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Twas Brillig and the Flying Clothes …

Jim Hill returns with yet another article about WDW cast member-only films. This time around, Jim got to see a lot more of the title character of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” film than he ever thought possible. Which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

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Everyone knows how Disney theme park characters are supposed to behave, right? They’re always supposed to be cute and non-threatening. To happily pose for your family’s photographs and/or cheerfully sign your children’s autographs books.

But what we members of the public often forget is that’s not really Mickey or Donald or Goofy standing there. But a real live human being inside of a heavy costume. Standing there in the Orlando humidity and/or the Anaheim heat. Always trying to deliver a top-notch performance, even though the Mouse probably pays these kids little more than minimum wage.

That’s certainly not a job that I could do. Not for any length of time, anyway. I mean, if I actually had to earn my living inside of one of those sweltering suits, barely being able to see out of the eyeholes, constantly being jostled by tourists … I just know that I’d eventually snap.

Obviously, it takes a very special sort of person to do this job. Someone who is sweet, kind, gentle, patient. Someone who keeps all of their anti-social urges in check … Until — of course — it’s time for the annual Entertainment Department banquet. And then all bets are off.

For years, it used to be a tradition among members of the “Zoo Crew” (I.E. Those Disneyland and WDW cast members who actually portray the costumed characters in the theme parks) to prepare a short film to be shown at their annual banquet. Something outrageous. Something outlandish. But mostly just something funny.

But — given that Walt Disney Company management has become increasingly P.C. over the past few years — this practice is now discouraged. Not just the making of the movie, but even the annual “Zoo Crew” banquet. Which — as you might imagine — hasn’t done a whole lot to improve cast member morale.

Happily however, many of the movies that were made for those earlier “Zoo Crew” banquets still survive And — every so often — cast members pull out these videos and screen them again. Just to remind themselves of what it was like to work for the Walt Disney Company in the good old days. Back when the Mouse could take a joke. Back when Disneyland and Walt Disney World cast members were actually allowed to laugh at themselves.

I recently attended a screening of several old Epcot Entertainment Department banquet films. My friend, J. (Who used to work at Disney World back in the mid-1990s. But hasn’t been back to Orlando in years) was nice enough to arrange for me. He called in a few favors and got the movies pulled out of the vault. And these cast-members-only films were every bit as outrageous as I’d heard that they were.

“Just how outrageous are they?” you ask. Well, let’s start with the short that showed this hapless Brazilian tour guide who — after blatantly disregarding that “Cast Members Only” sign on the door — bumbling backstage at Epcot. Clutching his little flag, the tour leader finds himself wandering around out behind the “American Adventure” show building at World Showcase. Looking off-screen, his eyes suddenly bulge with terror.

What is it that frightens this Brazilian tour guide? An angry mob of Disney costume characters — Minnie, Goofy, Chip, Friar Tuck, Prince John, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Roger Rabbit, Tigger and Pluto — racing toward him. The poor slob turns around and tries to go back the way he came. But the characters are too quick for him.

They then knock the Brazilian tour guide to the ground and immediately start pummeling him. It’s like the Rodney King tape, only with oversized rodents standing in for the LAPD. There’s this particular weird moment when — after giving this guy a particularly vicious kick to the ribs — Minnie turns toward the camera and mimes a giggle.

Okay. Now to someone who hasn’t ever worked at the Walt Disney World resort, the above short film may not sound all that funny. It may even come across as being cruel and disturbing. But if you WERE a WDW cast member in the mid-1990s and daily had to deal with those Brazilian tour groups (who were infamous for being obnoxious), this movie was comic justice. Served up hot and fresh.

Of course, not every one of these cast-member-only movies are this rude or outrageous. Some of the “Zoo Crew” banquet films are just short and silly. Like the one that shows Mickey in his scuba outfit swimming around in the tank at “The Living Seas.” As the “Jaws” theme begins playing ominously in the background, the film-maker quickly cuts back and forth between shots of the Mouse swimming toward the surface and footage of a nurse shark swimming around the tank. The end result is that the viewer is left with the distinct impression that Disney’s corporate symbol has become shark chow. Which is a cute but ultimately pretty innocuous gag.

