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Twas the “Why For” Before Christmas

As the staff at JHM gets ready for Christmas Eve, Jim Hill answers a few of your Disney-related questions, reveals the winner of the “What Does a Yeti Smell Like?” contest as well as thanks the people who actually keep this website up & running.

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I know, I know. It’s Christmas Eve. You’ve all probably got errands that you still have to run. So I’ll try & keep this short.


First up, ConstantReader chimes in to say:



Jim —


How come you don’t do any more columns about DCA? It used to be that you’d beat up on that theme park at least once a week, saying things like “Walt wouldn’t have liked this,” etc. But for months now, you’ve been mum on the subject.


So what’s going on here, Jim? Have you gone soft on California Adventure or what? And — if so — why?


Dear ConstantReader:


Well, I wouldn’t say that I’ve gone soft on DCA, ConstantReader. I think it’s more a case of … Well … I guess I’ve come to think of California Adventure as more of a work-in-progress.


Don’t get me wrong. This theme park still has a hell of a lot of things wrong with it. And some of the quick fixes that Disney has thrown into California Adventure in an effort to re-energize that theme park are already in desperate need of fixing themselves. (EX: DCA’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The ride itself is fine. But that outside queue area? What a dud. Unlike the Florida original, guests don’t get any real sense of fear or foreboding as they wind their way through the exterior queue. Given the utter lack of shade back there, their biggest fear while queuing up for TOT is probably: “Am I going to get a sunburn while I stand in this line?”)


But — that said — the Disneyland Resort’s new management team IS making an effort to turn the place around. In fact, if you folks come back by here on Monday morning, I’ll be talking about the new attraction that’s just been greenlit fot DCA. One that’s sure to make all your Pixar fans happy.


But — beyond that — I don’t see the point of continuing to bash DCA. I mean, Disney knows now that this theme park needs help. So — over the next 5 to 10 years — they’re going to try & fix the place. Add new rides, shows and attractions. Do everything they can to turn California Adventure into a worthy second gate for the Disneyland Resort.


So — as I see it — our job (as Disneyana fans) is to now to just sit back and be patient & supportive. Rather than continue to bitch & moan about what DOESN’T work at DCA, how about we all try a different tact now? And celebrate the stuff that actually DOES work in that theme park? Like “Soarin’ Over California.” Or the lobby area of the “Magic of Disney Animation” exhibit. Or how pretty Paradise Pier looks when it’s all lit up at night.

I know, I know. That’s a very short list of things that the Imagineers got right with DCA. Here’s hoping that — in the not-so-distant future — that we’ll be able to add the names of a few new rides & shows to that list.


And — by the way — for all you folks out there who insist that “Walt Disney would never have built a theme park like California Adventure,” let me drop a mind-blowing little factoid on you. Something I recently discovered while re-reading Harrison “Buzz” Price’s new book, “Walt’s Revolution by the Numbers.”


As part of this volume, Buzz lists the 110 studies that Walt Disney Productions had Harrison’s company — ERA, Economic Research Associates — work on while Walt and Roy O. were still alive.


So what’s No. 68 on this list? A Disneyland research project.from ‘way back in January of 1961. Back when Walt was evidently looking into ways that he could expand what Walt Disney Productions already had in Anaheim. And among the ideas that the Old Mousetro was supposedly considering was adding a second gate in Disneyland (Translation: Building a second theme park right next door to “The Happiest Place on Earth”).


“And what was the proposed theme of this second gate?,” you ask. Well … I know you Disney diehards are not going to believe this. So why don’t I just quote what Buzz wrote in his book:


Disneyland Project No. 68 – 1/61 – California Living Second Gate


Let me repeat the part that I know is just blowing the minds of all you Disneyphiles out there:


California Living Second Gate


That’s right, gang. According to Buzz Price (Walt’s trusted associate. The man who — while he was working with C.V. Wood at the Stanford Research Institute — helped determine where Disneyland should actually be built), Walt Disney actually toyed with the idea of building a theme park right next door to the “Happiest Place on Earth” that would have celebrated California Living. An early 1960s version of DCA, if you will.


