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Why For?

Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney related questions. This time around, Jim talks about why “Dinosaur” isn’t usually considered WDFA’s first CG feature, why he doubts that Sony’s pending purchase of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. will have any impact on Disney-MGM’s name, apologizes to the nice folks at wdwinfo.com, then closes the column out by talking about all the other rides that ALMOST got added to Epcot’s World Showcase.

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First off, BurgerBoy sends in an e-mail to ask:

Dear Jim –

What with all this talk of “Chicken Little” being Disney’s first CG feature, I’m a little confused. Wasn’t “Dinosaur” Disney’s first CG animated feature? I mean, I know that movie was bad. But it was only released back in 2000. How is it that everyone could have forgotten about this Disney film already?

BurgerBoy

Dear BurgerBoy –

Well, what you have to understand about “Chicken Little” is that it’s Disney Feature Animation’s first totally CG feature. Both its animation as well as the film’s backgrounds. Whereas “Dinosaur” …

*Sigh*

One of the things that people seem to have forgotten about this June 2000 Walt Disney Pictures release (Which — by the way — is a lot better film than perhaps you remember, BurgerBoy. I just caught “Dinosaur” on the Disney Channel a week or so back. It was the first time that I’d actually seen this feature in a couple of years. And I was genuinely surprised by how entertaining this flick was. I remember being somewhat disappointed when I first saw this film, hoping that Disney might be able to out-Pixar Pixar. But — taken on its own merits — “Dinosaur” is a lot of fun. Give this movie another shot sometime in the future, BurgerBoy. You too may be pleasantly surprised. Anyway …) is that the Mouse wanted to do something really different with this film. To make sure that Disney’s CG projects didn’t look like everyone else’s CG project.

So Disney’s solution was to shoot live action background plates for “Dinosaur.” So that the film’s CG prehistoric creatures would come across as that much more lifelike looking because the backgrounds that they were standing in front of or moving through were actually real.

So, with this goal in mind, Disney Feature Animation sent two different film crews. One unit flew to exotic places like Hawaii, Western Samoa, Australia, Venezuela and Jordan and shot stuff. While the other “Dinosaur” units stayed in the United States and shot potential background footage in Central Florida, the Mojave Desert as well as at the Los Angeles Arboretum.

Speaking of the Los Angeles Arboretum … there’s actually a pretty funny story associated with the live action footage that was shot for “Dinosaur” in the LA area. You see, in order to get all the explosions and fireballs just right for the movie’s big meteor sequence, the special effects folks at the Walt Disney Company bought up an awful lot of black powder.

How much black powder? So much so that — one day in 1999 — the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms actually turned up at the Burbank Studio. It seemed that these government officials were really kind of concerned about what Mickey Mouse might be doing with all that explosive. Could it be that the Walt Disney Company was planning some sort of revolution?

However, once the FX guys were able to prove that all of that black powder was actually being used right there in Burbank to simulate meteor strikes, the feds relaxed.

Anywho … getting back to your original question, BurgerBoy. That’s the reason that most folks in the industry really don’t consider “Dinosaur” to be Walt Disney Feature Animation’s first CG feature. Because of all of those live action background plates that were used in the picture.

Mind you, the Mouse wasn’t the only company who was determined to do something different with their CG films. Remind me sometime to tell you the story of Dreamworks’ original plans for “Shrek.” Back when all the actors doing on that computer animated feature were going to have their physical performances recreated via motion capture. And — as for “Shrek”‘s sets — those were all going to be stylized miniatures. Similar to all the settings you see in those Rankin-Bass holiday specials.

But — as I said earlier — that’s a story for another time.

Next up, wdwmaniac writes in to ask:

What would happened if Sony’s succeeds in purchasing MGM? Will Disney lose the Disney/MGM studios name? Also would it be plausible for Disney to buy MGM studios? As a way to bulk up in size?

wdwmaniac

For those of you who don’t know what wdwmaniac is talking about, let me give you a little background: Earlier this week, word began flying around Hollywood that the Sony Corporation has allegedly made an offer to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. for approximately $5 billion.

This deal (which is reportedly several weeks away from being finalized) would then fold the 4000 plus films that are in MGM’s library in with all of the titles that Sony Pictures Entertainment already owns.

