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Walt in his own words

JHM favorite Wade Sampson returns with a transcript of Disney’s last public speeches. When Walt accepted the “Showman of the World” award at the National Association of Theater Owners in October of 1966.

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Next year will mark forty years since Walt Disney passed away and yet we are still fascinated by him and what he thought. After listening to some audio cassettes of the speeches I have that Walt gave to radio listeners back in the 1940s, I thought it might be nice to try to capture some of these speeches in print as just another insight into Walt Disney.

One of the last speeches Walt ever gave was on Saturday, October 1, 1966 when he received a new award from the National Association of Theater Owners. NATO was the result of a union several months previously between two massive exhibitor organizations, Allied States and the Theater Owners of America. The newly combined NATO represented more than ninety percent of all movie theaters in the United States or roughly fifteen thousand showcases.

On the evening of October 1, in New York’s Americana hotel, nearly two thousand exhibitors and their wives from throughout the United States and Canada gathered together as Walt was presented with what NATO claimed was a salute “to dramatize the impact of his artistry and showmanship upon the entire world.”

In fact, the award was designed especially for Walt and bore the following inscription:

“In a universe of unlocking secrets, creativity, diversion and recreation become symbols of man’s civilized state. To bring us to this plateau, science and religion have probed the mind and the soul. Entertainment has ministered to the emotions. Above all others in a global configuration of The Showman of the World is one man. He stands alone. His sensitivity to the visual delights is unequalled; even unchallenged. His total involvement of the family is a credo. His uncompromising wholesomeness of subject matter and presentation give a mighty industry dignity and respect and recognition. But most of all his uncanny ability to bring joy and gratification to young and old alike set him apart. He is known and loved in every land, in every tongue. He is, indeed, the first…perhaps the only…Showman of the World. He is, of course, Walt Disney.”

Pretty flowery stuff. It was preceded in September by a joint statement by Sherrill C. Corwin (the new president of NATO) and Marshall H. Fine (the retiring president of NATO who actually presented the award to Walt) that “Variety” called a “citation in itself”.

Corwin and Fine, on announcing Walt as the recipient for the Showman of the Year Award, stated:

“The reasons why Walt Disney should receive unprecedented recognition and honor from the nation’s theater owners are far too numerous for complete enumeration. Even the name Walt Disney is synonymous throughout the world with the highest level of creative entertainment. His brilliant and imaginative creations transcend all language barriers and geographic boundaries to brighten the world with the warmth of delight and laughter.”

Walt’s speech, probably prepared by Studio publicity man Joe Reddy, was constantly interrupted by outbursts of applause and laughter. Walt, who would pass away almost two months later, appears relaxed and happy in the photos that were taken and even Walt’s wife, Lillian, seems very happy as she and Walt posed with Sophia Loren (NATO’s Star of the Year award recipient) and her husband Carlo Ponti.

There is a lot of Walt Disney in the speech. Even when he was working with prepared material, Walt was such a natural storyteller that he would go “off script” and make the material his own. I know this speech appears in at least one website and one book (“Walt Disney: A Bio-Bibliography” by Kathy Merlock) but still may be fresh for the majority of the readers of this website as I kick off this new series of reprinting Walt’s speeches:

Walt Disney’s Speech Accepting the Showman of the World Award
from the National Association of Theatre Owners

October 1, 1966


Truly an imposing title. It makes a man wonder where do we go from here? For this occasion, I propose to go backwards-almost forty-five years ago to Kansas City, Missouri. Now don’t let this frighten you, because I intend to hop, skip and jump through those forty-five years in ten minutes-if it takes longer you can accuse me of hamming it up-so here we go.

I was all alone then. I didn’t even have a mouse. But I had some ideas. One was to do a sort of animated cartoon commentary on local topics for the Kansas City screen. Frank Newman- who owned three theatres in Kansas City was the first-in a long line of showmen-who gave me a helping hand. He bought those early efforts of mine at thirty cents a foot. Newman’s treasurer at the time was Gus Eysell-later to become director of Radio City Music Hall. Gus was the one I had to catch to collect my thirty cents a foot. During the next few years I expanded several of my ideas trying to crack the animated cartoon field and I finally came to a great conclusion. I had missed the boat. I had got in too late. Film cartooning had been going on for all of six or seven years.

My only hope lay in live action movies. So, I packed all of my worldly goods in a pasteboard suitcase… and with that wonderful audacity of youth, I went to Hollywood-arriving there with just $40 as my total cash assets-with $200 worth of liabilities from my Kansas City ventures.

I didn’t figure on setting the town on fire-at least not for a year or two. But I had to start with a job, for two months I tramped from one studio to another. Anything to get through those magic gates of big-time show business. But nobody bought.

