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The “Star Tours” saga continues: George, Michael, Ron and Steven

Continuing his multi-part series on how this popular Disney theme park attraction actually came into being, Jim now reveals all the behind-the-scenes political manuevering that ultimately led to Michael Eisner being able to invite George Lucas to come work on a new ride for the parks.

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Picking up where we left off on Friday: Hollywood is a very small town. Where you always have to be careful about what you say and — more importantly — who you say it to.

Case in point: The old ABC television, “Happy Days.” George Lucas wasn’t exactly thrilled with this Paramount sitcom. He always saw it as sort of a rip-off of his highly acclaimed 1973 feature, “American Grafitti.”

Now guess which then-ABC executive actually got this hit show on the air? More importantly, claims to have played a large part in this sitcom’s creation? You guessed it! Michael Eisner.

Now — of course — Lucas could have made a fuss about how “Happy Days” so obviously rode on “American Grafitti” ‘s coattails. How this Paramount Television production even went so far as cast Ron Howard — one of the members of “Graffiti” ‘s ensemble cast — to play Richie Cunningham.

But even back then, George was too smart to provide fodder for the Hollywood rumor mill. So though he may have groused privately about that TV show, Lucas never spoke out in public about how unhappy “Happy Days” made him.

And it was probably a good thing that he kept his mouth shut. For — five years later — when George and Steven Spielberg are going around Hollywood, trying to get some studio to cover “Raiders of the Lost Ark” ‘s estimated $20 million production cost, only one guy was brave enough to take a flyer on the project. And that was then-Paramount Pictures president Michael Eisner.

Mind you, before they went to Paramount, Lucas & Spielberg did make a stop at Walt Disney Productions. And then-Disney studio head Ron Miller did really want to make “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But then-CEO Card Walker absolutely refused to allow Ron to pursue this project.

Why for? Because Card felt that the production deal that George & Steven had outlined (EX: The studio that ultimately produced “Raiders” would have to agree to share all of the revenue that this film produced with Lucas & Spielberg from the very first dollar that “Lost Ark” earned. Plus George & Steven would be entitled to part of the money that “Raiders” made off of the film’s merchandise and video sales. Plus Spielberg & Lucas would share the sequel rights with the studio) too heavily favored the two film-makers. Most importantly, that — were Walt Disney Productions to actually agree to produce “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — that the studio would be assuming all of the risk. With no guarantee — given the steep financial terms that George and Steven were insisting upon — that Disney would ever see any return on its investment.

Miller countered by saying that — given Lucas & Spielberg’s track record — that “Raiders” was almost certainly a sure thing. That this action adventure picture was virtually guaranteed to be a blockbuster. And that — even with the lopsided deal that George & Steven were putting on the table — Disney would still benefit in the long run by establishing a business relationship with two of Tinsel Town’s top hit-makers.

But Walker said “No.” And when Card said “No” … That pretty much ended all discussion at the Mouse House.

Which frustrated Ron to no end. Given how hard he’d worked at wooing George & Steven. Saying “Yes, of course!” when Spielberg asked Miller if he could use Disney’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” in his 1977 smash, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Then “Yes, of course!” again when Steven called Ron to see if the film-maker could use clips from “Dumbo” in his 1979 slapstick salute to the early days of World War II, “1941.”

Miller knew that — if he was going to move the Mouse Factory back into the mainstream, if he was going to make Disney a serious Hollywood player again — then he had to start doing business with people like Spielberg & Lucas. Or — at the very least — people who worked with George & Steven.

Which is why — in the Spring of 1982 — Ron Miller reached out to Michael Eisner and asked if the then-president and CEO of Paramount Pictures might be interested in running the studio side of Walt Disney Productions.

Mind you, Ron didn’t just pick Eisner’s name out of a hat. Miller and Eisner had already had some dealings back in 1980, when Paramount Pictures — when that studio was looking to cut some of the risk involved with producing two pretty iffy pictures — went over the hill to Burbank to see if Walt Disney Productions might be interested in co-financing “Popeye” and “Dragonslayer.”

Sensing that this was the studio’s chance to get back into big-time show business, Miller and Walker quickly agreed. And — by agreeing to put up half of the production costs for that Robert Altman film as well as that Matthew Robbins swords-and-sorcery fantasy — Disney won the right to release “Popeye” and “Dragonslayer” internationally. While Paramount retained the rights to release these two pictures domestically.

And — given that “Popeye” and “Dragonslayer” both made more money overseas than these two films did during their stateside run — it’s clear that Disney got the better end of the deal. At least this time around.

Anyway … Getting back to Ron’s meeting with Michael. So what exactly happened? Here, let me pull a quote from Eisner’s 1998 autobiography, “Work in Progress“:

“I want to know if you would be interested in running our studio,” [Miller] said. I explained that I was already president of a very successful studio. I listened sympathetically as he talked about movies for a broader audience beyond families with young children. I also encouraged him when he spoke about launching a second non-Disney label to produce more contemporary films aimed at an adult audience.

