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Why For?

Set the Wayback for June of 1993. For Jim Hill’s about to take us all back to get a peek at WDI’s original concept for WDW’s “Animal Kingdom” theme park.

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Horace H. of Windsor Locks, CT. writes to ask:

Jim,

I really enjoyed that story you did a few weeks back about those WDW guest relations staffers who walk around the theme parks with clipboards, soliciting opinions from guests. Personally, I think it would have been really cool to get to see all that concept stuff for Disney’s Animal Kingdom 5 years before that park was open to the public.

It’s just a shame that neither you, Michelle or Jeff thought to bring a tape recorder or a video camera that day when you visited the Magic Kingdom. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if you could now show JimHillMedia.com readers what you three saw that day?

You know, you’re right, Horace. It would be really cool if I was able to show JHM readers the very same video that I saw in the “Walt Disney Story” theater back in June 1993. But would you all be willing to settle for just being able to read a transcript of the audio track for that particular presentation?

How’d I get my hands on something as snazzy as this? Sorry, but that would be telling. Let’s just say that I have really clever friends (thanks again, FJ!) who never throws anything interesting away.

As I mentioned above, the following is a transcript of what WDW guests heard (and experienced) as they took part in the “Disney’s Animal Kingdom” survey sessions back in the latter part of June / early part of July 1993.

With the hope that they’d be able to get an unbiased guest reaction to a WDI video that detailed a fourth new theme park that had been proposed for Walt Disney World, staffers from Disney’s marketing department recruited guests off the street in all three Disney theme parks. At the Magic Kingdom, guests were taken backstage into the “Walt Disney Story” theater, while guests at EPCOT Center were taken backstage at the Norway Pavilion in World Showcase.

The following transcript was made from a recording taken at the third survey site: a small meeting room that was attached to the “Studio East” cast cafeteria backstage at the Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park.

For the first few minutes of the presentation, guests were asked to fill out surveys that gave WDW’s marketing department some basic information about who the members of their test audience were and where they had come from. Then they had to slog through 10 additional pages that asked for exact information on how these guests had spent their time at the Walt Disney World Resort. Particular attention was paid to the amount of time guests had spent in already existing Disney theme parks as well as other Central Florida theme parks and attractions.

Once this was done, a Disney staffer stepped forward and read the following statement:

“In the recent past, Walt Disney World has added new hotels, new water parks and new rides and attractions at each of the three theme parks. Today, we would like your opinion about a new theme park the company is considering.

I would like to read you a very brief description of the idea and then show a ten minute video of the proposed theme park.

The newest concept for a Disney theme park elevates the subject of animals into a new experience, creating a day-long adventure into the mysteries and marvels of the animal kingdom. Not just live wild animals but long-vanished creatures of the past and beasts of myth and fable come to life in a park where guests travel on a safari of discovery through several different lands of animal adventure.”

With that, the Disney staffer stuck a video tape into a nearby player. The following is a transcript of the audio portion of that tape:

“… is a theme park about animals. Not just wild, live animals, but animals of myth and legend as well as extinct animals from the prehistoric past.

Like a classic Disney theme park, this animal adventure park is divided into several different lands. Each land takes a different look at the subject of animals. ‘Dinoland,’ where you meet the baddest giants of the past, dinosaurs; ‘Beastly Kingdom,’ a realm of imaginary animals, dragons and unicorns, ‘Africa’ and ‘Asia,’ which together offer safaris into the savanna and through the jungle to see live, wild animals in their natural habitats. These lands are connected by a central hub.

Guests enter the park through ‘Genesis Gardens;’ a cool, green grotto of flowers and waterfalls that immerses the guest in a world of nature and animals. Leaving ‘Genesis Gardens,’ guests will cross a bridge over ‘Safari River;’ a river that flows throughout the whole park, connecting all the lands. They find themselves in ‘Safari Village;’ a rustic, tropical village in lush jungle surroundings that line the very center of the park. From here, guests will begin their journeys to the different lands of animal adventure.

Rising above the village is the giant ‘Tree of Life.’ This enormous tree is the icon, the symbol for this park about animals and nature. Beneath the tree spreads out a garden where guests can wander amid streams and flowered pathways surrounded by birds, deer and other animals.

Leaving ‘Safari Village’ and crossing the bridge, we pass beneath the skeleton gateway into ‘Dinoland.’ ‘Dinoland’ is about the adventure of discovering extinct animals from the past. The land looks like a paleontological dig, a dinosaur dig.

