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Were Disney’s lawyers at odds with “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz”?

The early word on this new TV movie isn’t all that hot. But Jim Hill wonders: Would “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” have been that much better if Disney’s attorneys hadn’t insisted on its script being rewritten just days before the start of filming? Plus a story of how the “Oz” scene in Disney-MGM’s “Great Movie Ride” also got loused up by lawyers.

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Well, we’re just days away from “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” premiering on ABC. And though Disney continues to aggressively promote the TV movie (With Miss Piggy appearing on “Live with Regis & Kelly” on Thursday, followed by Ashanti on Friday), the early word on “Oz” isn’t all that great.

Not bad, mind you. But not good either. Early reviews of this TV movie have suggested that it’s a rather middling affair.

Which has got to be absolutely maddening to the “Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” production team. Why For? Because — just prior to the start of shooting — they actually had a teleplay that everyone loved. One that was full of heart, humor & magic. A script that really had the makings of a really great “Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” movie.

“So why didn’t they just shoot the original version of that teleplay?,” you ask. Because — literally less than 10 days prior to the start of production — Disney’s lawyers allegedly announced that they had some serious reservations with this TV movie’s script.

“What was their problem?,” you query. Well — to be honest — these attorneys were reportedly concerned about the number of references that “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” made to the 1939 movie version of the story. You know, MGM’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”? That much beloved classic that stars Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Margaret Hamilton & Jack Haley?

What supposedly worried Disney’s lawyers was that the current owner of that film — eccentric billionaire broadcaster Ted Turner — was notorious for being very protective of his property. And given that Mickey had already gone head-to-head with Ted over “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and lost (We’ll get to that story in a minute), the Mouse’s attorneys were understandably reluctant to incur Mr. Turner’s wrath again.

Which is why they forced the “Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” creative team to radically rework their script. Cutting jokes here, entire scenes there. All in an effort to produce an “Oz” movie that wouldn’t have anything in it that could possibly provoke Ted Turner.

So out went the ruby slippers (Which were — obviously — a direct lift from the 1939 film), only to be replaced by the silver ones that appeared in L. Frank Baum’s original novel. Likewise any gags, lines or lyrics that riffed on and/or made fun of the MGM movie.

I’m told that — at one point — Disney’s attorneys were actually insisting that “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” production team change the color of the outfit that Miss Piggy was supposed to wear when she was playing the Wicked Witch of the West.

“Margaret Hamilton wore black in the 1939 movie,” said the lawyers. “Which is why you can’t use the same color for Miss Piggy’s Wicked Witch costume.”

“But she’s supposed to a bad-ass biker chick,” the film’s creative team sputtered. “How’s Miss Piggy supposed to come across as a bad-ass biker chick unless she’s wearing black leather?”

In the end, Disney’s attorneys eventually gave in on that one point and allowed “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” production team to leave Piggy’s Wicked Witch outfit just as it was. But — truth be told — that was probably one of the only concessions that the Mouse’s legal staff were willing to make.

As a result, “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” production team was left with a teleplay with a hell of a lot of holes in it. So — in the few days left before the start of filming — they frantically rewrote the thing. And — even as “Oz” was being shot — they still tried to buff & polish the script.

But the end result … Well … You’ll get to see for yourself this Friday night at 8 p.m.

Don’t get me wrong, folks. “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” isn’t a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. By that I mean: This TV movie has got a lot of charm & some great production values. And it’s certainly a step-up from the last production that Miss Piggy & pals appeared in. Which was that lackluster “It’s a Very Muppet Christmas Movie,” which originally aired on NBC back in November of 2002.

But — as for how the folks at Disney actually expect this new Muppet TV movie to do — I think that it’s significant that the people inside the Muppets Holding Company LLC (I.E. The branch of the Walt Disney Company that actually controls Kermit & Co.) are no longer saying things like “Management won’t be making any decisions about what we should do next with the Muppets until they see how well ‘Oz’ does in the ratings.”

Nowadays, the revised Muppets Holding Company LLC mantra goes a little something like this: “Just wait ’til August 9th. That’s when the DVD version of ‘The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz’ finally goes on sale. Once management sees how many units of that title Buena Vista Home Entertainment is able to move, then we’ll see how big a budget we get for our next project.”

Which — to my way of thinking, anyway — doesn’t sound like the folks in the Muppet Holding Company office expect “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” to do all that well in the ratings. Which is why I think it’s important (particularly all you folks who keep Nielsen diaries) to watch ABC this Friday night.

I mean, don’t let the Muppets’ potential bright future at the Mouse House be ruined all because a few of Disney’s attorneys are frightened of Ted Turner.

“Speaking of which, Jim,” you interject. “Earlier in this article, you said that you’d talk about the first time that Disney bumped heads with Ted Turner.”

Oh, yeah. That was over the “Great Movie Ride” for Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park. You see, back in 1986, Turner purchased MGM. Only to quickly sell off the historic Culver City studio to Lorimar Pictures, while still retaining the more-than-3650 titles in the MGM film library.

So, when the Imagineers wanted to use MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz” as the basis for the finale of “The Great Movie Ride,” it was Ted’s lawyers that Disney had to deal with. And — in the end — Turner’s attorneys agreed to award WDI the rights to use 3 minutes worth of material (As in: Characters, sets, costumes, music, etc.) from the 1939 classic in this Disney/MGM attraction for an annual fee of $350,000.

Now the key phrase to remember here is “3 minutes worth of material.” Because that’s what eventually came back and bit Disney in the ass.

