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WDI’s X-Scream Makeover of WDW’s Haunted Mansion: Part 1

Jim Hill begins a new series that takes an in-depth look at this Magic Kingdom favorite. Which recently underwent a three-month-long overhaul that significantly enhanced many of the effects found in this Liberty Square attraction



Plussing. It’s a practice at the Disney theme parks that reportedly dates back to the late 1950s. When Walt — while he was visiting Disneyland one weekend — supposedly overheard a mother tell her child: “We don’t have to go on the Jungle Cruise again. We saw that ride the last time we visited this park.”

Ever since that time, the Imagineers (following the Ol’ Mousetro’s specific instructions) have made a habit of adding new figures & effects to already well-established rides, shows and attractions. With the hope that these “freshenings-up” will then give theme park visitors a compelling new reason to revisit an old favorite.

And when it comes to the Haunted Mansion at WDW‘s Magic Kingdom … Well, it’s not like this Liberty Square favorite hasn’t ever been plussing in the past. Diehard fans of this dark ride will be glad to tell you about the haunted hearse that was added to the queue area back in 1997. Or — for that matter — the blinking Leota tombstone that went “live” in 2002. Or the Mr. Toad statue that appeared in this attraction’s post-show Pet Cemetery in 2005.

But as for the attraction itself … With the exception of those singing busts in the Graveyard sequence (Which — what with the technical upgrades that were made during this most recent redo — are now using fourth generation digital projection technology), the rest of the Haunted Mansion remained mired in the 1970s.

No. It was worse than that, actually. Many of the little touches that used to really add to this attraction’s charm (How many of you remember that cool blast of air that you used to feel just as the Ghost Host mentioned that the Mansion featured ” … hot and cold running chills” ?) had been broken for a decade or more. And given that — back in the 1990s — Mouse House management made significant cuts to WDW’s overall maintenance budget … The money just wasn’t there to make any significant repairs to this dark ride.

So the Mansion moldered for years. With the leak in the roof continually ruining the carpet in the attraction’s Foyer (You thought that that distinct whiff of mildew that you used to catch whenever you entered this show building was deliberate? Yet another application of that smellizer technology that the Imagineers first introduced at EPCOT Center back in 1982 ? Think again, folks. That moldy smell was real mold growing under the carpets and along the baseboards in the Haunted Mansion’s entrance area) and the attraction’s AA figures losing a lot of their original animation. All because …

Well, to be blunt, because many members of WDW management didn’t give a rat’s ass about this 36-year-old fan favorite. They preferred that the money that had been budgeted for Walt Disney World be spent on new rides & shows for the resort. Rather than being wasted on maintaining and/or upgrading already existing attractions.

Mind you, there were a few folks left at WDW who remembered the old ways. Particularly Walt’s belief that you should plus already established rides & shows. With the hope that these additions would then give the guests a pleasant surprise the next time they rode that particular attraction.

Which is why — for over five years now — these Disney insiders have been fighting for a Mansion redo. One that would not only restore this once state-of-the-art dark ride to its former glory, but also fold in a few new tricks along the way.

But the good news is … All of that nagging and noodging eventually paid off. With Mouse House managers ultimately agreeing to give the Imagineers $30 million to make some desperately needed repairs to the 36-year-old structure as well as upgrade the interior of this Liberty Square attraction.

Mind you, they then only gave WDI three months to get all of this work done. You see, WDW’s Haunted Mansion had to be back & running again by no later than September 13th of this year. “Why For that particular date ?,” you ask. Because if the Mansion wasn’t back on line by then, Disney then risked disappointing the thousands of people who had already purchased tickets to the very first night of Mickey’s Not-so-Scary Halloween Party. Which was scheduled for September 14, 2007.

