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Universal Studios Florida’s “Jaws” attraction sails off into the sunset



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It’s time to say “Good-bye” to ” … the mistake on the lake.”

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

That’s what the skippers who worked on “Jaws” used to affectionately call
this Universal Studios Florida attraction. Which will be closing later today to
supposedly make way for a brand-new Harry Potter “land” for this theme park.

But before they drain Amity Island’s 5-million gallon lagoon
and then send all seven of the sharks which used to appear in this tough-to-maintain
show to that big boneyard in the sky, I thought that it might be fun to take a
quick look back at the history of USF’s “Jaws” attraction. Which – believe it
or not – owes its very existence to former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

Strange but true, folks. But back in November of 1979, when MCA
Inc. brought the initial 300-acre chunk of what would eventually become a 423-
acre parcel southwest of Orlando, this company intended on using that land ” … for
possible development of a movie oriented attraction patterned after the
Universal Studio Tour (in Hollywood).”

Copyright Universal Studios Hollywood. All rights reserved

“How closely patterned?,” you ask. So closely patterned that
– according to the original site plan for what was then known as Universal City
Florida – Guests were to have spent the bulk of the time that they visited this
movie-oriented recreation complex aboard a Glamour Tram. Where they would have then
rolled past recreations of some of the more popular stops of the Universal
Studios Hollywood tram. Mainly “Jaws,” “King Kong” and “Earthquake -The Big

But as the projected construction cost of this Central
Florida entertainment complex climbed from $100 million to $170 million, MCA
Inc.’s chairman Lew Wasserman began turning to other studio heads, looking for
possible financial partners when it came to the Universal City Florida project.
Which is why – on July 29, 1981 — MCA officials presented their plans for
their proposed Orlando studio tour attraction to Paramount executives.

And who was president and chief operating officer of
Paramount Pictures back in 1981? Michael Eisner.

Michael Eisner & Bob Hope lead the first family of Disney-MGM Studios theme park down
Hollywood Boulevard on May 1, 1989 — the opening day for WDW’s third gated attraction.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now to this day, Michael Eisner insists that he was never at
this Universal City Florida informational presentation. But other people who
took part in this two-hour-long meeting (which was held in the Jack Webb Bungalow
on the Universal Studios Hollywood lot) remember things differently.  As Peter Kingston (who was then an MCA
development executive) recalled in an April 1989 interview with the Los Angeles

“Michael Eisner was very definitely there. That’s the
only time I’ve ever met the man. He asked very intelligent questions. I was
very impressed by his grasp of the subject and equally his interest in the
subject. “

Okay. So let’s now jump ahead to April of 1985. Where Eisner
– as the newly installed Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company –
announces the Mouse’s intentions to build a third gated attraction for its Walt
Disney World Resort complex. Which will be a working movie studio that offers
behind-the-scenes tours.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

To say that MCA officials were upset when they heard this
news was an understatement. But what particularly galled the people who
designed the original version of Universal City Florida was when – after the
Imagineers finally unveiled their plans for what was originally known as the
Disney-MGM Studio Tour – 65 – 70% of the elements for WDW’s third theme park seem
to have been lifted directly from the 1981 site plan for MCA’s Central Florida project.

So what was Universal supposed to do in a situation like this?
Well, for a few months there, MCA officials waffled back and forth. They couldn’t
decide whether Universal should try and sue Disney or just abandon their plans for Central Florida
entirely. Try and find some other buyer to take that $13 million piece of
property that MCA Inc. owned out by Interstate 4 and the Florida Turnpike off the company’s

But in the end, MCA officials decided to push ahead with
this project. Which was why – in December of 1986 – the company announced that it
would be partnering with Cineplex Odeon Corp. to build a studio tour attraction
in Central Florida.

Universal Studios Florida concept art. Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

Mind you, the 1986 version of Universal Studios-Florida – just because of what
Disney was doing with its MGM Studio Tour attraction – has to be significantly
different than the 1981 version.

