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Walt Disney Family Museum celebrates Disneyland’s 55th anniversary – Part I




Wow, July 16-18 was quite a weekend for Disney fans marking
the 55th anniversary of Disneyland's opening.

In addition to all of the events at the parks in Anaheim and
elsewhere, there were special talks Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Walt
Disney Family Museum
in The Presidio of San Francisco. Tough choices, but I met
a couple of people who attended museum events Friday and Sunday, with a quick
plane trip down to Anaheim on Saturday to continue their long-standing
tradition of being at the park on its birthday.

Retired Imagineer and Disney Legend Marty Sklar was
responsible for planting the seeds for the special events at the museum with
its co-founder, Walt Disney's daughter Diane Miller, and members of the
museum's staff, including executive director Richard Benefield.

(L to R) Diane Miller, co-founder of the Walt
Disney Family Museum, Disney Legend Harrison
"Buzz" Price and museum
executive director Richard Benefield.
Photo by Joseph
Driste, courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Museum. All rights reserved

Marty, well-steeped in a Disney history he helped create,
served as emcee on Saturday and Sunday. Benefield, with Disney authors and
historians Richard and Katherine Greene as his "co-inquisitors," led
the discussion Friday.

The Greenes authored "Inside the Dream: The Personal Story of Walt Disney," wrote the script for the Walt Disney Family
Foundation funded biopic "Walt Disney, the Man Behind the Myth" and a
subsequent CD-Rom, "Walt Disney: An Intimate History of the Man and his Magic." According to Benefield, the Greenes are currently working on a
"fairly extensive searchable new website for the museum called "About
Walt Disney."

Highlights over the three days included hearing from Diane,
Marty and three other guests who worked directly with Walt: Harrison
"Buzz" Price
, Dick Nunis and Jack Lindquist. They shared several
great stories, which I'll get to later in this post and a couple more to come.

(L to R) Imagineers Bruce Vaughn and Craig
Russell. Photo by Joseph Driste,
courtesy of the Walt Disney Family
Museum. All rights reserved

That's not to say the other guests — the Greenes, former
Disneyland President Matt Ouimet and Imagineering greats Tony Baxter, Bruce
Vaughn and Craig Russell — didn't contribute a great deal to the mix. They
were the proverbial plussing that helped make these talks even more special.

The events started Friday evening with a presentation to the
museum's founding members, special guests and a few invited journalists, like
myself, in the museum's 115-seat theater. It featured Diane and Buzz,
Benefield, the Greenes and a couple of great questions and comments from the

Buzz was his witty, wonderful self … and, at age 89, I
think many of those in attendance realized this might be his last appearance in
front of a crowd. The audience was friendly, forgiving and thoroughly
entertained by his stories. Still, it was a little bittersweet. I remembering
seeing Buzz at an NFFC Convention five years ago when he had the physical
stamina of Jack LaLanne. But, the memories he shared Friday evening were golden
and his sense of humor was as sharp as ever.

A sold-out crowd gathered in the Museum's theater on Friday night. Photo by Joseph Driste,
courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Museum. All rights reserved

The Walt Disney Family Museum is one of the few places
giving fans a chance to see these Disney Legends while they're still with us.

For those who don't know, Buzz was an independent contractor
responsible for studying just about every major project Walt planned. The work
followed Buzz from Stanford Research Institute to Economics Research Associates
to Planning Research Corporation. Buzz's work helped determine the site for
Disneyland; Project X, which would become Walt Disney World and all the
holdings in Florida; California Institute for the Arts and the abandoned
Mineral King ski village and summer recreation resort. Buzz was put in charge
of overseeing CalArts a month before Walt's passing.

Walt also sent him a letter crediting Buzz for coining the
word "Imagineer." Buzz admitted in his book, "Walt's Revolution!: By the Numbers," published in 2004, he doesn't recall coming up with
"Imagineer," but he certainly wasn't going to argue with the boss.

Copyright 2004 Ripley Entertainment
All rights reserved

The focus Friday was Disneyland's birth and the back story
of its creation as well as a few memories of Walt and Lillian Disney's
anniversary party held July 13, 1955 at the Golden Horseshoe and the park's
opening on July 17.

Diane and the Greenes confirmed that the idea of an
amusement park was planted in the fertile mind of Walt Disney as a boy
following the family's move from Marceline, Mo., to Kansas City.

