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Well, whaddaya know? Michelle actually got one right?!

Do you recall that Thomas-Schumacher-has-been-fired rumor that we ran here last week? Well, how about how Jim Hill tried to do some damage control on that very same story late last Friday? Now – FINALLY – the whole story can be told …

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Okay. Where were we?

1) Michelle was right. 2) Michelle was right. 3) Michelle was right. 4) Michelle was right.

Oh, yeah. NOW I remember … You may recall last week that our fearless editor, Michelle Smith, took JimHillMedia.com out on a very long limb last week by running this story which reported the rumor that Thomas Schumacher, the head of Disney Feature Animation, had been fired and/or was being forced out of the Mouse House.

5) Michelle was right. 6) Michelle was right. 7) Michelle was right. 8) Michelle was right.

Which – because I was already asleep back here in the East when this particular item was posted – I didn’t find out about this rumor ’til early the next morning. When various LA media outlets began calling me, looking for confirmation of the story that Michelle had put up on the site. (Just in case you’re wondering: Giving a reporter an answer like “Huh? What? What story are you talking about?” doesn’t exactly earn you lots of credibility points. Anyway …)

9) Michelle was right. 10) Michelle was right. 11) Michelle was right. 12) Michelle was right.

Which is why I ended up spending most of last Wednesday and Thursday on the phone, trying to find someone – ANYONE – inside the Walt Disney Company who could confirm this rumor.

13) Michelle was right. 14) Michelle was right. 15) Michelle was right. 16) Michelle was right.

You see, I come from the Woodward / Bernstein school when it comes to reporting rumors, kids. I like to have at least three different sources to corroborate a piece of info before I finally decide to run with it. Why for? Well, the Walt Disney Company has an awfully big legal department full of extremely aggressive attorneys. And I honestly wouldn’t want to do anything that would upset all of those pit bulls-with-briefcases.

17) Michelle was right. 18) Michelle was right. 19) Michelle was right. 20) Michelle was right.

Of course, even when you triple source a story like this, you can still manage to tick of an awful lot of people. I mean, look at what happened week before last when I ran those stories about “Finding Nemo”? I managed to piss off both Pixar as well as Disney Feature Animation. All because I dared to report that the test scores from “Nemo” test scores allegedly hadn’t been as high as studios execs had hoped they would be. More to the point, that someone inside the Team Disney Burbank building had supposedly deliberately been leaking info about how “Finding Nemo” was going to be Pixar’s first flop.

21) Michelle was right. 22) Michelle was right. 23) Michelle was right. 24) Michelle was right.

I spent over a week working on that “Nemo” story, folks. Making numerous calls, trying to track down additional info about that screening as well as learn as much as I could about the Disney exec who supposedly dishing dirt on Pixar. Yet I still got people over on the JimHillMedia.com discussion boards like Yookeroo saying things like “Shouldn’t Jim be above this sort of rumor mongering?” and RallyMonkey saying that that story was “all hearsay and speculation.” Sigh I guess you just can’t please everyone …

25) Michelle was right. 26) Michelle was right. 27) Michelle was right. 28) Michelle was right.

Anyway … I now wake up on Tuesday and find out that – after sending a single e-mail to a friend of ours who works at Walt Disney Feature Animation in her attempt to confirm this rumor (This guy’s response was reportedly: “Yeah, I’ve heard lots of rumors to this effect at work lately. But is it true? I dunno.”) – Michelle had gone ahead and posted this incredibly explosive piece of info up on JimHillMedia.com. Talk about your Maalox moments.

29) Michelle was right. 30) Michelle was right. 31) Michelle was right. 32) Michelle was right.

In Michelle’s defense, I should point out that – at the very top of this article – she did include a header that read: “This information is unconfirmed, and should be treated as a rumor until confirmed by the Walt Disney Company.” The only problem is that – due to the way that pages are laid out here at JimHillMedia.com – that this disclaimer actually appeared in a box above the story, rather than being attached to the story itself. Which is why (apparently) very few readers (and reporters, for that matter) saw it.

33) Michelle was right. 34) Michelle was right. 35) Michelle was right. 36) Michelle was right.

So – as you can imagine – given that I’m the guy whose name is all over this website, I had to quick-like-a-bunny get into reporter mode and get to the bottom of this rumor. Cover my (and Michelle’s) ass, if you will, and chase down any additional info and/or documentation that I could find about what was really going on with Thomas Schumacher.

