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The Making of Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” — Part 5

In the (perhaps) final installment of his excellent series of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece, JHM guest columnist Michael Howe details how “Spirited Away” became the upset winner for this year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

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In the previous installment, I detailed how Disney released Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” as part of the studio’s already crowded Fall/Winter lineup. Which causes this highly acclaimed film to become buried under such Mouse House titles as “Tuck Everlasting” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” With a 151 screen maximum release, Disney chairman Richard Cook and Disney spokespeople said that a re-release could be feasible if the film were to clean up at upcoming awards and Critic’s top 10 lists.

At the end of November 2002, most studios are already looking to magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Why? Because these are a few of the prime entertainment magazines that the studios will use to begin touting their films. First come the “For Your Consideration” ads, to get Academy voters to consider certain pictures for various categories.

Of great consideration for nominations for the Walt Disney Studios was going to be in the category of Best Animated Feature. Many people will remember the ordeal that occurred almost a year ago when the final 3 nominees were narrowed down to “Shrek,” “Monsters Inc,” and “Jimmy Neutron”. Both Disney and Dreamworks had been lobbying furiously for the honor of getting the first Animated Feature Oscar. When all was said and done, the evening belonged to Dreamworks, and caused many to question the state of the industry. The three nominees that night had all been 3D animated films. Was 2D finally going to die?

With the coming Oscars, there were over 17 possible animated features for consideration (5 of them hadn’t even had the 151 screen maximum of “Spirited Away”). With this many possibilities, the Academy could expand the nominee list to 5 instead of the three from the previous year if they chose to do so.

All the studios were jumping in to try and take a swipe at the little gold guy. Dreamworks launched a major Oscar campaign for “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron” and Sony began to tout “Stuart Little 2,” utilizing the Animated Feature stipulation that the lead character must be animated for a good ¾ of the film. Disney was already pushing hard for “Lilo & Stitch,” “Spirited Away,” and “Treasure Planet.” But as many fans began to suddenly peruse their copies of Variety, they could swear that Disney was leaning hard and heavy on promoting “Lilo & Stitch.” This makes perfect sense. After all, that film is Disney’s originally created property, and they were only distributing “Spirited Away.” Disney’s marketing staff insisted that the Oscar ads were being equally distributed among their ‘children.’

As 2003 loomed on the horizon, it was also time for the Film Critics societies to begin to give their awards for what they considered the Best of 2002. With the minimal showing of “Spirited Away,” some felt the likely contender would be “Lilo & Stitch.” But the shock came when “Spirited Away” began to clean up at several of the film critics awards from New York, LA, Phoenix, Florida, and Dallas. Even Boston’s critics approved, but as they did not have an ‘animated feature’ category, gave the film a ‘Special Commendation for ‘Achievement in Animation.’ “Spirited Away” also was commended by the Online Film Critics Society, and won ‘Best Animated Feature’ from the National Board of Review.

Also approaching were the Top 10 lists of the major critics. The one factor that Richard Cook and Disney spokesmen said would probably determine a re-release. In a matter of weeks, the film had found its way onto over 99 Top 10 lists, including those in The New York Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, and The Village Voice.

As January of 2003 came and went, Disney began to tout a release for “Spirited Away.” Not in theatres, but as part of a 3 disc release in April. Finally acting on their distribution deal with Tokuma Publishing, they were going to release 2-Disc DVD sets of Hayao Miyazaki’s films “Spirited Away,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” and “Castle in the Sky.” Some felt ecstatic about the deal, while others held that it was another way for Disney to cover-up their marketing flaw from the fall.

Word was building for “Spirited Away” as its screen count continued to dwindle. Disney had begun to hold screenings for those who would be voting in the ‘Animated Feature’ category who lived in LA and New York. But some felt that with three other contenders already on DVD (“Lilo & Stitch”, “Spirit,” and “Ice Age”), that chances were slim to none.

The publication Animation Magazine held a poll on their site, listing all 17 of the possible Oscar contenders. When the votes were tabulated, the top 5 contenders based on votes were (in order): “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” “Lilo & Stitch,” “Spirited Away,” “Ice Age,” and “Treasure Planet.” (Note: on several talkback forums, such as AnimationNation.com, some feel there may have been vote tampering with the forum. Some claimed that they could ONLY click on “Spirit,” but no one has been able to confirm website tampering.)

A few weeks before the Oscars, the Annie Awards were announced. The Annie Awards are given to feature films, animated films and shorts, and TV productions, as well as artists, writers and voice talent. This year, “Lilo & Stitch” was nominated for 10 annies, and Dreamworks’ lobbying had gathered 8 nominations for “Spirit.” “Spirited Away” held only 4 nominations in the major categories, but by the end of the night, it had won for all 4 of its nominated categories for Animated Feature, Director, Writing, and Music. “Spirit” ended its evening with 4 wins, mainly in the technical areas of Storyboarding, Effects Animation, Character and Production design. “Lilo & Stitch” ended off the night with only one win, for Daveigh Chase’s performance as Lilo.

