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The EPCOT that we ALMOST got

Using info from Walt Disney Productions’ 1974 annual report, Jim Hill talks about the version of Epcot that almost got build. Not the futuristic city or the theme park, but a brand-new project that falls somewhere between these two extremes.

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Most JHM readers already know about all the plans that Walt Disney had dreamed up for EPCOT. That “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” that Walt wanted to have rise out of that large chunk of swampland that Walt Disney Productions had purchased just outside of Orlando.

And I’m sure that most of you are already extremely familiar with Epcot (the theme park). That creatively compromised project that Mouse House managers cooked up after the “Old Mousetro” died ‘way back in December of 1966. And Walt’s loyal lieutenants lost their nerve and couldn’t bring themselves to actually go forward with construction of their boss’s biggest dream: a futuristic city.

Well, how many of you other there realize that that there were several versions of the EPCOT project that were proposed AFTER construction of the futuristic city was canceled but BEFORE the theme park version was given the green light. Where the Imagineers struggled mightily to find some sort of version of this project that would make sense financially but – at the same time – be somewhat faithful to Walt’s original plans for this project.

What follows is one of the “baby steps” in this creative process. An EPCOT “Progress Report” that was printed in Walt Disney Productions’ 1974 annual report. Where (as you can see by reading this excerpt for that report) this WDW expansion project remained ambitious … but also unwieldy.

In the years that lay ahead, the wizards of WED would continue to whittle away at the scope of this project. As the Imagineers tried to get EPCOT down to a size where construction of the project wouldn’t bankrupt the Walt Disney Company.

As you can see, some pretty ambitious plans for new pavilions and attractions got cut out as the project moved through the development process Which is how we ended up with the Epcot that we have today.
Which – to my way of thinking, anyway – is kind of underwhelming. Particularly when you look back at the Epcots that we should have got.

You don’t believe that we really missed out on something special, do you? Then here – read about the version of EPCOT that Walt Disney Productions promised its shareholders back in the mid-1970s:

Ten years ago, on November 15, 1965, when Walt and Roy Disney held a press conference in Orlando, Florida, to announce the purchase of 27,400 acres. Yet those of us who worked closely with Walt knew that he had far more in mind than just the site for another theme park. And having achieved the necessary financial strength, we are ready to move forward with confidence to the realization of Walt Disney’s greatest dream.

Consumed by the need to find solutions to the problems of our cities, Walt devoted the last years of his life to developing his initial concepts for EPCOT “… a community that would never be completed, but would always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and system” … “a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise” … “a living blueprint of the future.”

Now, a decade later, having demonstrated the potential of Central Florida as a vacation destination and having achieved the necessary financial strength, we are ready to move forward with confidence to the realization of Walt Disney’s greatest dream.

At WED Enterprises, our own creative research and development center in Glendale, California, a dynamic and achievable approach to EPCOT is rapidly coming into focus. We believe that in order to attain Walt Disney’s goals for EPCOT, we must avoid building a huge, traditional “brick and mortar” community which might possibly become obsolete, in EPCOT terms, as soon as it is completed. We believe we must develop a community system oriented to the communication of new ideas, rather than to serving the day-to-day needs of a limited number of permanent residents.

EPCOT’s purpose, therefore, will be to respond to the needs of people by providing a Disney-designed and Disney-managed forum where creative men and women of science, industry, universities, government and the arts – from around the world – can develop, demonstrate and communicate prototype concepts and new technologies, which can help mankind to achieve better ways of living.

At this writing, we think it will involve three specific areas of activity:

The EPCOT Institute — an independent organization which will provide the administrative structure necessary to facilitate participation in EPCOT and its “satellite” research activities by all interested parties. Its goal will be to guarantee that the maximum benefits from EPCOT-related research will flow to both the sponsors of EPCOT activities and the public, and to establish the technical credibility of projects undertaken through a series of expert advisory boards.

The EPCOT “Satellites” or activity centers, which will be engaged in researching, testing and demonstrating prototype products and systems in such fields as energy, agriculture, education, medicine an communications, in locations best suited for the particular program. These “Satellites” may be located at the Walt Disney World site, (as in the case of a specific solar energy project or solid waste recycling system) or off-site, and will undertake projects funded by one sponsor or joint programs funded by industry, government, foundations and universities.

The EPCOT Future World Theme Center — a high-capacity visitor facility which will employ advanced communications techniques, including motion pictures, models, multi-media exhibits and ride-through experiences, to inform millions of people each year about what is being done in the creative centers of science and industry around the world. Most importantly, it will demonstrate how these new technologies and ideas can be applied in a practical way to improving the environment for living in existing communities throughout America and the world.

Here are some of the elements now under consideration for the EPCOT Future World theme center:

A Communications Corridor, or “Communicore” — where visitors will be exposed to a series of entertaining and informative exhibits and communications techniques. These might include:

  • The EPCOT Overview Circle-Vision Theaters — where guests would learn of Walt Disney’s goals for EPCOT and how this unique community functions, and where they would receive an overview of what is happening in the EPCOT “Satellites” on the day of their visit.
  • The World City Model — which would combine advanced entertainment techniques – miniaturization, video projection, animation and computer-driven simulations and display – to trace the evolution of the mofor cities of the world, and to portray a model community of the future in the process of growth and adaptation, and …
  • The Information Gallery — a sort of “Information Main Street” where leading world communications companies would join in a major exposition to demonstrate their latest information systems and products, and where guests could subscribe to the EPCOT Information Network, a wide variety of information media which will make available for school, professional and home use the creative output of the EPCOT “Satellite” activities.
  • Surrounding the Communicore will be three major Theme Center Pavilions, where American corporations, industry associations or consortiums, foundations and government will be invited to sponsor major Disney-designed and operated showcase attractions.
    • The Science and Technology pavilion will present the future world of energy, transportation, agriculture and food production, oceanography, and outer space.
    • The Community Pavilion will present future concepts in education, health and medicine, and the various and vital components of a community – economics, planning and design, and government services for people.
    • The Communication and The Arts Pavilion will simulate and demonstrate the future world of information an communications, and the role of all the arts – performing, visual, design – in our global environment.

These Pavilions will communicate not only the most modern systems and technologies, but futuristic concepts now evolving through research – ideas which could one day help improve the quality of life for all mankind.

Throughout the planning and construction of the first phase of Walt Disney World, we adopted many new technologies and programs on environmental protection, which eventually could be showcased as part of the “satellite” activities of EPCOT. This policy will continue.

I am pleased that the former Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper has joined WED Enterprises as Vice President – Research and Development for EPCOT. Under his guidance, we have already begun the analysis and selection of a number of Epcot-oriented research and development projects for possible application within Walt Disney World. Among them are the following:

  • The production and utilization of both alcohol and hydrogen as efficient, pollution-free fuels for automobiles, buses and other vehicles (WDW vehicles have already been converted to natural gas, but with a shortage of that fuel, now developing, the first WDW tram has now been adapted to burn alcohol, which creates even less pollutants than natural gas.)
  • The use of water hyacinth as a living filter to purify treated waste water. (Harvested water hyacinth is an excellent source for creating alcolol through pyrolysis, a virtually pollution-free process of hearting waste materials to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, causing the materials to break down into burnable gases and oils.)

We believe that the implementation of projects like these within Epcot and WDW will not only demonstrate the worldwide potential of these technologies, but will provide new opportunities for corporate growth and diversification as well.

We envision the EPCOT Future World Theme Center as a long-range, non-profit project, whose pavilions and exhibits will be financed by interested governmental agencies, corporations and foundation. Which will contribute whatever land is necessary and make the Theme Center available to WDW guests free of charge.

We believe that the theme center will directly benefit our company by focusing world?wide attention on and attracting new audiences, including major convention groups, to WDW. It will result in an increased length of stay for our guests, stimulate a demand for new housing and other services at the sire, and indirectly, will create new business opportunities for our Florida project.

The World Showcase

Beyond the scientific and technological aspects of Epcot, the project holds great promise for the advancement of international cooperation and understanding. The World Showcase, planned for opening in late 1979, will be devoted to this goal. An ongoing international exposition, for which an admission will be charged, the World Showcase will communicate the culture, heritage, history, technology, trade, tourism and future goals of the participating nations.

It will consist of a coordinated series of national pavilions housed side-by-side in two dramatic, semi-circular structures.

These dynamic structures will face each other across a Courtyard of Nations, where there will be an outdoor theater for performances by international celebrities and entertainment groups, and where parades, pageants and special events will be staged by entertainers from the participating nations.

Although these national pavilions may vary in size, each will enjoy equal façade exposure to the guest. The entire complex will be tied together by a Disney people-moving system that will offer visitors a preview look into each attraction.

Unlike a world’s fair, it will offer participating countries a permanent installation for such features as themed restaurants and shops, product exhibits, industrial displays, cultural presentations, a trade center, and even special facilities for business meetings. A major part of each pavilion will be a Disney-designed ride or attraction which will give guests a foretaste of an actual visit to the country. National musical groups or other performing artists could present special entertainment on a continuing basis.

To be located on a 100-acre tract of WDW property between the present Transportation -Ticket Center and Florida Highway 192, the World Showcase will be linked by Monorail with the EPCOT Future World Theme Center and the Magic Kingdom’s main parking area.

Although the World Showcase will offer every participant a unique outlet for the development of tourism, trade and other promotional opportunities, its most paramount objective will be increased international understanding. For this reason, it is our plan that each participating nation will send its young future leaders to operate its own attractions, shows, restaurants and exhibits. We would hope that these young people would be selected for their potential in a wide variety of fields – medicine, science, business, education and international relations. Working in their national pavilions for a specified period, perhaps one year …

International Village

True family of man spirit, sharing cultures, people to people exchange, each nation provides capital to cover costs of designing, developing, and constructing pavilion, attractions etc, also funding for housing employees in International Village, ten year lease.

The Disney organization will be responsible for area development, including the construction of transportation systems and utilities. We will also build and operate the internal people-moving system, the Courtyard of Nations and central theater facility.

We plan a one-price admission charge to the WS, but entrance to each individual pavilion will be free. Participant operated restaurant and merchandising activities consistent with the character and custom of each nation will be encouraged, and will extend to each nation such existing WDW services as security and fire protection, warehousing, maintenance and wardrobe facilities.

As of this writing, am ambassadorial-level officials from some 31 nations have met with us to discuss WS, and we have been extremely encouraged by their response. Major presentations were made at WDW in July and October, and since last June, additional meetings have been held in various nations and in our WS office in Washington, DC.

That office is being staffed by C. Langhorne Washburn, who resigned his position as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Tourism to join the Disney organization as WS VP.

Through the enthusiastic support of Florida’s Governor Reuben Askew, we were able to expose out concepts for Epcot to governmental leaders attending the Southern Governors’ Conference at WDW in September.

After our presentation, Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. of Virginia was quoted as saying “The depth of planning and the vision that went into the concept, I am certain, will assure its success.”

Georgia’s Gov. George D. Busbee: “It is a concept that I feel certain will do a great deal for our own country and for the course of world peace.”

Sec of state Henry Kissinger, who addressed the conference, graciously made time to view our presentation. He immediately grasped the potentials of the International Village, recalling his days at Princeton when he participated in similar people-to-people foreign exchanges.

Upon his return to Washington, he assigned two of his top aides to view our presentation there, and the State Department assisted in arranging follow-up meetings for our marketing team in Amsterdam, Athens, Copenhagen, Brussels and Paris.

As of this writing, we have arranged to preview our EPCOT World Showcase concepts before the members of Congress. The presentation, to be hosted by the members of the California and Florida Congressional delegations, will take place on December 12th in the theater of the Rayburn House Office Building.

It is my firm conviction that the need for EPCOT and the World Showcase has never been greater, that the timing is right, and that, in Florida, we have the right location. I am hopeful that by the time we celebrate our Bicentennial on July 4, 1976, we will be confident of enough foreign participation in the World Showcase to make the decision to proceed. If we do, it will become the focal point of our second phase of development at WDW.

Well … as you probably already know, this particular version of the EPCOT project never actually made it out of committee. Why for? Well, this EPCOT plan was supposedly too ambitious for its own good as well as being a betrayal of the futuristic city that Walt had wanted to build out there in the swamps of Central Florida.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the Walt Disney Company might be a very different place today … if the Imagineers had just been able to persuade Mouse House managers that it would be okay to go forward with the three part version of WED’s plans.

Anywho … that’s it for this week. I’ll be back on Monday with news at ASIFA-Hollywood’s “Lion King” 10th anniversary as well as the latest on VES 2004: A festival of Visual Effects.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

jrh

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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