37) Michelle was right. 38) Michelle was right. 39) Michelle was right. 40) Michelle was right.

So I began calling everyone I knew in Burbank. And … well … here’s where it gets REALLY interesting, folks. You see, all I could ever get out of the folks that I talked with at Disney was what I like to call non-denial denials. By that I mean, people would say things like “To the best of my knowledge, Tom Schumacher is still with the company” and/or “I’m not personally aware that Thomas Schumacher has been asked to step down.”

41) Michelle was right. 42) Michelle was right. 43) Michelle was right. 44) Michelle was right.

The language that these people were using was so cautious, yet so precise that I knew that something HAD to be up. I just couldn’t put my finger on what was actually going on.

45) Michelle was right. 46) Michelle was right. 47) Michelle was right. 48) Michelle was right.

But then I finally caught a break. Late Thursday afternoon, someone very high up in Disney Feature Animation finally returned my call. Who exactly are we talking about here? Sorry, but that would be telling, kids. For now, let’s just call this guy “Mortimer,” a Mouse House exec who I’d have to say is very much in the loop.

49) Michelle was right. 50) Michelle was right. 51) Michelle was right. 52) Michelle was right.

Anyway … after a little bit of chitchat, Mortimer lets loose with a bombshell: The rumor that Michelle had posted on JimHillMedia.com WAS true. Sort of. By that I mean: Schumacher’s days at Walt Disney Feature Animation really were numbered. But that – because of all of the negative publicity that Michael Eisner had gotten on the heels of Paul Pressler’s recent unexpected departure – Disney’s embattled CEO really couldn’t afford any more bad press right about now. Particularly the sorts of stories that would result if yet another top tier executive opted to walk out of Burbank’s front gate.

53) Michelle was right. 54) Michelle was right. 55) Michelle was right. 56) Michelle was right.

Which is why Eisner and Schumacher reportedly cut this very unique deal. If Thomas agreed to stay on at WDFA until late next spring (well after “Treasure Planet,” “Jungle Book II,” and “Piglet’s Big Movie” had been released to theaters), then Michael would agree to give Thomas the Peter Schneider treatment (I.E. Set Schumacher up with his own very production company. So that Thomas could potentially produce new stage plays and musicals for Disney Theatrical to present).

57) Michelle was right. 58) Michelle was right. 59) Michelle was right. 60) Michelle was right.

The only condition to this exit deal was that Eisner wanted as much distance as possible between the time when Pressler exited the company and when Schumacher “chose” to move on. Otherwise, Disney’s CEO was sure to get hammered with another round of “Michael Eisner must be impossible to work for. Otherwise, why would all of his top executives keep bailing on him?” stories. By keeping Schumacher’s upcoming exit under wraps for a few more months, Eisner could hopefully limit the amount of damage that the announcement of Schumacher’s departure would do to his tattered reputation.

61) Michelle was right. 62) Michelle was right. 63) Michelle was right. 64) Michelle was right.

The way Mortimer explained it to me: “By posting that rumor, Michelle’s really let the genie out of the bottle, Jim. Now I don’t know if Eisner will dare to allow Schumacher’s exit deal to go through. After all, Michael’s reputation with the investment community is already in the sh*tter. If news that yet another top Disney executive was getting ready to bail out of the company were to get picked up by the mainstream press … It may be all over for Eisner. I’m certain that (Disney Board of Directors member) Stanley Gold will try to use the news of Schumacher’s exit as definitive proof that Michael has finally lost control of the Walt Disney Company. Which might finally be enough for Stanley & Roy (Disney) to convince Disney’s board of directors that it really is time to let Eisner go.”

65) Michelle was right. 66) Michelle was right. 67) Michelle was right. 68) Michelle was right.

Mortimer continued: “Michael may have no choice now but to ask Schumacher to stay on a lot longer than he originally planned on. All in an effort to shore up the illusion that the Walt Disney Company actually has a stable management team in place. So – by running that story – Michelle may actually have done a great dis-service to all us poor slobs at Disney Feature Animation. I mean, we’re the ones who’ll probably get stuck working with that &%%*$#@ Schumacher for months longer than we originally were going to have to. All because you guys posted that story.”

69) Michelle was right. 70) Michelle was right. 71) Michelle was right. 72) Michelle was right.