But how would they do that exactly? Bob Ward – as part of
his 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Themed Entertainment Association
— recalled the moment when Universal Studios Florida planning and development
team had their big breakthrough. Given that the Imagineers had decided to “borrow”
one of Universal Studios Hollywood’s main conceits – taking a tram-load of
tourists out on a drive around the backlot – for Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park

 “We asked ourselves:
Why not allow visitors Studio access to explore the backlot on foot rather than
see it from the tram? Which led to the heretical thought: What would happen if
we got rid of the tram?”

Bob Ward in 1987 with the model for Universal Studios Florida theme park.
Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

And with that one question, Universal Studios Florida took
on a whole new look and feel. Each “land” at USF now had to work both as a visitor-friendly
theme park environment as well as a shootable street set. And as for Jaws, King
Kong and Earthquake – The Big One … Out in Hollywood, these were just two minute-long
vignettes. Whereas in Orlando, this trio were slated to become full-fledged,
stand-alone mega-attractions.

And when it came to the ride version of “Jaws,” the
Universal Studios Florida creative team spared no expense. They brought in
Steven Spielberg – the director of the original 1975 film – to serve as the
creative consultant for this theme park in March of 1987.  Who promised that USF wouldn’t just be ” … a reflection of the film(-going) experience … We
will sit you in the bike with E.T. We will have you crashing through the
centuries with Doc Brown

And how exactly was this theme park going to recreate an
attack by that 24-foot-long Great White Shark which moviegoers saw in “Jaws” ? What’s
more, how was USF going to move 2500 Guests per hour through this water-based
attraction? To answer that question, MCA Inc. turned to Ride & Show
Engineering Inc., a San Dimas, CA. based themed entertainment company.

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

And Ride & Show Engineering Inc. – working off of
Universal Creative’s own designs – came up with a pretty compelling show. One
where animatronic sharks – “swimming” at 20 feet per second – would do things
like bite down on the “Jaws” boat’s pontoon and then take that vehicle for a
spin around this attraction’s 7-acre lagoon.

What’s more, this USF was supposed to have ended with a bang. Literally. As the
boat’s skipper first fired a grenade into this robo-shark’s mouth. Then after the Great White dove out of sight under our boat, there was supposed to
have been this slight pause before an underwater explosion would then send fake blood & plastic
shark chunks flying 10 feet up into the air.

USF’s original version of “Jaws” was certainly ambitious. Perhaps
too ambitious. On opening day in June 1990, the 3-ton mechanical sharks that
were hidden all around Amity Island worked only sporadically. Which is more
than could be said for the 37-foot-tall mechanical apes inside of “Kongfrontation
and/or those faux BART subway trains that were supposed to allow USF visitors
the chance to experience what an 8.3-on-the-Richter-scale “Earthquake” felt
like. Which is why hundreds of angry people made their way to Universal Studios
Florida’s Guest Relations office on this theme park’s Opening Day and then
demanded their money back.

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

Well, it took three more months of “technical rehearsal”
(during which time USF gave every visitor who bought a ticket to this studio
theme park a second ticket for free. So that these people could then return at
some later date and see Universal Studios Florida when all of its rides, shows
and attractions were working properly), but Universal’s engineers finally debugged
“Kongfrontation” and “Earthquake – The Big One” and got these shows operating
consistently. Whereas “Jaws” closed in the late Summer of 1990 and then didn’t
officially re-open for business ’til early Fall of 1993.

“And why did it take so long to get ‘Jaws’ working again?,”
you query. Well, there’s a reason that all of those skippers called this USF
attraction “the mistake of the lake.” According to the lawsuit that MCA Inc.
filed in August of 1990
, it was poor workmanship on Ride and Show Engineering
Inc.’s part that made “Jaws” so difficult to operate on a consistent daily basis.
Whereas this San Dimas-based themed entertainment company insisted that
Universal hadn’t given its ride engineers enough time to do proper on-site test
& adjust. Which – given that this robotic sharks moved through the water
with the equivalent thrust of a 747 engine – meant that there were invariably
going to be breakdowns and malfunctions.

