Connect with us


“Two Guys Named Joe” celebrates the creative legacy of two Disney Legends



So why exactly should you buy "Two Guys Named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant & Joe Ranft" (Disney Editions, August 2010)?

Because this new John Canemaker book not only does a
brilliant job of paying tribute to these animation legends, this 192-page
hardcover contains one of the funniest stories to ever come out of modern day Hollywood.

Don't believe me? Okay. Let me set the stage for this
particular anecdote. Which John Lasseter actually told at Joe Ranft's memorial
service back in August of 2005.

(L to R) John  Lasseter and Joe Ranft working together on the storyboards
for "Toy Story." Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

It's early 1998. And John & Joe have just flown down to LA
to supervise the final recording sessions for "A Bug's Life." And given what a
grueling production this particular Pixar film has been … Well, both men are
already exhausted and in a bad mood when they arrive at LAX and discover that
Disney has booked them this incredibly junky rental car.

To make matters worse, Disney has arranged for Lasseter
& Ranft to stay at the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Which is this
sleek, slick place staffed by thin, well-dressed men and women who clearly
judge you by what you wear and/or what you drive.

And here are Lasseter & Ranft, tired & rumpled from
their flight down from the Bay Area, knowing that their junky rental car will
be judged inferior to all the Mercedes and the Ferraris that have already been
valeted that day.

So as they roll up to the Mondarian, John turns to Joe and
says "Put in the teeth."

Now for those of you who don't know: "The teeth" that
Lasseter is referring to are these … Well, I'd better let Canemaker explain …

… a set of distorted false incisors ("Billy Bob teeth")
Lasseter bought for Ranft. His pal Joe could always make Lasseter laugh with
his zany, satirical, often black humor and spot-on impressions and imagined

(And) no character made Lasseter laugh harder than the
dim-witted hillbilly who came out whenever "the teeth" went in.

An unctuous valet approached. Ranft inserted the dilapidated
dentures and rolled the window down.

"Welcome to the Mond …" was as far as the valet got before
being confronted by a large redneck at the wheel, grinnin' wide with amazingly
bad teeth and talkin' loud!

Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"Is this hee-ah the Mun-dar-eee-aan Hoe-tel?"

The valet attempted to keep Ranft in the car. "I'm sorry,
sir. Do you have a reservation?"

Lasseter suppressed his laughter, wondering "How's Joe going
to get out of this?"

Ranft opened the door, his huge frame towering over the
valet. "Yeah. Muh name's Eisner. Chucky Eisner. My Uncle Michael's gonna let me
make a moooovie!"

"Chucky" flashed a sweet, gaggle-toothed smile at the
horrified and confused valet. Lasseter lost it.

Now it's important to stress here that Ranft wasn't actually
making fun of hillbillies and/or rural types in a mean-spirited way. To be
honest, Joe was just out to pop the pretense of that far-too-snooty valet at
the Mondrian Hotel. Plus – of course – make John Lasseter laugh.

To back up that claim …  Well, let's contrast the Mun-dar-eee-aan story
with another one that Canemaker unearthed for "Two Guys Named Joe." Which deals
with the research trip that Joe and several other Pixar staffers made in July
2003 while they were working on "Cars." As these folks rolled along the Mother

Copyright 2010 Disney
Editions. All rights reserved

… Ranft befriended many Route 66 denizens. But there was one
"good ol' boy" in the middle of Oklahoma who invited (Joe) to his home, took
him fishing, fed him baloney sandwiches, and gave him ice water out of a jug.
This fellow's claim to fame was his ability to turn his double-jointed leg
backwards 180 degrees. "I kick muh leg," he said, demonstrating proudly.

It was like a magic trick, and "Joe thought this was the
greatest thing he'd ever seen," (said Jonas Rivera, "Cars" production manager).
From this odd encounter, Ranft created what Lasseter calls "the single
greatest" Pixar character: Mater, a rusty tow truck / good ol' boy with a
deep-fried accent.

On the surface, Mater seems like a stereotypical hillbilly,
not far removed from Chucky Eisner. But "Joe was sensitive to not doing a
parody," Rivera said. "He didn't want to make fun of the people he met. He
wanted to celebrate them as individuals."

