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“The Invisible Art” is a must-have for the serious film fan

Jim Hill returns with a review of Mark Cotta Vaz and Craig Barron’s great new book about matte painting. If you love hearing behind-the-scenes stories about how your favorite movies were made, this really is the book for you!

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First off, Lampwick333 writes

Dear Jim:

Love your new web page. Particularly when you write about Walt Disney Feature Animation and tell us about animated features that had production problems, scenes that got cut, etc.

So I was wondering. Do you have any similar stories about Disney Television Animation? Can you tell JimHillMedia.com readers about any animated TV series that Disney had problems with? Any potentially cool toon TV shows that never made past the pilot phase?

Just wondering,

Lampy

Well, the folks over at Disney Television Animation has pitched some real doozies over the past 15 year, Lampy. For example: Back in the early 1990s, I recall hearing about “Thumper’s Thicket,” an animated TV series that was supposed to have built around Bambi’s bunny co-star. But Disney management — perhaps because they were concerned that a TV program that starred a cute widdle wabbit wid a wisp would have put viewers into a diabetic coma — eventually nixed the project.

The same goes for the “Disney Babies” TV show, an animated series which would have featured the adventures that Mickey, Donald and the gang had back when they were infants. Curiously enough, this idea for this particular series was allegedly originally pitched NOT by the staff of Disney Television Animation. But rather, senior management over at Disney Consumer Products. Evidently, DCP’s thinking was that a animated TV series that starred these characters would be a great way to promote the corporation’s very popular line of “Disney Babies” plush, bedding and children’s clothing.

Lucky for us, the DTA folks really resented the idea that Consumer Products was trying to foist this really lame concept for a TV program on them just so the Mouse could move more merchandise. So these guys did every thing they could to help derail the project. Which is why (thankfully) the “Disney Babies ” TV program never ever saw the light of day. (Would that we could say the same about that awful “Baby Looney Tunes” show that’s currently airing on the Cartoon Network. Anyway … )

There were proposals for shows that actually sounded pretty promising (“Critter Country,” an animated series that was supposed to have featured all the creatures seen in Disneyland’s “Splash Mountain” as well as the “Country Bear Jamboree”) and proposals for shows that just sounded downright weird (“Disney’s Magic Kingdom – The Animated Series.” This program would have followed the adventures of a boy & a girl who discovered a Disney theme park of their very own hidden high up in the clouds … ).

But — if I had to pick — the one proposed Disney Television Animation show that I wish had actually gone to series would have been “Maximum Horsepower.” This was a pitch for a comical sci-fi adventure series (which was been reportedly put together by DTA vet Tad Stones) which really sounds like it could have been a lot of fun.

So what was “Maximum Horsepower” supposed to have been about? Well, you all know Horace Horsecollar, right? One of Mickey’s co-stars in all those Disney animated shorts back in the 1930s. Then — sometime during the 1940s — Horace suddenly falls from sight. He never makes another picture for Walt Disney Studios. And no explanation was ever given for Mr. Horsecollar’s mysterious disappearance.

So what really happened to Horace? Well, “Maximum Horsepower” was going to be the show that would finally fill in all the blanks. According to the premise that Tad and his team put together, Mr. Horsecollar is an actor with a pretty sizable ego. He’s tired of playing second fiddle to a mouse, a duck and a dog. Horace feels that it’s high time for his star to rise in the Hollywood firmament.

So picture this: Horace is determinedly marching across the Disney Studio lot. He’s headed to Walt’s office, where he plans to pitch himself as the star of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The part that — provided that he can actually persuade Walt to give him the role — will finally allow Mr. Horsecollar to leave short subjects behind so that he can become a big-time movie star in features.

Horace is literally just about to enter the Admin building at Disney when suddenly … he’s plucked off the pavement in Burbank and beamed to the fartherest most corner of the galaxy. Why? Because a rather dim alien species has selected him to be their champion …

And the rest of “Maximum Horsepower” would have dealt with Mr. Horsecollar’s dilemma. Totally by accident, Horace ends up defeating the evil ruler who’s enslaved this corner of the galaxy. But — in the process — he also unintentionally destroys the machinery that would have beamed him back to Hollywood.

So Horace is now stuck, billions of light years from home. A beloved hero to this alien race. The animated equivalent of James T. Kirk.

