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Wednesdays with Wade: Oswald Comes Home

JHM columnist Wade Sampson offers a detailed look back at the history of this classic animation character that the Walt Disney Company recently reaquired the rights to

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“When Bob (Disney president and CEO Robert Iger) was named CEO, he told me he wanted to bring Oswald back to Disney, and I appreciate that he is a man of his word,” Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller said in a statement March 9th . “Having Oswald around again is going to be a lot of fun.”

Disney animation didn’t all begin with a mouse despite what Walt said. Which is why Disney fans this week were so excited that Oswald the Lucky Rabbit has finally come home to Disney. It’s just another example of Bob Iger doing something right. In a complex deal with NBC Universal, The Walt Disney Company regained rights to Oswald the Rabbit and other concessions (that no one seems to want to talk about) in a transaction that permits sports commentator Al Michaels to contract with NBC.

The Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons were a series of over two dozen silent black and white cartoons created and produced by the Disney Studio between 1927 and 1928. Walt made these cartoons for Charles Mintz , who then worked through Universal , for distribution of these cartoons. When Walt discovered he didn’t own the rights to the character of Oswald or the cartoons themselves during a business maneuver by Mintz, it led Walt to abandon the character and create Mickey Mouse.

Walt Disney’s animation career actually began in Kansas City, Missouri where he produced a series of “Laugh-O-Gram” cartoons that took classic folk tales like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Cinderella” and updated them to a jazz age sensibility. Unfortunately, Walt’s lack of business acumen resulted in the company going bankrupt.

In a desperate attempt to save the company, Walt did several experiments including a “sing-a-long” short and an animated film that combined a live action girl with animated characters. That film, “Alice’s Wonderland,” caught the eye of film distributor Margaret Winkler. The Disney Brothers Studio was formed in 1923 to produce a series of “Alice Comedies” which is the true beginning of the Disney animation empire. More than fifty cartoons in the series were produced and it was so successful that both Walt and Roy could afford to get married and build houses for themselves.

During this time, Margaret Winkler married Charles Mintz whose hardheaded business approach resulted in several confrontations with the Disney Brothers. The last “Alice Comedies” featured less and less live action and more and more animation as Walt’s animators gained in expertise and Walt felt the “gimmick” of live action/animation in the “Alice Comedies” had run its course.

In 1927, Charles Mintz signed a deal with Universal Studios to produce a new cartoon series, which was to star a rabbit character. The name “Oswald” was reportedly selected by P.D. Cochrane, the head of Universal’s publicity department. He gathered suggestions from people around the office including the secretaries and put them into a hat and drew out a name. Walt would later tell his daughter Diane how the name was literally drawn out of a hat which is why Oswald didn’t follow the animation and comic strip convention of alliteration in a name.

Universal had not released a cartoon series in years and began to promote Oswald with extensive and enthusiastic ads in the trade press. Although the odd looking white rabbit in their earliest ads had not the slightest resemblance to the Disney-Iwerks design.

Universal did a marketing push on merchandise as well including a five cent marshmallow and chocolate candy bar made by the Vogan Candy Corporation of Portland, Oregon, The Philadelphia Badge Company issued a button with Oswald (the precursor to today’s pin collecting), Universal Tag and Novelty Company offered an Oswald stencil set for drawing the character. The Disney Studio saw no royalties from this merchandise which didn’t bother Roy Disney who said, “We are a movie studio not a toy store.” The Disney Brothers were happy that the merchandise brought attention to the character so that audiences would ask theaters when they would be showing an Oswald cartoon.

Mintz offered Disney the contract to produce the new series, and Walt jumped at the opportunity. Ub Iwerks had been experimenting with a new way of designing characters for animation using circles which were easier to animate. If you look closely at the last few “Alice Comedies,” the ears of the mice got longer and more pointed as Iwerks practiced with how to move rabbit ear shapes.

Disney sent Mintz a group of test drawings for the new character, which Mintz approved and copyrighted for Universal. Disney was given approval to produce a pilot cartoon for the new character, who was to be known officially as “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit”.