Which was why Mortimer asked a favor of me. As in: Could I try to put the genie back in the bottle by issuing a semi-pseudo-sort-of retraction to the rumor that Michelle had posted last Tuesday? Which (hopefully) would take some of the heat off of Eisner and Schumacher. Maybe even throw some of the other reporters who were also pursuing this story off the scent.

73) Michelle was right. 74) Michelle was right. 75) Michelle was right. 76) Michelle was right.

I told Mortimer that – while I really did want to help him out – I wasn’t going to lie to JimHillMedia.com readers. Mortimer’s response was: “You wouldn’t have to lie, Jim. Just do what Disney does. Issue a non-denial denial in response to the rumor.”

Which explains that rather odd addendum some of you may have read at the end of last Friday’s “Why For” column. Where (in an effort to help out the poor slobs at WDFA) I attempted to cobble together a semi-coherent explanation/apology in response to Michelle’s Schumacher rumor story.

77) Michelle was right. 78) Michelle was right. 79) Michelle was right. 80) Michelle was right.

Sadly, I lack the gift of being able to talk convincingly out of both sides of my mouth (Which – I’m guessing – means that my chances of ever landing a job with Disney’s PR department pretty much amount to nil now). Even so, I still tried to work a few non-denial denials into that column. (EX: Please note the deliberately misleading “Thomas Schumacher hadn’t actually been fired,” rather than a much more precise explanation like “My understanding is that the deal that Schumacher cut with Eisner will actually allow him to hang on ’til the middle of 2003. Which will allow Thomas to stage his own somewhat graceful exit – where Schumacher will probably say something like he’s leaving Disney of his volition to ‘to pursue other opportunities.'”)

81) Michelle was right. 82) Michelle was right. 83) Michelle was right. 84) Michelle was right.

But – since my heart really wasn’t in this charade – it came as no surprise that my ploy didn’t work. That smallish story at the end of last week’s “Why For” column didn’t throw anyone off the scent. Particularly not LA Times reporters Claudia Eller and Richard Verrier. (EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m not honestly sure if it was Michelle’s story that actually clued Eller & Verrier in on what was going on at WDFA. After all, Claudia and Richard are both pretty sharp reporters in their own right. So I’m pretty sure that these two already had sources of their own that were letting them know that Schumacher’s days at the Mouse House were numbered.)

85) Michelle was right. 86) Michelle was right. 87) Michelle was right. 88) Michelle was right.

Whatever the reason … Claudia and Richard decided to pursue this story. And they were the ones who were able to get the folks over at Disney to do something I couldn’t: Which was go on record and admit that WDFA head Thomas Schumacher HADN’T actually been fired … but WOULD still be leaving the Walt Disney Company under his own power by next June (Just about the same time that Pixar’s next flick, “Finding Nemo,” finishes up its first week in release). So those two (as well as Michelle) are the ones who really deserve the credit for finally forcing this much-talked-about-behind-closed-doors story out into the open.

89) Michelle was right. 90) Michelle was right. 91) Michelle was right. 92) Michelle was right.

Of course, Disney being Disney, they still tried to do everything that they could to control this highly damaging story. As C.W. Orberleitner pointed out to me earlier today: “Look when they finally decided to release this info to the Times, Jim. Late Friday night. Long after the stock market had closed for the week. All with the hope that this story would end up buried inside Saturday’s business section where no one would read it.”

93) Michelle was right. 94) Michelle was right. 95) Michelle was right. 96) Michelle was right.

The big question now is – now that the cat’s out of the bag – will Schumacher actually stay with WDFA ’til June 2003? Or will the waves of sure-to-be-negative press that will leap up in the wake of this story breaking (Don’t you just feel sorry for Disney’s PR flaks? Those poor folks who are right in the middle of trying to launch a huge, upbeat promotional campaign for “Treasure Planet”? Now these marketing mavens are going have to become master of spin control – all in an effort to keep reporters focused on writing about the studio’s newest feature length animated release, rather than going on and on about what a surprise it is that the head of WDFA will soon be leaving the company) force Thomas to bail out of the Mouse House a lot sooner than next June?

97) Michelle was right. 98) Michelle was right. 99) Michelle was right. 100) Michelle was right.

Either way … It was fun to be a part of a big breaking story like this. Even if my “Trying to Put the Genie Back in the Bottle” ploy didn’t exactly work out. (Sorry about that, Mortimer. I honestly gave it my best shot.)

Beyond that … did I mention that Michelle was actually right (sort of) about this Thomas Schumacher rumor?

Your thoughts?

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  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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