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Setting Sail with Walt in Mind: Treasure Planet

A Film Review and Commentary by Rhett Wickham

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EDITOR’S NOTE: What a treat it is to have Rhett Wickham join us as our special guest today. Those of you who are familiar with the insightful and entertaining articles that Wickham has already contributed to LaughingPlace.com are no doubt aware of Rhett’s unique take on the animation industry. As an actual industry insider, Wickham has a real appreciation for the artistry (as well as all the nuts and bolts stuff) that goes into the creation of a feature length animated film. Which is why it was so gratifying — as well as disturbing — for me to read the following feature by Rhett.

You see, this is an enthusiastic review and commentary of “Treasure Planet.” But at the same time, there’s some genuinely disturbing info folded into this piece as well. The stories about how key creative personnel at WDFA are being allowed to slip away to other studios, how the legendary studio machinery that cranked out this gem is being systemically dismantled … all just to save a few bucks.

Here’s hoping that you folk enjoy this piece as much as I did. With any amount of luck, maybe we all can “persuade” Rhett to start contributing regular features to JimHillMedia.com. Well, here’s hoping anyway.

Read and enjoy!

jrh

In a techno privileged and co-dependent 21st century, it seems that the old struggles harder than ever to keep pace with the new. Judges can barely hand down decisions on the likes of Microsoft before the technology is passé. But for moviegoers – and Disney animation fans in particular – the new has been struggling for decades now to keep pace with the old. The imprint of the patriarch’s hand is something fans long for at a time when Disney the company seems to have drifted farther and farther from Disney the founder and his unique cinematic ideology in particular.

Well, if you’re among that longing crowd (and I think everyone is to some degree) then look no further than “Treasure Planet.” For here, at the close of the second chapter of Disney Animation, is a film so “like Walt”, so true to his vision (and yet also uniquely of this present generation of artists) that it is cause for celebration. From its starry opening shot, to a touching final frame that echoes what many of the new generation must see when they look for Walt in the clouds, the film is rich in classic style and grace.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure tale “Treasure Island” has quite possibly mesmerized more boys holding more flashlights under more bed covers late at night than any other literary classic. I’d dare say the navies of the world are still littered with countless young sailors who first tasted the stinging salt air of adventure through Jim Hawkins, no matter how far inland they lived.

But the sea doesn’t hold the allure it did for our ancestors. The greatest adventure possible on the ocean these days may be braving a tour on the Disney Cruise Lines with only one change of clothes and little more than enough spending cash to tip the staff each night. Outer space on the other hand still holds great mystery, in spite of how many visual effects houses have insisted on populating the multi-plexes of the nation with their version of what lies beyond the stars. The fact remains that only an easily comprehended number of us have actually ventured beyond the atmosphere of our planet Earth. Out there is the unknown, the unseen, the daunting and the daring all surrounded by a thick black darkness in which stars twinkle and danger looms unseen, where dreams are sent to wishes made on distant lights and angry demons wait in hiding like the monsters under our beds at night. Here from the ground we look up into the ink of space and, if we stand still just long enough we can actually feel it – great adventure!

So it is that movies, like space, should have a mesmerizing effect on the child in all of us. “Treasure Planet” is spellbinding in its scope and compelling in its storytelling. It is also one of the most moving of the Disney films, and certainly pulls at your heart without being cloying or pat. The directors have overcome the near impossible task of creating a young male/older male mentor relationship that doesn’t swim in sloppy sentimentality, but still causes adult viewers to risk tearing up. More than one father will be insisting his family stay seated through the credits so that he can have a few moments to compose himself before hitting the red-eye revealing glare of lobby lights.

Like “Cinderella,” Disney’s “Treasure Planet” has a literal storybook opening. Only we don’t discover this until we’re shown a young Jim Hawkins at age three captivated by a great pirate tale told to him by his holographic storybook which animates the story (and conveniently lights itself under the covers) and comes to life with a resonant and appropriately baritone narrator. This modern marvel that threatens to make “hooked on phonics” obsolete is heard recounting the days when merchant ships sailed the galaxies laden with glittering cargo, only to find themselves prey to Captain Flint – an optometrist’s nightmare of eight eyes and a skeletal frame swathed in 18th century finery, complete with tri-corner hat and waist sash. But young Jim soon cross fades into teenage Jim 12 years later who resembles, in all imaginable ways, every thrill seeking, self-absorbed, authority testing boy who was ever poised precariously on the edge of manhood. When he is dragged home by robotic constables for violating probation and trespassing on his solar surfer, we quickly begin to see his working mother’s dilemma – a fatherless son in an ever expanding and dangerous social play pen is just waiting to become a juvenile statistic. If this sounds familiar, it should. It’s been going on well before the 18th century, but like so much else in “Treasure Planet” it has the ring of our modern world.