But — just like William Shatner, the actor who played Kirk in the original “Star Trek” TV series — Horace is a bit of a ham (which — surprisingly enough — isn’t all that hard to do when you’re a horse). Mr. Horsecollar desperately misses Hollywood. And — in spite of all the adulation that he receives in this corner of the galaxy — he constantly schemes about how he can finally make his way back to Tinsel Town.

The comedy in “Maximum Horsepower” was supposed to have come from the idea of this blowhard, self centered actor that these dim-witted aliens think is truly heroic … but isn’t. So, in order to keep up his heroic facade, Horace is constantly has to bluff his way through various life threatening situations. But somehow, he always manages to come out on top.

So who ideally would Tad & Co. cast as the voice of Horace Horsecollar in “Maximum Horsepower”? To be honest, I don’t think that this proposed project ever got far enough along for the folks over at Disney Television Animation to seriously start talking about which actor they would have liked to provide vocals for this character. But wouldn’t it have been fun if Shatner himself — or maybe even Kelsey Grammer — had been roped in to provide Horace’s plumy, self-important tones.

So why didn’t “Maximum Horsepower” go forward? Well, in spite of this proposed program’s very promising premise, this wasn’t exactly what Disney Company management was looking for in the early 1990s. They wanted Disney Television animation to pitch series that would expand the brand. Keep particularly popular sets of Disney characters out in the marketplace. Which is how we ended up with shows like “Timon & Pumbaa – The Animated Series,” “101 Dalmatians – The Animated Series” and “Hercules – The Animated Series.”

Which is why promising programs like “Maximum Horsepower” (which Stones supposedly saw as a sort of a stylistic follow-up to another popular DTA show that he created, “Darkwing Duck;” a TV program that — thanks to strong writing — would have appealed to both kids and adults) never got much further than their pitch phase.

That’s pretty much everything that I’ve heard about “Maximum Horsepower.” That said, I do know that Tad Stones — on occasion — drops by JimHillMedia to read the articles and/or to comment on stuff ? Perhaps someday he can come forward and tell us a little bit more about this very promising premise. Here’s hoping, anyway …

Next, here’s a letter from Oriol Cedeno, who asks:

Hi, before I get into my question (or questions, rather) I’d just like to say I love your site! Your “Why For” columns are fun and always eye-opening to me. Keep up the good work!

Now, to the point of this e-mail. I’m a huge Alice in Wonderland fan. It’s my ultimate favorite Disney animated feature, despite it’s rather bad reputation amongst Disney purists. First I’d like to know: is Disney ever releasing a special edition DVD or even a full blown collector’s edition DVD of this film in the distant future? I’d be first in line to purchase it.

Second: can you tell me about any concepts or actual scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor for Alice? In that same vein, was the Jabberwocky ever in the film because a 50’s promotional storybook shows an illustration of him from the Cheshire Cat scene. Any thing you can provide would make me one happy person. Thanks!

Oriol –

To date, I haven’t heard anything about Disney planning to put out a special edition DVD of “Alice in Wonderland.” To be honest, “Alice” isn’t even one of the titles that Buena Vista Home Entertainment currently has slated to receive the deluxe two disc “Platinum Edition” treatment.

Which is really a shame. Why? Because I know that there is a ton of material on file over at the Disney’s Feature Animation Research Library that could be used to flesh out a 2-disc set of “Alice.” Items like those hundreds of inspirational paintings that David Hall did for Disney’s first attempt to turn Lewis Carroll’s acclaimed novel into an animated feature. Mind you, this was back in 1939. Back when “Alice in Wonderland” was being actively considered as the film that Walt Disney Studios would put into production as soon as work was completed on “Pinocchio.”

But then — of course — World War II intervened. And production of Disney’s “Alice” got pushed back ’til the early 1950s. And by then, this feature had a very different style and tone than the European storybook look that Hall had originally proposed for the production.

Which brings me to your next question, Oriol. What became of the “Jabberwocky” sequence that was supposed to have been part of Disney’s animated version of “Alice in Wonderland”? Me personally, I know for a fact that a toony version of this truly screwy Carroll poem was originally supposed to have been featured in the film.

And how do I know this? Because I own a copy of “Jabberwocky,” the children’s book that the Disney Press put out in the early 1990s. Now what’s interesting about this particular book is that it’s illustrated with artwork that was pulled directly from the WDFA research library. And these illustrations that are used in the Disney Press version of “Jabberwocky” are from a series of storyboards that the studio’s artist made for this proposed sequence in the 1951 film.

So clearly — at some point, anyway — Walt was giving some very serious thought to including “Jabberwocky” as part of his animated version of “Alice.” Going so far as to order up these storyboards as well as (maybe) record a vocal track for the sequence.