But then there’s the stuff that’s just (there’s really no other way to describe it) bizarre. Like this one great little movie that shows what might happen if Beavis and Butthead were ever to visit Epcot.

How did these WDW cast members pull this movie off? With no absolutely make-up, masks or special effects. It’s just two really talented members of Epcot’s Entertainment Department who — just by the way they carry themselves and talk — do these spot-on impressions of Mike Judge’s classic cartoon characters.

So what do Beavis and Butthead actually do once they get to World Showcase? They somehow take a wrong turn as they’re trying to board “The Maelstrom” and wind up backstage. Where they find that long pink stretch limousine that used to play such a prominent part in Epcot’s “Magical World of Barbie” show. It’s parked out back behind the Norway pavilion … With the keys still in the ignition.

“Hey! Check it out, Butthead,” Beavis cries. “The keys are in it! The keys! The keys!” Beavis tries to scramble into the driver’s seat, only to be slapped aside by Butthead. Who says “No, Butthole. I’m driving!”

The next thing you know, Beavis and Butthead have started up that limo. And they’re taking this 60 foot long vehicle out for a joy ride on Epcot’s perimeter road. Swerving back and forth across the double yellow line. Driving up onto the grass. Nearly hitting traffic signs. Doing just what these two disreputable teens used to do on their cartoon series on MTV. Which is be socially irresponsible.

Some of the other Epcot banquet films that I saw were obviously made by WDW cast members with pretty dark senses of humor. Take — for instance — the “60 Minutes” parody, “Mission: Statement.” Which featured investigative reporter Victor Hugo grilling Mr. X and Mr. Y. Accusing these two allegedly mysterious figures ” … of poaching our forest friends” in order to get creatures for Disney World’s next theme park, the soon-to-be-opening Animal Kingdom.

Of course, what made this particular film funny is that — even though they were being filmed in shadow, as if their identities were deliberately being hidden — Mr. X and Mr. Y were obviously Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. And the hidden camera footage that Hugo screened that supposedly showed these two criminal masterminds at work showed Dum and Dee driving around backstage at Epcot aboard one of those double-decker buses.

As they’re rolling around the perimeter of the theme park (To the old “Captain Kangaroo” theme, by the way), Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee spy a reindeer (You know? One of those seasonal character costumes that you only see as part of Disney’s annual holiday festivities?) frolicking in the forest right alongside the roadside. So Dee and Dum pull their bus over. And then — each grabbing a club — they sneak up behind the deer.

The next thing you know, these two “Alice in Wonderland” characters have knocked the reindeer to the ground. And — after clubbing the animal into submission — they wrap the poor thing in duct tape. Then — after dragging the reindeer out of the forest and draping it over the hood of their bus — Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee drive home in triumph.

Sounds funny but kind of disturbing, doesn’t it? Well, wait ’til you hear what these two do to Winnie the Pooh … No, on second thought, let’s NOT talk about what Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee do to Pooh. No one out there wants to hear about how blood starts to gush out this “Silly Old Bear” ‘s eye sockets.

You see, that’s the problem of not being a WDW cast member and watching some of these movies. Sometimes the jokes are so out there and/or so inside that only the folks who actually worked in Epcot’s Entertainment Department would ever understand what a particular gag is in reference to.

Oh, sure. There’s some really broad, pretty obvious stuff in these movies. Like the cast-members-only film that was shot at Epcot’s Canadian pavilion early one morning. Long before the guests ever arrived at the park. It’s a movie that’s set to the “Just Around the Riverbend” number from the “Pocahontas” soundtrack. And it shows everyone’s favorite Native American princess doing some very un-Disney-like things. Like:

Chugging a can of Sprite, then nonchalantly tossing the empty container in the river.

Lugging a giant container marked “Toxic Waste” to the edge of the water, then dumping that into the river as well.

Smoking a joint.

Clearly mouthing the word “***” when John Smith opts to dump Pocahontas so that he can chase after a cute little Indian brave.

Speaking of unDisney Princess-like behavior, the high point (and/or low point. Depending on your point of view here) of this series of Epcot banquet films was a sleazy little movie called “Showcase Girls.” This one starts out with three strapping young men meeting up in a parking lot. These guys are clearly out for a night of fun. And — giving the wads of cash that the men keep waving around — they have the money necessary to make it happen.

So these three guys head up to the second floor in some building backstage at Epcot. They enter a darkly lit room and take their seats. And directly across from them — facing into the corner — is Alice from Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Dressed in her classic blue dress and white knee socks. Her eyes downcast, her expression demure … Until the strip club music suddenly comes up.

This is when it immediately becomes apparent that the girl standing in the corner is no friend to the White Rabbit. White Trash, maybe. Snapping her gum like some high school ***, Alice whips around and — slowly lifting her skirt up — begins to dance.

Now let me stress here, folks, that this is not some woman dressed in a knock-off of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” costume. This is an actual WDW cast member wearing the very same outfit that she uses in the theme park. Showing lots of white panty as she gyrates about. The camera cuts away — every now and then — to show the boys in the front row, who are clearly loving this show. They hoot appreciably and wave their dollar bills about as Alice peels off her apron and tosses it at them.

Next up is Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” As she sits down in a backward facing chair, her legs spread wide but hidden beneath her trademark blue skirt, Belle slowly pulls her barrette out and lets her hair down. As the music builds, she sways to the beat.

Suddenly getting up and kicking the chair off to one side, it’s Belle — not the Beast — who reveals her animal-like nature. There’s a close-up of the hooting males again as her trademark blue dress comes flying off the stage and lands in their laps.

Following Belle is “The Fairest of Them All,” Snow White. As soon as she steps on stage, Ms. White takes off her cape and folds down her collar. With a dramatic flourish, Snow’s bright yellow skirt also comes flying off — revealing that the little princess is wearing a pair of apple red panties.

Last — but certainly not least — is a WDW cast member dressed as Princess Jasmine from Disney’s “Aladdin.” This section starts off with Jasmine still wearing the cloak that the Princess wore in the movie when she was trying to disguise herself as a peasant in the marketplace. But then that cloak gets ripped open … and we see that Jasmine seems to have left her harem pants back at the palace.

Needless to say, it IS funny to see Disney’s usually sweet and demure princesses acting in such an unladylike fashion. But — at the same time — there’s just no getting around the fact that “Showcase Girls,” though this cast-members-only movie may have admittedly started out as a parody, is still some pretty hot stuff, people. The very sort of thing that dirty old Disney fans would give their left arm to see. Which is why it’s probably wise for Epcot’s Entertainment Department to keep this particular cast-member-only film stashed away in the vault. Under lock and key.

Mind you, it should be noted here that — at the very last second of “Showcase Girls” — that this film stops being sexy and goes for a gag. You see — as Jasmine rips open that cloak and reveals plenty of cleavage — she also smiles broadly. Which shows that she has one of her front teeth blacked out. The camera quickly turns to the guys in the front row, who now reel back in horror. As if they’re suddenly repulsed by the sight of the princess’ missing tooth.

But — given all the sexual stuff that came before this brief blackout gag — I’m afraid that that laugh may have been too little too late. After watching “Showcase Girls” … It’s really hard to know how exactly you’re supposed to feel. By that I mean: As an animation fan, I got the joke. As a red blooded American male, I also have to admit that I enjoyed watching pretty half-naked ladies dance about. But — as the father of a 9-year-old girl named Alice — I also felt incredibly creepy while I was watching this movie. As if I needed to go wash my eyeballs as soon as it was over.

But — then again — let’s remember that this “Showcase Girls” movie wasn’t intended to be seen by me. Or you either. This was a film that was put together by WDW cast members to entertain other WDW cast members. And who knows? Maybe after you’ve played a sticky sweet Disney Princess for too many months, it really is kind of funny and/or liberating to get to portray Snow White suddenly cutting loose at a strip club.

All in all, these Epcot banquet films that J. recently shared with me made for some pretty interesting viewing. I’m actually glad that I finally got to see them. Though I’m afraid that it may take me a couple of years of pretty intense therapy before I recover from seeing “Showcase Girls.”

I mean, the title character of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” cartoon doing a strip tease? Freud would have a field day.

Your thoughts?

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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