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Toon Tuesday : “Shrek the Third” artists & technicians tried hard not to ogre-compensate

As JHM guest writer Leo N. Holzer explains it, the folks at PDI / DreamWorks Animation labored mightily to make sure that the third “Shrek” movie looked like the first two films in this series. But just below that smooth CG surface, literally thousands of changes were made in order to enhance the look of this picture as well as improve its animation



Prepared for an ogre makeover?

Well, get ready to meet a new and improved Shrek in “Shrek the Third,” a widely anticipated summer blockbuster hitting neighborhood multiplexes May 18.

But if all goes as planned by the film’s creative team, you won’t notice the subtle improvements. You’ll simply enjoy a funny, entertaining story featuring the beloved animated green ogre, his princess bride, Fiona, sidekicks Donkey and Puss in Boots, and a huge cast of storybook and fairytale creatures — from crowd favorites like Pinocchio and the Gingerbread Man to new characters of Artie, Merlin, Snow White and others added to the franchise’s third chapter.

The original “Shrek” film began production nearly a decade ago. New computer models of Shrek, Fiona and other legacy characters were constructed for “Shrek the Third,’’ a task that fell to Lucia Modesto, character technical director supervisor, and her team.

Lucia Modesto, Character TD Supervisor on “Shrek the Third”
Photo courtesy of PDI / DreamWorks

“The hard thing about rebuilding Shrek is he had to be better, but look the same,” Modesto said. “The motor inside Shrek is all brand new and the outside is almost the same.”

These new models gave animators much more control over Shrek’s movements.

“For the first time, we have more serious acting moments in ‘Shrek the Third,’ ” said Tim Cheung, head of character animation. “A little bit of a change in the brow movement can change the entire attitude or emotion of a character.”

Modesto and Cheung are two of 10 key people who talked about creating “Shrek the Third” during a recent media event at PDI-Dreamworks Animation, just south of San Francisco International Airport.

PDI / DreamWorks Animation Studio in Redwood City, CA.
Photo courtesy of PDI / DreamWorks

The day began with director Chris Miller screening about 20-minutes of footage from the upcoming PG-rated film.

“Everybody is back. All of the original cast,” Miller said, referring to vocal talent Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews and others.

That continuity is also reflected in the film’s creative team. Many of them worked on “Shrek,” “Shrek 2” or both. Many remain working on the franchise with “Shrek the Halls” — a holiday TV special for ABC — and “Shrek 4,” both in the production pipeline.

“So much of the crew in place worked on the first two movies. It was a pretty well-oiled machine to step into,” Miller said. “I just had to give them the room to do what they do so well and stay out of the way.”

Miller, who was promoted to the director’s chair after serving as head of story on “Shrek 2,” revealed a few story tidbits as he showed about a half-dozen extended clips.

Shrek and Fiona are still in Far Far Away. They want to get back to their vermin-infested swamp, but Fiona’s dad, King Harold the frog, has taken ill. With Harold sick, Fiona and Shrek have agreed to take over the day-to-day duties of the kingdom.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

But it’s one slapstick mishap after another as poor Shrek gets a taste of royal life. There’s brave souls to be knighted, ships to launch and a sidesplitting bit of business involving a wardrobe malfunction.

Harold would like to see Shrek become king, but Shrek doesn’t want the responsibility of the throne. Before he croaks, the king tells Shrek the only other person who can be lead Far Far Away is Fiona’s cousin, Artie — an underachieving student at Worcestershire Academy.

So Shrek sets sail with Puss in Boots and Donkey to find the gangly teen. But before the giant ogre leaves, Fiona tells him she’s pregnant — another responsibility that Shrek’s not ready for, Miller said.

With Harold dead and Shrek away, Prince Charming elicits the help of the villains at the Poison Apple Tavern to seize control of Far Far Away, declare himself king and give the villains their long-denied happily-ever-afters.

The miscreants swoop down on witches’ brooms and storm the castle a short time after Snow White has revealed her gift to Fiona at a baby shower — a live-in baby-sitter who also happens to be one of the dwarfs. “Don’t worry,” she tells Fiona, “I’ve got six more at home.” The baby shower is attended by Fiona’s mother — Queen Lillian — Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella, a narcoleptic Sleeping Beauty and the ugly stepsister voiced by Larry King.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

“Prince Charming, voiced by Rupert Everett, is definitely the bad guy this time around,” Miller said. “In ‘Shrek 2,’ he was supposed to take over the kingdom. But it didn’t work out for him. He lost his mom and he’s got a major chip on his shoulder.”

As Charming’s minions search for Fiona, she and her guests escape into a network of catacombs. The rest of Far Far Away’s residents are not as fortunate.

The villains, including Captain Hook and Rumplestiltskin interrogate the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio — who has mastered a very lawyerly way of speaking — and the Gingerbread Man, whose life flashes before his eyes in another great scene.

“When you have all these characters, you want to spend some time with them. But at the end of the day, they’re there to support Shrek’s story,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, Shrek finds Artie, voiced by Justin Timberlake. Artie thinks about his chance to turn from zero to hero and accept the crown, but he runs away because he’s afraid of the responsibility.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

“This is where you begin to see how similar Shrek and Artie really are,” Miller said. “They share certain personality traits — very stubborn, very much outsiders. It’s all very difficult for Shrek to deal with.”

After crashing their boat on their way back to Far, Far Away, the foursome heads to the home of Artie’s former teacher Merlin, voiced by Eric Idle. The wizard agrees to help transport the gang to the kingdom. Unfortunately, his sorcery isn’t what it used to be …

Puss and Donkey find that they’ve switched bodies in the mystic transit. Puss has Donkey’s exuberance and Donkey now possesses Puss’ swashbuckling charm.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

Eventually, Shrek, who’s now been imprisoned beneath a theater, uncovers Charming’s plot to change the outcome of fairytale history by putting on a play wherein he slays our big green friend.

