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Jim Hill’s back with … well, an apology, then some info on the upcoming “Alien Encounter” change-out, a Glen Keane quote, why certain pavilions in Epcot’s World Showcase got rides and others didn’t as well as an update on the next set of JHM Disneyland tours. Also … a somewhat embarrassing plea for contributions.

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First, an apology: In the introduction that I wrote to Jim Korkis’ debut column this past Tuesday, I mentioned that Jim had written several books. Among them “Cartoon Confidential,” “Encyclopedia of Cartoon Superstars,” “How to Create Animation,” and “The Animation Art Buyer’s Guide.” What I neglected to mention was that Korkis actually had a co-author on each of these literary projects, the equally talented and esteemed John Cawley. Soooo … my sincerest apologies to Mr. Cawley for this unintended slight on my part.

That completes the groveling portion of today’s program. Okay. Moving on now … Brian K. writes in to ask:

Dear Jim,

Thanks again for all of the wonderful stories about the goings-on in the House of Mouse. It’s always a pleasure to visit your site.

My question concerns the Alien Encounter attraction at WDW. I just read over at wdwmagic.com that AE is being closed in April, 2004 to allow for a complete overhaul that would include inserting Stitch into a new storyline. Is this true? I always enjoyed the AE attraction, as it had all of the Disney attention to detail, while exploring territory not usually found in a Disney theme park, namely a truly scary experience. Any scoop on this?

Thanks!

Brian K.

Dear Brian:

Thanks for the kind words regarding JHM. As for the “Stitch” themed redo of WDW’s “Alien Encounter,” my sources at Walt Disney Imagineering tell that this project really is a go. WDW Guest Relations is reportedly tired of dealing with the constant customer complaints about how terrifying “AE” is to children. So the Imagineers are hoping — once they load this much lighter, funnier, kid friendlier show into the old “Mission to Mars” theaters — that these complaints will stop.

To back up what the nice folks over at www.wdwmagic.com have been saying, I too have heard that WDW’s “Alien Encounter” will be closing sometime in the Spring of 2004. The current (extremely tentative, mind you) timetable calls for three to four month long rehab. The revamped attraction will have a soft opening sometime in the late summer. August at the earliest … September at the latest. With the all-new “Alien Encounter with Stitch” having its official grand opening as part of WDW’s annual October birthday bash/press event.

I know, I know. Some of you thrill monkeys out there will be sad to hear that this scare-filled sensory thriller is actually going away. But Disney’s in the process of turning WDW’s Tomorrowland into a more family friendly environment. Building on the success of “Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin,” so to speak.

So look for “Alien Encounter” to get “Stitch”-esized sometime in 2004. And WDW’s “Carousel of Progress?” Well, that’s still being eyed as the possible site for an all-new enclosed version of that old Disneyland favorite, “The Flying Saucers.” And — if the clone of the Hong Kong version of Space Mountain that’s going into Anaheim is met with lots of guest enthusiasm — you can bet that WDW’s version may go under the knife as well in the not-so-distant future (2006 or thereabouts).

Beyond that … if you’re even remotely nostalgic about this version of “Alien Encounter,” now might be a really good time to rack up a few more visits to the Tomorrowland Convention Center. Better yet, if you’d like to make a killing on eBay in a few years, now might be a good time to drop by the Magic Kingdom’s “Merchant of Venus” shop and/or “Once Upon a Toy” at WDW’s Downtown Disney and pick up a few “Alien Encounter” toys. I mean, who knows what this stuff will be going for in 2014 … long after Chairman Clench, Dr. Femus and the rest of XS Tech crew have beamed back to their home world?

Next, VikM — on the JimHillMedia.com discussion boards — asked:

Where/when did the Glen Keane interview, that was mentioned in (your “Is Disney Feature Animation Ripe for Another Revolution”) article, appear?

Thank you,

VikM

Dear VikM,

The info that I cited for this week’s article (I.E. how Keane had been quoted in a recent interview as saying that he’d never seen a film that was as seriously micro-managed as “Treasure Planet” was) actually came from the December 13, 2002 issue of “Entertainment Weekly” magazine. To be specific, the “Man Who Drew Too Much” article by Steve Daly.

In this piece, which details much of the fall-out that happened at Walt Disney Feature Animation when “Treasure Planet” under-performed at the box office last November, Keane is quoted as saying that the production of this particular animated film was marked by ”the most belt-tightening, bottom-line-oriented, paranoiac kind of penny watching” he’s ever seen by management at Walt Disney Studios.

You can read the whole article (which I highly recommend, by the way) by going to the “Entertainment Weekly” website. Though — if I remember correctly — the only way you can get access to the ew.com archives is if you are a subscriber to the magazine.