The pilot, entitled “Poor Papa,” was criticized by Universal executives because the Oswald character was not cute or likeable enough. The memo from Universal included the phrase: “With the exception of Chaplin, important movie comedians are neat and dapper chaps.” The Oswald that Iwerks had originally designed had overalls and a more dumpy, scruffy shape in keeping with the plot of the cartoon where Oswald is overwhelmed with a multitude of newborn children. The concept, of course, was the belief that rabbits had a tendency to multiply abundantly. This was a storyline Walt would refine for a later Mickey Mouse cartoon entitled “Mickey’s Nightmare.”

Mintz advised Disney to design the character so he was “young and snappy looking with a monocle.” (While Universal had declared that “Poor Papa” was “unrelease-able”, Mintz later released “Poor Papa” in an attempt to keep up with the deadline schedule set by Universal.)

Disney’s head animator, Ub Iwerks ignored Mintz’s suggestion but refined the character’s appearance so that he appeared younger and more vital. In fact, this new design had many of the same design elements that we associate with the early Mickey Mouse. A s the series progressed, Oswald became more and more the prototype for Mickey in terms of design and early personality.

The second cartoon, “Trolley Troubles,” was acceptable, and premiered on the Fourth of July, 1927 to terrific reviews in the trade press. Motion Picture World gushed that:

“Oswald series has accomplished the astounding feat of jumping into the first-run favor overnight.”

“Trolley Troubles” was inspired by the very popular comic strip Fontaine Fox’s “Toonerville Trolley.” There is a scene where Oswald removes his foot and rubs himself for luck. Animation Legend Friz Freleng animated it. “And I was questioning, ‘What do I show when his foot’s taken off, do I show a bone in there or what?’ And Walt joked about it and of course, he never thought of it either. Nobody had thought of it,” groused Freleng in an interview late in his career.

Why did Oswald rub himself with his foot? It never seems to occur to anyone that Oswald is a “lucky” rabbit because he has four lucky rabbit feet. Having a rabbit foot was a lucky charm for folks in those days and the custom lasted through the Fifties when the novelty feet were sometimes colored in a variety of shades like green or orange to increase sales. And, yes, you could actually feel the foot and the claws underneath the hair.

The level of craftsmanship and storytelling continued to improve in the cartoons which also began to increase the cost of the cartoons. The animators began to rely less and less on model sheets. To this time, most animation had been done by tracing the characters from the model sheet. Disney animators began to rely less on them except for the design of the characters, and draw in a more freehand style which gave the animation a more fluid and “realistic” style. Another change was that, although the storyboard method was still years in the future, the shorts began to be scripted. This gave the animators more specific directions to go in, rather than just general spoken ideas. Several gags in the cartoons were later re-done in early Mickey Mouse cartoons. In fact, Walt’s script for “Steamboat Willie” references a gag from “Tall Timber.” (Even Peg-Leg Pete popped up occasionally as a villain for Oswald.) Walt even began the practice of “pencil testing” animation with this series.

In 1928 with the popularity of Oswald increasing, Disney went to New York to approach his distributor, Charles Mintz (representing Universal Studios), about an increase in his budget. Mintz not only refused but he actually told Disney to accept a 20% cut in the budget, or Universal, which was the legal owner of the series, would produce it on its own using Walt’s own animators who had signed contracts with Mintz. Only Ub Iwerks had refused to sign.

Disney refused, and, after completing all the cartoons agreed to in the original contract, saw control of the Oswald character revert to Mintz. (During this time, in secret, Walt and Ub worked on the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, hiding the work from the animators working on the Oswald cartoons.).

Mintz gave the series to his brother-in-law, George Winkler, who set up his own studio, Snappy Productions. (The story of these “lost” cartoons have been recounted by David Gerstein, author of the outstanding “Mickey and the Gang,” in his excellent on-line article, “Of Rocks and Socks: The Winkler Oswalds [1928-29]” .)