This leads to Fiona and the other princesses having to save the day in an action sequence that turns more than one fairytale convention on its head. After the footage, we moved from one aspect of the production to another, meeting with the various creative talents.

The first stop was a session with production designer Guillaume Aretos and art director Peter Zaslav. They showed off several drawings, sketches and detailed models — Far Far Away’s castle, its catacombs, the Worcestershire Academy and the ship used by Shrek and the gang — built before the film was animated.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

Aretos elaborated on the difficulties behind realizing the new challenges the art department set for itself on “Shrek the Third.”

“Every Shrek movie typically happens on the span of three days and it’s a road movie,” he said. “Every time we travel to lots of places, which we shouldn’t do in a CG movie because it’s difficult. But we’re not very smart, so we keep doing it.

“We travel everywhere in this film,” he continued. “There are 82 locations and only 15 that we’ve used in the previous movies. That means 67 of them are new — places we’ve never taken audiences before.”

Zaslav explained that for “Shrek the Third,” the filmmakers and his team wanted to do something different with the environments.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

So where “Shrek 2” was set in Far Far Away and that was based roughly on Southern European cities, architecturally speaking, “we wanted to do something different because Shrek was going through a period of doubt about becoming a father,” he said. “We wanted to give it a little bit moodier, slightly darker, colder tone. We looked up Northern European locations for inspiration. So we end up seeing a lot of fall colors that we didn’t see in Shrek 2.”

The pair also described how some of the artwork for the film was inspired by Old Masters, including a set piece borrowing from Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”

The second stop was a visit with Nick Walker, the head of layout for “Shrek the Third.”

Nick Walker, head of layout on “Shrek the Third”
Photo courtesy of PDI / DreamWorks

“I’m essentially the director of photography for the film,” he said. “CG films actually work more akin to a live-action film than traditional animation. We’ve obviously got a virtual set and a virtual camera shooting virtual actors on that set. So layout is the group that actually goes and figures out where that camera and those actors will actually be standing on the set.”

That camera work even involves a momentary jerk or not quite centering the frame on the action to make it feel more like a film that was shot, not composed in a computer. Another thing Walker’s team did involved recreating that sense of shooting a steady-cam shot on an ocean, creating special software that slightly lags the rolling waves and makes the action far more believable.

Another thing Walker talked up was an orbiting camera shot in key scenes to underscore one of the main themes of “taking responsibility.”

“It’s just that subtle little language thing,” he said. “It just helps make that moment feel right and appropriate and supports the overall concept of the theme of the film.”

After Walker, we visited with Modesto.

In addition to talking about rebuilding Shrek, she talked about making crowd scenes far more believable by creating a half-dozen basic male and female character models with thousands of variations. Not only were animators able to change things like eye color, hair styles and a whole host of costume pieces, but these basic models could see alterations in width of shoulders, hips, length of arms and legs, etc.

Tim Cheung, head of character animation for “Shrek the Third”
Photo courtesy of PDI / DreamWorks

The fourth presentation was led by Cheung, who said that his job is “to make sure the quality of the animation is up to par and consistent throughout the entire film.”

Working on “Shrek the Third” is “like working with an old friend,” he said. “You know the character, you’re familiar with it — but that’s a good thing because you can then concentrate on the performance.”

Still, there were challenges, especially animating the new character, Artie.

“I don’t know if anyone has teenagers at home, but teenagers are challenging,” Cheung said. “Their mannerisms, the way they carry themselves. You can’t make them too old or too young so kind of finding that balance was pretty tricky.

“Artie is very realistic and to have a character look realistic, you kind of have to have the animation to reflect the emotion to make it look believable. To do realistic animation is pretty challenging. … The more realistic the character it is the harder it is.”

When we finished with Cheung, we headed into a session with visual effects wizards Philippe Gluckman and Matt Baer.

The team has mastered many of the water, smoke and fire effects in earlier Shrek films. The challenge for “Shrek the Third,” Baer said, was creating the visuals of Merlin’s magic. They also got to shoot reference footage of a burning bra to help animate a sequence involving the empowered princesses.

“Shrek the Third” producer Aron Warner and co-directors
Chris Miller and Raman Hui (L to R)
Photo courtesy of PDI / DreamWorks

After meeting with the creative staff, we sat down with Miller, co-director Raman Hui and “Shrek the Third” producer Aron Warner.

“It’s amazing working with this crew,” said Hui, a veteran of “Shrek” and “Shrek 2.”

“It was a great experience for me,” he said. “In the first movie, I was mostly concentrating on animation and helped a little bit on the storyboarding. In ‘Shrek the Third,’ I got to see the whole process.”

Warner, who co-wrote the screenplay with Miller, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, called the story for “Shrek the Third” a “natural progression of this guy’s life and his development as an adult.

“It’s very similar in tone to ‘Shrek’ and ‘Shrek 2.’ That’s not to say there isn’t a ton of humor to go along with it, but it feels a little more rooted in the story this time around,” he said.

“If something doesn’t make us laugh, it doesn’t stay in the movie. So there’s stuff that that appeals to both our more adult side and stuff that appeals to our complete juvenile, childlike sense of humor. We end up with a good combo just by going with our gut.”

Continuing, Warner said, “I guess the differences would be that there are a lot more characters. in ‘Shrek the Third.’ It’s a bit more of a character-driven story. There’s a really strong story to it that propels everybody along.”

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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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