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Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about the stuff that you almost saw in “Fantasia 2006,” why Michael Eisner is supposedly obsessed with the Muppets and why some Disneyana fans need to give “Lion King 1½” another chance.

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First up, Kelly T. from Moor Park, CA. writes in to ask:

Dear Jim:

First of all, love the site. Thanks for all the great coverage of the “Save Disney” story and WILL YOU PLEASE — FOR GAWD’S SAKE — FINALLY GET AROUND TO FINISHING YOUR “LIGHT MAGIC: SERIES?! I’ve been waiting for over two years now to find out how that story turns out. So will you finish the damned thing already, okay?

Now that I’ve got that out of my system … What with Roy Disney now officially being on the outs with the Walt Disney Company and all, this is probably going to sound like a really silly question, but … What’s become of “Fantasia 2006”? During one of the interviews that Roy did for “Fantasia 2000” back in December of 1999, he mentioned that Disney’s animators were already hard at work on a third installment of the series. And that the third “Fantasia” could possibly be out in theaters as soon as 2006.

Well, given that the whole “Fantasia Continued” project was Roy’s baby, now that he’s on the outside looking in … Does that mean “Fantasia 2006” is dead in the water too?

Just wonderin’,
Kelly T.

Kelly T.

Thanks for the kind words about the site. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed JHM’s coverage of the whole Roy / Stanley / Michael thing. And — yes — I promise. I will get around to wrapping up my “Light Magic” series someday soon. (Which will then only leave my “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” series, My “Country Bear Jamboree” history as well as my “When You Wish Upon a Frog” Henson saga to wrap up … Sigh … There just aren’t enough hours in the day, are they? Anyway …)

And — boy — I wish I had better news for you about “Fantasia 2006.” But even before Roy officially left the Walt Disney Company back at the end of November, that project was pretty much dead in the water. The cutbacks at Walt Disney Feature Animation — both funding and staff-wise — over the past two years had pretty much stopped any serious development of possible new sequences for the third “Fantasia” film.

Mind you, three short films — which had been developed by WDFA animators and artists as pieces that could possibly be included in “Fantasia 2006” — were completed before the project went off the rails. These films were Mike Gabriel’s “Lorenzo’s Tale” (The short that was supposed to have run in front of Touchstones’ “The Ladykillers” when that Tom Hanks film was released to theaters last month. But — to date — I haven’t heard of anyone who’s seen “Lorenzo’s Tail” outside of its presentation at various film festivals around the country), “Destino” (Roy’s own pet project. Over 60 years in the making, this Salvador Dali project was finally completed by the artists at Feature Animation France before Disney shuttered that studio last year) and Lebo M’s “One by One.”

Of these three short films, “One by One” is probably the one that will ultimately reach the widest audience. It’s scheduled to be offered as a “Special Feature” on the special edition DVD of “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride.” Which is due to be out on store shelves on August 31st of this year.

As for “Destino,” Disney once had all these plans for that film. They were first going to showcase the short of the film festival circuit. Then follow that up with a special limited edition DVD that Buena Vista Home Entertainment would put out. Which would feature the short itself, a documentary on the making of “Destino,” followed by a still gallery that would be loaded with images of Salvador Dali’s conceptual art for the project.

But that was what people talked about doing when Roy still worked for the Walt Disney Company. What’s going to happen now that he’s (as you said, Kelly) “on the outside looking in,” who can say …

Next up, Michelle P. writes in to say:

Jim,

I’ve noticed lately that Pizza Hut has been using the Muppets in their 4-for-all pizza commercials, and I for one have been enjoying them. Are there any statistics on the Muppets’ reception via these commercials that might speed up the idea of the Miss Piggy’s Limo ride by proving that the Muppets are selling pizzas and are therefore not a “tired franchise”? Just a thought……

Michelle

Michelle –

Boy, I wish I had better news for you, Michelle. But — even if that Muppet Pizza Hut ad were a huge hit — I don’t think that it would help the current situation.

Based on what I’ve been hearing coming out of the meetings between Jim Henson officials and Disney’s attorneys (as they work to finalize this acquisition deal), it’s becoming more and more apparent that the Walt Disney Company really doesn’t have a clue what to do with the Muppets. And that the real reason that Disney wound up buying these characters wasn’t because the corporation thought that this would be a good long term investment. But — rather — because Michael Eisner wanted them.

Strange but true, folks. Based on some really depressing comments that I’ve been hearing coming out of the Burbank lot (EX: “The Muppets were hot in — what? — ‘way back in the 1970s? This is 2004. What are we supposed to do here? Make every consumer in North America climb in the Wayback Machine and set it for 1977? Just so we can then say: ‘See? The Muppets really aren’t all dated and lame. They’re truly cool.’ That’s not going to happen, Jim. We’re stuck with trying to sell this sh*t because Eisner has this ridiculous Henson obsession …”), it’s clear that — outside of the corner office in the Team Disney building (And — of course — Walt Disney Imagineering) — that no one thinks that Disney buying the Muppets (even at the bargain basement price that Disney negotiated for these characters) was a very good idea.

So why does Eisner have a “… ridiculous Henson obsession”? Well, you have to understand that — when Michael Eisner first met Jim Henson back in the early 1970s — Michael have never actually met a real creative genius before. Oh, sure. In his role as head of ABC’s Children’s Television Programming, Michael had met many creative types before. But never a true dyed-in-the-wool, really-for-real creative genius like Jim before.

