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Why For?

Jim Hill answers even more of your Disney related questions. This time around, it’s three about the sea. As in: Where exactly is Walt Disney World’s first wave machine located, what’s the deal with that missing shark scene in “The Little Mermaid”and – finally – a follow-up on yesterday’s controversial “Finding Nemo” story.

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Estelle E. from Cobleskill, N.Y. writes to say:

Jim –

You seem to know a lot about the early days at Walt Disney World. So maybe you can answer this question: When my husband and I first vacationed at the resort back in the fall of 1971, I distinctly recall seeing men on surf boards riding the waves off shore of the Polynesian Hotel. But that was the only time – in my 50 plus visits to WDW – that I ever saw anything like that out on Seven Seas Lagoon.

Did I really see this, Jim? Did people really used to surf out on Seven Seas Lagoon? Or did all that Orlando humidity cause my brains to fry?

Nope, you’re not suffering FBS (Fried Brain Syndrome), Estelle. You really did see surfers out on Seven Seas Lagoon. You see, backin the early 1970s, there actually was a fully functioning wave machine hidden out under those seemingly ornamental islands just off shore of Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Beach Resort. The idea was that – in order to recreate the authentic look & feel of a real South Seas resort – the Polynesian needed to have gentle waves slapping against the sandy shore right outside the hotel.

So – as Seven Seas Lagoon was being carved out of the cypress swamps right next door to Bay Lake – the Imagineers had this wave machine installed 50 yards off shore of where the Polynesian was going to be built. Of course, the beauty of this particular wave machine is that it could be adjusted. Push one button and you get soft, gentle waves lapping against the shore. Push another button and you get perfect curls for surfing.

The downside of this set-up is that the Imagineers forgot to factor in the effect that waves actually have on the shore. As in erosion. Which means that the folks at the Poly found that – if they ran that wave machine for too long – it actually had a pretty detrimental effect on the hotel’s beach area.

Which is why – starting in the Winter of 1971 / 1972 – the people at the Polynesian began cutting back on the number of hours that they’d run their wave machine each day. Eventually – to cut back on the cost of regularly having to repair the hotel’s beach – they stopped running the machine entirely.

But WDW Vice President *** Nunis just loved the Polynesian’s wave machine. He’s the one who probably hired those kids that you saw riding those surf boards, Estelle. Nunis dreamed of actually staging surfing competitions out there on Seven Seas Lagoon. Which was why *** was heartbroken when he learned that the Imagineers couldn’t figure out a way to fix WDW’s wave machine. As in make the thing run without totally trashing the Poly’s soft, sandy beach area.

Of course, given that this wave machine was installed while Seven Seas Lagoon was being built, there was just no way to remove that machinery without first draining the lake. Which – given that the Walt Disney World resort is open 365 days a year – this isn’t ever going to happen. Which is why WDW’s original wave machine remains in place, rusting away under those ornamental islands just off shore of Disney’s Polynesian Beach Resort.

Of course, *** Nunis never forgot about his dream of staging surf contests at Walt Disney World. So when the Imagineers began hatching their plans to build a second water park at the Orlando resort – Typhoon Lagoon – in the mid-1980s, Nunis insisted that WDI include a wave machine as a key component in that park. Which is one of the reasons that that water park was such a huge hit when it opened in 1989.

So – long story short, Estelle – No, you weren’t hallucinating. You really did see people riding the curls out on the water next to WDW’s Polynesian Resort Hotel. They just didn’t do it for very long.

Next, Ariel’s-Twin-Sister wrote in to say:

Jim:

I absolutely lo-o-o-ove your site & all the great behind-the-scenes stories that you tell about the Walt Disney Company. I particularly enjoyed your recent column about the original opening for “Beauty and the Beast.” So I was wondering … Do you have any stories about any scenes that got cut from MY favorite film, “The Little Mermaid”?

Actually, Ariel’s-Twin-Sister, I do. By that I mean, not a story about a whole scene that got cut out of that film. But – rather – a pretty funny gag that was set up in the final version of “The Little Mermaid” that never got paid off.

Which gag am I talking about? Well, do you recall Ariel’s introductory scene in “The Little Mermaid”? The one where she and Scuttle going searching through the wreck of a ship for human artifacts, only to be attacked by a great white shark.

That shark’s name (at least according to the film’s original screenplay) was Glut. And – according to the first draft of that script – in his desperate desire to consume Ariel & Flounder as he surges through the ship, the shark swallows a lot of things. Including a French horn. Then the two friends escape only because Glut gets his head caught in the rope end of an anchor. But not before Glut makes one, final snap at Flounder.