Walt and his younger sister, Ruth, would stand outside the
fence of Fairmont Park, which Richard Greene said must have seemed "like
heaven to Walt." Later, Walt learned to sneak into the park, Diane added.
She also recalled reading an interview with Rudy Ising, one of the artists at
Laugh O Grams studios. According to that interview, Walt told Ising that one
day he'd have an amusement park but that his would be clean. This was years
before Lillian and their daughters Diane and Sharon entered Walt's life.

Walt Disney at Tivoli Gardens. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"It was something dad was always talking about
doing," Diane said. Walt visited various amusement parks all over,
including Oakland's Fairyland, Knott's Berry Farm and New York's Coney Island,
a park Richard Greene said Walt didn't particularly like.

The Greenes recalled Art Linkletter, who escorted Walt on
one of his many trips to Tivoli Gardens in Denmark, telling them that Walt kept
busy jotting down several notes. Walt was "innately curious, always
thinking about how to do something better," Richard Greene said. "He
learned from negative examples, things he wouldn't want to do."

Walt interviewed the children at the various parks about
their experiences, what they liked and what they thought as they rode the

(L to R) Lillian, Walt, Diane and Sharon Disney on one of their many
family vacations.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"You have to remember that amusement parks were very
different" before the opening of Disneyland, Katherine Greene said.
"They were dirty. You needed to sell beer," which is where Coney
Island made most of its money. Owners of other parks thought is was "a
ridiculous idea to try and keep the bathrooms clean."

But with Walt, the "mantra was if we keep it clean,
people will understand it's to be kept clean," Richard Greene said. If
there' were no cigarette butts on the ground, people would think twice about
tossing theirs to the ground.

Buzz reminded everyone why the census is important. A great
deal of the SRI research in determining where to locate Disneyland involved
studying 1950 census data, which showed measurable growth from Los Angeles
toward Orange County.

Walt points out some concept paintings of his family fun park. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Buzz's working relationship with Walt started in 1953 with a
phone call from Nat Winecoff, a movie industry figure who was trying to help
Walt get an idea of "what this park idea was going to flesh out to
be" and where it should be located.

"Walt wanted this study in a big way and he wanted it
in a hurry," Buzz said.

At their first meeting, Buzz asked Walt "if he had any
bias" about the location.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"No, I don't have any bias. You tell me where it
goes," Walt told Buzz.

Buzz said "The source of my opinions would be
determined by a long and thorough study of the census data … some 40 or 50
major census districts. That would give us direction for what would be the best
choice. We had all of Southern California to consider, about 3,000 square

Other things such as the freeway construction schedule and a
study of weather data were added into SRI's equation.

Future construction site of Disneyland. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"We even did a job of tracking smog, because this was
going to be an outdoor park and we didn't want to choke everybody," Buzz
said, getting a good chuckle — one of several — from the audience.

Eventually SRI narrowed the search to Orange County,
primarily because, according to Buzz, "it was cooler in the summer and
warmer in the winter, with predictable and fairly light rainfall."

Then SRI identified an "amoeba," a generalized
location area that would contain the park somewhere in its many acres. Buzz
used his cane to draw this irregular-shaped amoeba in the air.

Walt stands in front of the still-under-construction Sleeping Beauty
Castle. Image
courtesy of the Los Angeles Examiner Collection. All
rights reserved

SRI came up with four preferred sites and a half-dozen
"almost sites." Buzz and his boss, CV Wood, presented those to Walt
and Roy at SRI's offices in downtown Los Angeles. It was just the four men.
"We talked for maybe two hours. Walt picked the site. Roy picked the site
and we two consultants thought OK. There was complete agreement to move on
Harbor Boulevard site.

The first site was a total of 160 acres from 17 different
owners assembled for a possible housing development. At $6,200 an an acre, it
wasn't the cheapest, but it's the one everyone agreed to go after.

"You always have an alternative ready because no one
assumes you're going to have a clear slide into home plate," Buzz said.
"It wasn't a bad solution. It was a first-class property. The land was
clearly available. We had a good relationship with the city manager of Anaheim.
And, we could afford it — well, not me."

Walt stands before Peter Ellenshaw's early rendering of Disneyland.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The second site was in Buena Park, the third in Los Alamitos
and the fourth was the Willowick Country Club in Santa Ana.

"I've often thought if Walt had bought all that land,
he would have saved himself a lot of trouble," Buzz said, "but we
would have lost out on a lot of fun."

Of course, Walt was doing everything he could to assemble
the money needed to buy the land and build the park, cutting a deal with ABC
and a few others to raise the funds.