Obviously, this was a very ambitious project with a nearly impossible deadline. But as Walt Disney once said: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” So once the Mansion closed its doors back on June 7th, the Imagineers immediately got to work. And 95 days later, the construction walls came down to reveal … Well, not exactly ” … a disquieting metamorphosis.” But — rather — a newly enhanced version of an old WDW favorite.

Indeed, as one enters the outdoors portion of the queue for this Liberty Square attraction, one may find it difficult to put their finger on what exactly has been changed about the exterior of the Haunted Mansion. Oh, sure. The awning that covers the Colonnade is now blood red. Which does a much better job of matching the color of the brick that was used to build this Dutch Gothic-style manor house than the old green awning did. But — beyond that — things outside of this show building don’t look all that different.

Which is just WDI wants you to think. That there’s been no real changes made out here. That everything is as it ever was at Disney World’s Haunted Mansion.

Truth be told, some pretty significant work was done in the Colonnade area. First by widening the width of the queue. Which means that — for the first time ever — the exterior portion of the Haunted Mansion is now wheelchair accessible.

Secondly, by putting a third more of this attraction’s outside queue space undercover … Well, that means a couple of hundred more tourists are kept out of the elements — sheltered from that blistering Florida sun and/or those pounding afternoon rainstorms — while they wait for their chance to experience the Haunted Mansion.

Beyond that … The exterior of this dark ride (Even though it’s just been completely repainted) looks pretty much as it always has. Oh, sure. The dark paint that used to cover the door that you actually enter this show building through has been stripped away. It’s been replaced by a new stain & varnish that finally allows you see to see the wood grain underneath. But — again — we’re talking about mostly subtle changes. Things that casual visitors to this Liberty Square attraction won’t (and — to be honest — really shouldn’t) notice.

But once you enter the Haunted Mansion’s foyer area … Well, this is where Disney diehards and/or hardcore Mansion fans will really begin noticing the differences. Gone forever is that mildew smell. Not only did the Imagineers repair that roof leak, they also had new carpeting installed. The wallpaper that lines the upper third of the room is also new. And for the wood panel that cover the bottom 2/3rds … Just as they did with the door that leads into the Foyer area, WDI stripped all of the paint off of that paneling. They then covered this wood with a new dark strain as well as a clear coat of shellac. So that the natural wood grain in this area really pops.

Though I’d imagine — given what’s now going on with Master Gracey’s portrait over the fireplace — not all that many tourists are actually going to notice the popping wood grain in the paneling.

Gone are the days when this “Picture of Dorian Gray” effect used to be achieved by having two behind-the-scenes slide projectors working in perfect synchronization. Where — as each slide cross-faded into the next — we got to see the master of the house slowly deteriorate. Now Disney’s gone digital. And the crystal-clear image that you see in the portrait above the fire … Well, it now morphs from one painting to the next.

The end result is a much, much smoother effect. Where if you keep a close eye on this digital projection as the Ghost Host does his spiel, you can now see Master Gracey’s clothing shrink and fray. The flesh on his once youthful face melt away to reveal the grinning skull underneath.

Speaking of the Ghost Host … The Imagineers made a point of preserving Paul Frees‘ narration for the Haunted Mansion. Not changing a single syllable of what this Disney Legend says of the course of this much beloved attraction.

But that said … That doesn’t mean that the guys at WDI haven’t tried to improve on perfection. Frees’ voice tracks (Which were recorded back in 1969) were all first digitally remastered, then given a sinister sounding breathy undertone. Making it sound as if Paul really were speaking to us from another realm.

Next — thanks to the huge number of new speakers that the Imagineers installed as part of this most recent Mansion redo — the Ghost Host now literally sounds as if he’s moving unseen throughout the entire room. Floating just above our heads as the door to the Portrait Gallery (AKA the Stretching Room) slides open and Frees intones “Kindly step all the way in and make room for everyone. There’s no turning back now.”

It’s inside the Portrait Gallery that the audio enhancements that WDI has made to the Mansion really become obvious. Where once there were only 7 speakers, there are now over 70. With dozens of them hidden away in that new grillwork that’s been installed along the floor of the stretching room.

