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When Good Attractions Happen to Bad Movies

Dinosaurs stomping down Main Street U.S.A.?! Giant mechanical sea monsters menacing guests in Tomorrowland’s submarine lagoon?! Jim Hill reveals some of the great Disney theme park shows that we could have gotten … If only the films that they were based on had made a few more bucks.



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Katie from Milford, MA. writes:


Did you see that “Disney’s Imagineers” special that ran on the Travel Channel last month? I was particularly struck by that “autonomous walking platform” that they showed in the final minutes of the program. As they showed that huge robot lurching about, the show’s narrator said something like “Don’t be surprised if you see a dinosaur walking around during your next visit to a Disney theme park.”

Is this true, Jim? Are the Imagineers really going to turn loose some giant walking robotic dinosaurs and let them walk through the theme parks? If they did … That would be so COOL!!

The truth is, Katie, if Disney’s big Summer 2000 release – the computer animated “Dinosaur” – had been a bigger success, that massive mechanical creature would have been strolling down Main Street U.S.A. months ago.

All too often, this is what happens at WDI: The Imagineers come up with a great idea for a brand new show / ride / attraction that’s based on characters from a forthcoming Disney film. They develop all of these wonderful plans, then patiently sit by & wait for that movie to be released to theaters and prove itself to be a huge success … Only the film ISN’T a huge success. Sometimes it’s an outright flop. Other times, it’s just an under-performer. A would-be blockbuster that barely ends up covering its production and promotional costs.

Either way, Disney Company management suddenly doesn’t want anything more to do with this ill-fated movie. Which is why all talk about spin-off TV shows, direct-to-video sequels and – of course – theme park rides that are based on that movie immediately ceases.

This most recently happened with the company’s Summer 2001 release – “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” The Imagineers were so certain that the Walt Disney Company had a huge hit on their hands with that film that WDI had already drawn up plans for an “Atlantis” themed attraction that they wanted to quickly drop into Disneyland.

This ride (which was actually supposed to have been a somewhat ambitious retheming of Tomorrowland’s extremely tired “Submarine Voyage”) was supposed to have taken Disneyland visitors down into the depths to visit the graveyard of lost ships. Once there, guests would actually have been able to use a mechanical arm (that extended right out into the water from their sub window) to grab at the gold coins & gems that lined the sea floor.

Of course, all of this undersea activity would have awakened the Leviathan, that massive mechanical lobster-thingy that destroyed the “Ulysses” during “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” As its giant, crab-like claw closed around the ride vehicle, its sides would bow inward and water from pinhole leaks in the hull would start spritzing the guests inside. (This particular moment in the attraction bring to mind the slogan that the Imagineers had supposedly cooked up for the show: “Don’t waste your breath screaming.”)

How did these Disneyland guests eventually escape the clutches of the Leviathan? Sorry, but that would be telling. Let’s just say that – in spite of the severe shaking that their sub was supposed to have received – that they still made it back to the surface. Unfortunately, most of the booty that the sub’s crew had hauled in with their mechanical arms had been lost during the high speed return trip to the surface. Even so, a few coins did remain in the collection basket…

Which is why – as they exited the sub – each Disneyland guest was to have been handed a genuine plastic coin with the stylized Atlantis “A” stamped on it. To remind them of their fateful trip to the bottom of the sea and their far-too-close encounter with the deadly Leviathan.

Sounds like a fun ride, doesn’t it? WDI sure thought so. The Imagineers were counting on this particular attraction to lift the pall that had fallen over Disneyland’s new Tomorrowland (following the public’s lackluster response to this land’s misbegotten 1998 makeover).

Unfortunately, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” wasn’t the box office behemoth that Disney had hoped it would be. During its domestic release, the film only pulled in $84 million – which didn’t even cover “A:TLE”‘s negative costs, let alone the ten of millions more that the Mouse had poured into promotion of the picture. Which is why – not wanting to throw good money after bad – Disney executives decided to deep six WDI’s plans to drop an “Atlantis Expedition” attraction into Disneyland’s new Tomorrowland.

Kind of a sad end to the story, right? Wait. It gets sadder. Walt Disney Television Animation also thought that “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” was going to be a huge hit. Which is why they put TWO “Atlantis” follow-up projects into production: A direct-to-video sequel to the film as well as “Team Atlantis.”