Main Street U.S.A. under construction. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

There's a quote by Walt displayed in the museum — I think
it's from around the time of "Snow White," but it's likely just as
apt when it comes to financing Disneyland: "Why should we let a few little
dollars jeopardize our chances. I think this is Old Man Opportunity rapping at
our door. Let's don't allow the jingle of a few pennies drown out his knock, So
slap as big a mortgage on everything we've got and let's go after this thing in
the right manner."

Diane remembered how quickly everything was done and seeing
Disneyland rise up from a "dust bowl" after many of the orange trees
were removed. She fondly recalled her parents' anniversary party thrown July
13, 1955 at the Golden Horseshoe and reminded people she wasn't at Disneyland's
grand opening. By July 17, she was back with her husband Ron, who was stationed
in Monterey, and their first son, Chris. She recalled how her dad really didn't
want his immediate family at the park on opening day because he had enough to
worry about and he didn't want to have to worry about them, too.

But the anniversary party was one of the happiest times in
Walt's life. Diane remembered her dad up in the balcony going "bang, bang,
bang" at Wally Boag and then Walt climbing down to the stage. "He started
out doing vaudeville with his buddy Walt Pfeiffer and he wanted to be part of
the show," Diane said of her father.

The original cast of the Golden Horseshoe performs for Walt (in box on
upper left)
on the night of he & Lillian's 30th anniversary.
Copyright Disney Editions.
All rights reserved

Lilly, Sharon and Diane joined Walt on the stage and then
Edgar Bergen came up and started everyone dancing. George Montgomery, Dinah
's husband, became concerned about who would be driving Walt home. So
Diane turned to her dad and asked if she could have his keys. "Sure,
kid" was Walt's reply.

When the party broke up, Diane remembers her father crawling
into the back seat of the convertible and using a rolled up set of plans as a
trumpet. A few minutes later, Walt curled up and fell asleep, still holding on
to his rolled up plans. In the morning, he was up and out the door, back to
Anaheim to get things ready for July 17th.

"July 17th, I was there. It was a day that will live in
infamy," Buzz said, adding that there were a lot of problems when
Disneyland first opened. He recalled being in a mass of people near the castle
when he heard this string of profanity. He looked over and it was Frank
. Buzz simply looked at the crooner and said, "Yes, it certainly is

Walt Disney reads the opening day dedication plaque before a national
television audience.
"To all who come to this happy place, welcome … "
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Diane talked about how Walt and Lillian spent a great deal
of time in their small apartment above the fire station at Disneyland.
"And, every evening as you've heard, Dad did get tears in his eyes when
they lowered the flag on Main Street."

After this Benefield opened up the floor to questions. Among
the highlights:

Confirmation from Buzz that Walt had considered a second
gate in Anaheim called "California Living," which would have added
retail, restaurants and entertainment venues not unlike Downtown Disney.

Disneyland's parking lot. Which Walt once considered as the possible construction site of
a "California Living" -themed second gate. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Diane asked Buzz if the project hadn't been scuttled because
of land considerations. "Not really," the addition required no major
changes to the existing structure or layout of Disneyland, Buzz said. Walt
simply got busy with other projects and "California Living" went

"One of the most incredible things about Walt was his
bulldog determination to do what he wanted to do," Buzz said later,
recalling the way Walt "went after the park after we made the brave

Walt sent Buzz, Winecoff, Bill Cottrell and Dick Irvine to
the annual amusement park convention and trade show in November 1953 at the
Sherman Hotel in Chicago. They met with high-powered people in the industry and
detailed Walt's plans for Disneyland, the decor, landscaping and cleanliness.
The reaction was unanimous. They said Walt's plan was doomed to fail. Buzz
shared their reactions with Walt and he simply said, "They don't get

Tomorrowland under construction. Among the forward-looking exhibits
that Guests were able to visit back in 1955 was Crane's Bathroom of
Tomorrow. Copyright Disney Enterprises, inc. All rights reserved

Nunis, who was in the audience, recalled a walk-through with
Walt as the park was under construction when Walt saw pay toilets and asked why
they were were there and was told that pay toilets will be kept cleaner. Walt,
a bit irritated, said "All of our restrooms will be clean, now take those
damn coin boxes off."

Finally, a woman asked Diane if she was going to write a
book about her father's life. And, in my favorite quote of the evening, she
said, "This is my book, this museum." It's a place that echoes with
the voice of her father telling his story in his own words.

In Part II, I'll look at Saturday's event, which featured
Marty as moderator, Imagineer Tony Baxter, and former presidents of Disneyland
Matt Ouimet and Jack Lindquist (who Marty called "the best marketer ever
in our industry.")


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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.

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“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.

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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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