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Why For?

Jim provides even more long winded answers to your questions about the Walt Disney Company.



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ImmyJ79 writes:

I’m just curious…..

How many of you have ever heard of this musical, “Once on This Island”? If not, here’s a little summary:

“Set in the Caribbean, “Once on This Island” tells the mythical tale of a beautiful peasant girl (Ti Moune) who saves the life of a young Mulatto aristocrat (Daniel) after his car crashes near her rural village. Ti Moune pledges her own life to the god of Death in order to keep the boy alive; when he survives, Ti Moune becomes convinced that the powerful gods of her island have destined her to share his life. Against the warnings of her beloved parents, Ti Moune sets off on a journey to find Daniel and convince him that he must marry her; she becomes his mistress and he falls in love her. But at a magnificent ball where she is presented to the island society, Ti Moune learns that Daniel’s parents have already arranged for their son’s marriage to a girl from his own class. In despair, and goaded on by the god of Death, Ti Moune tries to kill Daniel, but at the last moment, her love for him triumphs. Ti Moune fulfills her promise to the gods, proving the power of love by giving her life in exchange for Daniel’s. “

Song clips can be found here.

Basically, it’s “Little Mermaid” on land, but more spiritual and energetic.

Now, wouldn’t this make the best Disney Feature Animation? I absolutely love this show and the music is awesome. I think transforming this show into a new Disneymovie would bring back so much that Disney has been missing these past few years. It’s romantic, musical, fun, and such a beautiful story.

Would love to hear anybody’s comments on this idea. Also, how can I help show Disney this wonderful musical and it’s potential?

Jimmy 🙂

Actually, Jim, I’m not sure if anyone at the Walt Disney Company has ever considered turning the stage version of “Once on This Island” into a feature length cartoon. But I do know that – for a number of years now – the Mouse has been eager to get into bed with the folks who created the songs for “Island” : composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynne Arhens.

Of course, nowaday, Flaherty & Arhens are probably better known for their Tony Award winning work for the musical, “Ragtime,” as well as their Academy Award nominated score for 20th Century Fox’s feature length cartoon, “Anastasia.” But what Disney had in mind wasn’t to have Stephen and Lynne write songs for a brand new stage musical or another animated film. But – rather – create a score for a brand new musical for ABC television … which was to have starred and been produced by pop music diva Whitney Houston.

Disney saw this project – a radical retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” that was to have been set in Spain – as the natural follow-up for Houston’s 1997 version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” That Emmy Award winning production is what spurred Mickey to get back into the musicals-for-television business, with “Annie” in November 1999, “Geppetto” in May 2000 and “The Music Man” debuting in February 2003.

Flaherty & Aherns finished work on their score (“With lots of Spanish guitars and rhythms,” or so said Stephen) back in early 1999. Screenwriter Richard Kramer – best known for his work on the late, lamented ABC family drama series, “Once & Again” – crafted a script that had a rather interesting take on the “Sleeping Beauty” tale. It played up the psychological side of the story, adding more than a dash of sex to the proceedings.

Had things gone according to plan, Disney’s all-new musical version of “Sleeping Beauty” would have been shot during the summer of 2000 (with Whitney Houston in the pseudo Malificent role) and aired on ABC in either February or May 2001 (As a special programming event for the crucial “Sweeps” ratings period) … But then the summer of 2000 came & went and “Sleeping Beauty” never went before the cameras.

What happened? Some suggest that it was the abysmal reviews and mediocre ratings that “Geppetto” racked up earlier that spring that made Disney think twice about doing yet another original musical for television. But other company insiders whisper that it was actually Whitney Houston’s pot bust in January 2000 (During a routine inspection at Kaehole-Kona International Airport in Hawaii, security staffers found a bag containing 15.2 ounces of marijuana in Ms. Houston’s luggage) that made Mickey think twice about moving forward with this particular project.

Whatever the cause, this all-new version of “Sleeping Beauty” has been on the back burner at Disney for over two years now. Whitney’s production company – Brown House Productions – still insists that this original TV musical is in active development. Though when I spoke with PR reps for that firm earlier this week, no one could give me any definitive information about proposed casting on the project, when shooting might start, etc.

