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So how are we doing so far?

In honor of the one month anniversary of the launch of JimHillMedia.com, Jim revisits a few recent stories, then solicits suggestions as to what we can do to make this site more entertaining for our regular readers.

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“And they said it would never last.”

Welcome to the one month anniversary celebration of the official launch of JimHillMedia.com. (There will now be a slight pause for those of you who wish to mutter “Who cares?”). Nearly 10,000 of you have dropped by this quiet corner of the Web in the past four weeks. Which sounds kind of impressive …At least to me.

That said, Jon, Michelle and I still realize that this site has quite a ways to go. Which is why we’ve been tweaking a number of things over the past few weeks. Trying to improve the general look and layout of JimHillMedia.com (Some of you may have already noticed the snazzy new color scheme over on our discussion boards. Thank you, Jon.) We’ve also been trying to get a better sense of what you folks would really like to see at this site.

So far, you seem to be enjoying the selection of stories as well as our no-holds-barred discussion boards. Which is nice. But a number of you have also been asking- as Beth13 rather dramatically put it – “When are we going to hear from the Man?”

So who’s the “Man”? Supposedly me.

To be honest, I don’t know how exactly to feel about Beth13’s request. A part of me is really rather flattered. But there’s another part of me that’s actually kind of appalled.

Why for? Well, this site is already called JimHillMedia.com. Which seems enormously egoistical (at least to me). There’s something up here by me (Whether it’s an old item from the archives or a brand new feature) practically every day now. But that doesn’t seem to be enough for some of you nice folks. You appear to want even more access to my incessant yammerings.

To be specific, what a lot of you people seem to want is for me to make somewhat regular appearances on the JimHillMedia.com’s discussion boards. Which I’m not really sure is going to happen.

Why for? Well, it’s not because – as WallyBoag oh so colorfully put it – I’m afraid that someone’s going to rip me “a new one or two or three.” I mean, I enjoy debating Disney dweebs as much as the next weenie.

My real problem is time. Right now, I’m committed to writing at least two new stories each week for JimHillMedia.com. I’ve also got outstanding commitments to MuppetCentral.com (I.E., a 30-40 part series on the history of the Jim Henson Company circa 1986 to today), and Digital Media FX (Look for a series on this year’s Visual Effects Society event to get underway over at that site shortly) in addition to the stories that I currently owe IOACentral.com and Tower-of-Terror.com. I’ve also got a number of other webmasters who have recently come forward and expressed an interest in my creating new material for their sites as well.

All this – plus my never-built-Disney-theme-park-attractions book project. Plus the proposed feature length articles that I’ve got in the works for “Orlando Weekly” and “O.C. Weekly.”

So – as you can see – my dance card is kind of full these days, kids. And yet … Given that you folks were nice enough to regularly drop by my web site, I guess the least I can do is try to answer some of your questions on a semi-regular basis.

So, Michelle and I are now talking about whether or not we should fold an “Ask Jim” feature into the site. Some sort of Q & A thing that would run a fairly predictable basis at JimHillMedia.com. Fab is pushing for something that I could write up on a weekly basis. I – being the lazy b*st*rd that I am – am (of course) looking to turn this proposed new feature into something that would only be done on a monthly basis. We’ll let you know who eventually wins out in this editorial battle of wills.

So what would this proposed “Ask Jim” feature supposedly be like? Well, if it were done properly, it would allow me to revisit a lot of my earlier stories. Expand on earlier explanations. Fold in additional information.

Like – for example – check out this response to a comment WallyBoag made last week about my “Discoveryland U.S.A.” series. In a note that he posted on the JimHillMedia.com discussion boards, WallyBoag said:

Name change to save money on signs? I don’t think so. As far as I can tell… and I’ve spent a LOT of time in Tomorrowland (and I do mean a LOT) there are no signs in Tomorrowland that are leftover from before 1995… anything that says “Tomorrowland” on it was installed as part of the refurbishment …

Which is an excellent observation, Wally. I’d have to say that easily 90% of the signage in and around New Tomorrowland at WDW’s Magic Kingdom was changed out during the 1994 redo of that part of the park.

So where did this alleged savings supposedly kick in? Well, you have to start thinking outside the box, Wally. Or should I say “outside the park”? By keeping the name “Tomorrowland” in place rather than adopting “Discoveryland” as the new moniker for this radically revamped section of the park, the Mouse didn’t have to spend the thousands necessary to change out all of the other signs around property that featured the “Tomorrowland” name.