And some of the choices that the Imagineers have made here are just so smart … I mean — for over 36 years now — this chamber with “no windows and no doors” has been stretching, right? Well, if that’s really the case, then why is it that we’ve never heard the wood that makes up the Portrait Gallery creaking & groaning as this room undergoes its supernatural transformation? Well, now you can.

Add to this the selective use of Disney’s binaural sound system … Which can best be heard right after that lightning strike reveals the corpse that’s hanging just above the scrim in the Portrait Gallery. As thunder rolls and the stretching room plunges into darkness, you can then actually hear bats (Who have supposedly been frightened by the thunder & lightning) swooping down into the Portrait Gallery, trying to find their way out of the Mansion.

Mind you, not all of the audio effects that the Imagineers had originally proposed for this portion of the Haunted Mansion wound up making it into the finished version of the attraction. An earlier, much louder version of that lightning strike & the thunder rolling inside of the Portrait Gallery wound up getting scaled back. Mostly because the cast members who took part in early tests of this revamped Liberty Square attraction said that the first version was so loud and (and — because of all those new sub-woofers that are hidden in the grillwork around the base of the stretching room) felt so strong … Well, it nearly scared the crap out of them. Which is why the lightning-strike-and-thunder-roll audio effects that the Imagineers had originally proposed were scaled back by 50%.

And then there were the Gargoyles. Who — in this original version of the newly enhanced Portrait Gallery — were supposed to have a speaking role. According to the revised script for this sequence, every time the Ghost Host paused in his spiel, the Gargoyles would then chime in. Repeating the very last word or phrase that the Ghost Host just said.

Here’s an excerpt from the revised script for this sequence in the Haunted Mansion:

GHOST HOST: Is this haunted room actually stretching?

GARGOYLES: Stretching.

GHOST HOST: Or is it your imagination, hmmn? And consider this dismaying observation: This chamber has no windows and no doors …

GARGOYLES: No doors !

Sounds pretty cool, don’t you think? The only problem is — during those after-hours, cast-member-only tests that were done on the revamped Mansion — the Imagineers noticed that whenever the Gargoyles spoke, the people inside of the Portrait Gallery would then begin talking amongst themselves. Saying things like “Did you hear that? I think that the Gargoyles just talked.” Which — because of all thenew conversations that were suddenly springing up around the stretching room — then made it rather difficult to hear the Ghost Host’s next line.

Faced with the fact that this one audio enhancement (Which — thanks to the binaural technology that was used to deliver the Gargoyles’ dialogue into the Portrait Gallery — made it sound as if these long-silent statues were now speaking directly to you) unintentionally undermined the effectiveness of the rest of this classic sequence in the Haunted Mansion … The Imagineers reluctantly cut the Gargoyles’ speaking role. Except for one tiny little snippet that you can still hear toward the end of the stretching room scene.

Which is why you really want to linger in the Portrait Gallery after the doors have opened and the rest of the other guests are hurrying along the Entrance Hallway. As the Ghost Host says ” … and let’s all stay together, please,” you can hear the Gargoyles say “Stay together.” Which is then followed by this eerie child-like laughter that briefly bounces around the stretching room before it then fades away.

As we head down the Entrance Hallway (Which now features the exact wallpaper and wood treatments that we saw out in the Foyer of the Haunted Mansion. Which — in theory — then helps to unify the look & design of this whole part of the attraction), we hear the Ghost Host say ” … a carriage approaches to carry you into the boundless realm of the supernatural.”

And we will eventually get in that carriage and go explore the rest of this newly enhanced dark ride … But — in the next installment of JHM’s “X-Scream Makeover” series — we’re actually going to talk about the changes that the Imagineers made to the Mansion’s Omnimovers. Making this 36-year-old ride system safer & better sounding for all WDW visitors.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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



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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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