But – what the hey – remember that this is Hollywood we’re talking about here, folks. A place where things (and studio heads) can change virtually overnight. And – given that Brown House Productions actually churned one of Disney’s only hits during the summer of 2001 (“The Princess Diaries”) and that Mickey’s extremely anxious for production of “Princess Diaries II” to get underway soon – it’s not too farfetched to imagine that, in order to make Ms. Houston happy, Disney might actually put the musical version of “Sleeping Beauty” back in ABC’s production pipeline.

But – for now – Disney seems to be concentrating on taking already established stage musicals and turning them into special event programming for ABC. Academy Award winners Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz are supposedly adapting their score for Disney’s animated 1996 musical, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” for use in an all-new live action TV movie version of the Victor Hugo story (Which will air on “The Wonderful World of Disney” sometime in late 2003 / early 2004).

Back in August of 2000, Disney also acquired the TV movie remake rights to that long running Broadway hit, “Fiddler on the Roof.” The Mouse has reportedly had informal discussions with “Seinfeld” vet Jason Alexander about the sitcom star signing on to play Tevye in the three hour long adaptation of the beloved stage musical. But any further talk of a TV movie version of “Fiddler” will have to wait ’til late 2003 – when Jason finishes up playing Max Bialystock in the eagerly awaited West Coast version of Mel Brooks’ smash hit, “The Producers.”

And let’s not forget about Disney’s long delayed TV movie version of “Mame” (First it was Barbra Streisand who was holding up production because she couldn’t decide if she wanted to play the role that Angela Lansbury had made famous back in the late 1960s. Now it’s Cher who supposedly can’t decide if she wants to “Open a New Window” or not). So maybe Disney’s new “Sleeping Beauty” isn’t really being held up because of Mickey’s having second thoughts about this TV musical’s potentially low ratings score. Or because the Mouse reportedly has concerns about Ms. Houston’s alleged drug problem. Maybe the project actually has been on the back burner because Disney does have too many musicals already in development for ABC.

But – if you’re still serious about making Disney aware of the great movie musical possibilities to be found in “Once on this Island, ” ImmyJ79 – then I suggest you lob a letter at Craig Zadan & Neil Meron of Storyline Entertainment care of Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA. Craig & Neil are the guys who actually rode herd on Disney’s live action TV movie versions of “Cinderella” and “Annie.” If anyone can convince the Mouse to turn “Islands” into a feature length animated cartoon, these are probably the guys.

Michael Crawford writes:

Hey Jim, likin’ da page…

Anyway, I request a scoop. EPCOT. What’s going on with that? It was one thing when they killed almost all the reasons that I personally liked the park; they wouldn’t care because I’m just one guy. But the fact remains that their numbers are in the toilet and going south. So are they going to do anything? Is it a priority at all? Will Mission: Space be anything more than a Gravitron? Is AT&T really dropping out of Spaceship Earth?

EPCOT has lost any semblance of shared vision or cohesion. It used to be my favorite Disney park. Are they going to do anything, or just let it rot?

thanks in advance for any info



I’m glad to hear that you’re “likin’ da page.” As for revealing what’s going on with Epcot (Specifically, what’s going wrong with Epcot) … Sigh … How much time have you got, Michael?

Because it’s going to take a while to tell the Epcot story right. What Walt originally wanted to build. What Card Walker eventually decided to build instead. The dozens of daringly different pavilions and attractions that WDI initially proposed for this project … only to have their ideas shot down by Disney’s far too conservative management and/or because no sponsor would come forward to pick up the tab for these extravagant attractions.

Tell you what, Michael. In honor of Epcot’s 20th anniversary, we’re going to launch a brand new series here at next month. A multi-part saga that will explore the entire history of this much maligned project. We’ll take you from Walt’s original dream of a futuristic city to Card’s creatively compromised theme park. We’ll reveal those weird little moments in the park’s history (Like when Marty Sklar and John Hench suddenly realized that – if they jammed together WED’s scale models for the World Showcase dining & shopping district and the Future World theme center together – they just might have the makings of a halfway decent theme park) as well as the truly sad times (Like when dipping attendance levels at Epcot Center resulted in Ron Miller losing his job as head of Walt Disney Productions).