In this land, you have several opportunities for adventure. The main attraction is a thrilling ride that takes us back in time to rescue a few prehistoric creatures from the fiery comet that ended the age of dinosaurs. Giant reptiles threaten us from every side and — if we don’t escape before the comet’s crash — we face extinction ourselves. This fast paced adventure gives the guests a new look at a vanished era.

The ‘Boneyard Playground’ is a chance to play and learn in a dinosaur dig that’s been opened for an opportunity to explore amidst the fossils and equipment. The ‘Excavator’ is a rollicking coaster ride through a section of the dig supposedly too dangerous to enter. Somehow, we’ve gotten in and are having a real good time.

At the edge of the land, there’s a humorous touch: ‘One Million Dollars B.C.’ It’s a combination gift shop and reptile house with an eccentric proprietor who takes the subject of dinosaurs to the limit.

‘Beastly Kingdom’ is the realm of make-believe animals. Animals that don’t really exist. Out of legends, out of fairy tales, out of storybooks. Like our legends and fairy tales, this land is divided into realms of good and realms of evil.

The evil side is dominated by ‘Dragon’s Tower;’ a burned, wrecked castle inhabited by a greedy, fire-breathing dragon. He hordes a fabulous treasure in his tower chamber. The castle is also inhabited by bats who speak to us from their upside down perches. The bats have a plan. They enlist our help trying to rob the dragon and fly us off on a wild chase. At last, we meet the fire-breathing dragon himself and barely escape un-barbequed.

The good side of this land is ruled by ‘Quest of the Unicorn;’ an adventure which sends us through a maze of medieval mythological creates to seek the hidden grotto where the unicorn lives. There is also ‘Fantasia Gardens,’ a gentle musical boat ride through the animals from Disney’s animated classic ‘Fantasia,’ both the crocodiles and hippos from ‘Dance of the Hours’ and the Pegasus, fauns and the centaurs from Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral.’

To the north of the park are our two main attractions, the African and Asian safaris: ‘Journey to Gorilla Valley’ and ‘Tiger River Rapids.’ Both safaris are outdoor adventures with real animals, dealing with real issues. In Africa, we’re exposed to the poaching of wild animals. In Asia, we’re dealing with deforestation.

The African Safari is a jeep safari that takes you from an African village out through the jungle to the broad savanna, where you are surrounded by animals such as giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, gazelles, even elephants. In the end, this wilderness is threatened by poachers. We encounter these poachers, report them and then need to escape in a fast paced adventure down a narrow river canyon. Ultimately, the poachers are apprehended and we are rewarded with a chance to walk through the ‘Gorilla Preserve;’ a deep, rich jungle where these animals live protected in a beautiful rainforest environment.

For those interested in a deeper look at Africa, we have the ‘Nature Walk;’ a pedestrian walk where you can get a longer look at your favorite animals and a closer look at smaller or well camouflaged creatures. A series of safaris overlook stations offer good views and plenty of information about the savanna animals.

The Asian Safari, ‘Tiger River Rapids’ is completely different from the African Safari. It’s a river raft ride. The Asian Safari takes guests upriver on a flexible river raft deep into the heart of a pristine rain forest. Exotic wildlife of Southeast Asia — leopards, orangutans, rhinoceros, monkeys and elephants — live along the banks of the river amid towering trees and tumbling waterfalls.

Guests depart from a colorful Asian village for a journey that will carry them through waterfalls, rapids, mysterious ruins and a realm of rare, endangered animals. Part of the journey takes us through the devastation created by careless logging of the fragile forest, where erosion creates muddy rapids that threaten our raft. Finally, we conclude in a place where man and animal seek to live together in harmony. As the ride comes to an end, we see what was once a maharajah’s hunting palace, now the headquarters for ‘Operation Tiger,’ a program for restoring rain forests and allowing tigers to live there once again.

There is also a ‘Nature Walk’ that offers a walking tour of the Asian jungle for another look at rhinos, elephants and tigers, providing information and a deeper understanding of jungle life.

In a commitment to worldwide animal conservation, Disney’s animal adventure park also offers ‘Wildlife Express to Preservation Station.’ A train ride that takes guests through both safaris to our facilities for conservation and rare animal breeding. There, you can learn about the real work we’re doing to preserve endangered species and even get involved with zoos in your own home town through a special computerized link-up.

