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The Fantasound Follies continue

In a special Thursday edition of his column, Wade Sampson expands on his earlier stories about Walt Disney Productions’ early experiments with stereophonic sound.

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Given that there was so much JHM reader interest in my earlier story about Fantasound, I thought that I might continue the tale. This time by reprinting a July 1942 magazine article written by Edward H. Plumb, who worked in the music department of Walt Disney Studios at the time. This story examines “Fantasound” from the musician’s point of view.

“The Future of Fantasound”

Fantasound has been demonstrated to the public only in Walt Disney’s “Fantasia.” But to accept or reject Fantasound on the basis of its use in that picture would be unjust. “Fantasia” is a remarkable showcase for an experiment in sound engineering because it uses music as a vital function of the picture.

However, the dramatic effectiveness of Fantasound was limited by three conditions peculiar to this production.

(1) During its actual picture footage, “Fantasia” uses only music on the sound-track. This eliminates the possibility of placing and moving dialog or sound-effects in the multiple speaker system that Fantasound includes. Dialog and sound-effects are the “real” sounds of the movies with which the audience is thoroughly familiar. Because of this familiarity it is quite possible that the location of these sounds in the theater could be more easily registered than the placement of musical sounds.

(2) The music that “Fantasia” interprets was conceived long before sound-film was available for use. The compositions were designed for concert performance and were so well designed for that medium that any orchestral changes made to improve reproduction greatly affected their basic character:

(3) The original recording of the entire orchestral performance of “Fantasia” had been completed before it was known what dimensional effects would be available in the theater. It was thus impossible to guess what method of recording would be most efficient for reproduction in Fantasound.

This is in no sense to be interpreted as an apology for “Fantasia” or the methods used in it. It is merely a description of certain obstacles that would not be confronted in the usual feature.

The future of Fantasound depends upon the efficiency with which the original sound material can be transferred to film and upon the dramatic effectiveness of the total result. These related factors dictate the future of Fantasound because they represent, respectively, the expenditure necessary and the expenditure warranted by box office returns.

Before suggesting a method of recording an orchestra that might be practicable for future productions in Fantasound it seems advisable to describe briefly the method employed in Fantasia. During the original performance, each of six sound cameras recorded the close pick-up of a particular section of the orchestra. A seventh camera recorded a blend of these six close pick-ups, and an eighth recorded a distant pick-up of the entire orchestra.

In preparing the final re-recorded track from this original material several weaknesses became apparent. Because of acoustical pick-up the separation between the six sections of the orchestra was merely relative. In the material on the woodwind channel, for instance, the woodwinds usually predominated, but material from other sections of the orchestra was definitely present. Many times, because of differences in performance level, the material from adjacent sections would be as loud as, or louder than, the woodwinds directly picked up.

This lack of complete separation was not an insurmountable obstacle in creating an artistic balance for ordinary reproduction, but it greatly limited the dramatic use of orchestral colors in Fantasound. If we wished, for dramatic reasons, to have a horn call emanate from a point to the right of the screen, our purpose would be confused by hearing the same call, at a lower volume, on every other speaker in the theater. Greater separation in the original recording could have been achieved only by greater segregation of the sections or by moving the microphones closer to the individual instruments. To go any further than we had gone toward segregation of sections or close pick-up would have impaired quality of performance in one case and recorded tone quality in the other. On the point of efficiency of the “Fantasia” recordings we must observe that only one-third of the material recorded on chosen performances was used in the final dubbing. The unused film contained sound that was too repetitious of, other channels, too poor in quality, or, during long sections, too unimportant in the design of the composition to help the total result.

Since the completion of “Fantasia” we have recorded orchestral performances of five compositions for possible use in Fantasound. It is not likely that these can appear as productions for a long while, but the method that was used may provide a possible approach to future Fantasound projects. The recordings were much less expensive and, there is every reason to believe, can be much more effective dramatically than the Fantasia recordings. We concentrated upon the achievement of two qualities of Fantasound that seem to us to be important-the illusion of “size,” possible to attain by proper use of a multiple-speaker system, and recognizable placement of orchestral colors important to the dramatic presentation of the picture.

For the illusion of “size” or “spread,” we used a three-channel recording set-up. Channel A was fed by a directional microphone far enough from the instrumentalists to cover the entire left half of the orchestra. Channel B recorded the right half of the orchestra. Channel C recorded a distant pick-up of the entire orchestra. This three-channel system recorded the “basic” tracks of the composition. It is important to note that in planning the material for these “basic” tracks any orchestral color or passage for which we might have special dramatic use was omitted from the performance. The recording of this special material will be described later.

In reproduction over the Fantasound system this method of recording the basic tracks has great flexibility. To regain the natural spread of the orchestra, the A channel (left half of the orchestra) appears on the left stage speaker, the B channel (right half of the orchestra) appears on the right stage speaker, and the C channel (distant pick-up) appears-on the center speaker. The distant pickup appearing in the center adds an illusion of depth which is beneficial and also provides a more practical “cushion” for the solo instruments or other special material that would normally appear in the center. The “panpot” can execute practically any variation of this reproduction plan that could be demanded. Each track can appear on any one stage speaker, any two stage speakers in whatever balance desired, or on all three stage speakers in any balance. The house speakers can be added to the left and right stage speakers in whatever set balances desired, or they can replace the left and right stage speakers so that-sound comes only from left and right house and center stage (as in “Ave Maria” in “Fantasia”).