My big brother, Roy, was already in Los Angeles as a patient in the Veteran’s hospital. When he got out, we had more in common than brotherly love. Both of us were unemployed-and neither could get a job. We solved the problem by going into business ourselves. We established the first animated cartoon studio in Hollywood.

Several years after producing one series after another on a shoe-string budget for the state rights market followed. Then sound on film panicked the industry and Mickey Mouse came into our life.

At first, it looked like he was going to have a harder time crashing show business than I had. Nobody wanted Mickey.


Then a second great exhibitor took a chance on a Disney project. He was Harry Reichenbach, who managed the Old Colony Theatre on Broadway. We didn’t yet have a release for Mickey, but Harry wanted to book him in the Colony regardless.

At the time we were in desperate need for $500. To put it briefly, everything owned by Roy and me was mortgaged to the hilt. So I asked Harry for $500 for exhibiting the first Mickey Mouse one week. I knew that the price was pretty steep. So did Harry. But fortunately for us, he said, “Let’s compromise.” I’ll give you $250 a week-and run the cartoon for two weeks.”

Reichenbach had a great talent for showmanship and exploitation. If it was a picture Harry would sell it-whether it moved or not. He was the man who sold the public on that famous, naughty painting-‘September Morn’. And this was back in the day when it was considered a mortal sin to peek at The Police Gazette-and even Mack Sennett had never dreamed of a bikini.

It was a far cry from ‘September Morn’ to ‘Steamboat Willie’, but Harry sold the public Mickey Mouse in just two weeks. Our red ink took on a blacker hue.

By nature, I’m an experimenter. To this day, I don’t believe in sequels. I can’t follow popular cycles. I have to move on to new things. So-with the success of Mickey-I was determined to diversify. I had another idea which was plaguing my brain. It was The Silly Symphonies. A series without a central character which would give me latitude to develop the animated cartoon medium. The first was ‘The Skeleton Dance’. The reaction was-“Why does Walt fool around with skeletons? Give us more mice.”

So, for a while, it looked like the first Silly Symphony would not get out of the graveyard. But once more, a showman came to the rescue. Fred miller, who was managing director of the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles, took a chance on the film.

“The Skeleton Dance’ got a wonderful reception, and wonderful reviews. So another showman-the legendary Roxy-took up the ball. He booked the short into his Roxy Theatre of New York. Thus was the series launched.

In those days, we were like the bumblebee who didn’t know how to fly-but we were flying anyhow. We kept fooling around with the Silly Symphonies until we came up with ‘The Three Little Pigs’. I could not possibly see how we could top pigs with pigs. But we tried, and I doubt whether one member of this audience can name the other cartoons in which the pigs appeared.

The success of The Silly Symphonies gave us the courage for ‘Snow White’. And you should have heard the howls of warning! It was prophesied hat nobody would sit through a cartoon an hour and a half long. But we had decided there was only one way we could successfully do ‘Snow White’-and that was to go for broke-shoot the works.

There would be no compromise on money, talent or time. We did not know whether the public would go for a cartoon feature; but we were darned sure that audiences would not buy a bad cartoon feature.

As the ‘Snow White’ budget climbed, I did begin to wonder whether we would ever get our investment back. At this critical period, another great showman gave me the needed assurance.

W.G. Van Schmus-the General Manager of Radio City Music Hall-came to the studio. After seeing bits and pieces of ‘Snow White’ be booked the picture right on the spot-months before the film would ever be completed.

Then came a shocker. Roy told me that we would have to borrow another quarter of a million dollars to finish the movie. ‘You’ve got to show the bankers what’s been completed on ‘Snow White’ as collateral.’ I had always objected to letting any outsider see an incompleted motion picture. And bankers to me were men after the fact. But Roy went ahead with the arrangements.

However, on the appointed day my big brother had found something to do elsewhere. I had to sit alone with Joe Rosenberg of the Bank of America and try to sell him a quarter of a million dollars worth of faith. He showed not the slightest reaction to what he viewed. After the lights came on he walked out of the projection room, remarked that it was a nice day-and yawned! He was still deadpan as I conducted him to his car. Then he turned to me and said, “Walt, that picture will make a pot full of money.” To this day, he’s my favorite banker.

Well, we had been stuck with mice and pigs. Now with ‘Snow White’ a huge hit, the shout went out for more dwarfs. Top dwarfs with dwarfs? Why try?

So as you may recall we experimented with-‘Pinocchio’-‘Fantasia’-‘Dumbo’-and ‘Bambi’-before the war intervened and our studio with all its talent and skills was taken one hundred percent producing hundreds of thousands of feet of vital film for the war effort. It was here that we learned the true meaning of diversification. We produced thousands of insignia for the various fighting units-hundreds of films on such subjects as-

  • How to Hate Hitler
  • The Vulnerability of the Jap Zeros
  • Fighter Tactics
  • Bomber Tactics
  • Meteorology
  • Briefing Films on the Hundreds of Islands to be Captured in the Pacific…

And our series on simple sanitation with such alluring subjects as:

  • How to Control the Malaria Mosquito
  • How to Avoid the Hook Worm
  • How to Get Rid of the Body Louse
  • How to Build and Where to Locate a Privy So as Not to Pollute the Drinking Water...


