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Tales from the Tour: Making a Mountain out of Moat Movings

As part of his promotional effort for next weekend’s JHM tours of Disneyland & Disney’s California Adventure, Jim Hill reveals the real reason that the Matterhorn was so quickly constructed in 1958 / 1959.

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Scott Liljenquist – the Ubbermeister of Mouseketrips.com – just dropped me an e-mail to remind me that I have another set of Disneyland Resort tours coming up on Saturday, June 26th & Sunday, June 27th. More to the point, Scott wants me to let JHM readers know that there are still a few slots open for this next set of tours. So – if you still want to get in on the fun – Liljenquist says you should sign up today.

Sigh

I’m sorry, folks. I guess I’m just not any good at this blatant promotional stuff. I mean, JimHillMedia.com has been up & running for almost 2 years now. And I’m still somewhat embarrassed by the fact that this website has my name plastered all over the place.

So – taking that into consideration – I guess you can imagine how uncomfortable it makes me feel to have to pull a Jay Sherman. To go around saying “Book my tours! Books my tours! Book my tours!”

So how’s about this: Rather than go with the obnoxious right-in-your-face promotional stuff, why don’t I take a softer approach. I’ll just share one of the stories that I tell on my Disneyland tour. If you like what you hear & want to hear, then drop Scott a line & sign up for next weekend’s JHM tours.

If you don’t like the story … Then – hey – it’s no skin off either of our noses.

So now the question is … Which story should I tell?

Well, JimHillMedia.com has spent a lot of time over the past few weeks talking about Roy Disney. And (me personally) I really find it fascinating that — just because Roy sort of resembles his uncle — that most people seem to automatically assume that Roy Disney must be a kindly old grandfather-type as well.

Well, I have some news for you people. While Roy may come across as being soft-spoken & folksy, the truth of the matter is that he’s a businessman. Someone who can play hardball when he has to. (Don’t believe me? Then just ask Michael Eisner. Anyway …

Of course, in his day, Walt Disney could be a pretty tough customer too. Someone who could get pretty darn nasty if you ever made the mistake of crossing him.

How so? Well … Let me ask you a question: What do you see when you look at Disneyland’s Matterhorn?

Were you to quiz a semi-knowledgeable Disneyana fan about the Matterhorn, you’d probably hear a few interesting factoids like:

  • This attraction was Disneyland’s first true thrill ride.
  • That this steel-and-concrete structure replaced Disneyland’s first man-made mountain, Snow Hill.
    (Which – truth be told – wasn’t actually a hill in the strictest sense of the word. It was actually just where the construction workers piled all the dirt that they excavated while digging the moat for Sleeping Beauty Castle
  • That Walt spent $6 million to add this attraction – as well as the Submarine Voyage & the Monorail – to Disneyland’s lineup in the Summer of 1959. A special occasion that was marked by a two-hour long TV special, which was broadcast on ABC.

Now what you like to hear what I see when I look at the Matterhorn? I see the world’s largest middle finger.

Okay. I know. That sounds kind of obscene. But you have to understand that – by the Summer of 1959 – Walt Disney finally had some serious competition in the theme park arena. Just a year earlier, Lawrence Welk & CBS had poured millions into the creation of Pacific Ocean Park. Which hoped to turn a run-down Southern California amusement pier into Disneyland-by-the-Sea.

And meanwhile – out in Massachusetts – C.V. Wood … The man who Walt entrusted (back in 1953) with the all important job of finding just the right spot to build Disneyland on. The man who Disney then put in charge of building his theme park, making Walt’s dream a reality. The man who then ran Disneyland for the first six months that the park was in operation … That man was in the process of building Pleasure Island. A Disneyland clone that – as the Spring of 1959 rolled around – was rising up out of the swamps of Wakefield, MA. Which was basically a bedroom community of Boston, MA.

Anywho … Back in 1958, when Walt first saw Pacific Ocean Park as well as learning that Pleasure Island was about to become a reality, the man was livid. I mean, how dare these people horn in on his action. Cash in on his idea.

Now Pacific Ocean Park – given that (back in its amusement pier days) this project had actually predated Disneyland – Walt couldn’t get himself all that worked up about that amusement park. Whereas Pleasure Island … The very idea that this theme park even existed was making Disney a little bit crazy.

