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What inspired the Imagineers to build the Tower of Terror? Would you believe an attraction at a Six Flags theme park?

Jim Hill’s back with an old favorite from the archives. Which details how Magic Mountain’s Freefall ride eventually led to the creation of one of the more terrifying attractions ever to appear in a Disney theme park

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I know, I know. JHM hasn’t exactly been playing its A game lately. For which I apologize.


You see, this past 10 days or so, I’ve been on divorced daddy duty. Which first involved flying from Manchester, NH all the way to Honolulu, HI, so that I could collect my beautiful 12-year-old daughter, Alice. Then she & I reversed that process. Flying all the way back to New England just so that Alice could then spend the next two weeks reconnecting with various members of the Hill clan.


As you might imagine, what with all the traveling that’s involved with doing something like this, the large chunk of time that I normally devote each day to writing and/or researching new stories for JHM has shrunk down to almost nothing lately. Now add to this mix some rather challenging houseguests who’ve been visiting with Alice, Nancy and I this past week or so as well as a death in the family … What was once a little free time that I could then use for writing has now turned into less than nothing.


Which is why — rather than hurriedly slapping together a new piece for today — I’m going to follow a suggestion that longtime JHM reader Frank just sent me via e-mail. His note (which Frank sent me yesterday) reads as follows:



Just a quick note from a long-time reader. Seeing that I’m really fond of Jim’s stories of rides that never make it of the drawing board, I’ve spent the last week digging through the JHM archives. I happened to stumble across a series of articles on the original Tower of Terror, which are externally hosted at tower-of-terror.com. Seeing that Disneyland Resort Paris will soon welcome its own version of the Tower, I was quite interested in this tale of the creation of the original. Unfortunately, the tower-of-terror.com website appears to be offline.

Do you happen to have those articles lying around somewhere in a dusty and dark archive? If so, I would love it if you could re-publish them on the site.

Let me just add a short thank you to this quick email, because I’ve spent many interesting hours at the JHM website reading about the Walt Disney Company’s theme parks history, present, future and future that never was.


Thanks folks! As an industry insider, I really enjoy reading about “the competitor”. Keep up the great work!

Yours sincerely,

Frank


Per Frank’s request, here’s a lightly rewritten version of one of those articles that I did for tower-of-terror.com back in 2002.  


Falling in France


Just ask the bellhops who work at Disney-MGM Studio theme park. They’ll tell you all about the weird questions that guests ask them about this amazing attraction. “Is this really a ride?” “Can I go up partway, but get out before the final drop?” and (my personal favorite) “How come Disney hasn’t repaired the hole in the front of the building yet?”


But the big questions, the really important questions — like “How did the Imagineers ever come up with the concept for such an outrageous show?” — these same tourists never seem to find the time to ask. Maybe it’s because their brains are still scrambled by the time they reach the off-load area. Or maybe it’s just because these folks are already trying to figure out what they want to ride next at Disney-MGM.


Well, I know you Tower of Terror fans. You’re definitely a different breed of cat. You guys are always itching to learn more about your favorite theme park attraction. Which is why — today — we’re going to begin an exploration of the REAL origins of this attraction.


And — believe it or not — this story doesn’t actually begin where you thought it might. Not inside those non-descript warehouses that house Walt Disney Imagineering and/or inside the mind of Rod Serling. No, the tale of Disney-MGM’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror actually gets underway inside a theme park. Just not a Disney owned one.



Copyright 1988 The Walt Disney Company


To really understand how this ride came about, you need to come back with me to the summer of 1982. That’s when Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA. unveiled its latest thrill ride: Freefall.


Back in those days, Freefall (which was developed by Intamin AG, by the way) was considered pretty cutting edge stuff. Immediately upon boarding the attraction, Magic Mountain guests would strap on a safety harness. Their four-passenger car would then slide backwards into the drop tower before zooming up 87 feet. Then their vehicle would slowly slide out to the edge of the drop tower, when suddenly…AIEEE! These guests would be plummeting straight toward the ground at 55 MPH. The next thing they knew, these folks were flat on their backs as their ride vehicle tipped backwards as it zoomed out toward the end of Freefall’s L-shaped ride track.