Think about it, Wally. How many hundreds of signs, posters and maps are there around Walt Disney World property that prominently feature the name “Tomorrowland”? And let’s not forget about all those WDW pamphlets, brochures and info books that would have had to have been reprinted to reflect the “Discoveryland” name change.

So – given the expense involved here – is it any wonder that Disney officials still approach these sorts of name changes with extreme trepidation? After all, there are still reportedly some Mouse House execs who continue to foam at the mouth whenever anyone reminds them about all the money that was spent in changing “Mickey’s Birthdayland”‘s name from “Mickey’s Starland” to (finally) “Mickey’s Toontown Fair.”

So, technically, WallyBoag is right. There was no real cost savings within WDW’s Tomorrowland itself when that area’s old, original name was kept in place. Where the money was actually saved was outside of new Tomorrowland – from all the other signs & posters that DIDN’T have to get changed out in and around the Magic Kingdom as well as elsewhere on WDW property.

Some other readers also found fault in my “Pirates Under Attack” piece. For example, Matt McLean – in addition to saying “bad reporting Jim… bad” – attempted to set the record straight by pointing out ….

Haunted Mansion corrections… I think. Pluto Nash has been sitting on the rack finished for close to two years. Warner Brothers hated… everyone hated it… it was doomed from the moment it was green lit. And this in no way effects Mr. Murphy’s commend at the Box Office for family movies. Look at Dr. Dolittle 2. Mr. Murphy seems to have great luck with more family fare.

Yes, Matt, Eddie Murphy has had a pretty amazing run of hits when it comes to family friendly films. “Nutty Professor,” “Nutty Professor II,” “Dr. Dolittle,” “Dr. Dolittle II.” Not to mention his voicework for “Mulan” and “Shrek.”

So Disney execs – in spite of “Pluto Nash”‘s spectacular tanking at the box office this summer – still seem confident that Eddie will be able to pull in the kiddies (as well as their parents) when the “Haunted Mansion” movie finally hits the big screen next October.

Yep, you heard right. In spite of my earlier report that Disney Studio officials were giving semi-serious thought to postponing “The Haunted Mansion” (perhaps pushing back the start of production by as much as a year), it now appears that all systems are ghost … er .. I mean “Go” for the HM movie at the Mouse House. Sets for the film are already reportedly under construction over at Barwick Studios in Glendale, CA. If the current scuttlebutt proves to be true, production of Disney’s “Mansion” movie could get underway as early as the middle of next month.

So why the sudden change of heart by execs inside the Team Disney Burbank building? Well, while it is true that studio personnel are still smarting from the public’s less-than-enthusiastic response to the company’s first based-on-a-theme-park-attraction feature film (“The Country Bears.” Which – to date – has earned less than $16 million during its domestic release), Disney still have somewhat high hopes that their Murphy-in-the-“Mansion” movie might make some moola.

Why for? Well, part of the company’s confidence in the project comes from “Mansion” ‘s well crafted script. Screenwriter David Berenbaum has supposedly put together a story that actually makes fairly clever use of a lot of the more colorful characters and settings found in this venerable old Disney theme park attraction. In addition to having a good story that allegedly builds on the Haunted Mansion’s mythology, Berenbaum’s script also supposedly still gives Eddie (who reportedly plays a less-than-reputable realtor in the film) plenty of opportunities to cut loose comedically.

Given director Rob Minkoff’s extensive CG experience (I.E, helming “Stuart Little I ” & “II”), we should expect to see a ton of first rate FX work in this film. Which is why it now appears that all the necessary ingredients are already in place for Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” movie to become a fairly entertaining family flick …

Of course – this time last year – Mouse House execs were saying the same thing about “The Country Bears.” That’s why the pressure is really on “Mansion” producer Don Hahn right now – to make sure that his HM movie avoids the “Country Bears”‘s grizzly box office fate.

This is actually going to be a lot harder for Hahn to do than one might realize. How so? Well, though Don has been the strong hand behind many of Disney’s most successful animated films for the past decade, “The Haunted Mansion” will be Hahn’s first ever live action feature for the Mouse House. Which is why Don isn’t all that eager to screw this assignment up.

And why exactly is that? Well, provided that Hahn can actually deliver the goods with Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” movie, Mickey’s already got another live action feature that the company would like Don to do. And what’s that? Would you believe … a live action version of the company’s 1991 animated hit, “Beauty and the Beast”?