The former artistic director of the Yale Rep, Lloyd Richards, once commented that a good resident theatre company has an obligation to produce plays relevant to its community. The real test, wrote Richards, was if he could look at the audience sitting in the theatre just before curtain on any given night, and then walk out in front of the theatre and see the same mix of people walking in the streets. (A tough thing to achieve if you know anything about New Haven.) Well at the time “Treasure Planet” was being completed, Walt Disney Feature Animation was an awful lot like a repertory theatre company for the large community. And “Treasure Planet” more than any other Disney film of recent years, is most likely to draw in an audience that reflects the larger population, and entertain that audience with something relevant as well as mythic. Sadly, that repertory theatre company was blindly dismantled in a penny-wise pound foolish downsizing, but I’ll save that extended commentary for another time.

Over and over the film succeeds in reflecting the world in which its audience is living while taking them far enough away from it to not feel like “just another troubled teen movie.” Although impossible to predict, the film is so perfectly balanced between then and now that it may well outlive its contemporaries to remain as entertaining and delightful a parable for generations who will look at its holographic maps and solar powered sailing ships and think “Gosh, remember those?!”

This well crafted re-telling of pirates and treasure, of promises broken and self-reliance discovered has everything a great fairy tale has – unseen lands peopled by characters we never knew existed, death and mysterious tales told by firelight, fatherless children and surrogates larger than life. And most of all – a compelling, surprising, rewarding story. A great story with a great backdrop, to boot! Set in the future of yesterday and the past of tomorrow thanks to a magnificent vision guided by art director Andy Gaskill. Influenced by the Brandywine school of painters like Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish and NC Wyeth, the film glows with a lush and luminous pirate treasure palette. But this is an 18th century where when it’s storming outside you crank your windows to show a sunny flower filled meadow rather than draw the curtains. Not a Star Trek holodeck meadow, but an impressionist’s stained glass meadow complete with the sound of birds in the distant trees that fits perfectly with the sense and sensibility of its inhabitants.

The inhabitants themselves are equally as complex and compelling. David Hyde Pierce lends his voice to a Kevin Kline-like canine astro-physicist named Dr. Doppler. Supervising animator Sergio Pablos, who brought Tantor the elephant to life in Disney’s “Tarzan”, turns in a spot-on performance that opens up Hyde Pierce’s snotty tones to reveal one of the most original Disney characters in years. Musker and Clements have cleverly combined Squire Trelawny and Dr. Livesey of Stevenson’s novel and made him a single character who is far more interesting and much less stuffy, not to mention less confusing as the characters in the novel always seemed to be longing to meld into one. Pablos and Hyde Pierce give a priceless nod to another star trekking doctor that is so perfectly set up that you’ll never see it coming (and may likely miss a moment or two of dialogue thanks to the best laugh line in the film.)

Martin Short and CG animator Ozkar Urretabizkaia turn old Ben Gunn into B.E.N., a bio-electronic navigator who was long ago abandoned by Flint on this distant planet. One circuit short of being a toaster, B.E.N. provides delicious staccato counterpoint to the sullen teenage Hawkins and never trips while walking the requisite tightrope of silly sidekickdom required in every Disney adventure.

Doppler’s social foil, the space galleon’s captain, is cleverly transformed from the novel’s stiff-lipped Trafalgar-like Captain Smollett into a she-lion alien named Captain Amelia. Emma Thompson provided the vocal characterization for master animator Ken Duncan’s swan song in a long line of great Disney heroines – including Meg in “Hercules” and Jane in “Tarzan.” (Sadly, Duncan has defected to the browner pastures of DreamWorks where, like his defectors before him such as the once brilliant James Baxter, his talent risks going to waste or to seed. Duncan is the best animation actor of his generation to give life to female characters. Amelia is dead-on his best work to date. Too bad he’s unlikely to get another plum like this ever again if he remains under Jeffrey Katzenberg’s not so nimble animated thumb.)

The good news is that right on Duncan’s heels is John Ripa, who thankfully has raised his craft to its highest level with his performance as Jim Hawkins. Ripa’s only other supervising animator work was on “Tarzan” where he guided baby and young Tarzan. He bumps it up a few dozen notches with Hawkins, and rises above a perfectly fine but fairly by-the-book vocal turn by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This is the kind of break-out animation acting that sets the stage for a third generation of Disney artists to bring life to the screen for another twenty years. We eagerly await his next work as Ripa is presently training on MAYA and the proprietary Disney CG animation system so that he can bring his talent to bear on new characters using new tools.