The total length of their trip? 20 seconds. The amount of time that guests typically stood in line before getting their chance to ride Freefall? Sometimes as long as 2 to 3 hours. But Magic Mountain visitors seemed happy to do it. Putting up with the overly long lines, I mean. All for the chance to experience that one-of-a-kind feeling of free-falling through space.


Of course, these impossibly long lines full of happy theme park guests didn’t go un-noticed by Magic Mountain’s competitors. Particularly the folks at WED (AKA Walt Disney Imagineering). At the time, the Imagineers were just buttoning up their work on Epcot Center and Tokyo Disneyland. And these guys were itching for some new challenges.



Copyright 1988 The Walt Disney Company


And here was this then state-of-the-art technology that Magic Mountain guests were obviously going ape over. So the Imagineers began to wonder: “How could we adapt this Intamin technology for use inside a Disney theme park?”


You see, the real problem was (at least back during this era in the company’s history) that Disney didn’t do bare bones rides like Freefall. The time honored Disney tradition called for all of its theme park shows to have strong overlays of story elements built into each attraction to enhance the guest’s experience.


Take — for instance — Space Mountain. To be perfectly honest about it, Space Mountain at both Walt Disney World & Disneyland is a fairly tame steel coaster. Were you to ride the Tomorrowland attraction while its work lights were on, you’d be amazed at how slowly you appear to be moving.


Ah, but Disney doesn’t allow its guests to ride Space Mountain while the attraction’s work lights are on, now do they? Which is why– as you zoom through the darkness aboard this Tomorrowland thrill ride, never quite knowing when the next dip or turn is coming — it really is quite thrilling.



Copyright 1989 The Walt Disney Company


But to hear the Imagineers tell it, the real key to Space Mountain’s continued success with theme park guests isn’t because you get to ride around on a roller coaster in the dark. It’s because of all of that space-themed material that you get to walk by as you make your way to Space Mountain’s boarding area. These are the elements that actually set the stage for the guests. Placing them inside the story. Making them aware that they’re about to embark on this out-of-this-world experience.


This — in a nutshell — is what the Imagineers consider the Disney difference. Taking a Plain Jane steel coaster like Space Mountain and — by placing the ride inside a darkened show building as well as inserting space themed elements into the attraction — you end up with a coaster-plus. An evergreen attraction that guests never seem to get tired of riding. Why For? Because — for a few moments at least — they’re taking part in this exciting story.


That’s what the Imagineers were looking to do with Intamin’s Freefall technology. To take this then state-of-the-art ride system and — by folding in a few crucial story elements — create a one-of-a-kind ride experience for Disney’s theme park guests.


But given that Freefall’s most memorable moment — the drop — goes by in just the blink of an eye, how could WDI ever use this technology to try and tell a story? The Imagineers explored all sorts of scenarios. The most obvious choice was to pass off the Freefall technology as something that a mad scientist had cooked up. Some infernal device that was used to…well…frighten people.



Copyright 1989 The Walt Disney Company


This is why — for a while — Freefall actually played an important part in the Imagineers’ plans for Euro Disneyland (AKA Disneyland Paris). You see, the original design for that park’s Discoveryland section called for a large-scale version of Captain Nemo’s secret lair to be built INSIDE of Space Mountain/Discovery Mountain. The third, fourth and fifth floor of the show building would have been where the steel coaster would be located. Whereas the first & second floor (as well as the sub basement area) of the show building …


How should I describe this? Do you know the story of Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island”? By that I mean the film version that Ray Harryhausen did back in 1961? Well, according to that movie, Captain Nemo and the Nautilus somehow managed to survive the cataclysmic events that came at the end of Disney’s 1954 live action version of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Nemo then took his crippled ship and hid it in a grotto under a smoldering, somewhat dormant volcano.