The motives for Mintz’s action are debatable. Certainly, as a businessman, he was concerned about the rising costs of the cartoons for what he felt were unnecessary improvements and Walt was certainly a “loose cannon” maverick that Mintz was having greater and greater difficulty controlling. Mintz also knew that many of Walt’s animators were upset by Walt’s authoritarian style and would welcome a more “business-like” approach. In addition, it was not unusual at this time for the characters to be owned by the studio and not by the creator.

Mintz’s studio animated several new Oswald cartoons, but the project fell through when Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising went to Universal to try and convince the studio to put them in charge. Universal, tired of all these politics, decided to produce the series in-house with director Walter Lantz taking charge.

Lantz, a friend of Walt’s, contacted him to see if this would cause Walt any concern. Walt, who was now successful with Mickey Mouse, gave Lantz his blessing and told him there would be no hard feelings. Mintz was out in the cold and many of the animators, including Harman and Ising, found work at Warner Brothers creating the first “Looney Tunes” and Merrie Melodies”.

Lantz working with animation legend Bill Nolan (who was just as fast and talented as Iwerks) turned Oswald into a cuter and more appealing character, and the series continued in production until around 1938. Lantz’s cartoons included several remakes of some of the original Disney cartoons. Lantz’s first big change was to add sound. Mickey Rooney was the first to do the character’s voice. In 1942, a newly redesigned Oswald (now gray and with two nephews) began appearing in several DELL comic books through the early 1960s.

Walt divided his animation staff into two separate units so that two pictures could be produced at once. (One unit included Ub Iwerks and Friz Freleng. The other unit was headed by Hugh Harman and Ham Hamilton.) The Oswald cartoons ran at the Colony Theater in New York. It was the same theater that would showcase the debut of Mickey Mouse.

Here is a listing of the release dates of the Disney “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” cartoons. How many of these still exist in any form is a topic for another column. Remember the head of Universal, Carl Laemmle, is the guy who when he needed a bonfire for a scene in one of his “talkies” told his assistants to pull out some of the silent films that were loaded with silver nitrate and toss them onto to the fire so it would glow brighter. The only reason some of these Oswalds exist at all is thanks to television. In the Fifties, several studios, including Universal, put a soundtrack onto to the silent cartoons and sold them to television.

— 1927 —

Trolley Troubles (September 5, 1927)
Oh, Teacher (September 19, 1927)
Great Guns (October 17, 1927)
The Mechanical Cow (October 3, 1927)
All Wet (October 31, 1927)
The Ocean Hop (November 14, 1927)
The Banker’s Daughter (November 28, 1927)
Empty Socks (December 12, 1927)
Rickety Gin (December 26, 1927)

— 1928 —

Harem Scarem (January 9, 1928)
Neck ‘n’ Neck (January 23, 1928)
The Ol’ Swimmin’ ‘Ole (February 6, 1928)
Africa Before Dark (February 20, 1928)
Rival Romeos (March 5, 1928)
Bright Lights (March 19, 1928)
Sagebrush Sadie (April 2, 1928)
Ride’em Plow Boy (April 16, 1928)
Sky Scrappers (April 1928)
Ozzie of the Mounted (April 30, 1928)
Hungry Hoboes (May 14, 1928)
Oh, What a Knight (May/June 1928)
Poor Papa (June 11, 1928)
The Fox Chase (June 25, 1928)
Tall Timber (July 9, 1928)
Sleigh Bells (July 23, 1928)
Hot Dog (August 20, 1928)

FYI for those of you JHM readers that will in the Orlando area this coming Saturday, February 18th, Disney historian Jim Korkis will be the guest speaker for the World Chapter meeting of the National Fantasy Fan Club. Where Korkis will be talking about the silent films of Walt Disney. I’ll bet he’ll even be mentioning Oswald.

Jim is actually an original member of the NFFC, one of the first to join when the group was first organized in Southern California nearly twenty years ago. Over the years he has given presentations to the Southern California and Central Florida chapters just like so many other memorable Disney cast members.

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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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