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“Tale as Old as Time” may make you fall in love with Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” all over again

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It is arguably the best-loved film of that trio of fairy
tales that Walt Disney Animation Studios produced during its Second Golden Age.
The first hand-drawn animated feature ever to be nominated for Best Picture, "Beauty and the Beast" has been discussed, dissected and written about so often over
the past 19 years … Well, one has to wonder if there are any stories that have yet
to be told about this "Tale as old as Time."

Well, noted animation historian & critic Charles Solomon
rose to that challenge. He interviewed dozens of artists, executives and
animators who were personally involved with this much-beloved motion picture. And
given the nearly two decades that have passed at this point, a number of these
folks were now willing to share stories that reveal how truly troubled /
charmed this production was. Which is why Solomon's newest book, "Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast" (Disney Editions, August
2010) now has be consider the definitive account of how this much-beloved
animated film actually came to be.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And Charles, he goes all the way back. Back to the 1950s when Disney first
toyed with the idea of producing an animated version of this classic French fairy
tale. As Frank Thomas, one of the Studio's "Nine Old Men," once told Solomon:

"When Walt became all wrapped up in the theme parks and
live-action films, we tried to get him interested in animation again … (Disney)
said, "If I ever do go back, there are only two subjects I would want to do.
One of them is 'Beauty and the Beast.' For the life of me, I can't remember
what the other one was."

Charles then tried to determine whether any real development
was done on this project during Walt's day. But …

… neither the Walt Disney Archives nor the Animation
Research Library contain any artwork or story notes. Artists only began to
submit treatments for "Beauty and the Beast" years after Walt's death.

The earliest treatment was from Studio veterans Pete Young,
Vance Gerry, and Steve Hulett in 1983. In this version, the handsome prince of
a small but wealthy kingdom enjoys racing his carriage through the forest,
which scares the animals. The forest witch turns the prince into a "large,
furry, catlike creature" to teach him humility. Animals attend Belle in a
ruined castle, instead of enchanted objects.

Solomon then takes his readers through Disney's earliest
attempt at producing an animated version of "Beauty and the Beast." Back when
Richard and Jill Purdum, the husband-and-wife team, were in charge of this
project. Back when Maurice wasn't an inventor. But – rather – a kindly merchant
who had fallen on hard times …


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… and Belle had a younger sister, Clarice, as well as a cat
named Charley.


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But with the success of "The Little Mermaid," Jeffrey
Katzenberg
(the then-head of Walt Disney Studios) decided that the Purdums'
far-too-dark, non-musical version wasn't going to work. As "Beauty and the
Beast" producer Don Hahn told Solomon:

(Katzenberg) said, "I want to get Howard (Ashman) and Alan
(Menken
) involved and musicalize this. It has to be pushed, it has to be much
more entertaining, it has to be much more commercial. This is too dark. We've
got to start over."

And to make sure that this reboot of "Beauty and the Beast"
really did have a fresh new take on this material, Jeffrey handed this
production to two guys who had never ever directed a feature-length animated
film before, Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale.

Which – as you might expect – led to a few clashes among
members of this newly-thrown-together creative team.  Especially as they tried to get a handle on
how to properly tell this story. As Kirk Wise recalled one of his more
memorable encounters with Howard Ashman:

Finding a way to show how the Beast fell under the curse
provoked a memorable disagreement. Howard envisioned the prologue as a fully
animated sequence in which the audience would see a seven-year-old prince
rudely refuse to give shelter to an old woman during a storm. Revealing herself
to be a beautiful enchantress, the woman would chase the boy through the castle
hurling bolts of magic that would turn the servants into objects. Eventually
her spell would change the prince into the Beast boy, who would press his face
against one of the castle windows screaming "Come back! Come back!"


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Gary and I hated the idea. The only thing that I could see
in my head was this Eddie Munster kid in a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit," Kirk
recalls wincing. "I got elected to break the news that we had a different idea
for the prologue. Howard came in that morning all smiles, with a bag of
cinnamon-sugar donuts from his favorite shop. I can't remember what exactly I
said, but one of the words I used was cheap, meaning doing something terrible
to a child was a cheap way to pull an audience's heartstrings. I couldn't have
picked a worse word, because Howard just lit into me. We left for California
either that evening or the following morning, and because of the company's
austerity program, we were flying coach, with a layover in St. Louis. While we
were sitting on the runway, I thought, I could get off the plane, change my
name, and vanish into Missouri.


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But Wise didn't get off that plane and then sneak away into
the streets of St. Louis. He and Gary hung in there. Gradually growing in
confidence, thanks – in large part – to the talented vocal cast that they'd
assembled for "Beauty and the Beast."

You want to hear the textbook definition of "show business
professional" ? Check out this story that Solomon got Don Hahn to tell about
Angela Lansbury and the recording of the ballad for "Beauty and the Beast" :

(The) recording (of that) ballad was challenging … The
sessions were done at a studio in New York with a full orchestra and chorus;
Howard and Alan preferred to record a live performance rather than recording
the singer and the instrumental music separately.

"We booked Angela and her husband on MGM Grand Air out of
Los Angeles, but there was a bomb scare after they took off, and the plane had
to land in Las Vegas," said Don. "We finished recording 'Belle' and 'Be Our
Guest.' No Angela. Do we let the orchestra go and try and pick it up the next
day, or do we wait for Angela to call? Being the pro that she is, she called
from the airport: "I just landed, I'm on my way, I'll be there in a half hour."