“What’s this about a ‘Jabberwocky’ vocal track?,” you say, Oriol. Well, legendary writer / comedian Stan Freberg has repeatedly stated in interviews that he’s given over the years that he actually recorded a version of “Jabberwocky” for Disney that was supposed to have been included in the animated feature. But — for some reason or another — this part of the picture eventually ended up getting cut out.

Now wouldn’t it be wild if, someday, someone at Disney could unearth that original recording that Stan made back in the 1950s and sync that up with footage of those wild pastel storyboards for “Alice in Wonderland” ‘s proposed “Jabberwocky” sequence? Or — if that’s impossible — inviting Freberg back (50 years after he originally recorded the poem) to the Disney lot to do a second reading of “Twas Brillig and the slithy toves … “Which then could be synced up to images of those “Jabberwocky” storyboards.

Wouldn’t that be a terrific little item to include as an “Extra Added Bonus” the next time Disney re-releases “Alice in Wonderland” on DVD? Paging Scott McQueen, Disney’s Director of Library Restoration! I have an intriguing project for you …

And – finally – Rick G. writes:

Hi Jim,

Two Questions. One: I went to Disneyland about a month ago and we rode the monorail, and the monorail got stuck on the track somewhere between fantasyland and Tomorrowland, right before the Matterhorn. I happened to notice something that I had never seen before. I saw a sign that read Disneyland Oceanographic Research Center. I had never even heard of such a thing. Could you possibly shed some light on that subject?

My second Question. I heard one time that the Tower of Terror was going to be Mel Brooks themed. I think it was supposed to have been called Hotel Mel or something like that. Could you provide some insight on that as well? Thanks. I love your site and I’m glad I have something like it to read while I’m waiting to take calls at work. It really helps me to pass the time. Keep writing and I’ll keep visiting your site.

A Disney Dweeb, Rick G

Regarding Question No. 1: Sorry, Rick. But there really isn’t much of a story to report there. Near as I can figure, that “Disneyland Oceanographic Research Center” sign that you mentioned has been in place since the late 1980s / early 1990s. If I’m remembering correctly, it went up just about the same time that the Tomorrowland subs got their canary yellow paint job. Can any of you Disneyland historians out there back me up on this?

So (sadly) there’s nothing much exciting or controversial to report about that particular Tomorrowland sign. If — on the other hand — you someday want me to talk about that “Atlantis Expedition” sign was hoisted on top of the rocks to the back on the “Submarine Voyage” lagoon back in September 1998 (and the ugly shouting match that erupted between Disneyland’s ops staff and the Imagineers who were in the park that day, pitching a proposal for a new Tomorrowland attraction), THAT’s a really fun story, Rick. Remind me to tell you about that sometime.

As for Question 2: Yes, someday very soon, I will get around to answering your question about Hotel Mel. I just won’t do it here at JimHillMedia.com.

Why For? Honestly, it’s not because I’m trying to be a pain in the ass, Rick. But rather, because I began writing a series about the Tower of Terror for Kevin Boles’ terrific www.tower-of-terror.com site a few months back. But then — what with the launch of www.JimHillMedia.com — I got distracted (and bogged down. Who knew that writing three to five new stories each week would swallow so much of my free time? Anyway …)

So, when I left off with my “Tower Tales” series over at Kevin’s site, I was actually just getting around to the part of the story where I was going to talk about the whole “Hotel Mel” concept. Explain in detail how Mel Brooks came to be involved with WDI. So — if I were to write about that here now — I’d feel like I was be cheating Mr. Boles out of a story that was rightfully belonged to him. Which wouldn’t be a nice thing to do, Rick.

Tell you what. I just exchanged e-mails with Kevin about this very same matter not two days ago. And — provided that Chuck and Roger come back to JimHillMedia next week with some great stories about their experiences at this year’s Macworld Expo (hint, hint) — I should have a little more free time next week. Which (hopefully) means that I’ll finally be able to finish up Part III of my “Tower Tales” series for www.tower-of-terror.com. Which I promise (Scout’s Honor), Rick, will address the whole “Hotel Mel” angle of the “Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror” story.

Sorry that I stiffed you on both of your questions, Rick. Better luck next time, okay?

That’s it for this week, folks. Except for one quick personal message: Puddie4Banned, could you please drop me an e-mail at my stadlerhill@mindspring.com address? Thanks.

See you all on Monday,

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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