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The Pixar TV special you never got to see, “A Tin Toy Christmas”

Jim Hill shares what he’s learned about this abandoned project. Which (in a roundabout way) provided the inspiration for Pixar Animation Studios’ first feature-length production, “Toy Story”



In response to this week’s Toon Tuesday column, CC writes in to say:

Pixar wanted to produce a holiday special back in the 1980s?! Come on, Jim. You’ve GOT TO write an article about that.”

Ask and ye shall receive.

But please keep in mind that the Pixar that I’ll be writing about will not be the great & powerful animation studio that we know today. But — rather — the still-struggling hardware company that only made short films like “Luxo, Jr.” & “Red’s Dream” because it wanted something to show off at SIGGRAPH. Make would-be buyers aware of what was possible with the Pixar Image Computer. Which (it was hoped) might then spur sales of these rather expensive & poorly selling machines.

At least that’s what Steve Jobs thought was going on. But the folks who were actually making these award-winning shorts had a very different goal in mind. As Pete Docter recalled in an interview that he did for Allan Neuwirth’s “Makin’ Toons: Inside the Most Popular TV Shows and Movies” :

“Ed Catmull — who’s the president of Pixar — had long had dreams of doing a feature film using computers. He had this plan loosely in place that we would start by doing shorts, then we would do commercials (’cause shorts don’t actually earn any money) … and then we were gonna television of some sort, working our way up to features.”

And when “Tin Toy” won the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 1988 … Well, that award finally gave Pixar a high enough profile that it could then approach Madison Avenue and offer its services. Who (as it turns out) were downright eager to hire this CG operation to produce fresh looking & funny commercials for products like Listerine, Tropicana orange juice, Lifesavers and Trident gum.

 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar and Chronicle Books

So now the second goal in Ed Catmull’s carefully thought-out plan had been achieved, it was now time to aim for Goal No. 3. But if Pixar was going to branch out into television, what should this project be about?

As Karen Paik recounted in “To Infinity and Beyond! The Story of Pixar Animation Studios” :

The inspiration … can be traced back to the 1988 Holland Animation Film Festival, where (John) Lasseter was screening “Tin Toy,” and (Joe) Ranft was scouting talent for Disney. Lasseter remembered, “Joe looked at ‘Tin Toy’ and said, ‘You know, I just love this idea of toys being alive. It’s such a big world. There are so many more stories you can tell with it.”

Lasseter took Ranft’s story suggestion and ran with it. Over 1989, John talked with Joe, Pete and Andrew Stanton about how they might revisit the world of “Tin Toy.” Only this time around, with an eye toward developing a longer form story that Pixar might then be able to pitch to the television networks.

And given that this was a story that would prominently feature toys … Well, it was really a no-brainer that this project should be a holiday special.

Given that they hoped to cash in on the fame associated with “Tin Toy” ‘s Oscar win, it was decided that this holiday special should be called “A Tin Toy Christmas.” And as for the show’s proposed storyline, Pete Docter — again talking with Allan Neuwirth — remembers it going something like. Tinny (i.e. the title character from “Tin Toy”) is …

Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

… a toy that in the 1940s doesn’t sell and so is put away in storage. “And it’s sort of like Rip Van Winkle. When he wakes up, it’s the bustling nineties, and he’s in this huge megastore like a Toys ‘R’ Us.”

Now where this gets interesting is that — at the very start of this holiday special — it was going to be established that Tinny was one of a set of tin toys that performed music. So when he finds himself alone in today’s world, this tiny wind-up toy decides to set off in search of his former band mates.

From what I hear, the story that Lasseter, Ranft, Docter & Stanton crafted for “A Tin Toy Christmas” was a real charmer. With Tinny first encountering a junkman and then befriending a chatty ventriloquist’s doll before ultimately reuniting with his friends. And given that television executives had been very enthusiastic about the commercials that Pixar had produced to date, John & Co. thought that this project would then be a slam-dunk with the networks.

Well, the people from Pixar were in for a rude shock. For the network execs that they spoke with absolutely loved the characters and the concept, they still weren’t willing to pony up all of the dough necessary to actually produce “A Tin Toy Christmas.” As Docter (again talking with Neuwirth) recalled:

“The bare bones budget that we could make this for was still, like, eighteen times more than what the network was gonna give us.”

And given that what the television networks was willing to spend on this new holiday special was only a fraction of what Pixar could make from producing television commercials … Well, this animation studio just couldn’t abandon that lucrative business and then go off chasing Part 3 of Ed Catmull’s 4-part plan. Particularly not given the $50 million that Steve Jobs had invested in the company to date without receiving any significant return on that investment.

Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

So Lasseter & Co. reluctantly shelved their plans for “A Tin Toy Christmas.” Little realizing that another holiday-themed story would soon make it possible for Pixar to finally get into the feature animation business.

How so? Well, you all know Tim Burton, right? That visionary director who brought us such weird but wonderful films like “Beetlejuice,” “Edwards Scissorhands” and the soon-to-be-opening “Sweeney Todd” (Which is terrific, by the way) ? Well, just like Lasseter, Burton started out his show biz career at Walt Disney Feature Animation. And while he was working for the Mouse in the early 1980s, Tim too came up with a concept for a brand-new holiday special. Something in the vein of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Maybe you’ve heard of it? “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” ?

