goodtimes Entertainment

So now that we've gotten through the Ghost of Christmas Past portion of the program, it's now time to bring on William Shatner as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Now in this TV movie, the Ghost of Christmas Present assumes the form of Dr. Bill, an on-air therapist who works for the same network as Carol. Which is kind of ironic. Given that the Ghost of Christmas Present is obviously in need of some therapy. Since he constantly talks in cliches and hates to be touched.

As you might expect, Shatner has a field day with this character. He brings the Ghost of Christmas Present to life in all his twitchy glory. Literally stepping out on the television set in Ms. Cartman's dressing room to try & make her aware of how those around her are spending Christmas Eve.

For Carol's assistant, Roberta, this is not a very happy holiday. Given that her ex-husband, Frank (David Chisum) — after years of being away — has just come out of the woodwork. Announcing that he now plans to fight Roberta for custody of Lily.

Copyright 2005 Goodtimes Entertainment

From there, the Ghost of Christmas Present whisks Ms. Cummings out to the suburbs. Where — after complaining about how all the grass & shrubs aggravate his allergies — this holiday spirit then takes Carol to the cozy home of her estranged sister, Beth (Paula Trickey). Which makes Ms. Cartman realize what she actually missed out on as she & Aunt Marla were relentlessly pursuing that career in show business.

The last stop of this Christmas Eve tour is a visit to the homeless shelter where John Joyce is now prepping a holiday meal for those less fortunate. Given how longingly Carol looks at John, it's clear that Ms. Cartman still has some feelings for Mr. Joyce.

With that, the Ghost of Christmas Present (In a clever nod to Mr. Shatner's old gig as the captain of the Starship Enterprise) beams Carol out into the middle of nowhere. Mumbling something about how a car will be along for Ms. Cartman shortly before William wanders off into the dark.

Copyright 2005 Goodtimes Entertainment

Carol is just about to freak out when she notices the black stretch hummer parked right behind her. As well as the driver dressed in black carrying the sign that reads "C. Cartman."

This — as you might expect — is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be. Who takes Ms. Cartman on a chauffeured tour of her future. Which shows Carol first walking off of her talk show, then falling into obscurity. Eventually being forced to accept low-paying gigs like cutting the ribbon at a retirement home opening.

From there, following in Aunt Marla's footsteps, Carol winds up at her own sparsely attended funeral. As the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be slowly lowers the lid on her coffin, Ms. Cartman begs for another chance.

Copyright 2005 Goodtimes Entertainment

From there, "A Carol Christmas" follows the usual path. With Ms. Cartman making amends to all those around her. She raises Roberta's salary, reconciles with her estranged sister Beth. Carol even manages to rekindle her long-dormant romance with John.

So — as Ms. Cartman & Co. gather on the couch to enjoy a reading of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" — the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Be all peer in at this happy gathering. As this Hallmark holiday special draws to a close, William Shatner smiles and says "I think we scared her real good."

Getting back to David E. Kelley now … He was reportedly so taken with Shatner's twitchy performance in "A Carol Christmas" that Kelley created a similar character to spar with James Spader in what was supposed to be the eighth & final season of "The Practice." And that character was — of course — Mr. Mad Cow himself, Denny Crane.

David then signed William to play Denny in February of 2004. And (if Kelley is to be believed) Denny was only supposed to appear in the last six episodes of "The Practice." In effect sending that Emmy Award-winning series out with a bang.

But audiences were so taken with Spader & Shatner's chemistry that the ratings for those last few episodes of "The Practice" surged. Which then revealed David E.'s real agenda. As in: Kelley was actually looking to create a "Practice" spin-off. Which was originally supposed to be called "Fleet Street."

Given the strong ratings that those last few episodes of "The Practice" received (As well as the wildly enthusiastic reviews that William Shatner got for his performance as Denny Crane), ABC executives agreed to allow David E. to go forward with a spin-off. But only if Kelley agreed to drop that "Fleet Street" name. Which is why "Boston Legal" wound up being called "Boston Legal."

So (just to review here) — by agreeing to accept a supporting role in a Tori Spelling TV movie that was meant for cable — William Shatner was given a chance to redeem himself. Where once Shatner had been kind of an industry joke (Captain Kirk / T.J. Hooker / Mr. Priceline), William is now a two time Emmy Award-winner. The star of one of ABC's top rated dramas. Shatner's hotter now than he's ever been.

All because William Shatner agreed to play the Ghost of Christmas Present back in 2003. Now if that's not an inspiring holiday-related story, I don't know what is.

Tomorrow … Will the good times roll when JHM checks out GoodTimes Home Video's animated version of "A Christmas Carol"? Wait and see …

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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