We’ll also take a look at Epcot’s future. Will “Mission: Space” alone be enough to bring attendance at this WDW theme park back to acceptable levels? (The Imagineers seem to think so. Friends at WDI keep telling me that “Mission Space”‘s centrifuge-based ride system will deliver thrills that theme park visitors have never ever experienced before. Simulated G forces pressing you down into your chair during blast-off. Not to mention floating up out of that same chair as your ride vehicle experiences a brief moment of weightlessness … Here’s hoping that this soon-to-be-opened Future World show really does deliver the goods.) Or is the Mouse really going to have to fall back on “Plan B,” which allegedly involves turning World Showcase into an enormous Pleasure Island after 7 p.m. each night?

Come back in October, Michael … And I promise that I’ll give you an earful on Epcot.

And – finally – Woody Pecked Mickey, while commenting on yesterday’s “Toad You So!” story, said:

I don’t know why Jim didn’t mention Disney’s closing of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

You wanna know the real reason that Mickey decided to shut down WDW’s “20,000 Leagues” ride, WPM? That attraction was very expensive to operate (Particularly when you factor in that lengthy rehab that “20K” had to undergo every year in order to keep those colorful coral reefs & pretty plastic fish looking sharp). Plus there were also some environmental concerns (Cast members that worked at the attraction who felt sick from constantly breathing in all the diesel fumes from the sub’s engines had allegedly threatened to report “20K” to the EPA).

That’s why Disney decided to sink the subs. Not because they had a better attraction waiting in the wings. But just to avoid the mounting costs as well as the potential liability involved to continue to operate “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” at WDW’s Magic Kingdom.

Of course, staying true to form, Disney’s publicity department insisted – when asked – that WDW’s subs weren’t actually closing permanently. Even though an article had appeared in “Eyes and Ears” (the official weekly newspaper for WDW Cast members) that flat out stated that this Fantasyland attraction would be shutting down for good on September 5, 1994, Disney World’s marketing department still insisted that this had just been a misprint. That “20,000 Leagues” was only closing for its usual lengthy rehab. That this Fantasyland favorite would re-open again … eventually.

What I personally found galling about how Disney’s PR department behaved during the period surrounding WDW’s “20,000 Leagues”‘s closing was how open and arrogant these people were when it came to their lies. Case in point: A friend of Michelle and I – a stringer for Reuters – came out to the Magic Kingdom that afternoon to get pictures of the last sub as it pulled away from the dock.

The very next day, Reuters made these photographs available to newspapers around the globe – along with a caption that read “Last voyage for Disney World’s ‘20,000 League’ ride.” Which it was.

The very next day, Disney World publicity contacted Reuters and insisted that the news syndicate issue a correction or retraction for that photograph’s caption. For their photographer was wrong. WDW’s “20,000 Leagues” was NOT closing permanently. This Magic Kingdom attraction would be re-opening … eventually.

So Reuters issued the correction / retraction that the Walt Disney Company was asking for. The news syndicate then told our photographer friend that – due to the errors that he’d made in reporting the Magic Kingdom story – Reuters would no longer be accepting any more of his pictures. For fear of being stuck with yet another news item that they’d eventually have to print a retraction for.

Mind you, my friend’s photography career did eventually recover. But that incident with Reuters was a definite set-back. All because some PR flak at the Mouse House wasn’t ready for this particular piece of info to leak out to the mainstream press yet. That WDW’s “20,000 Leagues” really was closing for good.

It took Disney World’s publicity department ’til early 1996 to finally admit the obvious. That the “20,000 Leagues Ride Under the Sea” ride at the Magic Kingdom was NOT re-opening. Still – trying to put the best possible face on this incredibly awkward situation – WDW’s marketing department now insisted that a “significant new attraction” was currently under development at WDI. More importantly, that Disney expected to unveil the resort’s new plans for the “20K” lagoon “sometime very soon.”

That was over six years ago, folks … And I’m still waiting for that official announcement from WDW’s publicity department about what the Imagineers intend to do with the “20,000 Leagues” lagoon. Not to mention a long overdue apology for my photographer friend. A guy who ended up being professionally penalized by Disney’s PR staff … All because he got a story right.

Okay … That’s enough venting about WDW’s inept PR department for one day. Thanks again for all your kind notes and e-mails about the site, folks. Also thanks to all of you who submitted designs for last week’s “Why For” logo contest. Jon, Michelle and I will be reviewing the designs this coming weekend and announcing a winner sometime early next week. Thanks again for all your effort.

That’s it for now. See you all again on Monday,


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 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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