What was “Team Atlantis”? “TA” was actually probably the bigger loss of the two projects. Why for? Because “Team Atlantis” was supposed to have been this ambitious animated series that would have heralded a return to epic storytelling by Walt Disney Television Animation. Something that this division of the Walt Disney Company hadn’t attempted since “Gargoyles” stopped production ‘way back in 1996.

So what was the story arc for “Team Atlantis”? Due to events that had occurred during the climax of the direct-to-video sequel to “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” Milo and Kida were now trapped on the surface. Their return route to Atlantis has somehow been sealed off forever. Which means – in order to return to the “Lost Empire” – Milo & Kida must now travel the globe. With the help of the Shepherd’s Journal as well as their old friends from the Whitmore Expedition, they must seek out a new route back to Atlantis.

“Team Atlantis” story arc – as Disney Television Animation’s writers had mapped it out – would have been ambitious, to say the least. Each episode, Milo and Kida would journey to another far-flung corner of the globe where they would be re-united with Moliere (or Vinnie or Audrey or Mrs. Packard or Dr. Sweet). Then the intrepid explorers would have to deal with some paranormal phenomenon (Be it the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, the Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas, or strange lights in the night sky over Roswell, New Mexico) as they sought out yet another rumored entrance to the “Lost Empire.”

Now here’s the really sad part of the story … During interviews that she did as part of the pre-opening publicity for “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” Cree Summer (the actress who provided the voice of Princess Kida) revealed that she and the rest of the “A:TLE” vocal cast (sans Michael J. Fox, who had opted out of the TV series) had already begun recording dialogue for a few episodes of “Team Atlantis.”

Cree described working on the weekly “Atlantis” TV series as “a lot of fun. When you record dialogue for an animated feature, you usually work alone. But – when you’re working on an animated TV series – everybody’s there in the booth at the same time. So it’s a lot more fun. I love the people that I do voice-over work with.”

Unfortunately, within days of this interview, Disney realized that “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” wasn’t going to be the big box office “Wow!” that everyone had thought it would be. Which is why the company quietly shut down production on the “Team Atlantis” TV series.

So does this mean that all those recordings that Cree & Co. made for “Team Atlantis” will now never see the light of day? Actually, no. You see – even though Disney had lost interest in doing a spin-off series based on “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” – the company was still committed to doing a direct-to-video sequel to the film.

But – rather than go ahead with the “A:TLE” sequel that Disney Television Animation had already scripted – Mouse House execs elected to take the two or three episodes of “Team Atlantis” that Cree and Co. had already recorded dialogue for and (With the help of a few additional scenes) pass that off as the direct-to-video sequel to “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.”

Of course, one wonders how the writers at Disney Television Animation are going to explain away Milo & Kinda being trapped on the earth’s surface – unable to return to Atlantis. After all, it was the events that occurred during the climax of the original version of the “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” direct-to-video sequel that lead to up the dire situation that these two found themselves in as the “Team Atlantis” TV series got underway. Now … Who knows how Disney intends to deal with this gaping hole in the plotline?

I guess we’ll all have to wait ’til the direct-to-video sequel to “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” hits store shelves next year to learn how Milo & Kida got themselves in this predicament. More importantly, how they get themselves out.

Of course, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” wasn’t the only recent animated feature that Disney had high hopes for. The Mouse also allegedly thought that “Dinosaur” had franchise written all over it. Which is why there were reportedly plans in place for WDFA to do at least two “Dinosaur” sequels in the direct-to-video format. (Disney executives reportedly had visions of “Dinosaur” becoming their company’s answer to Universal Studios’ highly lucrative “Land Before Time” series. Which – by the way – Episode No. 9 in the “LBT” series hits store shelves this coming December.)

Anyway … Disney execs supposedly felt that “Dinosaur” was going to be so popular with movie-goers that they forced the Imagineers to fold the starring character from that film – Aladar the iguanodon – into Disney’s Animal Kingdom Big “E” Ticket attraction, “Countdown to Extinction.” Which means that Aladar has been on the job, rescuing WDW guests from that vicious Carnotaur, ever since April 1998. A full 25 months before “Dinosaur” would finally reach theaters.

