Connect with us

General

Why For?

In his patented long winded style, Jim Hill answers questions about Frank Wells, Quasi’s bells, and Hell’s former occupants.

Published

on

Listen to the Article

Charles H. from Menlo Park, CA. writes:

Dear Jim:

I’m loving this new web site of yours. It’s great to finally have a steady stream of great inside stories about the Mouse Works, all delivered in that snarky Jim Hill style. Keep up the great work, guy!

Anywho … Here’s a quick question for your “Why For?” column. I know that you try to be even handed and all when you’re writing about the Mouse. But you and I both know that the Walt Disney Company has been going through a prolonged rough patch. That the corporation’s been on the skids for least two or three years now. So what do you think started this all, Jim? Was there one key event that you personally think sent Mickey over to the dark side?

Thanks for your note, Charles. As for this “rough patch” (as you call it) that the Walt Disney Company has been going through, my personal opinion is that its origins can traced a hell of lot further back than just “two or three years” ago. I’d set the start of Mickey’s slide “to the dark side” back to April 1994. April 2nd, to be precise. That terrible Easter Sunday when Frank Wells, Disney’s then-president, was killed in a helicopter crash while vacationing in Nevada’s Rudy Mountains.

To hear some Disney insiders tell this story, the day that Frank died was the very same day that things started to go wrong at the Mouse Factory. Why? Because (at least according to folks that I’ve talked with), Wells was this incredibly honorable man. His word was his bond. If Frank told you that something was a “go,” you could actually count on it happening.

Plus Wells understood that – sometimes – in order to make money, you actually have to spend money. Case in point: (This is a story that I’ve heard from a number of Imagineers over the past few years. So I’m going to assume that it’s not apocryphal. Anyway … ) In late 1984, just weeks after he and Michael Eisner had come on board at the Walt Disney Company, Frank sat down with some senior Imagineers at WDI. The subject up for discussion was “Splash Mountain.”

This is the make-or-break meeting for this project. The one where the Imagineers actually got the funding that they needed to finally go forward for this proposed Disneyland addition OR the one where “Splash Mountain” was shelved. Permanently.

I’m told that Bruce Gordon and Tony Baxter put on a wonderful dog-and-pony show that morning. Walking Frank through the 1″ scale model of the proposed attraction. Talking him through the show’s elaborate storyboards (with the “Song of the South” soundtrack blaring in the background). Stressing the amount of money that Disney would actually be saving on this Disneyland addition by recycling the old “America Sings” AA figures.

Of course, Bruce & Tony knew that they had to stress cost savings wherever they could in this presentation. Why for? Because they knew that “Splash Mountain” was going to be one of the most expensive attractions ever built for the park. In-house estimates reportedly placed “Splash”‘s initial construction costs at around $17 million. Which is nearly as much as Walt Disney spent to build all of Disneyland back in 1955.

I’ve heard that Gordon and Baxter were absolutely crestfallen when they heard Wells say that “This ride is just too expensive …” But then – after a somewhat lengthy pause – they were stunned to hear Wells continue by saying ” … but we’re still going to have to build it. This idea’s just too good to keep out of the parks.”

So Wells went back to Burbank and convinced Eisner that “Splash Mountain” – though expensive – was still worth building. And the end result was a franchise attraction (With one “Splash Mountain” in Anaheim, another in Orlando, still another in Tokyo and – if the rumors coming out of Marne la Valle lately prove to be true – another “Splash Mountain” is due to leap up out of the ground over at Disneyland Paris sometime in the next five years) that’s loved the world over.

Of course, to hear some other Disney insiders tell this story, perhaps the most valuable thing that Frank Wells used to do WASN’T going to bat for the Imagineers. But – rather – keeping Michael Eisner in check.

To hear Peter Clark, a veteran Disney executive tell it: “Frank was actually (Michael’s) moral compass. He was the Jiminey Cricket” who kept the Mouse House’s somewhat slippery Chairman & CEO on the straight & narrow path.

Don’t believe me? Michael Eisner actually admitted as much in his autobiography, “Work in Progress (1998 Random House) when he said “If I was the rudder, he was the keel. For 10 years (that they worked together) we never had a fight or disagreement…I never once felt angry at him ? not until Easter Sunday afternoon in April 1994 when the ski helicopter carrying him out of the back country in northern Nevada crashed and he died instantly. Even then I felt angry only because Frank was not around to help me out with a difficult situation, as he had so many times before. But mostly what I felt was an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss.”