Kirk Wise directs Angela Lansbury during a dialogue recording session for "Beauty
and the Beast."
Copyright Disney Enterprises, inc. All rights reserved

When she arrived at the studio after a long and harrowing
day, Don told her, "You really don't have to do this. You can go home." He
says, "Angela said, 'Don't be ridiculous. I'm rehearsed. I'm ready to go." She
went into the booth and sang 'Beauty and the Beast' from beginning to end and
just nailed it. We picked up a couple of lines here and there, but essentially
that one take is what we used for the movie."

Of course, not everyone that Wise & Trousdale hired were
show business veterans like Lansbury. As Solomon reveals, the hunt for just the
right voice for the Beast led Kirk & Gary to make a very unlikely casting
choice:

The directors spent several worrisome weeks not knowing who
their leading man would be. One day, Albert (Tavares, "Beauty and the Beast" 's
casting director), brought in a tape that he reluctantly told Kirk and Gary was
from Robby Benson, an actor who was known at the time for playing earnest,
sensitive heroes.


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"We looked at him kind of cross-eyed and said 'Robby Benson?
Ice Castles Robby Benson?" Kirk recalls. "But his tape just blew us away. His
voice was an amazing combination of vulnerability and anger. The first time we
heard it, we said, 'I can hear the human being inside of the animal.' He
managed to play the animal side against the human side, and there was this
melancholic quality to his performance. He was finding layers that went well
beyond the actual dialogue. So we cut it against some visuals and played it for
Jeffery. He liked it, but when we told him who it was, he said the exact same
thing: "Ice Castles Robby Benson?"

And it's not just the casting of this film that Solomon
takes you behind-the-scenes with. Charles also reveals the role that Disney's finances
in the early 1990s played in the production of "Beauty and the Beast" :

When The Rescuers Down Under
was released in 1990 and earned
only $28 million domestically – only one third of the $84.3 million The Little
Mermaid made the year before – the filmmakers were required to pay more
attention to the bottom line.

"Rescuers kind of failed to live up to expectations, and the
watchword of the day became 'austerity.' It was a word we heard a lot," says
Kirk. "We had meetings to discuss every possible way to reduce the number of
man-hours it took to create each drawing. The biggest offender in that category
was Beast: Glen (Keane) had added six tiger stripes to the side of the Beast's head. They
looked great in the drawing, but they were absolute hell to clean up."

"We all came in one weekend to discuss ways to simplify the
movie so we could bring it in at a price that was palatable to the Studio but
wouldn't completely gut the production value. It wasn't easy and it wasn't
pleasant," he continues grimly. "At one point, Brian (McEntree) and Peter Schneider were
yelling at each other so loudly and turning so purple that Security knocked at
the door – they were worried that there was going to be some sort of incident."

Reading through this 176-page hardcover, you also learn
about the parts of "Beauty and the Beast" that didn't make it up on the big
screen. Not for budgetary reasons, mind you. But due to technological
challenges.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Take – for example – the Beast's battle in the woods with
the wolves. As Solomon reveals in "Tale as Old as Time," this sequence in "Beauty
and the Beast" was originally supposed to be this CG tour-de-force:

When Chris Sanders storyboarded the chase through the forest
and the fight where the Beast defends Belle against the wolves, he wanted to
incorporate a moving camera that would follow Belle, Philippe, and the wolf
pack as they ran through the trees and across the snow. Kirk and Gary agreed
and asked the CG department if they could create a computer-generated forest
that would enable them to use the innovative photography they envisioned.

"They turned the idea over to our talented colleagues in CGI, and we waited.
Finally, after what seemed like months of research and development, they called
us in to see the progress they had made on the forest. We got this pointy,
wire-frame object that looked like a chicken's foot, which they could rotate in
space. I remember Don saying something to the effect of , 'That's it?' Not long
after that, we decided to pull the plug on the chicken-foot forest. We
concentrated the CG resources on creating the ballroom.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, inc. All rights reserved

Which isn't to say that that sequence was a hit straight out
of the box. When the original version of "Beauty and the Beast" 's CGI fly-thru
of the ballroom was shown to Katzenberg.

The camera moves were so fast and complicated it felt as if
the viewer were flying a jet fighter around the ballroom. (CG artist Greg
Griffith said): Jeffery was just apoplectic: 'This is not about Beauty and the
Beast.' This is not about these characters. This is not about anything except
you, showing off all the neat-o things you can do. Go back and do it again!' "

That's what's really great about "Tales as Old of Time."
This Charles Solomon book lets you see "Beauty and the Beast" as it really is.
Which Don Hahn likens to Dumbo:

Dumbo's my favorite Disney movie – along with many others –
but it's full of mistakes and bad drawings and such because they did it for a
price. We did this one for a price. There was a recession in 1991, and we were
scrambling: the whole movie got done in about eleven months."

"The odd thing is, it's not the best drawn movie. Aladdin
is
probably the best in terms of draftsmanship and design," he concludes
thoughtfully. "It's not the best-painted movie. It's probably not the best
musical score, although it does have the best songs in the world. But there's a
lot of youthful energy in the movie: this generation (of Disney artists and
animators) was in the sweet spot of their career when it was made. There's a
raw puppy love in Beauty and the Beast; you can only fall in love for the first
time once, and Beauty and the Beast was it."


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Well, I don't know about that. As you read through Charles
Solomon's "Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast,"
you'll definitely come away with a renewed appreciation for this acclaimed animated
feature. Which is why – as you read through this new Disney Editions book – you
may find yourself falling in love with "Beauty and the Beast" all over again.

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.

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“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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