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Universal Domination?

With media mogul Barry Diller reportedly waiting in the wings to take control of Universal Entertainment, things could get really interesting down in Orlando really soon.

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Mark September 25th on your calendar, kids. Why? Because that’s the date of the next Vivendi Universal board meeting. A day that could have a truly significant impact on the theme park world.

How so? Well, on that date, Vivendi’s new chairman, Jean-Rene Fourtou, is expected to unveil his plans to dig that corporation out from under its multi-billion dollar debt load. Among the ideas that Jean-Rene is reportedly toying with is selling off all of Universal’s entertainment assets. Which would – – of course – include the company’s theme parks.

So the big question now is: Who’s going to end up with the keys to the three Universal Studios theme parks (Hollywood, Orlando & Japan), Islands of Adventure as well as Port Aventura in Spain? (And don’t put any stock in that ***-n-ball story that ran in last week’s papers about Disney supposedly being interested in buying Universal’s theme parks. That was just a smoke screen, kids. A desperate ploy by Mickey’s PR staff to temporarily distract the financial press from the real story: Which was the Walt Disney Company’s perpetually depressed stock price. I mean, Eisner already has problems enough with the four theme parks that his corporation currently owns and operates in Central Florida. So there’s no way that Uncle Mike would go looking for more trouble [I.E. Make a serious bid for USF and IOA]).

To date, only one strong candidate has emerged: Barry Diller, the head of Vivendi – Universal’s Entertainment group. Under a proposed acquisition scenario that’s been wafting around Wall Street, Diller is supposedly considering making a play for all of Universal’s entertainment assets through his own firm, USA Interactive. Should Barry actually manage to acquire Universal’s theme parks … Well, things could get really interesting in Central Florida.

How so? You see, Diller’s a major media mogul. Not to mention being a very ambitious guy. More importantly, back in the late 1970s/ early 1980s, Barry Diller used to be Michael Eisner’s old boss back when both of these two execs were working together at Paramount Pictures. And – ever since Eisner became the head of the Walt Disney Company – these two have been in competition with one another. And that rivalry has done nothing but intensify over the past 16 years.

So now – should Barry actually become master of Universal’s universe – Orlando will probably emerge as a key battlefield. The place where these two ultra-powerful media moguls will duke it out. Each jockeying for position. Each determined to prove that it is they – and not their poser pal – who is the real top dog in the crucial Central Florida tourism market.

Of course, should Barry take control of Universal Studios and its theme park operation anytime soon, he’ll be in an excellent position to quickly bloody Mickey’s nose. How so? Well, Universal’s Creative team is currently putting the finishing touches on three brand new attractions for the company’s Orlando Resort that are sure to rival anything that Disney currently has on display.

First and foremost is USF’s “Mummy” roller coaster, which is slated to be built inside of the soon-to-be-closed “Kongfrontation” show building. Those familiar with the design work that’s being done on this high tech horror-themed thrill ride insist that this attraction will rival Disney’s venerable “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride for its attention to detail and theming. Plus this indoor coaster will reportedly feature a finale sequence that will leave guests talking long after they’ve exited the attraction.

Over in Universal Studios Florida’s old “Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies” theater complex, a new multi-dimensional attraction is currently setting up shop. It’s a 3D film based on Dreamworks’ Academy Award winning animated feature, “Shrek.” And – given that last year’s summer blockbuster delighted in making fun of Disney – you can bet that this Universal attraction will also take a few well-aimed swipes at the Mouse. With a couple of particularly sharp pokes reserved for Disney’s theme park attractions.

Just across the street from “Shrek 3D,” another character from a recent hit feature length cartoon will soon be making Universal Studios Florida his home. It’s “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” the star of Paramount Pictures’ December 2001 release (Which was recently released in the DVD and home video format). In this new attraction (Which will be housed inside of the old “Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera” simulator theater), Jimmy will reportedly take guests on a rocket-powered trip through Nickelodeon Studios.

Okay, so these three new rides should hopefully help to get tourists to return to Universal Studios Florida. But what about its next door neighbor, Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure? This is the theme park that industry experts consistently cite as being the very best in the U.S. – with rides and theming that easily surpass anything that Disney’s currently offering – but the place still hasn’t exactly caught on with the public.

So what has Universal reportedly got in the works to up IOA’s popularity? A number of new rides and shows are supposedly under consideration for this theme park. But – given how poorly the last new “Islands” attraction was received (The recently revamped “Poseidon’s Fury” show – radically reworked late last year for a reported $10 million – has been given universally poor marks from IOA visitors) – the resort’s creative staff wants to move cautiously before committing to any elaborate new rides and shows for the park.

But what Universal has decided to do is try and trick tourists into giving IOA another try. Which is why Universal lifted its month long “Halloween Horror Nights” celebration up out of its usual base of operations within the studio theme park and plopped it down inside “Islands.” The thinking is – by using IOA as the new home for Universal’s hugely popular “Horror Nights” program – tens of thousands of Central Floridians who haven’t been back to IOA since the park first opened back in the spring of 1999 will return to the place to take part in UF’s Halloween festivities. And – in the process – these folks will rediscover the fun of the “Islands” and will (hopefully) return to the theme park again sometime after October 31st.