In the recording of what I have termed special material-material whose location it is important to register-we employed the only method that assures absolute separation. The section of the basic track with which the special material is to synchronize is used as a playback on earphones available to conductor and instrumentalists. The physical difficulties of this method can be minimized by careful planning of the orchestration. It is usually possible to avoid the occurrence of the same melodic passage or rhythmic pattern in both the special and basic material. This makes synchronization less critical and also allows more freedom in performance of the special material. As advantages, the playback method offers complete control of the volume relationship between special and basic material; complete freedom in locating or moving the special material; and freedom to choose the pick-up, in recording the special material, that produces the finest quality in reproduction.

As an example of the use of the playback method, in “The Swan of Tuanela,” by Sibelius, there is an English horn solo that is vitally important in the design of the composition. We knew that this English horn should be a principal actor in dramatizing the score. We had recorded the composition played by the complete string orchestra omitting, among other instruments, the English horn. We then recorded the English horn alone, using the performance by the strings for the playback. A relatively distant pick-up was used, which gave the tone of the English horn brilliance, but also lent a feeling of mystery in character with the subject. Because of the complete separation achieved it is possible to submerge the solo in the rest of the orchestra or to make the solo stand out in a clear relief physically impossible to attain in concert performance. The solo can locate as its source one of the three stage speakers or, by balancing its volume between two speakers, can seem to locate a definite point between them. The solo can come from the left or right unit of house speakers without the stage speakers or, if power or diffusion are desired, can come from every speaker in the theater. The solo can move in such a way that it seems to follow the pattern of a pictorial effect; it can change from offstage to onstage; or it can change its source, by a smooth, irregular movement of the panpot dial, so that it seems to float through the theater. I have mentioned a single composition and only a few of the effects possible.

However, it is clear that the restrictions offered by this tentative method are infinitely less than those offered by the method used for Fantasia. (The Fantasia score contained only one example of complete separation-the solo voice and chorus of “Ave Maria” were recorded by the playback method to an orchestral accompaniment recorded a year and a half before. The vocal performance of “Ave Maria” was the last material to be recorded for “Fantasia,” and we were able to use everything Fantasound had to offer. It is interesting to note that for many of those in the audiences-at least in New York and Los Angeles-Fantasound was “turned on” only for “Ave Maria.”)

The advantages of volume range are probably more obvious than the advantages of other features of Fantasound. To be able to use the upper volume range without distortion and the lower range without submerging the tone in ground-noise has been the dream of every dramatically minded sound-director since the advent of sound reproduction. Experience shows us, however, that this greatly extended volume range still has important natural limits. If sound is reproduced so low that it is unintelligible or so high that it causes physical discomfort, there must be adequate dramatic reason. Either extreme is likely to irritate.

Dialog and sound-effects, as material for use in Fantasound, have one decided advantage over music. They do not have to be recorded differently from the customary recording of ordinary sound. Their placement, movement, and extended volume range are all accomplished after they are normally put on the film.

Dialog is the only sound medium in whose reception the audience has been well rehearsed. The average member of the audience has heard the sounds that the screen sound-effects imitate, but he does not ordinarily analyze their character or location with any great care. He has listened to music but, perhaps wisely, he does not bother himself with the details of its complex pattern.

In the reception of speech, however, he has trained himself to register, in great detail, character, pitch, volume, and location. Location of sound source is an unconscious function of his daily group conversation, group work, and group play. It is reasonable to expect, then, that when dialog placement has dramatic meaning it will be efficiently received by the audience-at least, more efficiently received than the placement of sound-effects or music. Because of the visual limitations of the screen, dialog, in Fantasound as in ordinary reproduction, comes normally from the center of the stage. For this purpose the center stage speaker is adequate. Because the ear is critical of voice placement, however, it is not far-fetched to attempt the location of characters by changing the speaker source. If an actor appears in the area at the extreme left of the projected frame, or if the implied location is slightly to the left of the projected frame, placement of the voice on the left stage speaker supports the illusion. Such use of the three stage speakers creates the possibility of dialog between extreme left and extreme right or between center and either side without greater sacrifice of intelligibility than would exist in dramatic productions on the stage.

Obviously the device could be over-used to the point of annoyance, and should be limited to dramatic situations that are definitely improved by the illusion. In the treatment of off-stage voices the house speakers could be used to advantage. When a voice, or a group of voices, comes from the left or right unit of house speakers, an effect of reverberation is added to the original recording. The loss in intelligibility and in point source definition could have dramatic value because they imitate these same losses in the reception of real sounds from a distance.

Fantasound is able to make its greatest contribution in combining dialog, music, and sound-effects. In ordinary reproduction one of these three mediums must, with rare exceptions, be dominant while the other two are sacrificed. In Fantasound it is possible to follow the continuity of the dialog clearly and still receive the full emotional impact of the music, or the dramatic realism of atmospheric sound-effects. As a possible use in the theater, consider that the center stage speaker would be saved exclusively for on-stage sound-dialog, music performed on the screen, or realistic sound-effects. The house speakers and, at a lower level, the side stage speakers would project music or general sound-effects at a level natural for them. As long as the music or effects are pertinent to the story being portrayed they will not distract and would not cause the dialog to become unintelligible. This physical separation of sound-tracks also reduces to a minimum the unpleasant phenomenon produced when a well-modulated track is “pinched.”

If these comments seem to wander it may be because Fantasound is at the wandering stage of its development. We have the tools and we have not decided what we intend to build with them. These tools may not be available in the theater “for the duration,” but this might be an excellent period during which to develop a practicable, effective plan for using them. It is within the power of Fantasound, as an idea, to revitalize the industry. This power, however, can not be fully developed until script, direction, music, and recording are planned with Fantasound as an organic function.

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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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