This is why I always say that it’s dangerous for Disneyana fans to try & pretend that they’d know what Walt would have done in any one situation. For it’s the stories like that always prove that Walt Disney was a very difficult guy to know. That every time that the people who actually worked with Walt day-to-day thought that they could predict what he was going to do next, he’d then throw them another curve ball.


Regarding this “California Living Second Gate” : Sadly, I don’t have any additional information about this project other than what was mentioned in “Walt’s Revolution by the Number.” But I am going to make an effort to get ahold of Buzz Price and see if he can shed some more light on this subject. And — the next time I’m down in Orlando — I’m going to make a point of dropping by the Harris Rosen School of Hospitality Management (Where Price recently donated 71 boxes of his personal papers) to see if the school’s research library has anything on file about this “California Living Second Gate” study.


Next up, Robert H. writes in to ask:



Jim:


I try and keep up with your site but I apologize in advance if you have addressed this already. What is the big deal about Stitch? The marketing of this character to the degree Disney is going leaves me scratching my head. Nemo was far more successful and had little in the way of toys and certainly no attraction was themed for him. What gives?


Dear Robert H.


Disney’s been marketing the hell of the little blue alien, Robert, because evidently there is this huge demand for Stitch stuff out there. A few weeks back, one of my sources within Disney Consumer Products was nice enough to slipped me the results of a recent survey. This survey showed the precise pecking order among the Disney characters. As in: Which characters moved the most merchandise. According to this Consumer Products survey, Stitch was actually No. 4 on Disney’s list. Right behind No. 1 (Winnie the Pooh), No. 2 (Mickey Mouse) and No. 3 (The Disney Princesses).


This might explain — as WDI was busy earlier this year turning WDW’s “Alien Encounter” into “Stitch’s Great Escape” — that the Imagineers made sure to re-engineer the exits of this Tomorrowland attraction. So that — once Magic Kingdom visitors left either one of SGE’s two theaters — they were fed directly into the “Merchant of Venus” or the “Mickey’s Star Traders” shop. Where these guests would — not-so-co-incidentally — find tons of merchandise (EX: t-shirts, hats, mugs & plush) with Stitch’s image on it.


Speaking of “Stitch’s Great Escape” … I’ve been hearing a lot of stories lately from Magic Kingdom cast members that suggest that this recently-opened Tomorrowland show may already be in trouble. The way I hear it, audience tracking has revealed that SGE is actually pulling a lower guest satistfaction rating that the extremely troubled Tomorrowland attraction that that this show replaced, “Alien Encounter.”


Then there are those persistant rumors that — immediately upon seeing “Stitch’s Great Escape” — Disney CEO Michael Eisner supposedly announced that he absolutely hated the show. Which is there has been a lot of talk lately about SGE quietly closing in 2005 for a few months for $5 million worth of retooling. Whether that will be enough money to actually clear up all of this Tomorrowland attraction’s story problems remains to be seen.


But — given that the Walt Disney Company sees Stitch as a character that they’d like to make a lot of money off of for (at least) the next 20 years or so — Disney World just can’t afford to have a version of “Stitch’s Great Escape” up & running that scares kids as well as confuses adults. So look for this Magic Kingdom attraction to undergo some “re-imagineering” over the next year, as WDI tries to clear up all of the story problems that this Tomorrowland show has. Not to mention making SGE more kid-friendly.


And — speaking of scary monsters — you won’t believe the response that we got to last week’s “What Does a Yeti Smell Like?” contest. Over 50 JHM readers wrote in to offer up their own takes on what the Abominable Snowman in DAK’s “expedition Everest” thrill ride should smell like. We had everything from the silly (Peter Emslie’s take on the situation: “A yeti smells a lot like the unwashed gym socks of the Dalai Lama… “) to the overly precise (Ian wrote in to say: “I would probably say that a yeti would smell like a mix of mostly yak with a little bit of a tahr smell, dirt, and a very slight does of fir, birch and some rhododendron [campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum for example] mixed in.”).


But — out of all the entries that I received — I’d have to say that the best written one came from Shannon DeArmond. This one … Hell, this JHM contest entry reads like a scene straight out the almost-inevitable “Expedition Everest” spin-off film:



I had just turned the bend in the icy path when the smell reached my nose. The word “smell” doesn’t really describe it, actually. It was thick, almost tangible, and sharp like the rocky precipice I strove to climb. I reeled under its weight, staggering dangerously close to the cliff edge. Dropping to my knees, I shuffled off my gear and grasped my nose with my cold, heavily-gloved hands, staring wildly around me for the source. It was an acrid smell that could make your eyes water just as quickly as the bitter cold froze those tears to your cheeks. It caught in the back of my mouth like bile. There was old, cold malevolence in that smell — a pungent, deteriorous ancientry that had been quietly tracking the unsuspecting for an age. . . And quietly tracking me for four days.



And so when its shadow fell over me, I didn’t turn to see it. I had learned all I wanted to know of the Yeti from the odor that prefaced its arrival.


 


Pretty snazzy, don’t you think? Which is why — given that Shannon A. did such a beautiful job of describing how this horrible beast could possibly smell — I’ll be sending her a copy of the screenplay for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Just as soon as she gets me her mailing information, that is.


Well, that’s pretty much it for this week’s “Why For,” folks. But — before I close out this special holiday edition  — I just want to take a moment to thank a number of people. In particular, the very nice folks who actually keep JimHillMedia.com up and running.


You see — because it’s my name on the front door — I’m usually the guy who gets all the credit for everything that happens around here. But — truth be told — I’m not the one who actually does all the heavy lifting at JHM. I mean, sure, I regularly churn out a large pile of poorly written stories. But who really puts these things up on the site?


Well, actually, it’s JHM’s webmaster Tony Moore and my significant other, the lovely and long suffering Nancy Stadler. Without the hard work of these two … JimHillMedia.com would be a shambles … Well … More of a shambles than it already is.


And — while I’m passing out the compliments — I can’t forget longtime JHM columnists like Roger Colton, Andrew Franks, Aaron Gordon, Rick Guttierrez, Drew Hackney, Michael Howe, Patrick Hurd, Jackson King, Jim Korkis, Seth Kubersky, Scott Liljenquist, Alain Littaye, Jean de Lutèce, Andrea Monti, Floyd Norman, Chuck Oberleitner, Larry Pontius, Cindy Russell, Wade Sampson, Matthew Springer and Michael Sweeney. Or continuing contributors like AliKzam, Sara Allen, Joe Apel, Eric Craven, Frank Duren, Josh Edwards, Cara Goldsbury, Scott Irving, Joseph L. Kleiman, David Michael, Mark Mitchell, Monique Pryor, Angela Ragno, Paul Schnebelen and Ian Westhoff. Or great guest writers like Juha-Pekka Alanen, Arlen Miller, Peter Emslie, Tim Finn, Meg Frazer, Gregg Jacobs, Don Jones, John Lockamy, Richard Mercer, David Michael, Kelly Monaghan, Vance Rest, Barbara Schneid, Nick Stevens and Rhett Wickham.


And — of course — I also have to mention the two folks who actually got JimHillMedia.com up & running back in August of 2002, Jon Nadelberg & Michelle Smith. Plus the site’s photo archivist and probably my oldest friend on the planet at this point, Jeff Lange.


You see … There’s a lot of people who work on this site. People who I’m eternally grateful to — for their help & their humor, their advise and counsel, not mention all the info that they give me for my stories.


So don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because there’s one name on the door that JimHillMedia.com is a one man operation. Far from it, folks. This site only exists because of the continuing hard work of a lot of people. Each of which I hope has a very Merry Christmas.


By the way … I also extend my holiday wishes to all of you nice folks too, the JHM readers. On behalf of the rest of the crew here at JimHillMedia.com, I’d like to thank you for regularly stopping by this site. Here’s hoping that we continue to have your patronage in the years ahead.


Okay. That’s enough yammering for today. Here’s hoping that you folks have a happy holiday, okay? And we’ll (hopefully) see you all again next week.


Til then, take care,


jrh

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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