Now you have to understand that it wasn’t just C.V. Wood’s involvement in the Pleasure Island project that was making Walt mad. It was … Well, that C.V. had lured away some of Disneyland’s very best people in order to make Wood’s own theme park design company – Marco Engineering – a reality. Key personnel like Van France (Yes, Mr. “Window on Main Street” himself) bailed out of the Mouse House in the late 1950s to help Woody go into competition with Walt.

Well, if it was a competition, then it was a competition that Disney intended on winning. For the better part of a year now, Walt had been puzzling with what to do with Disneyland’s Snow Hill area. This prime piece of real estate right in the middle of the park. For a while there, he actually toyed with building an International Village here. A quaint collection of buildings (Which had originally be proposed for that piece of property between Main Street U.S.A. and Tomorrowland. But – eventually – this long-planned Disneyland addition just outgrew that backstage area. Which is Walt then began looking for other places in the park to build his International Village. Anywho … )

But – during the summer of 1958 – while Walt was in Europe, observing the filming of “Third man on the Mountain,” he had a brainstorm. A 1/100th scale model of the Matterhorn with another European innovation that Disney had observed on this trip – a Monorail – whizzing around it. Plus a set of submarines to replace Tomorrowland’s lackluster Phantom Boats. That was just the sort of thing that would put Disneyland back on the map. That would show these Johnny-come-latelys just who the real king of the theme park world was.

The only problem with Walt’s plan was his brother, Roy O. Disney. Who held the purse strings at Walt Disney Productions. Roy had initially been very skeptical about the Disneyland project. By that I mean: When Walt first told Roy about his family fun park dream, the elder Disney brother thought that the younger Disney might be having another one of his nervous breakdowns. That it might once again be time to send Walt off on another “publicity tour of South America.” Which was what Roy typically did when it looked like the old Mousetro had misplaced his marbles, when it looked like Walt had let the pressures of running the studio get to him again. When it was time for Roy’s brother to go & get some R & R …

Anyway … In order to get the money for this massive Disneyland expansion project (More importantly, in order to have these three new Tomorrowland attractions up & running by the Summer of 1959. Just so Walt could steal some of C.V.’s thunder), Walt had to convince Roy that this project was vital to Disneyland’s future. That it was crucial that Walt Disney Productions fast-track these pricey additions to the Anaheim theme park.

Roy listened to Walt’s impassioned pitch, saw that the projected price tag for building the Matterhorn, the Monorail & the Submarine Voyage was going to be somewhere between $5 – $6 million … Then told Walt” “No. We can’t build this. At least not right now …”

And – from a businessman’s point of view – Roy’s reasons were sound. After all, Disneyland was still technically in the red. Walt Disney Productions still had to repay all the loans that the corporation had taken out back in 1954 & 1955 to finish construction of the park. Plus there was still the matter of ABC & Western Publishing, Disney’s two financial partners in the project. If Walt was ever going to buy those guys out, gain control over all of Disneyland, he’d have to start stockpiling dough.

Mind you, Roy admitted that the Matterhorn, the Monorail & the Submarine Voyage all sounded like they’d be fine additions to the park. Just not right now. Once Walt Disney Productions had gotten its financial house in order (Which – to Roy’s way of thinking – was three to four years down the line), then Walt could finally go forward with his plan.

As you might have guessed, Walt was very disappointed when Roy rejected his plan. But – given that the younger Disney respected his old brother – Walt put on a brave face and supposedly said: “Okay. Maybe you’re right, Roy. Maybe it would be best to wait on this project.”

Roy reportedly responded: “Let’s talk about this again after I get back from Europe, okay?” (Here’s an important piece of the puzzle. At this point in 1958, Roy was already scheduled to be headed overseas. Where he was supposed to meet with Disney’s distribution partners on the continent. See if these guys were doing all that they could to properly promote Disney product.)

And – mistakenly thinking that he had successfully persuaded Walt to put off construction of this ambitious Disneyland expansion project for a few years – Roy headed off on a business trip to Europe.