Of course, to capitalize on what Disney execs felt sure was going to be a huge box office hit, Walt Disney Studio also forced the Imagineers to change “Countdown to Extinction”‘s name on the very same day (May 19, 2000) that “Dinosaur” opened in theaters nationwide. And what was the new name of this Disney’s Animal Kingdom attraction? The not-terribly-original-sounding “Dinosaur – The Ride.”

The only problem was … “Dinosaur” wasn’t really such a monstrous hit. Oh, sure. The film grossed $137 million during its domestic release. But the film reportedly cost an astounding $200 million to make. (In an attempt to get a handle on all the negative publicity that had begun swirling around the film and its high price tag, then Disney studio head Peter Schneider insisted that “Dinosaur” had actually “only” cost $135 million.)

So why didn’t the huge audience that Disney had been expecting turn out for “Dinosaur”? Some pointed to the film’s all-too-predictable storyline. Still others suggest that the Discovery Channel’s “Walking With Dinosaurs” mini-series (Which – just like Disney’s “Dinosaurs” – took computer generated prehistoric beasts and cleverly inserted them into film footage of real scenery) had stolen much of “Dinosaur”‘s thunder. Particularly since “Walking with Dinosaurs” had aired in the US in early April, a full six weeks before “Dinosaur” was due to hit theaters.

Whatever the case … “Dinosaur” had not proven to be as success as Disney executives had hoped it would be. Which is why they began backing off on all plans to fold additional “Dinosaur” related shows and attractions into the Disney theme parks.

Chief among these was Danny Hillis’ “autonomous walking platform.” Which – had it been perfected (More importantly, fully funded) – would have allowed a live sized Aladar, Eema and Baylene to have strolled down Main Street U.S.A. Which – you’ll have to admit – would have made for one hell of an exciting finale for any Disney theme park parade.

But – as I said earlier – “Dinosaur” didn’t make all the kind of money that Disney had thought it should. Which is why studio execs decided to cut funding for any direct-to-video sequels to the film as well as any additional theme park attractions that were tied to the “Dinosaur” mythology.

Of course, when Mr. Hillis heard about this, he immediately opted to bail out of WDI’s R & D department. I mean, what was the point of hanging out in Glendale if Disney wasn’t going to get serious about going forward with something as ground-breaking and amazing as the “autonomous moving platform.” (For those of you who’d like to learn more about what’s involved with this cutting edge development, check out this article from the March 2001 edition of “Discover” Magazine – “Pushing the Envelope on Robots” – by following this link.)

Mind you, even though “Dinosaur” tanked, the Imagineers still had hopes that – if the right film were to come along – that they’d still be able to find a logical way to fold the “autonomous walking platform” technology into one of the company’s theme park setting. For a while there earlier this year, WDI had thought that “Reign of Fire” might be that movie. Given that that Touchstone Picture featured fire breathing dragons, the Imagineers felt that it really wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to take the robotic skeleton that had been built as the core component of a full-size walking, roaring dinosaur and use it to build a fire breathing dragon.

But then – of course – “Reign of Fire” got snuffed out at the box office this summer and … Well, you know the rest of the drill by now, don’t you?

Jeese …This is a really depressing way to end this story, isn’t it? Okay, how’s about I try to find a happier way to wrap this article up?

How’s about this exciting tidbit? … Those of you who also saw the “autonomous walking platform” sequence in the Travel Channel’s “Disney’s Imagineers” TV special may recall catching a glimpse of a miniature Cinderella’s Castle that seemed alive with color. This castle was plainly visible behind Eric Haseltine (Executive vice president in charge of research & development at Walt Disney Imagineering), as Haseltine spoke enthusiastically about how much fun it was to work at WDI.

So, what’s the deal with that castle? Well, those fluid color changes come as a direct result of all the fiber optics that had been installed in that miniature version of Cinderella’s Castle. This model was a test for … Well, I don’t really want to spoil the whole surprise. But let’s just say that Hong Kong Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle will seem that much more magical after dark.

More to the point, provided that Cynthia Harris can actually get Disney Company management to approve the funding, the original Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland may take on an extra special sheen after dark too during its 50th anniversary year … But you didn’t hear this from me.

There. Is that a better ending?

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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