Universal’s Central Florida resort has all this stuff going for it. Plus the new 1000-room Royal Pacific Resort hotel (which officially opened its doorback in June). Plus all those major motion pictures that Universal currently has in the pipeline that have huge theme park promotional / tie-in potential: Next summer’s “Incredible Hulk” movie, that $100 million live action version of “Peter Pan” that’s about to begin shooting in Australia as well as Peter Jackson’s long delayed big budget version of “King Kong.”

Yes, even as Universal Studios Florida is getting ready to pull the plug on its 12 year old “Kongfrontation” attraction, Universal Studios (the actual movie-making end of the company) is reportedly getting ready to produce an all-new “Kong” movie. Jackson (Best known these days as the director of the highly successful “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings”) has had a “King Kong” script that he’s been trying to get Universal to produce for years now. Well, now that Peter has proved conclusively that there’s big money to be made in big screen fantasies, Universal’s extremely eager to get in bed with Jackson and let him make his monkey movie. And – if there’s a new “King Kong” feature film in Universal’s production pipeline – you can bet that, even as the park’s tech department is getting ready to rip out the old Roosevelt Island tram-themed ride, that Universal’s creative team is already knocking around ideas for a new “Kong” attraction for the company’s theme parks.

Speaking of Peter Jackson: Here’s one reason that Disney’s infamous Imagineers envy the folks at Universal Creative: Universal has the theme park rights to use all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” characters to build new shows and rides around. And here’s another reason why Mickey gets jealous whenever anyone ever brings up Universal: You know J.K. Rowling’s highly popular “Harry Potter” series. Universal Studios has the theme park rights to all of those characters as well.

So – with a highly competitive new boss for Universal potentially waiting in the wings as well as all of these great new rides and shows ready to roll out – what’s the Mouse doing to get its Central Florida Resort ready to go head-to-head with a reinvigorated Universal Orlando Resort? Surprisingly, very little.

And why’s this? Well, there’s a feeling among Walt Disney Company senior management that the U.S. theme park market is pretty much tapped out. Which is why the Mouse has quietly abandoned plans to build a fifth theme park in Central Florida and – instead – chosen to concentrate the company’s efforts on expanding its overseas empire (I.E. Hong Kong Disneyland).

Oh sure, there’s the occasional new big ticket attraction like Epcot’s soon-to-be-opening “Mission: Space” ride. But that’s only because Disney was able to find a corporate sponsor with deep enough pockets who was willing to blow big bucks on this Future World thrill ride. The only problem is – “Mission: Space” ‘s original sponsor was supposed to have been the Compaq Computer Corporation. But now that Compaq has been swallowed by Hewlett – Packard, Mickey’s hoping that HP will ultimately make good on Compaq’s original deal. However, given that the computer giant is soon expected to begin laying off tens of thousands of redundant employees in an attempt to make Compaq / Hewlett – Packard merger financially feasible, it may not the smartest move right now (PR-wise, that is) for HP to be seen pouring $100 million into the construction of a theme park ride. Which is why HP and Disney continue to talk, hoping that they’ll eventually be able to hammer out a deal …

But when Disney has to spend its own money in Florida these days, it tends to go cheap and small. Which is why WDW’s ended up with these pseudo-carny rides like Animal Kingdom’s “Tricera-Tops Spin” and the Magic Kingdom’s “The Flying Carpets of Aladdin.”

The only area that Disney seems willing to spend real money on these days in Orlando is on the expansion of its still-quite-lucrative “Disney Vacation Club” operation. Which explains why 208 new time share units were just added to Disney’s Yacht & Beach Resort as well as the multi-million dollar make-over that the Mouse has in works for the Disney Institute. Virtually this entire resort becomes a vacation villa for Mickey starting in 2004.

So – with Disney distracted with expanding its overseas empire as well as its Orlando time share operation (Also given that the company thinks that it’s now okay to go cheap with any new rides and shows that it wants to add to its Central Florida resort) – is it any wonder that Universal Orlando’s staff feels that its time may have finally arrived? That – once the company gets all of its management problems straightened out – that Universal may have an opportunity here to actually pull ahead of the Mouse, to emerge as Orlando’s premiere resort.

This is why Universal Creative is reportedly developing plans for a third and fourth theme park to be built at the company’s Central Florida resort. But where will these proposed new parks (and hotels and water parks and golf courses and … ) go? UC’s supposedly looking at that 2051 acres of land along I-Drive that Universal acquired from Lockheed Martin back in 1998. This enormous piece of real estate is reportedly where Phase II of Universal Orlando will eventually rise up.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? The very idea that Disney might finally have some real competition down there in Central Florida? Makes you wonder what sort of E-Tickets Eisner will allow the Imagineers to unleash as the company struggles to regain dominance in the crucial Orlando marketplace? Would we finally get long-promised wonders like Dragon’s Tower, Fire Mountain and a Matterhorn for Epcot?

Right now, it’s hard to say. But things should be a lot clearer come September 25th when Barry Diller does (or does not) make his play for Universal Entertainment. Should that deal actually go through, look for things to get really interesting in and around Orlando over the next year or so.

So stay tuned, folks. This could be a lot of fun to watch.

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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