And many more I don’t care to mention in spite of the new liberalized production code. You might say we didn’t come out of the war smelling like a rose-but we had acquired a wonderful education and a determination to diversify our entertainment product.

So we started experimenting with the living nature subjects and live-action features. Just as we were beginning to get rolling with this new program the panic over television struck. We studied the medium carefully and decided it was here to stay. But never in the foreseeable future would it replace motion pictures. Meanwhile, why not use it? If television could sell soap, couldn’t it sell movies? So with this thought in mind, we went into television.

For one of our early programs we tried a little experiment. Our feature Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ was being readied for release. So we built an hour-long television show around the making of the movie. In a sense it was pure exploitation. But we felt the public would not mind exploitation so long as it contained sufficient interest and entertainment.

More than any other single factor this television show helped us to sell ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ to motion picture audiences. Furthermore, the show won an Emmy as the best single television program of the year. Even Jules Verne might have found this hard to believe.

But it was Bob O’Donnell-the late, great exhibitor of Texas-that gave us a lesson in daring showmanship. Our Davy Crockett series had been a hit on television. So Bob suggested we take three of these episodes, tie them together and release the package as a picture.

I was inclined to ask O’Donnell is he had lost his mind. But I had too much respect for his judgment. So we did exactly as he suggested. Bob exhibited the movie in his theatres and broke house records in over half of Texas.

After a long concentration on live-action and cartoon films, we decided to try something that would employ about every trick we had learned in the making of films. We would combine cartoon and live-action in an enormous fantasy-‘Mary Poppins’. And what a far cry that was from ‘Snow White’! As the original ‘Mary Poppins’ budget of five million dollars continued to grow, I never saw a sad face around the entire studio. And this made me nervous. I knew the picture would have to gross ten million dollars for us to break even.

But still there was no negative head-shaking. No prophets of doom. Even Roy was happy. He didn’t even ask me to show the unfinished picture to a banker. The horrible thought struck me-suppose the staff had finally conceded that I knew what I was doing?

The suspense was too much. It was I who finally asked David Wallerstein of Balaban and Katz-to take a look at the completed ‘Mary Poppins’. This magnificent showman, exhibitor and friend always leveled with me. And he could smell a hit-or a flop-through a six-foot wall. Dave said, “You can relax, Walt. The picture will be a tremendous success.” So I started smiling right back at the staff.

After seeing the completed ‘Mary Poppins’ another friend-a great showman and a champion of clean, quality pictures-Sam Goldwyn-called me and said, “Walt, don’t let your distribution group settle for less than a thirty-five million dollar gross.”

Now there’s nothing wrong with my imagination, but a thirty-five million dollar gross seemed to out-fantasy the picture itself. However, when I tried to lower the figure on Sam he became so emotional he hung up on me.

Some months later, on being informed by our distribution team that Sam’s prediction was coming true, I called Sam to give him the good news. There was silence on the other end of the line. I said-“Sam, are you listening?” he replied-“I’m thinking. I’ve been thinking on it since I gave you that figure and I now estimate it will gross eighty-five million dollars before it is through.” This made me so emotional I nearly hung up on Sam.

Most of this talk has been about me and big brother Roy and a few of the exhibitors-but actually, in my hopping, skipping and jumping I have landed on only a few of the milestones along the way. There were many other exhibitors who lent us a helping hand throughout our career. And, also, there is the Disney organization with its three thousand employees. Many have been with us well over thirty years. They take pride in the organization which they helped to build. Only through the talent, the labor and the dedication of this staff could any Disney project get off the ground.

We all think alike in the ultimate pattern. And right now, we’re not thinking about making another ‘Mary Poppins’. We never will. Perhaps there will be other ventures with equal critical and financial success. But we know we cannot hit a home run with the bases loaded every time we go to the plate. We also know the only way we can even get to first base is by constantly going to bat and continuing to swing.

Now I could tell you of another little project. You might say that we’ve been doing a little moonlighting with our left hand. It’s called Disneyland… you know, out in Anaheim… the home of the California Angels. But that’s another story.

Now before sitting down to count my blessings I want to make you a promise. I promise we won’t let this great honor you have paid us tonight go to our head-we have too many projects for the future to take time out for such a thing. On top of that-after forty some odd years of ups and downs in this crazy business of ours we know too well-you are only as good as your next picture.

So a great big thank you-to all of you-from all of us… and God bless.

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

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse‘s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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