And keep in mind that this was when Henson was looking for someone who’d sponsor the pilot for the very first Muppet television show. And — even though Eisner didn’t really have the authority to do this sort of thing (Remember that Michael’s job was to create programming just for ABC’s children’s division. NOT for the network’s adult line-up) — Michael somehow found the money in his meager budget to help produce a Muppet TV show pilot. Not just once (“The Muppet Valentines Special,” which aired in February 1973), but twice (“The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence,” which aired in the Spring of 1974).

Unfortunately, ABC ultimately passed on both versions of the Muppet TV show pilot. But these two promising false starts gave Jim Henson the confidence (and — more importantly — the experience) he needed to take a third stab at the project. And that version — of course — was “The Muppet Show,” which began airing in syndication in September 1976.

In this case, the third time really was the charm. This version of “The Muppet Show” became this huge worldwide phenomenon, this international success. It was also something that Michael Eisner would regularly point to with great pride (and not a little frustration), saying: “You see that show? I helped get the Muppet TV program off the ground. And ABC could have had that huge success all to itself, if they’d only just listened to me …”

In the years that followed, Jim Henson and Michael Eisner remained friendly, stayed in touch. Mostly because Michael was eager to do something — ANYTHING! — again with Henson.

What was the cause of this obsession? Some say it was because Eisner felt that he’d never gotten the credit that he felt he was due. After all, Michael was the one who’d found the money necessary to produce those first two Muppet show pilots. And that — without his initial contribution — Jim Henson would have never been in a position to get that third (and finally successful) version of “The Muppet Show” off the ground and on the air.

But other folks have told me that Michael’s obsession with the Muppets really started with his first visit to the ABC studio where “The Muppet Valentines Special” was being filmed. As the story goes, Michael just stood there, watching Jim and his team of puppeteers perform. And this big silly grin slowly slid across his face.

So who knows? Maybe Eisner’s dogged pursuit of the Muppets over these past 14 years has been some sort of bizarre attempt by Michael to get back to a happier time in his life, a better place in his career. Back when things were just getting started for him. Rather than now, when things seem to be getting ready to come to a rather abrupt ending.

All I know is that — based on what the people from Henson have been telling me — Eisner’s been sitting in on a number of the Muppet acquisition meetings. And — frankly — the guy looks terrible. All haggard and tired. The only time Eisner ever seems to smile is when someone brings up Jim Henson. And that’s Michael’s cue to launch into the story about the first time he met Jim Henson.

Admittedly, this anecdote sounds somewhat sweet, almost charming. Except for the fact that the folks from the Jim Henson Company has thought that the Walt Disney Company was purchasing the Muppets because the Mouse knew how to keep these characters evergreen. Not just because Michael Eisner had become obsessed with the Muppets over the past 14 years. Not because Kermit and Co. had become Michael’s “great white whale.” Something to acquire just for the sheer joy of acquiring it. Rather than because Eisner had any great plans for the characters after they’d been acquired.

Well, the folks from Henson. They’re not in the mood for the Muppets to become some sort of weird trophy for Michael Eisner. Which is why there has reportedly been some rumblings (just from Henson’s side of the fence, mind you) about whether or not it might be possible to call off this acquisition. To have things go back to the way the way they used to be.

Certainly, there are a lot of folks who work at the Henson facility in Hollywood (you know, the old Chaplin studio on La Brea) who’d love it if this whole acquisition thing would just go away. Most of these folks initially came to work for the Jim Henson Company because that was where the Muppets were. Now that Kermit and Co. will soon be heading off to Burbank, a lot of these people just don’t know what to do with themselves. They’re worried that — once the Disney acquisition deal is completed — that their jobs will be eliminated. That there’ll be no room for them in the new, slimmer, streamlined version of the Jim Henson Company.

Which is why — were this deal to suddenly hit a snag — there’d be a lot of happy people. Both at the Jim Henson Company as well as over at the Walt Disney Company. The only person who’d probably be broken up if the Muppet acquisition deal didn’t go through would be (surprise, surprise) Michael Eisner.

Sorry that I don’t have better news for you, Michelle. But — like I said earlier — this isn’t really a situation that a good rating for a Pizza Hut commercial is going to fix.

And — finally — Simba’s Sister writes in to complain:

Dear Jim:

Have you seen “Lion King 1½”? I hated this movie. All those f*rt jokes and silly show business in-jokes. This movie just ruined the original “Lion King” for me. Now I can’t watch the DVD of the original film without thinking “Oh, the elephants aren’t bowing out of respect for young Simba. They’re fainting because Pumbaa just broke wind and knocked them all out.”

Was Disney so desperate for money that they had to force this unnecessary sequel on consumers?

Simba’s Sister

Dear Simba’s Sister –

First of all, repeat after me: “It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie.”

Second of all, “The Lion King 1½” is a very funny movie. To my way of thinking, this is the best looking, most entertaining video premiere that the folks over at Disney Toon Studios (I.E. the division of the Walt Disney Company that produces these “video premiere” projects for Buena Vista Home Entertainment) has produced to date.

And as for the f*rt jokes. Maybe you weren’t paying attention during the original “Lion King,” but that film was loaded with gas passing jokes as well.

Look, if Don Hahn, the producer of the original “Lion King,” can find a lot to love about “Lion King 1½” … (He told me that he felt that this direct-to-video sequel was “…surprisingly entertaining. Really very clever. And so well animated that I had trouble telling the stuff we did from the footage that the guys at Disney’s Australia studio did …”) … then maybe you should give this film another chance, Simba’s sister. Okay?

Alright. That’s enough for this week, folks. Here’s hoping that you all have a Happy Easter. We’ll talk again next 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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