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“Walt & El Grupo” looks back at Disney’s Latin American adventure

JHM guest writer Leo N. Holzer talks up this new Ted Thomas film, which will be screened several times over the next few days at the San Francisco International Film Festival



The loss of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and the birth of Mickey Mouse in 1928. The creation and release of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937. The development of Disneyland and its opening in 1955.

All of these were important and challenging periods for Walt Disney and his company.

But there was another time when life as Walt Disney knew it would forever change, both personally and professionally. The year was 1941, months before Pearl Harbor, when Walt and his studio were embroiled in labor unrest with an animators’ strike and challenged by the shrinking international box office returns as the war in Europe expanded.

It’s this period of Walt Disney’s life — and the “godsend” he found with a U.S.-government-sponsored working trip to Central and South America — that documentary filmmaker Ted Thomas (“Frank and Ollie”) explores in his new film, “Walt & El Grupo.”

Walt Disney and his traveling companions in the Fall of 1941.
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

For 10 weeks in 1941, Walt Disney, his wife Lillian, and 16 colleagues from his studio visited several Latin American nations to gather story material for a series of short films with South American themes. Some of these films would be weaved together for “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros.”

“Walt & El Grupo” uses the trip as a framing device to explore inter-American relations, provide a rare glimpse into the artists who were part of the magic of Disney’s “Golden Age,” and give an unprecedented look at the 39 year-old Walt Disney during one of the most challenging times of his entire life.

In a recent interview, Thomas said: “1941 is likely the pivotal year in his (Disney’s) life: The trip marked the end of the ‘small’ studio that produced Mickey Mouse, ‘Snow White,’ ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Bambi.’ The (government) loan guarantees that allowed him to make ‘Saludos Amigos’ and ‘Three Caballeros’ made it possible to stay in business, but the place (the Disney Studios) would never be the way it was before the war and the strike.”

“Walt & El Grupo” is premiering at the San Francisco International Film Festival and will be screened at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at 6 p.m. Monday, April 28 (with an extended Q & A) and at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 30 at the Kabuki Theater in San Francisco. Additional film festival screenings are planned in the weeks and months ahead in Seattle and other cities both stateside and abroad.

“Walt & El Grupo” director Ted Thomas

The following is my Q & A with Thomas talking a bit about “Walt & El Grupo”; his father, famed Disney animator Frank Thomas; and his memories following animator Ollie Johnston’s recent passing of making the documentary “Frank and Ollie,” a must-see for any fan of the classic Disney films.

Q: Your father, legendary Disney animator Frank Thomas, was a member of El Grupo. Were his stories the genesis of this project? If not, where did the idea of this project come from?

A: I grew up hearing funny and fascinating stories about the trip, but the actual catalyst to make the film was a phone call in 2003 from Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller. She had a shoebox full of snapshots from the trip and wondered if we, as children of El Grupo, might be able to find a film in there. Five years later, here we are.

Q: What was it like to retrace your father’s footsteps and talk to people from other countries who have memories of him?

A: This could (probably should) be a another film or a book in its own right. It was discovering my father all over again, but this time as a young man (29), before he met my mother, and before the coining of the phrase “the Nine Old Men.” This sense of reconnecting generations over six decades found its way into the whole thematic approach to the story material. The ways in which we rub off on each other are at the heart of the film.

 Walt Disney and Frank Thomas on tour in Latin America in 1941.
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Q: Why did Walt Disney and El Grupo’s mission in 1941 succeed when so many other trips featuring Hollywood celebrities arranged by the U.S. government’s “Good Neighbor” program fail?

A: The Disney group took the opportunity to heart from the very beginning. The studio did months of research and planning before the departure date, and they were sincere about engaging the different cultures and learning something about them. This certainly made a difference. Above all, however, was the selection of the people who went on the trip. They were all extremely talented and charming people, and their upbeat way of looking at things must of left a strong impression in what were pretty gloomy times.

Q: Were Disney’s short films and features like “Snow White” more popular with foreign audiences than productions from other Hollywood studios?

A: They were not necessarily more popular, but in addition to their quality they stood out because there was nothing else like them. Hugo Rocha, a journalist in Uruguay, told us that what impressed Latin American cinema lovers was that Disney and his crew were creators of a new art form, as opposed actors and other “pretty faces.”

 Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Q: Everyone older than 8 or 10 when they met Walt Disney seems to have a pretty good memory of that experience. How do the people in South America remember Walt and members of El Grupo?

A: For those in their 70s and 80s who personally met Walt or El Grupo members, their memories and stories are vivid and fresh, and in each family the drawings or sketches that were done as gifts and mementos are valued heirlooms. And quite often, these detailed stories come from an encounter of just a few hours.

Q: Tell us a bit of the premiere of “Fantasia” in Rio, the scene and audience reaction.

A: RKO, Disney’s distributor in that period, timed the opening of “Fantasia” with the Disney party’s stay in each of the respective countries they visited. As a result, Walt was going to premiere after premiere. The one in Rio was the first, and the film was very well received. It was presented as a charity benefit for the favorite charity of the first lady of Brazil, Mrs. Vargas. Unlike the tepid response the picture had gotten in the U.S. on its initial release, it was a significant hit throughout Latin America.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Q: “Pedro,” a short in “Saludos Amigos” about this little airplane delivering mail over the Andes, includes a tribute to Jorge Delano — the name of El Grupo’s principal guide in Chile. His son, also named Jorge Delano, reportedly had formed an attachment to the artists. Were you able to interview him and what were his memories?