Hope that answers your question, VikM.

Next, Wayne G. writes in to ask:

Dear Jim:

Love the site. Thanks for all your wonderful investigations.

I’ve always been curious about … Epcot. Who or what decided who got an attraction (in World Showcase)? France has an attraction but Italy doesn’t … I’ve (also) read that Spain wants a killer attraction (for its proposed pavilion for Epcot). Why? Who benefits? Spanish tourism? I’ve always been curious to know these types of things.

Sincerely,

Wayne G.

Dear Wayne,

Thanks for the kind words regarding JHM as well as the articles that I do for the site. Now, regarding your questions concerning attractions at World Showcase area: whether or not any rides get built for the pavilions in Epcot’s international area largely depends on whether or not the hosting nation is willing to foot the bill for an attraction.

Take for example, Germany and Italy. Both of those World Showcase pavilions were supposed to have featured elaborate boat rides as part of their opening day assortment of attractions. Italy was to have taken Epcot visitors on a romantic gondola ride through a miniature version of Venice. While — over at the German pavilion — tourists were supposed to have boarded a scenic launch for a simulated cruise down the Rhine.

But — as EPCOT Center’s construction costs began to soar in the late 1970s / early 1980s — corners inevitably got cut. So — while World Showcase’s Italy did end up with a gondola or two tied up in front of the pavilion in World Showcase Lagoon — they’re strictly there for decorative purposes. Those boats aren’t going anywhere.

Whereas Epcot’s German pavilion … well, there was always this understanding (at least in the early-to-mod-1980s) between the Imagineers and the sponsors of this World Showcase pavilion that they’d eventually get around to building a Rhine River ride. The Mouse seemed so confident that this project would actually eventually go forward that it actually allowed author Richard Beard to write about the proposed Rhine Boat ride in his 1982 book, “Walt Disney’s EPCOT: Creating the New World of Tomorrow” (Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publisher).

Here’s an excerpt from Beard’s book that describes this proposed World Showcase addition:

“The future River Ride promises to be as enjoyable as it is informative. An early concept has visitors boarding a ‘cruise boat’ for a simulated ride down the Rhine and other rivers, the ride offering a visual impression in miniature of the cultural heritage of Germany’s past and the highlights of its present. Among the detailed models envisioned are scenes in the Black Forest, the Oktoberfest, Heidelberg, the industrial Ruhr Valley … The possibilities are limited only by the planners’ imagination.”

Or — to be a bit more truthful here — on the amount of money that the sponsoring country is willing to spend. Once EPCOT Center opened in October 1982 and proved to be a bit of a disappointment with the public, the German companies who had covered most of the construction costs for this World Showcase pavilion lost all enthusiasm for expanding this Epcot attraction beyond its original footprint. So that “future River Ride” that Beard wrote about was never meant to be.

Ah well …

Anyway, Wayne, you asked why the sponsors of Epcot’s proposed Spain pavilion were insisting that this WDW addition has a “killer attraction.” Well, perhaps those Spanish businessmen have heard what happened in Norway the year after that country’s World Showcase pavilion opened in May 1988. The Norwegian Tourism Board claimed that it saw a 500% increase in tourism from the United States as thousands of Americans journeyed across the Atlantic just to check out that nation’s fjords.

The Norwegians believe it’s the travelogue that WDW guests are forced to watch in the post show area of that pavilion’s “Maelstrom” ride that compelled so many Americans to come check out their country. Which is why the Spanish want a thrill ride to be a prominent feature of their World Showcase pavilion. Which not-so-coincidentally would also feature a film that showcased Spain’s beautiful scenery.

The Spanish sponsors of this proposed Epcot addition are — of course — hoping that lightning will strike twice. And that — once this new World Showcase pavilion is open — Spain will see a similar surge in American tourism.

You want to know the real irony here, Wayne? Norway’s “Maelstrom” would probably have been twice as popular as it already is if the Imagineers had been allowed to build the finale sequence for this World Showcase attraction as they originally envisioned it.

How would the “Maelstrom” would have been different if WDI had been allowed to go forward with the ride’s original finale? Well, you know where you float past that large model of an oil rig in a simulated storm in the North Sea? Well, picture what it would have been like if you were thrown in the middle of a real-as-it-could-possibly-be simulation of a storm at sea.

I’m serious, people. WDW guests — before they boarded those faux Viking longboats — would each have been issued a yellow rain slicker and hat. That way, when you entered the North Sea section of the ride, you would have stayed somewhat dry as heavy rain poured down from above and waves washed over the sides of the boat.