As the film unfolds we discover hidden facets in Mater, such
as a sly humor born of quiet intelligence, sensivity, and an honest appraisal
of people and their foibles; plus there's a joy of life exuberantly expressed
by wildly driving backward through the town (adapted from the Oklahoma fellow's
trick leg). There is Mater's endearing loyalty to friends and his childlike
willingness to find the good in people and seek their friendship openly. There
is his warmth mixed with mischievousness and forthrightness.

Joe Ranft's early concept sketches for the character of Mater.
Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Ranft put a lot of himself into the endearing Mater, which
Lasseter appreciated: "I realize it's Joe. This is pure Joe." Mater's loyal
friendship to McQueen, whom he considers his best friend and can make laugh and
appreciate life, mirrors Ranft's longtime relationship with Lasseter.

You know what else is great about "Two Guys Named Joe" ?
Canemaker doesn't gloss anything over or pull any punches. He talks in great
detail about the many frustrations that Ranft faced over the course of his professional
career. Take – for example – "The Rescuers Down Under." Which might have been a
far different (and perhaps better) film if not for the constant interference of
then-Disney management and marketing executives.

As Brenda Chapman (who was part of Joe Ranft's story team on
"The Rescuers Down Under") told Canemaker :

" … what was difficult was a sense of wanting to be true to
Australia. We wanted to use an Aboriginal little boy [for the lead] but were
forced to go with a little blond kid. (The film might as well have been set in)
Arizona by the time it was finished."

So is it any wonder that Joe – feeling creatively burned out
and frustrated due to the constant interference from non-creative executives —
stepped away from Disney in September of 1990? Moving up to Seattle just to get
away from LA for a while. Which – as it turned out – was a very lucky move
indeed. For it then made Ranft available to work on Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and then – after consulting briefly on "Beauty and the Beast"
– to begin working for Pixar.

Mind you, what's kind of ironic about this was – just as Joe
Ranft was walking away from Disney – Joe Grant (after a 40 year absence) was
returning to the Mouse House.

For those of you who don't know: Grant began his career at
Walt Disney Studios back in 1937. Where he quickly became one of the Company's
top writers and gagmen. And over the next 12 years, there wasn't a film made at
the Mouse Factory that wasn't somehow influenced by Joe.

Joe Grant and Walt  Disney reviewing concept art for "Fantasia."
Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which – to be honest – ticked off a number of the folks at
Disney Studios. They didn't like it when Walt played favorites. Especially
given the huge influence that Grant – as the founder of the Studio's Character
Model Department – had over the shorts & features that Disney was producing
at that time.

In fact, according to Canemaker, Walt himself began to
resent the influence that Joe was having over the Studio's output. After a
"Time" magazine article about "Dumbo" (which Grant co-wrote with his longtime
creative partner Dick Huemer) heaped a bit too much praise at Joe's feet for
Walt's liking …

Well, here's the Dick Huemer quote that Canemaker unearthed:

"After Walt read the article, he met Joe Grant and myself in
the (parking lot) and indicated his displeasure. He didn't think that it was a
very good article, not particularly flattering to him. As (Walt) turned away he
said "What the hell, didn't I have anything to do with the picture?," which is what
the write-up sounds like, I admit."

"Even though Dumbo has always been regarded as one of Walt's
better pictures, he hated it," said Huemer. Using an odd analogy for a city
boy, he explained that Walt "had to 'own lamb.' Until the mother licks the lamb
clean and makes it hers, she won't nurse it."

Joe Grant's watercolor concept painting of Dumbo. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

That's what I always love about John Canemaker books. His
ability to ferret out these unique bits of animation history. To strip away
years of varnish and veneer, decades of carefully massaged Disney Company
history to then reveal what really happened at the Mouse Factory back in the day.

And because Grant returned to Disney in 1989 … Well, by
reading "Two Guys Named Joe," you can also gain insights about how many of the
films that were produced during the Second Golden Age of Disney Feature
Animation actually came together. Take – for example – this story that
Canemaker got veteran story man Burny Mattinson to share about "Pocahontas."