Anyway … The Imagineers were obviously thrilled to land the rights to “The Wizard of Oz.” To be able to use pieces of this genuine Hollywood classic as the inspiration for the finale of “The Great Movie Ride.” So the guys from WDI initially went all out to make the most of the three minutes that Ted Turner’s people had allotted them.

So — as the Disney-MGM attraction was originally designed — your “Wizard of Oz” experience was supposed to begin right after you saw those Audio Animatronic versions of Rick & Ilsa recreating their memorable goodbye scene from “Casablanca.”

Now, I know. What you see next nowadays in “The Great Movie Ride” is that “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence from “Fantasia.” You know, where Sorcerer Mickey uses the magical hat that he “borrowed” from the wizard Yensid to control the cosmos.

But what the Imagineers had originally planned to do in this area of the attraction was recreate that moment in MGM’s version of “The Wizard of Oz” where the tornado is bearing down on Dorothy’s farmhouse. (That’s actually why there are still fans in this section of “The Great Movie Ride” that blow. Those were initially installed there to give you a wind-in-your-face feeling as a huge black-and-white projection of that funnel cloud came closer & closer to your theater car.)

FYI: It’s also important to understand that the guys from WDI originally put an awful lot of thought into what moments went where in “The Great Movie Ride.” That’s why it’s not a co-incidence that that scene in “Casablanca” comes right before where the tornado sequence from “The Wizard of Oz” was supposed to go.

To explain: “Casablanca” was in black-and-white. As was the tornado sequence from “The Wizard of Oz.” And in “Casablanca,” Ilsa is about to board that plane to fly to fly to freedom. Just as that tornado is about to fly Dorothy’s farmhouse to Oz. So obviously there’s an attempt here to connect the color, theme and style of these two scenes in the attraction.

Anywho … Our theater car is supposedly blown to Oz. We roll into a technicolor recreation of Munchkinland and interact with the Wicked Witch of the West. From there, we roll past Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman & the Cowardly Lion (and Toto too!) as they stand gazing in wonder at the Emerald City in the distance.

And — from there … Well, I’m sure that you all know the ending of “The Great Movie Ride” as it exists today. Where your theater car rolls into a big empty soundstage. And — once the second theater car gets into position — you see a film montage that quickly pays tribute to dozens of movie stars & classic films.

But — if the Walt Disney Company hadn’t had to battle with Ted Turner’s lawyers — the original ending of “The Great Movie Ride” … Well, it would have been something really special. You see, your theater car was actually supposed to roll into a recreation of the throne room of the Great Oz himself. Where — with a combination of in-theater effects as well as projections — that huge head would have loomed up out of the colored smoke & fire and said:

“The Great and Powerful Oz knows why you have come. Behold! The history of Hollywood!”

And then the film montage would have gotten underway. Which — you have to admit — would have been a much more fun, far more theatrical way for “The Great Movie Ride” to come to a close.

But — as I said at the very start of this story — the only problem was that the Walt Disney Company had a contract with Turner Entertainment that specifically said the the Imagineers were only allowed to use a total of three minutes worth of material from “The Wizard of Oz” for the finale for “The Great Movie Ride.” Which would have been fine … If WDI had stuck with its original plan to only send one theater car at a time through each scene in this Disney-MGM attraction.

But then — as people within WDW management became to grow concerned about the studio theme park’s capacity — a decision was made very late in the game that two theater cars full of guests would go through “The Great Movie Ride” at the same time. Which totally threw off the timing that the Imagineers had originally built this Disney-MGM attraction around.

Which eventually meant that — instead of it taking three minutes for WDW guests to move through all the “Wizard of Oz” -related scenes in “The Great Movie Ride” ‘s finale — it was now actually taking those two theater cars upwards of 4 minutes to move through this section of the attraction. But surely Mr. Turner wouldn’t begrudge the Walt Disney Company an extra minute’s worth of “Wizard of Oz” -related material.

As it turns out, Ted really did mind. As a result of that extra minute’s worth of material, Turner reportedly made all sorts of demands. I’ve been told that he wanted to double that annual fee that WDI was paying Turner Entertainment for the rights to use “The Wizard of Oz.” When Disney balked at that suggestion, Ted’s attorneys allegedly threatened to file a lawsuit, supposedly insisting that there had been a breach of contract.

In the end, the word came down from Burbank to Glendale to make this problem go away. That the Imagineers were now under orders to get the “Wizard of Oz” sequence in “The Great Movie Ride” back down to the previously agreed upon three minutes. Which is why first the whole “Throne Room of the Wizard of Oz” scene got cut. And then — when this sequence was still found to be running long — the introductory tornado sequence got cut as well.

The end result … Well, while that recreation of Munchkinland is still very impressive and the Wicked Witch AA figure never ceases to amaze … It still makes me sad to think what the finale of “The Great Movie Ride” could have been like. That our theater cars could have got caught up in a faux tornado and then been blown to Oz. And that we could then have capped off our “Wizard of Oz” experience by having an audience with the Great & Powerful Oz himself.

But now — all because Disney’s lawyers didn’t like dealing with Ted Turner’s attorneys — two potentially great versions of “The Wizard of Oz” have been screwed up: The finale of Disney-MGM’s “Great Movie Ride” as well as “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” TV movie.

You know, it’s at times like this that I wish that there really were flying monkeys. So that — whenever a Disney attorney dropped by and says “We need to talk” — you could just have your winged ape carry off that empty suit and have them dropped in the middle of the Deadly Desert.

Anywho … That’s the story of how the Mouse’s lawyers loused up two great “Oz” projects. 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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