It would have been pretty cool (not to mention refreshing — particularly on one of those brutally hot summer days in Orlando). But sadly, once the Imagineers broached their idea for “Maelstrom”‘s original finale to EPCOT Center’s operations staff, their real-storm-at-sea concept quickly got nixed. Just the projected cost of continually bailing out the longboats proved to be prohibitive. Not to mention the cost of dry cleaning all those rain slickers daily.

Which is how this World Showcase attraction ended up with its somewhat limp finale. Which is really too bad. Me personally, I’ve always wondered what the “Maelstrom” would have been like it actually hard some “strom” left in it.

Finally, TerryToon writes to ask:

Jim:

I really enjoyed Tuesday’s story about your tour of WDW’s Magic Kingdom with Jim Korkis. Do you think you guys will be schmoozing your way around that theme park again anytime soon? If so, can I sign up to take part in a tour like that?

TerryToon

Well, Jim Korkis and I HAVE been (rather informally, mind you) talking about him possibly doing some tours of the WDW theme parks as part of his new duties here at JimHillMedia.com. But — as of right this second — we’re not actually ready to formally announce that Korkis will be giving Disney World tours in the not-so-distant future.

So TerryToon … let’s just consider the above paragraph a very broad hint of things yet to come. But sure! If I happen to be in town while Jim is leading a JHM group through the park, I’d love to tag along and periodically throw in my two cents.

Speaking of tours (nice segue, don’t you think?), I am pleased to announce that — due to the overwhelmingly positive reaction to March’s beta test of the JimHillMedia.com tours of Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure — on Saturday, June 7th and Sunday, June 8th Chuck Oberleitner and I will be holding a second set of JHM tours.

The tentative schedule is:

Saturday June 7th
10 AM to 12 PM — Disneyland Tour
2 PM to 4 PM — Disneyland Tour

Sunday June 8th
10 AM to 12 PM — Disneyland Tour
2 PM to 4 PM — Disney’s California Adventure Tour

This time around, we’re going to be touching on a lot of material that wasn’t covered during the initial sets of tours. As in: How much did it actually cost the Walt Disney Company to build various attractions in the park? (We’ve got the hard numbers!) Entire lands that never made it off WDI’s drawing boards (I.E. Mythia, Big City U.S.A., World Holiday Land, etc.). Stuff that you’d never ever get to hear on the official Disneyland tour. Plus … Who knows? This time around, you might get a surprise cameo appearance by the Fabulous Disney Babe. (AKA my ex-wife Michelle Smith. Who’s also giving some semi-serious thought to doing some theme park tours for JimHillMedia.com readers in the not-so-distant future.)

Plus Chuck (a guy who’s always looking to work the angles) wants to try out yet another idea: “Lunch with Jim.” A lunchtime Q&A session with yours truly that would be held on Saturday, June 7th from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. (Me personally? I’m not entirely sure that this “Lunch with Jim” project is such a hot idea. After all, how entertaining can it be to listen to a fat man yammer about the Walt Disney Company while he eats a salad? But DizBiz wants us to try this idea out … so we’re trying this idea out.)

Anyway … space for the Disneyland and DCA tours (as well as “Lunch with Jim”) is extremely limited. If you’d like to get in on the fun, drop me a line at my stadlerhill@mindspring.com address as to which tour you’d like to take part in and I’ll sending along the appropriate pricing info.

Oh — and to answer a question that popped up on the JimHillMedia.com discussion boards this week — Yes! That floral print polo shirt IS my official uniform for the JHM theme park tours. Now, if I could only come up with a hat to complete that stunning ensemble.

Okay. That’s it for this week, kids. David Gasior — JHM’s tech guy — tells me that we’re not updating the site again ’til Tuesday morning. (Which is fine by me. I know that the hard working crew here at JimHillMedia.com could use a long weekend off.)

So have a happy Memorial Day, people … and we’ll talk again early next week, okay?
jrh

 

Oops … Michelle just informed me that (unfortunately) it’s that time again. That it’s time once more for me to rattle the tin cup and ask for your kind contributions so that JimHillMedia.com can stay in the black.

Look. I won’t lie to you folks. I don’t really like asking for hand-outs (which is why I haven’t put the bite on you since ‘way back in February.) But running a website — even one with as few bells and whistles as JHM has — costs money.

So if you could please (pretty please?) toss a few shekels in that Amazon.com honor box that you find on the JimHillMedia.com home page … well, you’ll make my ex-wife happy. Which will make me happy … which means that I can get back to hammering together new Disney-related stories.

Thanks in advance for your understanding and generosity.

Talk to you on Tuesday,
j

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.

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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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