Strange but true, kids. I know that – just on the face of things – a live action version of this much beloved animated feature sounds pretty bizarre. But anyone who’s ever seen “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway (or any of the show’s many touring companies for that matter) already knows what a powerful punch this story still packs even when it’s live actors who are performing the parts of Belle, Gaston et al. So is it really so much of a stretch to imagine that Disney’s highly successful stage version of “B & B” could eventually be adapted to the big screen?

So is there an official timetable in place yet for production of this proposed live action movie version of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”? Not really. Not yet, anyway. So far, all that Don has done is chaired a few development meetings for the project. But – to date – that’s really it.

So will this project actually ever go forward? A lot depends on whether Eisner remains enthusiastic about the idea of Disney doing a live action movie version of “B & B.” The success of Hahn’s “Haunted Mansion” movie (and – to a less extent – “Pirates of the Caribbean”) will also factor into the decision as well.

And – just for the record, kids – Disney officials ARE continuing to put pressure on Hahn as well as Jerry Bruckheimer (the producer of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie) to keep production costs down on both “Mansion” and “Pirates.” (Though – to be fair – Don & Jerry aren’t under nearly as much pressure as the guys who are producing “The Alamo” for Disney. Those folks are being asked to shave as much as $70 million off of the price tag for this proposed live action epic.)

And – finally – on a more personal note, here’s an answer to Brian8871’s query to the JimHillMedia.com discussion boards:

Does Jim still write columns for the Orlando Weekly? I haven’t seen one of those in a while. If he does, when can we expect the next one?

Sadly, no, Brian8871. I no longer do a regular column for the “Orlando Weekly.” My last regularly scheduled “Eye Drive” piece ran back on August 15th.

So why did I give up such a great gig? The short answer is: I didn’t. At least not voluntarily.

You see, the editor that initially hired me to work at that paper – Jeff Truesdell – ended up getting fired from OW earlier this spring. In Jeff’s place, “Orlando Weekly”‘s publisher hired Bob Whitby, a newspaper editor who hails from the Broward County – Palm Beach section of Southern Florida.

Once Bob came on board at “OW” back in late July, he decided that he really wanted to shake things up at the paper. So, the process of “shaking things up,” Whitby pulled the plug on my “Eye Drive” column (reportedly the most popular feature at OW’s website) as well as stage managing the “retirement” of “Orlando Weekly”‘s signature columnist, Liz Langley (AKA Juice).

So – yeah – that’s kind of sad news. Much more so for Liz (Who had labored at OW for 10 years now) than for me (I’d only worked for the paper since June 2000). But these things happen all the time in the publishing world. New management comes in … and old writers quickly get kicked to the curb.

Am I angry? Hurt? Nah. More philosophical, really. So I lost a relatively steady, moderately well paying writing gig. Don’t worry, kids. I’ll find another one. I feel that the best thing to do – at least in a situation like this – is just to pick yourself up and quickly move on to the next project.

Which (Now here’s the funny part) might actually involve writing more stuff for the “Orlando Weekly.” How so? Well, immediately after he’d taken away my weekly column, Bob then asked if I’d be interested in contributing an occasional feature to “OW.” So I’ve been knocking around a few ideas (Perhaps an overview of the history of Walt Disney Imagineering, which officially celebrates its 50th anniversary this December) that I might pitch to Whitby in a few weeks or so. (Right after I’ve finished pouting, that is).

Anyway … If you really liked my “Eye Drive” columns, then I suggest that you make a trip over to the “Orlando Weekly”‘s website ASAP and give that stuff one final read. By that I mean: All of those old stories are still readily available for anyone who visits the OW site … But who knows how long things will remain like that?

I mean, this is the Web we’re talking about, people. A place where things can disappear overnight without warning. (And – no – that’s NOT a DCACentral.com slam.)

ANYWHO …. This extremely rambling piece is sort of a dry run for that “Ask Jim” column that Michelle and I were talking about me doing for JimHillMedia.com on a semi-regular basis. Would something like this work for you guys? If so, let us know..

Beyond that … Thanks again for all the praise and support that you nice folks have heaped on us over the past four weeks. Michelle, Jon and I genuinely appreciate all of the kind words that you’ve tossed our way. That said, we’ll still continue to work hard over the next few months to make sure that this site remains entertaining, informative and fun for our regular readers.

So – you’ve got any suggestions as to what we can do to improve JimHillMedia.com – feel free to lob them our way.

That’s it for now, gang. Sorry to be so short here today. But I gotta get back to work on tomorrow’s column for this site. What’s that story going to be about? To be honest, I have no idea … yet. But I’m sure that – whatever this article turns out to be – that it will semi-pseudo-sort-of fun to read. (I hope)

See you tomorrow.

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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