Just as Eisner says, Frank was the guy who fixed things. The man who got the Walt Disney Company out of a lot of difficult situations. EX: That financial restructuring deal that saved Euro Disney? That was Frank’s doing.

“It’s just hard to imagine what Disney would be like today if Frank hadn’t died back in 1994,” said one Mouse House insider when we spoke earlier today. “Wells would have probably found a way to keep Jeffrey from going off the reservation. At the very least, Frank would have kept the damage down to an absolute minimum. He’d have cut Katzenberg a nice fat check, probably help Jeffrey set up his own production company with an exclusive distribution deal with Disney.”

“You see what I’m saying, Jim? If Wells was still alive, there probably wouldn’t have been a Dreamworks. At the very least, we wouldn’t have gone through that whole Ovitz debacle. And Frank certainly wouldn’t have allowed Eisner to go forward with that stupid Katzenberg royalties trial. The company would have avoided tons of unnecessary negative publicity and financial hardship.”

“Plus I’m betting that Wells wouldn’t have allowed DCA to end up the way that it did. I’m sure that Frank would have run interference for the Imagineers with Pressler on that project. Kept Paul from cutting that thing to the very bone.”

It’s statements like this, Charlie H., that make me think that the Walt Disney Company would be a very different corporation today if Frank Wells had just survived that crash.

Which is why I was never one of those people who got behind the whole “Promote Paul Pressler” movement. I was always the guy who was saying “Screw that Paul Pressler crap. Let’s help Disney try and find another Frank Wells.”

Anyway …

BettyBoob writes:

Dear Jim (AKA Of Great Knower of All Pointless Disney Trivia)

I keep hearing that there are a lot of veteran Disney animators who just hate the studio’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Why’s that? Because of the gargoyles, Jim! To hear these toonsmiths tell the story, Victor, Hugo and Laverne just ruin that movie for them.

Me personally? I love the gargoyles. Especially Hugo. And I think that the gargoyle’s musical number – “A Guy Like You” – is one of the very best things in Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” So can you please tell me, Jim, why it is animation pros like Nik Ranieri supposedly hate “Hunchback”‘s Victor, Hugo and Laverne?

Thanks for your e-mail, BettyBoob. To answer your question: it’s not so much the gargoyles themselves that make some Disney animators dislike the studio’s “Hunchback.” But – rather – what the gargoyles represent.

You see, back in the early 1990s, there were a number of animators at Walt Disney Studios who were pushing for “Hunchback” to become the studio’s very first really adult piece of animation. A feature length animated film that actually dared to take a few chances.

The version of “Hunchback” that these guys wanted to do … Well, pieces of it still remain in the finished film. By that I mean, picture a movie that was as dramatic & daring at “Hunchback”‘s “Hellfire” sequence. But all the way through the film.

But as this project made its way through the studio’s pre-production pipeline, WDFA management started to get a little nervous. A Disney animation film without any comic sidekicks and/or cute little animal friends? Would audiences actually go for that?

More to the point, what about all the money that the Mouse would potentially miss out on if “Hunchback” didn’t cough up a few marketable characters? Friends of Quasi that could be reproduced as ceramics, plush and/or turned into cute little promotional toys that could be dropped into Burger King Kids Club meals.

So it was about this time that studio execs began leaning on the “Hunchback” production team to “cute up” their project. Which is undoubtedly why – in the sequence in that picture where we first meet the adult Quasimodo – the film’s title character befriends a baby bird AS WELL AS talks with his kooky, krazy stone pals.

So what these animators actually resent about “Hunchback”‘s gargoyles, BettyBoob, is – because they had to make room for these comic characters in the movie – a lot of the more adult, edgier material had to fall by the wayside. Which, at least to the point of view of animation veterans like Mr. Ranieri, was to the detriment of the finished film.

Me personally? I LOVE the gargoyles in “Hunchback” too. I actually did a story about these characters and how they came to be in that film for MousePlanet back in the Spring of 2000. Which – if I’m remembering correctly – ended up being archived over at LaughingPlace.com last year. If you’d like to read that story & learn more about Victor, Laverne & Hugo, follow this link.