As to the impact that this possible Sony/MGM deal might have on the Disney-MGM Studio theme park, wdwmaniac, I’m guess that there’d be little or no fall-out on the Disney side of the fence — should this deal actually go down. After all, Kirk Kerkorian — the gentleman who owns 74% of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. — has already gone on record as saying that he has no absolutely non intention of ever extending Disney’s rights to use the MGM name. So — sometime over the next few years — the MGM name is going to come off of that Central Florida theme park.

Why for? Well, mostly because Kerkorian’s people reportedly still have dreams of building a bunch of MGM theme parks of their very own. Sure, that MGM theme park that Kirk had built as part of his massive Las Vegas casino crashed and burned back in the 1990s. But doesn’t mean that this extremely stubborn billionaire has actually given up on the idea yet. As recently as last week, I heard that yet another MGM theme park may already be in the works. But — as to what impact the Sony acquisition may possibly have on this project — I really can’t say.

Anyway … getting back to your original question, wdwmaniac: I guess we’re all just going to have to face facts. Sometime over the next couple of years, Disney-MGM Studios theme park is going to undergo a name change. As I understand it, the most likely new moniker for this Central Florida theme park will be “Walt Disney Studios” or “Disney Studios Florida.”

Though perhaps the more interesting question would be: Given that both “The Great Movie Ride” as well as the “Magic of Disney Animation” attraction are both expected to undergo significant change-outs sometime between now and 2009 (Disney-MGM’s 20th anniversary) … never mind the name change … what will this theme park look like over the next few years? Will we even be able to recognize the place? Or is this once-a-beautiful-little-gem-of-a-theme-park just going to become a sea of giant Mickey hats?

Okay. Moving on now. Over on the JimHillMedia.com discussion boards, Aloric — on the heels of my “Who’s Gonna Save SaveDisney.com” article — posted this somewhat caustic comment:

Welp.. Jim is wrong as usual..

wdwinfo.com ranks a bit higher than mouseplanet.com — but taking the few minutes to actually research the topic is apparently too difficult.

Devil is in the details Jim and everyone is getting sick of you not bothering to fact check. Way to pseudo-report again.

Well, Aloric may be kind of rude. But he is actually right. According to the info I just accessed from Alexa.com, wdwinfo.com does indeed have a slightly higher traffic level (placing 42,935 out of the top 100,000 sites on the web) than MousePlanet.com does (which — as I mentioned in my original article — places at 46,675 out of the top 100,000).

So let me first offer my sincere apologies to all the nice people over at wdwinfo.com. Honestly, no slight was intended by my accidentally overlooking your website as part of this week’s “Who’s Gonna Save SaveDiseny.com” article. I’m genuinely sorry if anyone’s noses got bent by my awarding the Net’s top ranking for a Disneyana site to my old pals over at MousePlanet.

But the fact of the matter is … I really didn’t take wdwinfo.com into consideration while I was writing Thursday’s article. You see, I tend to think of wdwinfo.com as a vacation planning site. A place where I go on the Web if I’m looking for up-to-date information about what’s open and closed at Disney World. So that I can have the best possible WDW vacation experience whenever I’m heading down to Orlando.

If — on the other hand — I’m looking for news about what’s going on with the Walt Disney Company as a whole, I would (most likely) overlook wdwinfo.com and then head on over to a Disney news site like LaughingPlace.com, MousePlanet.com, Miceage.com or MouseInfo.com. Websites that don’t just specialize in thoroughly covering one single theme park or resort. But — rather — make an attempt to cover all aspects of the Walt Disney Company.

Which is where (at least from Aloric’s point of view, anyway) I went wrong with Thursday’s story. If I had said that I was comparing the traffic that SaveDisney.com (which — if you’ll notice — attempts each day to keep its readers up-to-date about what’s wrong with the various divisions of the Walt Disney Company over the past 24 hours) receives to other Disney NEWS websites, perhaps then Aloric wouldn’t have been so quick to find fault with my article.