Disney’s new park creates a day-long adventure for the whole family. Shows, rides, attractions and real wildlife safaris offer an incredible selection of animal experiences. Whether you love tigers, teddy bears or Tyrannosaurus Rex, you’ll find all your favorite animals right here …”

At this point, the Disney marketing staffer shut off the video and asked guests to continue filling out their survey forms. The questions that followed asked for specific information about how guests might have spent their vacations differently had the fourth WDW theme park already been open for business (IE: Would you still have spent a day and a half exploring EPCOT Center and/or would you have cancelled that side trip to Busch Gardens Tampa, etc.) This was followed by questions concerning which sort of multi-day passes guests would have been willing to buy if Disney’s animal park had been open now.

Of particular interest (at least to me) were the proposed names for the fourth Disney World theme park. Guests were asked to select the name they found most appealing from the following list:

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Disney’s Wild World Disney’s Animal Adventure Disney’s Wild Territorium The Animal Expedition at Disney Disney’s Animal Encounter

The survey concluded with a series of questions asking guests whether they thought the proposed theme park fit in with their image of what “Disney” was all about. Once guests completed their surveys, they handed them in to the Disney staffers — who thanked the guests for their time and then offered them complimentary sodas.

That’s a pretty fascinating document, don’t you think? Both for what does include (I.E. descriptions of all of the attractions for “Beastly Kingdom,” those “Nature Walk” trails that were supposed to been included as key elements of the African and Asian safaris, not to mention the “Excavator”) and what it DOESN’T include (I.E. no mention at all of “Camp MinnieMickey” or that any show at all was under consideration for installation at the “Tree of Life”).

Clearly, the Imagineers had a very different theme park in mind when they put together this “Disney’s Animal Kingdom” concept video tape back in 1993. One that wouldn’t rely quite so heavily on live animals. One that actually tried to balance the park’s entertainment offerings between tried-and-true theme park rides and shows and more cutting edge stuff. Safari rides that took guests through environments that were filled with really-for-real live animals. Not to mention those “Nature Trails,” which would have allowed DAK visitors to take a self-paced tour of the park’s savanna and rain forest enclosures.

One has to wonder … would Disney’s Animal Kingdom really have been that much more of a success if the Imagineers had stuck to their original plans? If WDI hadn’t allowed Disney’s accountants to pare this ambitious theme park project down to the bare bone?

Update Oh … almost forgot. Those of you who dropped by the site today expecting to find a brand new Roger Colton column: don’t despair. I actually decided to hold Roger’s next story ’til Monday, February 3rd. When that column would be sure to get the maximum play possible here at JimHillMedia. Given its subject matter, I’m fairly certain that this particular piece will cause a bit of a fur-renzy over on the JHM discussion boards once you guys get to read it. So be sure to come by on Monday and check it out.

Also … quoting from Sally Fields now: “You like me. You really like me.” By that I mean: the response to last week’s announcement about the beta tests of the JHM Disneyland and DCA tours was downright overwhelming. Due to the incredible demand for slots, I actually had to expand the number of tours that I’ll be giving on Saturday, March 22nd and Sunday, March 23rd. Now there’ll be two tours of Disneyland on Saturday — one that leaves at 10 a.m. and one that leaves at 2 p.m. On Sunday, there’ll be a 10 a.m. tour of DCA, followed by a 2 p.m. tour of Disneyland.

Of course, given that I’m now doing extra tours that weekend, there are (of course) a few extra slots available. But only a few. 5 for the Disneyland tours and 4 for the DCA tour. So — if you’d still like try to get in on the beta test of the JHM tours — now would be a really good time to sign up. (Just be aware that — in the event that a few folks may eventually have to back out at the last minute — I will be wait-listing a few slots for these tours. But just a few. After all, I can’t guarantee that anyone who’s on the wait list will actually end up being able to get in on this inaugural run of tours. So — if you’d really like to get in on the fun — you’d best drop me an e-mail today at my stadlerhill@mindspring.com e-mail address ASAP.)

Those of you JHM readers who aren’t really interested in taking part in these tours at the park should be aware that Roger, Chuck, Michelle and I are also looking into the idea of staging an informal get-together on either Saturday or Sunday night. Nothing fancy, mind you. Just maybe the bunch of us meeting some place in Disneyland, then heading off as a group to one of the cheaper eateries in the park to nosh and talk. Get to know one another. Put some names to some faces, etc.

We’re even hoping that we can persuade JHM’s most excellent tech guy — David Gasior — to come out and join us. Whaddaya say, Dave? Wanna come out and actually finally meet the folks you’ve been working with lo these many months?

Alright. That’s enough yammering for this week. Come back on Monday to read Roger Colton’s intriguing new column as well as the first installment of the newly reworked “Remembering ‘Light Magic” series.

Honest. I promise.

Talk to you later,

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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