Anyway … For those of you Disney animators who still hate the idea of “Hunchback”‘s comical gargoyles, let me remind you that they weren’t the first choice to portray Quasi’s playmates. Do you recall when the production team was actually toying with making Notre Dame’s bells Quasimodo’s confidantes? Where – just like Mrs. Potts & Cogsworth in “Beauty & the Beast” – these enormous inanimate objects would have been able to speak and (of course) sing & dance. So, instead of Victor, Hugo & Laverne, we could have had little Sophia, Jean Marie, Anne Marie, Louise Marie and Big Marie.

Giant bells that sang, danced & talk?! Yikes!

Hey, we were just talking about LaughingPlace.com, weren’t we? Which reminds me of another e-mail that I received this week. Mebert of Fort Drum, N.Y, wrote just today to say:

Jim –

Did you see that article over at LaughingPlace.com today? The one about the new “Winnie the Pooh” attraction at Disneyland. Man, that makes me so sad. Why for? (Tee Hee!) Because that “Pooh” ride makes me think about the other “Pooh” ride. The one in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Which makes me think about the old “Mr. Toad” ride that used to occupy that show building.

Why did the Imagineers have to close that ride, Jim? Doesn’t anyone at WDI like Mr. Toad?

Actually, Mebert, there are lot of people at Walt Disney Imagineering who like WDW’s “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” And please note that I used the present tense in that last sentence. “Like.” Not “liked.”

Why is that? Well, here’s kind of a weird story about how Disneyana fans actually managed to get through to the guys working at WDI. You may recall the whole brouhaha that leaped up a few years back around the closure of WDW’s “Mr. Toad.” How hundreds of Toad fans then banded together. Set up web sites. Signed petitions. Doing everything that they could to try to keep the attraction open.

Meanwhile – out in Glendale, CA. – a bunch of Imagineers were actually working on the replacement for WDW’s “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” (I.E., a somewhat dumbed down version of Toyko Disneyland’s “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt” attraction). And these folks eventually got wind about how upset Disneyana fans were about the pending closure of Florida’s “Toad.”

Now you have to understand that the folks who work at Walt Disney Imagineering are fairly sensitive souls. And – as proud as these people may have been of the “Pooh” ride that they were putting on – they were still pretty shocked to hear about how upset Disneyana fans seemed to be about WDW’s “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” closing.

These California-based Imagineers read all the posts on the “Save Toad” web site and thought “These people can’t really be as upset as they sound here.” Which is why these folks decided to fly out to Orlando on September 7, 1998. The very last day that WDW’s “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” was supposed to be in operation. So that they could see for themselves if people really were as upset as they sounded about this attraction’s closing.

So WDI was there that day, guys. Standing quietly off to the sides. Watching all the people in line tear up and/or complain loudly about how their favorite WDW attraction was being shut down for no good reason. And the Imagineers couldn’t help but be … well … touched.

Which is why – the very next day, as the “Toad” tear-down began – these same Imagineers went into WDW’s “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” and began harvesting props. Black light painted plywood flats. Signs. Anything that they could carry …

And – then – they packed these pieces up and took them back home to WDI Headquarters. Where these chunks of this much beloved WDW ride were distributed and then used to decorate offices & cubbies all over the Glendale campus.

So – in a weird sort of way – the enthusiasm of some very vocal Disneyana fans turned a lot of Imagineers into hardcore “Toad” fans. Which is one of the main reasons that those paintings depicting Pooh shaking hands with Moley and Toad handing the deed to Toad Hall over to Owl ended up in WDW’s “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.” As sort of a tribute to the attraction that used to occupy that show building.

And that’s why – when you walk through WDI these days – you keep running into all these little pieces of WDW’s “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” And – just for the record – the most prized pieces of that attraction (the one that Imagineers keep stealing back & forth from one another) are those little devils that kept popping up in the ride’s “Hell”scene. If you have one of those decorating your office at WDI these days … Well, you’re considered to be a pretty hot ticket.

Hell … Hot ticket … I know there’s a halfway decent joke in there somewhere. But I’m just too tired to find it right now.

Tell you what: You folks have a great weekend, okay? And 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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

General

Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

Published

on

Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading

General

Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

Published

on

Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading

General

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

Published

on

Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading

Trending