A: There have been three generations of Jorge Délanos. The first, Jorge “Coke” Délano (the host), was artist/editor/filmmaker, and distant cousin of FDR. The second Jorge was about 20 at the time of El Grupo’s visit, befriended Walt and El Grupo, and subsequently had a wartime Rockefeller Foundation grant to work in different Hollywood studios, including Disney’s. It is he who is singled out for the mailbag joke in “Pedro.” He remained lifelong friends with Walt, and died in 1976. It is his son, the third generation Jorge (who is an accomplished animator), who is our storyteller in the film.

Q: Walt Disney called the South American trip “a godsend” that gave him “a chance to get away from this God-awful nightmare and to bring back some extra work to the plant.” Tell us a bit about Walt’s “case of the D.D.’s — disillusionment and discouragement” and the strike that Walt left behind to take this trip.

A: The film has given us the opportunity to look at Walt Disney “the man”, and just how he dealt with adversity. 1941 is likely the pivotal year in his life: The trip marked the end of the “small” studio that produced Mickey Mouse, “Snow White,” “Pinocchio” and “Bambi.” The loan guarantees that allowed him to make “Saludos Amigos” and “Three Caballeros” made it possible to stay in business, but the place would never be the way it was before the war and the strike (competing unions wanted to organize the studio. The winning union called a strike rather than take an organizing vote by employees. Disney would not back down on his insistence on a vote, and the strike was only resolved by arbitration.) The trip is a window into Disney’s creative method, and how it was almost a necessity he have some outlet for his nonstop creative drive.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Q: Walt and El Grupo respected cultural lore and getting details like gaucho costuming and authentic folk dances just right in creating the shorts for “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros.” Audiences — especially those in South and Central America — didn’t see those films until they were completed several months later. Were those films successful in Latin America and has that Disney goodwill carried over to today with visits to Disneyland and “brand loyalty” to Disney films?

A: Both of the “Good Neighbor” films were highly successful when they were first released in Latin America. Since then, there have been several ups and downs in inter-American relations, and we try to acknowledge that in our film. The trip took place in the days before marketing vocabulary like “brand loyalty,” and even before Disney products were considered an American cultural export. In many ways, the Americas are still getting to know one another, and I think that gives great relevance to the story we tell.

Q: Disney historian and author J.B. Kaufman is working on a book covering much of the same material at “Walt & El Grupo.” What’s the status of the book and your involvement in that project?

A: JB’s book is a fascinating look at the entire “Good Neighbor” period at Disney, and especially the films that were produced. His in-depth research was a significant help as we got started and, subsequently, our research and contacts have helped to add to his manuscript. Both have been made possible by the Walt Disney Family Foundation. The book is being prepped for publication, and hopes are that it and our film will come out more or less at the same time.

Ted Thomas on location in Argentina

Q: As the director of “Walt & El Grupo,” what is it you hope people learn and take away from watching the documentary?

A: Art and politics are the two most powerful and long-lasting legacies of any culture. Ultimately, I think that art lasts the longest, and the energy, curiosity, optimism, and humor expressed by Walt and the artists of El Grupo continue to be an inspiration for us all.

Q: I know the film is screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival. You’re scheduled to participate in an extended Q & A following the 6 p.m. April 28 screening, moderated by a San Francisco Chronicle reporter. Will you be attending all three screenings and take questions after each? Will Diane Disney Miller be joining you at any of the screenings?

A: I and my creative partner, Kuniko Okubo, will be at all three screenings. Diane’s schedule will probably not permit her joining a Q&A.

Q: Even with Walt Disney playing a central role in this documentary, is “Walt & El Grupo” a tougher film to sell than your lovingly crafted 1995 film “Frank and Ollie”? As a documentary filmmaker who has worked on several National Geographic specials since “Frank and Ollie,” is it simply difficult to market any film with Hollywood’s push for franchise properties and tent-pole movies?

A: They’re all hard. Even with the recent popularity of some documentaries, it’s more difficult than ever to squeeze in between the pictures that have huge advertising budgets and are on multiple screens, and then stay there long enough for an audience to come and see the film. Everyone who can should try and see “Walt & El Grupo” in a theater: the scope of the story, the quality of the cinematography and images, and particularly the musical score are all what going to a theater is about.

Q: Many artists and bloggers mentioning Ollie Johnston’s recent passing talked not only about his art and the books he and your father authored, but about the friendship you chronicled in “Frank and Ollie.” What’s your favorite memory of working with them on that documentary?

A: Two “Frank and Ollie” memories: The hours and hours Frank, Ollie, Kuniko and I spent discussing what should be in the picture — it was being part of their creative process. The second is much more direct: A break during the interview shooting in August 1992 — we were standing outside Frank’s house eating ice cream bars, and Frank broke a filling trying to eat the bar before it turned into a melted mess. The fact that it turned into a moment of great laughter tells you a lot about those two amazing men.

 Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

WALT & EL GRUPO is a presentation of the Walt Disney Family Foundation Films in association with Theodore Thomas Productions. For more information, a trailer and the latest on film festival screenings, visit

FYI: To help get the word out about the “Walt and El Grupo” screenings which will be presented at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, Jim Hill Media is sharing Leo Holzer’s Ted Thomas profile with Roger Colton’s “The Blue Parrot.” If you’d like to find out what Mr. Colton has been up to since he left JHM back in September 2006, be sure and check out Roger’s most excellent blog.

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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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