But — on the other hand — given that Aloric seems to find fault with virtually everything that I write, I guess I should really count my blessings here. After all, if he only found that single thing wrong with my “Who’s Gonna Save SaveDisney.com” article … well, I must be doing something right.

Seriously, though: I am sorry if anyone’s feeling were hurt over at wdwinfo.com. As is obvious by all the traffic you guys get over there, it’s obvious that you do a truly terrific job with your website. So kudos all around, okay?

Okay. That’s enough fence mending for now. Before we button up this week’s “Why For,” let’s see if we can sneak in just one more question from PinkMonkey, who writes to ask:

I enjoyed your article last week about the “Brother Bear” attraction that the Imagineers are supposedly thinking of adding to Epcot’s Canada pavilion. Do you think that — if this attraction is successful — that Disney will then consider adding rides and shows to any of the other international pavilions in World Showcase?

Dear PinkMonkey –

Well, it’s not like the Imagineers haven’t tried to add rides and attractions to Epcot’s World Showcase before. How many of you recall the Mount Fuji / Fire Mountain coaster that was supposed to be built behind the Japanese pavilion back in the late 1980s / early 1990s? Or — for that matter — the new Swiss pavilion (which was supposed to be built — appropriately enough — between the World Showcase versions of Germany and Italy) which would have featured a clone of Disneyland’s Matterhorn thrill ride as its centerpiece attraction?

For over 20 years now, the Imagineers have known that Epcot’s World Showcase has been long on restaurants and shops and light on rides and shows. Which is why — every time some nation talks about coming on board at Epcot — one of the first things that WDI says is “Can we get a ride out of that country’ history and heritage?”

Frankly, PinkMonkey, you’d be amazed at some of the stuff that’s ALMOST made it off the drawing board. Like Epcot’s Denmark pavilion (which was to have been built between World Showcase’s U.K. and Canada pavilion) was to have featured a gentle outdoor boat ride. Which would have taken Epcot visitors on a voyage past many of the great pieces of architecture in Europe and Asia. Only done in miniature and made out of Legos.

Yeah, now that there’s actually a LegoLand theme park here in the U.S., I know that this ride ride sounds somewhat unlikely. But you have to understand that this addition to Epcot was proposed back in the late 1980s / early 1990s.

In fact, some of you may have actually gotten to see WDI’s model for Epcot’s proposed Denmark pavilion. It was one of the pieces of that “Architecture of Reassurance” exhibit that traveled around the country a few years back. I distinctly remember — when I was touring this exhibit during its stop in Washington D.C. — looking at that model and marveling at the tiny little boats and buildings that the Imagineers had carved out of green foam.

Yeah, I would imagine that — provided that this “Brother Bear” raft ride is a success — that the Imagineers will then turn their attention to adding even more rides and attractions to Epcot’s World Showcase area. After all, they’re running out of things to upgrade and improve over in Future World.

I mean, think about it, folks. Is there a pavilion left in Epcot’s Future World that hasn’t already undergone some sort of significant makeover in the past 10 years? Okay. Maybe Spaceship Earth. But then you have to remember that the Imagineers have the whole “TimeRacers” attraction ready to go into the Geosphere. Provided — of course — that Disney can come up with a new corporate sponsor for this Future World attraction to help foot what-is-sure-to-be the enormous costs of rehabbing that attraction.

Yes, Epcot’s Future World has received the bulk of the Imagineers’ attention for the past 10 years. Now it’s World Showcase’s turn to shine. So — if that means a few new rides and shows for that part of the theem park — I say: go for it.

Speaking of bulk, did you see that picture that Doobie Moseley posted over at LaughingPlace.com on Wednesday, which showed how the “Soarin'” show building really is looming up behind Epcot’s Canada pavilion? Spoiling the effect on that side of the park.

When you see a photo like that (nice picture, by the way, Doobie), you can understand why WDI is so determined to do something about preventing that piece of Future World from bleeding into World Showcase. Here’s hoping that Epcot’s proposed “Brother Bear” raft ride clears all of its budgetary hurdles and actually makes it off the drawing board and into that theme park sometime soon.

Okay. That’s enough questions answered for this week. Here’s hoping that you all have a great weekend. And we’ll see you all again — bright and early — Monday morning, okay?

jrh

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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