That was a funny but pretty exciting sequence, wasn’t it? But – upon reflection – doesn’t Glut’s moment in the movie seem like an awfully large introduction for a character that you never see again? Well – as it turns out – “The Little Mermaid”‘s writers / directors John Musker & Ron Clements HAD intended on bringing Glut back. More importantly, giving the character a really spectacular send-off later on in the movie.

How so? Well, do you remember “The Little Mermaid”‘s action packed finale? The part that begins when Eric sets sail on his wedding barge with the magically disguised Ursula. Ariel is left alone on the dock, as the sun begins to set. Triton’s daughter is heartbroken. But her animal friends refuse to give.

Sebastian uses his claw to cut a rope that’s securing a barrel to the dock. The crab then tells Ariel to grab onto the barrel while Flounder (who’s taking hold of the part of the rope that’s still secured to the barrel) tows her out to the wedding barge. Sebastian then orders Scuttle to do whatever he has to delay the ceremony.

That’s pretty much how you remember this scene from the movie, isn’t it? Well, what’s missing from the final version of this sequence in “The Little Mermaid” is that – just before Ariel and Flounder reach the wedding barge – Glut spies them again, out in the open ocean. So the Great White swims up underneath them and throws open his enormous jaws when …

Ariel and Flounder reach the boat. The Little Mermaid is able to clamber up the side of the ship just as Flounder spies Glut. The terrified little fish then crams the barrel into the Great White’s gaping maw. As Glut bites down on the wooden container, the camera zooms in to reveal the “Gun Powder” label that’s pasted to the side of the barrel.

Cut to the deck of the wedding barge. Prince Eric and Ursula’s ceremony is interrupted as the ship is rocked by an enormous off-screen explosion. Tons of water now rain down on everyone standing on deck. After a slight pause, a battered French horn falls out of the sky – landing right at Ursula’s feet.

Pretty funny, huh? So why didn’t this gag make it into the final, finished version of “The Little Mermaid”? To be honest, time and money played an important part in Glut’s return getting cut. As the movie entered its final phase of production and Disney’s animators were rushing to finish up the project, Musker and Clements began actively looking for things to cut. Little bits of things that they could cut to speed up production, simplify the picture. Stuff that they could drop without hurting the film.

Everyone at WDFA agreed that Glut’s return was a great gag. But not absolutely essential to the telling of the “Little Mermaid”‘s story. Which is why this joke eventually ended up on the cutting room floor.

Of course, once I learned about this joke getting cut, I found that I can’t watch this part of “The Little Mermaid” – the sequence where Flounder is busting his butt to tow Ariel out to the wedding barge – without thinking “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if that great Glut joke that Ron’n’John had set up actually finally got paid off?”

Hmmn. I wonder if someone should let the folks who are working on the IMAX version of “The Little Mermaid” know about this scene? I don’t know if the folks at Disney would actually dare to call the upcoming Platinum Collection DVD a “Special Edition” if all the animators did was finally fold in the pay-off for a gag that got set up ‘way back in 1989 … but still … it’s worth a thought.

Anyway … and – finally – following up on yesterday’s “Is Disney trying to torpedo ‘Nemo’?” story, BobbyV from Vail wrote to say:

Mr. Hill –

It was bad enough last year when you suddenly switched sides on the California Adventure issue and became one of DCA’s staunchest apologist. But now you’re going to start carrying water for Pixar too? Please!?

Did it ever occur to you that those test scores that this supposed Disney insider source has allegedly been leaking to entertainment & financial reporters might be right? Maybe “Finding Nemo” really is a mediocre movie. That teaser trailer for the film that Pixar put in front of my “Monsters, Inc.” DVD certainly was a snore. All those talking fish just left me cold. (Cold. Fish. Get it?)

Steve Jobs is a big boy, Jim. He doesn’t need your help, Hill. Let him fight his own fights, okay?

Bobby V –

Look, I honestly understand that it’s possible that Pixar could produce a mediocre movie. After all, just taking the law of averages into account, someday it’s gotta happen. Not every film can be a “Toy Story II” or “Monsters, Inc.” sized hit. Someday, one of that studio’s productions isn’t going to connect with a mainstream audience. Pixar’s going to burp out a clinker.

I just don’t think that “Finding Nemo” is going to be that film. I mean – based on what I’ve been hearing about “Finding Nemo” – this picture does evidently have some problems. Chief among these is that children seem to be somewhat put off by Albert Brooks’ vocal performance. Adults are said to love Brooks’ work as Marlin, the film’s fretful father fish. But kids are said to be having trouble warming up to the film’s central character – thanks mostly to the edgy, anxious spin that Albert has put on most of his dialogue.