“If Disney really wants to be competitive in the family movie business,” I said, “you’re going to have to start attracting top outside talent and compensate them at the same level that other studios do. You’ve never replaced Walt creatively, and people like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have become the Walt Disneys of our time. They’ve taken away your franchise.” A second non-Disney label, I told Ron, wouldn’t simply be a way to broaden the company’s business, but also to forge relationships with the best filmmakers. “They have children of their own, and once you’re in business with them, they’ll do Disney family films for you, too.”

Finally, I returned to my situation. “If you’re asking me to come and do the same job that I’ve been doing at Paramount, then reluctantly I’ll have to decline,” I said. “What does interest me is a job that includes running the studio and overseeing the theme parks.”

Obviously, this suggestion by Eisner (In essence, he was asking for Miller’s job) didn’t go over all that well with Ron. So he politely thanked Michael for coming over the hill to Burbank.

And that should have been the end of things … Except that … Well, it wasn’t.

You seem, now Disney was on Michael Eisner’s radar. And he knew that Miller was deeply unhappy with the way things were going at Walt Disney Productions. Which is why Michael now made it his business to keep close tabs on what was going on inside the Mouse House.

Which is why — in the Fall of 1982, when Card Walker suddenly announced that he would stepping down as Walt Disney Productions’ Chairman & CEO in 1983 — Eisner cold-called Miller. With Michael brazenly suggesting that he take over at Disney’s president while Ron assumed the chairmanship of the company. So that Eisner would then be in charge of Disney’s movies & television division while Miller was in charge of the theme parks.

Now wouldn’t this have been kind of an interesting little twist on Disney history? Instead of Michael Eisner replacing Ron Miller, how about the two of them working together to rebuild Walt Disney Productions in the early 1980s?

Now where this gets interesting is … Ron didn’t automatically dismiss Michael’s suggestion. In fact — again according to “Work in Progress” — Eisner, Miller and Walker actually had a meeting where Card officially offered Michael the job of president of Walt Disney Productions … Only to have Walker (Who evidently decided — after this meeting was over — that Eisner was some sort of slick Hollywood character) suddenly get cold feet and hurriedly withdrew the offer before it could be announced to the press.

In the end, Card seemed to think that what the Mouse House really needed wasn’t some Tinsel Town insider. But — rather — a good solid businessman who could then carefully groom Ron Miller for the big chair at Disney.

Of course, what Ron, Ray and Card didn’t realize was that Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold were both deeply unhappy with the direction that Walt Disney Company was taking. Which was why — on March 9, 1984 — Roy resigned from Walt Disney Productions’ board of director and then …

(I know, I know. It’s deja vu all over again …)

Anyway … I’m pretty sure that you all remember how things worked out the first time around. Except that you may have forgotten a few behind-the-scenes twists on this tale. Like how the Bass Brothers of Fort Worth, TX — after they’d become the majority shareholders in Walt Disney Productions — allegedly approached George Lucas and asked him if he’d consider taking over as head of Disney Studios.

Lucas reportedly politely demurred, but then suggested Michael Eisner for the gig. At first, the Basses weren’t all that convinced that Eisner had what it took to run the Mouse House. But George was quick to talk up Michael’s good qualities to Richard Rainwater, Sid Bass’s top dealmaker. How — as head of Paramount Pictures — Eisner had this uncanny ability to pick hits. How “Airplane,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Flashdance,” “Footloose,” “Grease,” “Heaven Can Wait,” “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “Terms of Endearment” and “Trading Places” — not to mention three installments of the big screen version of “Star Trek” — had all been produced on Michael’s watch.

More importantly, Eisner was fearless. After all, wasn’t he the only executive brave enough to say “Yes” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” after everyone else in Hollywood was saying “No”? That film went on to make $335 million worldwide, which meant that Paramount made a nice chunk of change. All because Michael was the only one to see that this project was worth the risk?

Mind you, Lucas didn’t just stop there. He called Spielberg and then had Steven phone individual members of the Disney board to say that the high grossing helmer actively supported Michael Eisner for CEO of the Walt Disney Company. More importantly, if the board did make Michael Disney’s new Big Cheese, Spielberg virtually guaranteed that he and Lucas would then come make movies for the Mouse Factory.

And Eisner … He was no slouch when it came to talking up his close ties with George and Steven. In conversations that Michael had with the Bass Brothers, he deliberately mentioned that — once Eisner got to be Disney’s new CEO — how he’d reach out to Lucas and negotiate a deal which would then bring the “Star Wars” characters to the Disney theme parks.

So — with that tempting bit of bait being dangled in front of them — is it really any wonder that the Basses and Disney’s board of directors eventually caved in and hired Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, making them ( respectively) the new CEO and the president of the Walt Disney Company?

Or that — in October of 1984, just two weeks after Michael had officially come to power at the Mouse House — Eisner made a call to Skywalker Ranch. when Disney’s new CEO personally invited the “Star Wars” creator to come tour WED Headquarters with him.

And what exactly did George see when he made that fateful trip to Glendale? Well, that I’ll tell you about tomorrow …

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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