This is what the Imagineers were hoping to recreate as Discoveryland’s centerpiece. Guests would walk into the cave-like entrance to what-was-then-called Discovery Mountain and — after their eyes adjusted to the darkness — they’d spy…a full-sized recreation of the Nautilus! Anchored in this secret lagoon that was located right inside Discovery Mountain.


Had this version of Discoveryland actually been built, guests could have had a variety of experiences to choose from while exploring Nemo’s secret lair. They could have walked down a ramp that seemingly took them below the surface of the lagoon and into the Nautilus itself. Here, they would have had the option of touring the sub itself (this — of course — is very similar to the “Mysteres du Nautilus” walk-through attraction that eventually opened at Disneyland Paris in 1994) or dining in high style inside the Grand Salon.



Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company


Guests who were looking for something a bit more exciting than a walking tour of a submarine and/or French cuisine would have been well advised to head over to the far side of the lagoon. Why? Because that’s where Nemo’s secret lab was supposed to have been located.


Here, the Captain had supposedly been attempting to harness the power of the volcano. (Oh? Did I forget to mention that — at least in this version of Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland — that Space Mountain / Discovery Mountain was supposed to have been built right on top of a somewhat dormant volcano? The Imagineers were thinking that Nemo had been using the super heated steam that came up through underground vents to power the Nautilus, all the equipment in his lab, maybe even those spaceships that were supposedly zooming around upstairs inside of “From the Earth to the Moon” AKA “Space Mountain.”)


Anyway… For those guests who were feeling somewhat adventurous, they could board a bare steel elevator that was supposed to take them up to the uppermost rim of the volcano. Once there, these visitors would supposedly have been able to see some unique features of Discovery Mountain (as well as get a great view of the rest of the theme park).


But then — of course — in the grand Disney tradition, once the guests get to the top of Discovery Mountain aboard their rickety steel elevator…SOMETHING GOES HORRIBLY WRONG! Supposedly, there’s some seismic event…which knocks the elevator off its track. Which then sends your ride vehicle hurtling down back into the darkness, reportedly missing giant rock formations and hissing steam vents by mere inches.



Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company


Sounds like a pretty fun way to bring Intamin’s Freefall technology on board at a Disney theme park, doesn?t it? Well, the only problem was that this version of Discoveryland was that — with all its bells and whistles — it was going to be hugely expensive. And given that the Walt Disney Company was already pouring hundreds of millions of Euros into the creation of the rest of the Euro Disneyland Resort, there just wasn’t enough money in the budget to cover the creation of a secret indoor grotto for Captain Nemo. Which is why the Nautilus eventually ended up parked outside of Discovery…er…Space Mountain.


And — since Nemo’s secret lab was no longer a featured attraction in Discoveryland — there was no reason for the Imagineers to go forward with their plans to build a Freefall-like ride as part of the opening day attractions at the Euro Disneyland Resort.


But that’s okay, gang. Because great ideas never die at WDI. Particularly when there are places like Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park that are (as of the early 1990s) woefully short on thrills.


And that part of the story … We’ll save for another time …



FYI: For those of you who enjoyed all of the Discoveryland concept art that was used to illustrate today’s article, all of the images were cribbed from Didier Ghez’s excellent book, “Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality.” If you’d like to pick up a copy of your very own, you can do so by dropping Didier an e-mail at this address: lawrence55@wanadoo.fr


Beyond that … Alice and I will be flying back to Hawaii this coming Wednesday. Once I hand my daughter off to her mom (The Fabulous Shelly Smith), I then start the trip back to New Hampshire on Thursday morning. Allowing for a slight case of jetlag as well as some post-parental depression, things should start to get back to normal at JHM on or about Monday, July 31st.


Again, my apologies if the pickings have seemed rather lean at this website for the past week or so. I promise that — by the first week of August — JHM will be back to offering its usual selection of big, meaty stories about the Walt Disney Company.


That’s it for today. Now — if you’ll excuse me — I have to go finish packing for the family camping trip that Alice, Nancy and I will be taking tomorrow.


Have a great weekend, okay?

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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