But – on the flip side – Ellen DeGeneres is reportedly getting high marks from audience members of all ages for her vocal performance as Dory, the Regal Blue Tang with memory problems. DeGeneres’ work here supposedly adds tons of fun to the film, as does William Dafoe and Stephen Root’s performances as fish that Nemo encounters when he’s trapped in that fish tank in the dentist’s office.

But what really drives this film is Marlin’s quest to find his son, Nemo. Hence the film’s title, “Finding Nemo.” But if Brooks’ vocal performance in the part that actually drives the movie’s action is actively turning off kids … that’s going to be a problem. For Pixar (the company that’s making the movie) as well as Disney (the corporation’s that gotta distribute this supposedly flawed film).

Now – before we got any further here – it’s important to recognize the role that test screenings play in the film making process. For they allow the movie makers to really see what an audience thinks of their picture. To get some good, solid feedback on what things need to be tightened and/or reworked.

It’s also important to remember – six months prior to its release – “Monsters, Inc.” was also getting somewhat iffy scores during its test screenings from kids. But that was mostly because of the film’s scary opening sequence. Which is what prompted Pixar to go back and rework that particular scene, folding in lots of additional physical stuff to happen to poor Mr. Bile (“My friends called me Phlegm”). Once those gags were in place (and kids could see – right from the get-go – that “Monsters, Inc.” was supposed to be a fun flick), the test scores for that film shot right up.

Unfortunately, “Finding Nemo”‘s reported problems don’t really lend themselves to this sort of quick fix. Making Marlin more kid-friendly would supposedly involve making dozens of changes – both large and small – to the almost finished film. And give that the picture’s May 2003 release date is already locked in, there really isn’t enough time at this point to make too many changes.

So Pixar may have no choice but to stick with “Finding Nemo” as it is and hope that the test audiences were wrong, hoping against hope that the general public will embrace Albert Brooks’ somewhat anxious take on Marlin. There’s still time to make some changes. Just not a whole lot of changes.

And – just for the record, BobbyV – regarding yesterday’s story: I’m not out to carry water for Pixar. I’m not trying to fight Steve Jobs’ fights for him. I wasn’t trying to brush over the fact that “Finding Nemo” supposedly got some low test scores during its recent test screening. My problem was with that Team Disney – Burbank exec who reportedly has been going out of his way to spread the bad news about those low test scores far and wide.

I know, I know, BobbyV. The most important word in “Show Business” is “Business.” And Disney has long been known for playing hardball. So – if deliberately leaking info to the financial & entertainment press about how “Finding Nemo” was supposedly not exactly winning over test audiences can be played to Mickey’s advantage – Well, all’s fair in love and war, I guess.

It just seems (at least to me) like such a strange, passive-aggressive negotiating ploy. Similar to Mickey’s decision to sign that deal with Vanguard Animation right in the middle of the Walt Disney Company’s attempt to arrange an extension of its five picture deal with Pixar. What is Jobs (or – for that matter – Lasseter) supposed to think after the Mouse makes a move like that?

Okay. So maybe this is all the action of a single individual who just has an axe with the “Cal Arts Mafia.” But – given how systemically this “‘Finding Nemo’ is testing poorly” story appears to have been distributed – I can’t help but think that there’s something more significant going on behind the scenes.

But – what the hey – I could be wrong. After all, Hollywood is a town that loves to build people up, then tear them down. And Pixar HAS had a rather long run of box office successes. Perhaps professional jealousy IS helping to speed the “‘Finding Nemo’ got lousy scores at its recent test screening” story along. Maybe industry insiders are just taking great pleasure with the idea that Pixar may finally be in for its first flop

Of course, one of the reasons that Lasseter & Co. opted to set up their studio ‘way up around San Francisco was so that they could avoid just this sort of Hollywood bullshit. It’s just too bad that – in today’s world of teleconferencing, e-mail, and instantaneous communication – being hundreds of miles away from Tinsel Town doesn’t make you immune to the gossip anymore. Nowadays, the bullshit comes to you

So my apologies to those of you who thought that yesterday’s piece was more gossip than news. I did make repeated attempts to get someone who was “in the know” to go on the record about this story. But – surprise, surprise – no one out there wanted to the first one to officially pissed off the Mouse and/or Pixar. So all those folks I talked with over the past 10 days insisted that their comments to me be used as deep background or as strictly off the record stuff.

So that’s all I’m going to say about this particular story for now. Mind you, I will continue to monitor the whole “Finding Nemo” / Disney & Pixar negotiation situation. As this story continues to develop, I hope that I’ll get the chance to revisit it. I just hope that – next time around – someone “in the loop” will be brave enough to go on the record and reveal what’s really going on.

That’s it for now, kids. Have a great weekend, okay? We’ll talk again on Monday.

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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