It is the perfect blending of these tools – much like the film’s perfect blend of antique and visionary – that stands out above all else. The hand in glove or flesh in circuitry fit of Glen Keane and Eric Daniels is as close to perfect as anything on screen this season. Literally working on either side of the same character – Keane on the hand drawn John Silver, and Daniels on the cyborg pirate’s CG animated mechanical arm, eye and leg – the artists had quite a challenge. They overcame it with seamless perfection. However, collaborative efforts aside, this is Keane’s baby and there’s no doubt about it. Glen Keane is pound for pound and hair for hair, the most accomplished actor in any film this year, and it’s a sad thing that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can’t recognize his performance by nominating him alongside his more recognizable on-camera counterparts. Long John Silver is a marvel of animation acting that surpasses all of Keane’s previous work. He breathes rich and complicated life into this character that makes him the most believable and complex performance of an already illustrious career. While Silver is frenetic and sometimes even manic, he is always thinking and always alive with detail behind the eyes (or eye, as it were) and not just bouncing about to keep us from spotting the illusion of moving drawings. The character work here is so deeply layered with active and dynamic choices at every moment that this is an Oscar caliber performance, hand drawn but never once drawing attention to the fact it is “animated.” It’s breathtaking. This more so than the Beast or Tarzan secures the artist a place in history that I would be willing to argue makes him the greatest animator of any generation past, present or future – truly. And I repeat, the most compelling and accomplished personal work of any actor in Hollywood this season.

James Newton Howard has composed a score that supports the film without ever overwhelming us, but a hideous Johnny Rzeznik song comes very close to ruining a terrific montage that shows how Jim’s relationship with Silver matures. When asked why he wrote a song for a Disney animated film Rzeznik replied “because long after my band is gone and forgotten that song and movie will still be here.” I only hope they let James Newton Howard write something to replace it at some point in the future, once they realize exactly how quickly the band will be (and the song should be) forgotten. It’s the one misstep in an otherwise crisply and carefully paced picture.

Ron Clements has spent nearly three decades at Disney telling great stories. “Treasure Planet” has been a dream of his for decades. This film is Clements’ and partner John Musker’s best story telling effort since “The Little Mermaid” (which, for my money, is still the most solid and satisfying screenplay in the “new” Disney oeuvre) and the closest thing to classic story telling we’re likely to see from Disney for a while. Clements and Musker just might be the best directors at the studio. They’ve got a blue-ribbon recipe for mixing adventure, drama, slapstick and a touch of soap that makes their work perfect for the medium. Their influence on the Disney brand can’t be ignored and hopefully will continue for years to come.

“Treasure Planet” is a film Walt would have loved and that would have given him a tough time deciding in which Disney-land its inspired attraction should reside; Tomorrowland or Adventureland? Let’s just pray it’s not sequel-land. This is an adventure that should be left as is and not subjected to some horrible direct-to-video mess. Leave the performances and near-perfect closing shot un-scathed by franchise mania. Walt would have known to leave it where Stevenson did, as a journey we want to take again and again. I hope audiences will do just that. “Treasure Planet” is well worth discovering in either its standard issue format or IMAX, and you should skip the same old balloons and floats on television this Thanksgiving morning and take either the child or the child within to see it.

Walt Disney Pictures Presents “Treasure Planet”
Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements
Produced by Roy Conli, John Musker & Ron Clements
Adapted from the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Screenplay by Ron Clements & John Musker and Rob Edwards
Animation Story by Ron Clements & John Musker and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
Original Score Composed by James Newton Howard
Associate Producer: Peter Del Vecho
Edited by Michael Kelly
Art Direction by Andy Gaskill
Running time: 94 minutes.
Rated PG for adventure action and peril, but is suitable for all ages.

CAST (in alphabetical order)
CharacterVoice ArtistSupervising Animator
B.E.N.Martin ShortOskar Urretabizkaia
Billy BonePatrick McGoohanNancy Beiman
Captain AmeliaEmma ThompsonKen Stuart Duncan
Captain Flint & his crew John Pomeroy
Doctor DopplerDavid Hyde PierceSergio Pablos
HandsMichael McShaneMarc Smith
Jim HawkinsJoseph Gordon-LevittJohn Ripa
John SilverBrian MurrayGlen Keane
MorphDane A. DavisMichael Show
Mr. ArrowRoscoe Lee BrowneT. Daniel Hofstedt
NarratorTony Jay 
OnusCorey BurtonBrian Ferguson
SarahLaurie Metcalf Jared Beckstrand
ScroopMichael WincottKen Stuart Duncan
Silver’s Crew Adam Dykstra & Ellen Woodbury
Young JimAustin MajorsJohn Ripa

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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