And even though Universal Studios Florida & Ride and
Show Engineering Inc. would eventually settle their respective lawsuits
out-of-court, USF was still stuck with a marquee attraction which wasn’t
working properly. What’s more, given that the “Jaws” lagoon was made up of ten thousand
cubic acres of concrete, 7500 tons of steel and nearly 2,000 miles of
electrical wire, this just wasn’t a situation that lent itself to a quick fix.

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

So in essence, MCA had to write off the $30 million that
they had originally spent on “Jaws” and start from scratch. Which is why they
hired Intamin to build an entirely new boat-and-track ride system for this USF
attraction. As for the charter cruises that took Guests around Amity Island,
those were built by Orlando-based Regal Marine Industries Inc. And as for the
software that controlled the boats, “Jaws” special effects as well as the shark
themselves, that ride system was created by Itec Productions.

Speaking of those sharks …  Given that initial reports suggested that one
of the main reasons that the original version of “Jaws” had performed so
inconsistently back in 1990 was because some of the hi-tech gear used to power
these mechanical Great Whites hadn’t been properly waterproofed … Well,
Universal Creative was determined not to make the same mistake twice. Which is
why they then reached out to Oceaneering Technologies Inc., a Maryland company
which built heavy-duty hydraulic machinery for undersea oil rigs.

And using their expertise in underwater technology,
Oceaneering Technologies fashioned 7 robotic Great Whites which perform
consistently – day in and day out – while being submerged in water. Which then
guaranteed that “Jaws” could be operated for 12 hours straight, giving 2500 USF
visitors per hour a six minute-long thrill ride.

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

And what was the price tag for this “Jaws” redo. An
estimated $40 – 45 million.

Mind you, even with all of this heavy-duty,
guaranteed-not-to-quit equipment that Oceaneering Technologies, Inc. had
provided, “Jaws” was still something of a maintenance nightmare. Not to mention
being prohibitively expensive to operate. Just the natural gas that was needed to
fuel this USF attraction’s fiery finale cost the theme park $2 million annually.

Which is why – after “Jaws” was officially re-opened in the
Summer of 1993 with a gala ceremony that Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary and Spielberg himself attended – this attraction gradually shifted from being a
year-round ride to becoming something of a seasonal show. In fact, during the
Fall of 2005 when natural gas prices spiked, Universal Studios Florida shut
down “Jaws” entirely – citing the high cost of operating this attraction’s exploding-fuel-dock
sequence as the reason for this closure.

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

But in February 2006, after natural gas costs once again dipped
(more importantly, after USF’s Guest Relations department had received hundreds
of complaints about what seemed to be the permanent closure of  “Jaws”),
Universal Studios Florida reluctantly re-opened this water-based ride. But with
so many of this theme park’s opening day attractions having already been
replaced by rides, shows and attractions there were based on current, more popular TV shows & film franchises … It was only a matter of time before “Jaws” would join “The
Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera” and “Ghostbusters Spooktacular” at that big
theme park in the sky.

Which is why – when word came down last month that this USF
attraction was being shut down to pave the way for a yet-unnamed new “land” for
this theme park – industry observers weren’t all that surprised.  But even so, it’s just kind of sad to think Jake’s
Amity Boat Tours will be sailing off into the sunset forever sometime later today.

So do any of you folks have fond memories of USF’s “Jaws” ? Or – for that
matter — did anyone of you ever get the chance to ride the original version of
this attraction? And – if so – how did the 1990 original compare to the 1993

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

Your thoughts?

Did you enjoy today’s article. If so … Well, why not show your appreciation — not mention helping JHM to get off to a happy & prosperous start in 2012 — by dropping a little something-something in the site’s tip jar.

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 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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