I'd just come onto the picture and Jeffrey (Katzenberg)
wanted to get rid of Grandmother Willow. He didn't like her because she was
ordinary, unfunny. They were having (story) problems, some of the story men
were bolting. Peter (Schneider) said I want you to get over there and work in
there." Mattinson was given a section to storyboard of Pocahontas sitting on a
tree stump, delivering straight, dull, dialogue.

Joe Grant's concept sketch of Pocahontas with
her animal friends. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"One day Joe came in with these cornball sayings" for
Grandmother Willow. "My bark is worse than my bite," "The roots of all
problems," "They're barking up the wrong tree" (spoke to termites), one gag
after another. He says, 'Use these.'

"Are you kidding?" Mattinson said. "I have to pitch this
(storyboard) tomorrow and you want me to use these?"

"Yeah, yeah. I think these are good. You use them."

"No, I'm not gonna do it, Joe. Forget it!" Mattinson

Grant walked out and went home. Mattinson thought about it
and decided he would put all the corny sayings in and pitch it tomorrow "just
to show Joe how bad they are."

Early the next morning, Mattinson showed Grant the board
interwoven with his corny sayings. "Yeah, that's good. These are wonderful," he
said. Mattinson remained skeptical but went to the story meeting and pitched.

"Everybody loved it!," Mattinson recalls. "All of a sudden: 'Oh, I want her
in!,' ' Let's build her part bigger!' So Joe saved Grandmother Willow. And Joe
did that constantly. He would come up with little ideas, little touches like

But as more and more non-creative executives at Disney
became involved in the animation process in the late 1990s, Grant found his
efforts to help improve the Company's motion pictures were increasingly
marginalized. Which led to some real missed opportunities. As Canemaker got
Thomas Schumacher (i.e. formerly the head of Walt Disney Animation Studios, now the big Cheese at Disney Theatrical) to recall:

"(Grant's) hearing was bad, he would never go with the group
dynamic. He was never on track with anything. But, left to his own devices …"

Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

To finish his sentence, Schumacher silently reveals a simple
line drawing by Grant. It is of Quasimodo, the squat, stout hunchbacked bell
ringer from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, staring dumbfounded at his reflection
in a large elongated bell. In his stretched likeness, he is tall and straight,
a reversal of fun-house mirror alterations. "After he polishes the bell," Grant
wrote on this tiny but emotionally powerful drawing, "the distortion makes him

"Beautiful," Schumacher says quietly. "Why didn't we use that?"

Why indeed? But on the upside … John Canemaker never ever leaves a
great animation-related story behind. He always finds a way to weave these
little insights / amazing gems into his books.

And – trust me, folks – as good as the stories that I've
excerpted for today's article may be, there are dozens more to be found in "Two
Guys named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant & Joe Ranft." Which
is why I urge to pick up a copy of this terrific new Disney Editions book.

The two Joes together – Joe Grant and Joe
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

FYI: If you'd like to add an extra special copy of "Two Guys
Named Joe" to your animation reference library, you could get the author to
sign his latest book by attending some of the promotional events that Canemaker
will be taking part in over the next few months. On August 13 & 14, John
will be lecturing about the two Joes at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Then –
on August 17th – Canemaker will be signing copies at the Glendale
Americana Barnes & Noble

And then — on August 18th — John will be at Disneyland. To be specific, John will be doing a signing at the Disney Gallery on Main Street, U.S.A. from 9 – 11 a.m.

Come next month, John will be doing a signing for "Two Guys
Named Joe" at the Animazing Gallery on September 25th. Then in October … Well,
Canemaker will start things off with a major lecture about Joe Grant & Joe
Ranft at the Museum of Modern Art which will then be followed by a book signing
in the MFA gift. John will then head over to New Jersey and do a book signing for
"Two Guys Called Joe" at Cel-ebration! on October 2nd.

 For further
information on other promotion appearances for "Two Guys Named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant & Joe Ranft," please check out John
Canemaker's website.

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.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading


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



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading


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



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading