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Tales of the Visual Effects Society: Partying at Pixar

In this first installment of a new series for JHM — which details unique experiences that Jim Hill has had while attending various Visual Effects Society events — Jim recreates a highlight from “VES 2002,” which was when festival attendees got to spend a night noshing and nosing around Pixar Animation’s new Emeryville digs.



You’d think that — given that I’ve been writing about the entertainment industry for a couple of years now — that the thrill of getting to go visit a new studio lot and/or animation studio would have faded by now. That a really-for-real reporter would have become jaded about this sort of experience by now.

Not me. I have to admit that I still get a thrill whenever I gain access to some previously unauthorized area. Which is why I was truly jazzed last June when VES president Tom Atkin invited Nancy and I to come to the kick-off event for “VES 2002: A Festival of Visual Effects.” Which was a private party at Pixar.

The festivities weren’t officially supposed to get underway ’til 5 p.m. But — if I’m remembering correctly — we rolled our rental car right up to the gates of this pseudo-industrial looking complex well before then. The nice gentleman in the guard shack checked to see if our names were on the list (I’m always surprised when they actually are … the geek boy from New Hampshire with access to someplace truly cool like Pixar), then directed us into the visitors lot.

As we strolled up to the entrance of the main building of Pixar’s new studio complex, I couldn’t help but recall all that I’d read about this place. How Steve Jobs had paid $5.8 million for an old Del Monte cannery, then flattened that factory in order to spend over $80 million on the construction of a brand-new state-of-the-art computer animation studio. Which — from the outside, anyway — still looked a lot like an old factory.

But that of course, was the whole point of the design scheme behind Pixar’s new 16 acre campus. That the studio would blend in with its surroundings, not try to attract attention to itself. (Though that enormous metal “Pixar” sign that arches over the guard shack is a bit of a giveaway…)

Anyway … The main building on the campus is enormous. 215,000 square feet … or so I’ve heard. But — in the Pixar tradition — it was the little, close-up details that really sold the show. The many different colors of brick that were used in the construction (among them “mojave” and “coral”) that make the place seem warm and inviting.

Well, Pixar’s new studio WOULD seem warm and inviting if we weren’t be stopped every 10 feet or so to check in VES staffers who were determined to make sure that we were actually on the list for the party.

Seriously, Nancy and I were stopped by someone with a clipboard on the walkway up to the building, then had to check in with yet another VES staffer who was positioned at the door. Next — after signing in at Pixar’s own security desk — we had to get in line at the party check-in table. Where — once again — Nancy and I had to give our names to someone else wielding a clipboard before we could be checked off a list and finally be issued our name badges.

I was just starting to grumble, muttering darkly about “What’s the big deal? Why all the security? It’s just a party after all …” when Nancy said “Isn’t that George Lucas over there?”

Sure enough. Standing in a far corner of Pixar’s massive atrium lobby was the old Jedi Master himself. (This seemed to be a deliberate choice on Lucas’ part. As if George was somewhat unsure what to expect from a room full of visual effects professional. So Lucas kept his distance initially. Appeared a bit stand off-ish. Though — I’m pleased to report that — before too long, George appeared to loosen up. And by the mid-point of the party he was right in the thick of things. Mingling and schmoozing with folks like FX pioneer Ray Harryhausen.)

And, no … I didn’t race up to Uncle George and ask for his autograph. Nor did I ask him all sorts of geeky questions. I mean, I may be from the woods of New Hampshire, but I’m not a total rube, you know. After all, I know my CCACAC: The Californian Code for Acting Cool Around Celebrities. Which is:

When you encounter a celebrity and/or a person of power in Hollywood in a non-professional setting (I.E. out shopping or dining, out for a day at Disneyland with their family, or if they’re attending a private party), you should always:

 Be respectful.
 Keep your distance.
 Nod, smile …. but don’t point.
 Absolutely no autographs & photographs.

That way, the celebrity that you sighted actually gets to have a private life. Which some of them seem to enjoy. And you get to feel good about yourself — because you didn’t behave like some start-struck ass — when you attempt to work that seemingly casual “Guess who I saw yesterday?” anecdote into all your conversations over the next couple of days.

Anywho … Let’s get back to what it was like to wander around inside Pixar, shall we? As you might expect, there were lots of fun things to see. I mean, even the studio’s security desk had a sense of whimsy about it. As a nod to the then-still-in-production “Finding Nemo,” there was a clown fish lamp next to the sign-in sheet.

And — right next to the desk — there was this impossibly small German car. An authentic 1964 Messerschmitt, painted fire engine red … with a large Mike (you know, the “one eyed creten” from “Monsters, Inc.”) plush doll crammed into the front seat.

Beyond this, the full sized Mike and Sully stand-ins (you know, the ones that you saw in movie theater lobbies all over America just prior to the release of “Monsters, Inc.”) were available for photo ops. As was an enormous Heimlich plush … which was peeking out from under the open bar.

Even the bathrooms in Pixar’s lobby area got into the act. The men’s room was designated by these enormous stylized images of Mike and Sully which were attached to the wall just outside the restroom. The ladies room featured pictures of Boo and Celia. (A nicer, subtler touch could be found in the metal signs just outside the entrance to each of the restrooms. The men’s room featured the international symbol for “Male” as well as the silhouette of Woody from “Toy Story.” The ladies room featured the international symbol for “Woman” as well as a silhouette of Bo Peep).

Another thing that struck me was the immediate sense of community you got upon entering Pixar’s headquarters. EX: There was this handmade sign on the security desk congratulating the crew who worked on “For the Birds” for their 2002 Academy Award for Best Animated Short. The sign showed all of the nasty little birds from this Ralph Eggleston film still seated on that telephone wire. Only this time around, it wasn’t the big gawky bird who was weighing down the wire … but an Oscar.

Clearly, Pixar seems like a fun place to work. To the right of the immense, open airy lobby is the foosball tables, a pool table as well as a Xenon pinball machine. There are lots of comfy couches scattered about … right next to the studio’s communal mailroom.

The art — back in June of 2002, anyway — that was decorating the lobby were huge blow-ups of concept art from “Monsters, Inc.” Though it should be noted that Pixar’s employee cafeteria — the Luxo Café — featured an enormous version of the first test images of “A Bug’s Life.”

As Nancy and I wandered deeper into the lobby — and amused ourselves by watching the reaction of the other party guests when they suddenly realized that George Lucas was in the room — we kept noticing things that made us think that Pixar must be this really fun place to work. Like those signs that were plastered all over the place, inviting employees to that Saturday night’s screening (at 11 p.m., no less! Don’t these Pixar guys ever sleep and/or go home to their familes?) of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in the Pixar Studio theater.

Oh … Just so you know, folks: Contrary to what you may have seen on your “Monsters, Inc.” DVD, I never actually saw a chimpanzee wandering around the studio. But I did see a couple of dozen Pixar employees whizzing through the building on their razor scooters. Which may have explained the “Please walk scooters and skateboards in narrow hallways to avoid injury to yourself and others” safety signs that were prominently posted around the building.

As for the food that was served at the VES / Pixar party, it was a buffet that mixed Italian finger food with California cuisine. So you had these itty bitty pizzas tastefully arranged right next to these great big bowls of guacamole.

As guests continued to arrive at the party, Pixar’s employees were still hard at work. Staffers moving with purpose across those two enormous steel bridges that span the lobby. Story meetings were still going on in those huge glassed-in conference rooms on the second floor that overlooked the party. (Periodically, someone in one of these conference rooms would wander up to the window and look down into the festivities. Then — if you watched closely and/or could read lips — you could actually catch the moment when they suddenly pointed downstairs and said “Hey, isn’t that George Lucas?”)

Yeah, it was a pretty great party. Courtesy of Pixar, by the way. Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar Animation, saw to it that his studio picked up the tab for this Visual Effects Society reception.

Speaking of the VES … sometime around 6 p.m. Tom Aktin stepped up to the mike and thanked everyone for coming. He then spoke a bit about the history of the Visual Effects Society and its four charter/honorary members: FX industry vets Linn Dunn, Peter Ellenshaw, Ray Harryhausen and Albert Whitlock.

Aktin then told the story about how just before he died, Linn Dunn thanked Tom for finally putting together a professional organization that honored visual effects story telling. To create a sense of community among a group of artists who traditionally work alone and in secret.

Aktin then announced the Visual Effects Society’s fifth member, which was FX legend Douglas Trumbull. As part of Trumbull’s introduction, Tom told the story about the time when he apologized to Doug. It seems that the first time Atkins saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” (the landmark Stanley Kubrick film that Trumbull handled the special effects for), Tom was stoned.

Upon hearing this apology, Doug just laughed. He then explained that the only reason that “2001” survived long enough to become a cinematic classic was because of the stoners.

To explain: Normal movie-goers initially rejected Kubrick’s visionary film and theater owners were going to pull the picture … when they noticed that the front rows of their movie theaters were filled with stoners. It seemed that pot smokers really enjoyed “2001” (particularly when they were under the influence. So they told their friends, and so on and so on …

Cinematic sophisticates eventually embraced Kubrick’s film. But only because the stoners had kept “2001: A Space Odyssey” alive long enough so that cinephiles could “discover” the movie. (Which — now that I think about it — is pretty much what Disney Studio vets used to tell me about “Fantasia.” That this animated feature was always considered an artistic failure by Mouse House management until its 1960s era re-release. That’s the stoners reportedly embraced “Fantasia.” Which is what finally put the picture into the black.)

Anyway … Tom apologizes for the somewhat slapped together nature of Doug’s VES induction ceremony. But — in the fine tradition of the way most everything is done in the world of visual effects — it “took us to the very last moment to get this done.” Atkin then handed a limited bronze maquette of Ray Harryhausen’s skeleton puppet from “Jason and the Argonauts.” To commemorate Doug’s induction as the fifth honorary member of the Visual Effects society, he was given the No. 5 (out of a run of just 82) statues.

FYI: If you’re a real fan of Ray Harryhausen’s work and would like to get your hands on your very own “Jason and the Argonauts” skeleton, VES is actually selling these limited edition bronze statues. This nifty items were created by the folks at the Visual Effects Society and Gentle Giant Studios who used a three dimensional scan of one of Ray’s original stop motion fighting skeleton puppets used in this 1963 Columbia Pictures release to help create the finished piece.

Get more information on the VES’s limited edition “Jason and the Argonauts” skeleton statue here.

Getting back to Trumbull’s award presentation … Doug now stepped up the mike and said that he was “deeply honored” to be singled for recognition by his peers. Trumbull — who genuinely seemed to be a humble guy — made sure to credit much of his success to “the amazingly talented people I’ve had the good fortune to work with over the years.”

Doug then went on to explain how he’d spent the past few years “out on the fringe.” AKA working with digital technology to push out the frontiers of visual effects. Trumbull went on to say that everything in film-making is a special effect. He closed by saying that he was “very humbled, very honored and very grateful to be feted like this.”

Ray Harryhausen himself then stepped up and presented Doug with his “Jason and the Argonauts” bronze. As Trumbull posed for pictures with Harryhausen and Atkin, Tom mentioned that the second floor of Pixar was now open for those of us who wanted to explore.

Oh really?

As soon as we heard that, Nancy and I raced up the stairs — taking them two at a time — and discovered …
Next: The conclusion of “Partying at Pixar” … which includes the tale of the hacksaw as well as what’s in the trophy case.

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 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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