Finally, on February 11, 2003, the Oscar nominations were announced. As hoped for, 5 nominees took their places. The final 5 were (in alphabetical order): “Ice Age,” “Lilo & Stitch,” “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” “Spirited Away,” and “Treasure Planet.” The lineup definitely changed the tune from last year, as only one of the features was completely 3D.

Once the final 5 had been announced, the hard marketing campaigning began. Dreamworks SKG was taking no chances. Having won the year before for “Shrek,” they launched a campaign where kids in LA could meet “Spirit” animator James Baxter, as well as all sorts of full-page ads — not only in the trade papers — but in the LA papers as well. Disney followed suit with “Lilo & Stitch.” But where were the ads for “Spirited Away?” Disney had begun to occasionally slip an ad here and there into Variety, and one even turned up in the winter issue of the special effects magazine Cinefex.

As the Oscar clock began its countdown, many Oscar predictors began to hedge bets on the outcome. Some felt that sure bets could be seen in “Ice Age,” noting the $171 million gross from the previous March and the overwhelming DVD sales. Roger Ebert predicted that “Lilo & Stitch” would be the big winner of the night. The website Oscarwatch.com was in a toss up between “Lilo & Stitch” and “Spirited Away.” Of course, some still harbored that with the blitzkrieg campaign that Dreamworks had mounted, “Spirit” could gallop out of right field and take the award.

Finally, Oscar night came, amid the cacophony of distress over war. The evening was a solemn one, and host Steve Martin was doing the best he could to hold it all together. The first category of the night was for Best Animated Feature. Actress Cameron Diaz strode onstage and read the nominees. When she opened the envelope, the Oscar was awarded to: “Spirited Away.” However, Hayao Miyazaki was not present to receive the award, and due to Oscar policy, not even John Lasseter (as US executive producer) could accept it on his behalf.

Across the world, Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli staff had heard the good news, but Miyazaki opted to stay out of the spotlight. He felt that — what with the current state of the world — a celebratory event was not the best way to go about certain things at the moment. Producer Toshio Suzuki and Miyazaki’s son attended a press conference and told how proud they were that their film had received the critical acclaim by winning the Oscar. Suzuki even remarked how interesting it was that the film had originally been rejected for distribution in the US, and had gone on to win such a prestigious award.

When all the cacophony died down, many fans eyes were now shifted on Disney. Even Jack Mathews. After all, “Spirited Away” had performed under all their stipulations: it had made it onto more than enough Top 10 lists, and had not only been nominated for an Oscar but had won it. Within 24 hours, Disney issued a press release, saying that they were planning to re-release the film! Fans were overjoyed, hoping now people would have the chance to see the film. Some predicted the rerelease would encompass over 800 screens, but Boxofficemojo.com listed the screen count as closer to 711.

This time around, Disney put more of an effort into the promotion of the film. Some claimed of finally seeing television commercials, and in some papers, half to full-page ads were showcasing the film’s accolades.

Jack Mathews displayed a follow-up column in the New York Daily News, where speculation ran that a solid opening would cause a delay in the April 15 DVD release, but Disney claimed that the DVD release would go as planned.

Opening on over 711 screens, the film broke back into the Top 20 at #15, giving it an extra $1.7 million. However, within a few weeks, word began that as soon as the DVD was released, the screen total would diminish rapidly.

And that brings us to today, as the DVD is now available for release, as well as 2 other Miyazaki titles that Disney has graciously given us to discover. Early word is that the 3 Miyazaki DVD’s are selling well, with “Spirited Away” being a solid front-runner (although sales of the April 11 release of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” will probably draw more attention).

With the rerelease of “Spirited Away,” I have read some interesting comments about the film on several different message boards (I’m as addicted to message boards as my email). Some appeared to be mesmerized by the film, while some felt that even a tall cup of coffee couldn’t have kept them awake. Some even considered the Oscar win to be ‘un-American,’ claiming that the win would do nothing to help the now-struggling American animation market. But like most things, you can’t win everyone over. My sister’s boyfriend liked it but still prefers “Lilo & Stitch,” and my old animation-hating roommate will probably never give it a second thought.

With such a long a drawn out path, one has to ask if it would be necessary to blame Disney for the distribution. Sure, the film did not make it onto 3000 screens. But — even so — there are those who were able to give the film a chance. And — by doing so — found a form of animation different from what they had been led to believe. A film that could almost stand alongside such Disney classics as “Snow White” and “Pinocchio.” In an age where the animated film is slowly catering as a kid’s medium, Miyazaki proves that there are still enough stories in the world that parents, children, teenagers, and even 10-year-olds can enjoy.

Currently, Miyazaki and his staff at Studio Ghibli are hard at work on his next project: an adaptation of Diane Wynne Jones’ story titled “Howl’s Moving Castle.” With a scheduled release date for July of 2004, many are waiting to see if Disney will take another chance, and release the Master’s film here in the states. Only time will tell.


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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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