Tim Burton’s original sketch of the Jack Skellington character.
Copyright 1993 Walt Disney Company & Roundtable Press
All Rights Reserved

Anyway … Because Burton had concocted this Dr. Seuss-influenced project on company time, the Walt Disney Company owned “The Nightmare Before Christmas” outright. But even as Tim left Mickey’s employ in 1984, he still hoped to someday tell the tale of Jack Skellington. Which is why in late 1989 — on the heels of the huge success of the Burton-directed “Batman” — the quirky filmmaker contacted Mouse House officials and asked politely if he might buy back the rights to “Nightmare.”

Disney (Which — with the November 1989 release of “The Little Mermaid” — was just getting its second golden age of feature animation underway) made a counter proposal instead. Given that they were looking to diversify the types of films that Walt Disney Feature Animation was producing, they now wanted to make “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” But not as a hand-drawn film. But — rather — just as Burton had originally envisioned the project, as a stop-motion production.

Of course, given that Disney didn’t have all that many artists on staff who were familiar with the stop-motion technique … To pull off a full-length film that would then make use of this extremely hands-on, labor-intensive animation process was going to involve hiring dozens of new artists and technicians. Not to mention setting up a satellite production facility somewhere … But the Mouse was willing to do this, if that then allowed the Walt Disney Company to start doing business with a guaranteed hitmaker like Tim Burton.

Now keep in mind that — every time Pixar had previously released a new short — Disney officials would then begin calling John Lasseter. As they tried to lure this talented filmmaker back to Burbank so that he could then begin directing animated features for the Mouse. But each time Disney called, Lasseter resisted. Insisting that — if Mickey really wanted John to start making pictures for Walt Disney Studios — then they’d have to hire all of Pixar. For John was no longer a solo act. He was a member of a team.

John Lasseter circa 1995 doing publicity for “Toy Story” ‘s original theatrical release.
Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

But because — up until that Tim Burton deal, anyway — the Mouse had always produced all of the animated features that the studio had released, the terms & conditions that Lasseter kept trying to set made that deal a no go. But now that Mickey had cut that deal with Tim, a precedent had been set.

Which is why — in late 1990 — Peter Schneider, the then-head of Disney Feature Animation, made a call to Ed Catmull and said “Okay. We’re now willing to consider the idea of hiring Pixar to come make an animated feature for Walt Disney Studios. So do you guys want to come down here and pitch us some story ideas?”

Of course, Ed was thrilled by Peter’s offer. The only problem was … The folks at Pixar had yet come up with a viable concept for a full-length CG feature. Oh, sure. There was all that development work that had been done on aborted projects like “Monkey” and “James and the Giant Peach.” But Schneider was going to want something solid, something that would play to Disney’s core audience of kids & families.

So what did they do? Well, once again turning to Allan Neuwirth’s interview with Pete Docter for “Makin’ Toons” :

“We sat around, and we thought and we thought. I remember John finally saying, ‘What if we took this ‘Tin Toy Christmas’ and and extrapolate it out into a feature?’ Well, we didn’t know what we were doing, so we just said ‘Sure!’ ” (Docter) laughs. “And that was the beginning of ‘Toy Story.’ “

Of course, over time and much story development, Tinny would eventually morph into Buzz Lightyear and that ventriloquist dummy that he met in his travels would eventually become Woody. But back in 1991 … “Toy Story” originally started out life as a super-sized edition of “A Tin Toy Christmas.”

 Early character concept art for “Toy Story,” back when
Tinny was still supposed to be this CG feature’s lead.
Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Looking back on the way things eventually worked out, John Lasseter (in an interview with Karen Paik for “To Infinity and Beyond!”) said:

“When I was at the Disney Studios … Tim Burton had an office literally across the hall from me … Both of us had this idea to do our short projects and then develop a feature idea that would use the techniques we were interested in. So for me, it’s great that it was ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ that opened the door for ‘Toy Story’ — it kind of brought that old Disney connection full circle.”

Mind you, if you look close, it’s easy to see that “Toy Story” actually started off life as a holiday special. Particularly in the film’s final sequence, which is set on Christmas Day. When Buzz Lightyear is anxiously awaiting word on what Andy’s new toys might be.

 Copyright 2007 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Anyway, CC, that’s all I know about “A Tin Toy Christmas.” I have to admit that I’ve always had a fascination when it comes to this particular project. And given the important part that this never-produced holiday special played in the history of Pixar Animation Studios, I keep hoping that someday more of the preproduction art that was created for those network pitch sessions will eventually see the light of day.

In fact, given that some of the concept drawings that John Lasseter once did for a proposed featurette that was supposed to have been based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale”  …

Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

…. were eventually used by Disney Press to create a beautiful little children’s book … Is it really too much to hope that someday someone digs all that “Tin Toy Christmas” preproduction art out of Pixar’s archives and then uses these images to create a new holiday storybook?

Better yet, maybe Disney / Pixar could then use the proceeds from the sales of a “Tin Toy Christmas” storybook to create a scholarship fund in the late Joe Ranft’s name? Who — FYI — storyboarded on all three of the projects discussed in today’s article: “Tin Toy Christmas,” “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Toy Story.”

What do you folks think of that idea?

And speaking of Christmas-related stuff … If you’d like to show your appreciation for all the great stories that you regularly read on this website, then why not start off your next Amazon shopping spree by clicking on the above banner? That way, JHM gets a tiny little chunk of whatever you spend.

Thanks for thinking of us. And Happy Holidays!

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling



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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont



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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage



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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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