According to a couple of people who have told me this story over the years, Walt waited ’til Roy was officially out of range before he turned to the Imagineers and said: “Okay. Let’s get started on that Tomorrowland addition ASAP.”

A WED veteran (who had allegedly been in the room when Roy rejected the project) supposedly stammered: “But Walt, Roy said that … “

Walt allegedly cut the guy off. “Don’t worry about my brother,” the younger Disney said. “If we can have the site cleared, concrete poured and steel rising by the time Roy gets back, there’s no way that he can derail the project then …”

And – allegedly – that’s just what they did, folks. Quickly went out & hired a construction team to clear away Snow Mountain, then pour the concrete footings for the Matterhorn’s steel structure.

Of course — as you might expect — when Roy returned from Europe and found out that the project that he had rejected was rapidly rising out of the ground … Well, naturally, the guy was furious. But – after some huffing & puffing – Roy eventually came around. Even going so far as to persuade General Dynamics to come in as the sponsor of Disneyland’s “Submarine Voyage.” Which helped to take some of the sting out of this very personal, extremely expensive project.

You see, it was crucial (to Walt’s way of thinking) that this addition to Disneyland be ready to open right before Pleasure Island opened in Massachusetts. So that – no matter what sort of snazzy theme park that C.V. Wood managed to pull out of the swamps of Wakefield, MA. – that all eyes would still be on Disneyland.

Which explains that two-hour-long TV special on ABC celebrating the grand opening of the Matterhorn, the Monorail & the Submarine Voyage. The way that the story’s been told to be, Walt strong-armed the network into running that program just days before Pleasure Island opened. Just so he could send a message to C.V. Wood. Saying – in essence – that “You can try, pal. But you’re never going to be able to top the master.”

And – supposedly – C.V. got that message. As he sat with his Marco Engineering team in a hotel room in Boston, watching the ABC “Disneyland ’59” special, Wood – after seeing a shot of the Matterhorn – reportedly turned to his crew and said: “You see that, boys? That’s the world’s largest middle finger.”
Mind you, even though Pleasure Island never quite emerged as serious competition for Disneyland (The New England-based theme park limped along for 10 years or so before finally officially closing its doors in the winter of 1970). But Wood would go on to try & build other Disneyland clones … Like Freedomland in the Bronx. That theme park also crashed & burned.

Truth be told, it wouldn’t be ’til the early 1960s ’til C.V. finally got the formula right. His “Six Flags Over Texas” project proved to be a real hit with the public, eventually providing a successful template for a series of “Six Flags” theme parks which would be built around the U.S.

Now one might wonder … Why would Walt really give a rat’s ass about a Disneyland clone that was being built ‘way the hell out in Massachusetts? Well, it wasn’t ’til the last couple of years that the Walt Disney Company has finally begun to admit that – as early as 1959 – that Walt was actively looking for a place back east to build another Disneyland on.

So – if C.V. Wood (Once Walt’s trusted right-hand man) was out in Massachusetts, potentially poached on what could be considered Disney’s turf – Well, Walt had to do something about that.

Which – in this case, anyway – meant making a mountain out of a mound of moat movings. (Try saying that one three times fast.)

Anyway … That’s a sample of the sort of stories that you’d here if you ever decided to take part in a JHM tour of Disneyland and/or DCA. So – if that sounded even remotely entertaining to you – then why not make Scott Liljenquist happy by clicking on this link and learn a little bit more about the JimHillMedia.com tours.

And that’s about as close as I can get to a hard sell, folks. Truth be told, people (In spite of JHM’s self-aggrandizing name), I’m really not all that comfortable with tooting my own horn.

On the other hand, tooting someone else’s horn … Well, that’s an entirely different matter. Which is why I’d like to direct your attention to this link. Where you’ll find that Peter Emslie – that wonderful illustrator who provided JHM with those great caricatures of the late John Hench, the late Peter Ustinov and the it’s-later-than-you-think Michael Eisner – has some “Monkey Exec” merchandise available for sale that I think you folks will really enjoy.

Okay. That’s it for today, folks. Here’s hoping that you enjoyed the Matterhorn story. Now go make Scott happy by going to checking out his JHM tours web page, okay?

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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