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Why For?

In his patented long winded style, Jim Hill answers your questions about the Walt Disney Company.

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Theresa M. from Charlottesville, VA. writes:

Dear Jim:

Welcome back! I think that it’s great that you finally have a site of your very own on the web. Now I’ll always know where to go when I want to find your stuff (Until – of course – Jon & Fab finally decide to fire you 😉 ).

As for your debut “Why For” Q & A column, the Disney related question that I’ve always wanted to have answered is … In the song “Hakuna Matata,” isn’t there a verse missing? By that I mean, that song reveals that Pumbaa was a misfit was that he had a horrible gas problem. So what’s Timon’s problem? Why isn’t he out there spending time with his own kind (By that, I mean Meerkats) instead of hanging out with that wifty warthog?

Excellent question, Theresa. And – yes – Tim Rice did write a verse for “Hakuna Matata” that explained why Timon no longer associates with his friends and relations. It seemed that the little golden brown slacker had an aversion to authority & hard work.

Quoting now from the original screenplay of “The Lion King,” Timon turns to Simba and says:

TIMON: Kid, I was not always the calm cool meerkat that you see before you. No sirree. Why (Singing) When I was a young meerkat.

PUMBAA: (Singing) When he was a young meerkat.

TIMON: (Speaking) Very nice.

PUMBAA: (Speaking) Thanks.

TIMON: (Singing) I worked in the colony, paying my dues.

Accepting – without question – the prevailing views.

That a meerkat’s life was one long grind.

PUMBAA: (Speaking) Sounds rough.

TIMON: (Singing) Digging holes. Standing guard. Til it crossed my mind.

I was wrong.

PUMBAA: (Singing) He was wrong.

TIMON: (Singing) And all alone. And what I needed

PUMBAA: (Singing) What did you need?

TIMON: (Singing) Was to have heeded …

Hakuna Matata!

What a wonderful phrase …

From there, the song goes along as it usually does.

So why did Disney decide to drop this verse from “Hakuna Matata”? To be honest, it just wasn’t as strong as Pumbaa’s “When I was a young wart hog” stanza. It didn’t get a very big reaction from “Lion King” test audiences (Whereas Timon’s tagline for Pumbaa’s verse – “Not in front of the kids!” – got screams of laughter from people attending the test screenings).

So this was one of these situations where less really was more. The shorter “Hakuna Matata” was, the bigger a reaction it got from test audiences. So “Lion King”‘s directors – Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff – ended up just dropping Timon’s verse in the song. (Though – if I remember correctly – these lyrics were eventually used in a slightly mutated form in the comic book version of “The Lion King.”)

Anyway … Todd V. from Watertown, WI. writes:

I was just reading your “When Good Attractions Happen to Bad Movies” article and can’t help but wonder what went wrong with “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” This was the sort of movie that the Walt Disney Company used to do so well. A Jules Verne type film adventure. So why didn’t this movie connect with movie-goers last summer? Was it because “A:TLE” was so poorly marketed or just because the Mouse doesn’t know how to make these sorts of movies anymore?

I actually have a different theory, Todd. I personally believe that “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” failed to connect with most movie-goers because the film-makers lost faith in the version of the movie that they originally started out to make.

You see, back when co-directors Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale and producer Don Hahn initially conceived this project (supposedly over a giant plate of nachos at a Mexican restaurant), they wanted “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” to be the ultimate Ray Harryhausen movie. A film where – every few minutes – the crew of the “Ulysses” would have yet another encounter with another fearsome creature.

One of their more intriguing ideas for this project was that there would be a monster in the movie that was tied to each one of the four primal elements: earth, water, fire & air. The water beast, you already know about: The Leviathan, the giant mechanical lobster-thingy that destroyed the giant sub.

But – had Wise, Trousdale & Hahn actually stuck with this intriguing notion – the “Ulysses” would have survived its eventful encounter with the Leviathan … Only to have the sub be accidentally destroyed as a result of a battle that Captain Rourke and his crew had with some beasts from the air. And what sort of monsters were these ? A vicious swarm of Squid Bats. (What’s a Squid Bat? Just what it sounds like, kids. A horrible slimy flying thing that would swoop down and grab up its victim in its tentacles.)

Over the next 20 minutes or so in the movie, the surviving members of the sub’s crew would have encountered even more harrowing beasts as they journeyed deeper into the bowels of the earth. For example: What they think is a land bridge across a boiling pool of magma turns out to be a Lava Whale. What’s a Lava Whale? An enormous earth based beast that suddenly rises up out of the lava and attacks the ill-fated adventurers … killing a fourth of the surviving crew members in the course of the battle.

And then – of course – there were the Fire Flies that set most of the expedition’s remaining equipment ablaze. (That sequence did actually manage to make it into the finished version of “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” without being too severely cut.)

So why did Kirk, Gary and Don eventually decide not to go forward with the ultimate Ray Harryhausen film that they had originally envisioned? There are three reasons, actually. One is that the Squid Bat & Lava Whale battle scenes – while they would have undoubtedly been great fun to watch once they were completed – would have also been prohibitively expensive to animate. (And – given that “A:TLE” was one of the films that WDFA actually had in production while “Hercules” and “Dinosaur” were out in theaters, failing to meet their box office projections – “Atlantis” was one of the very first Disney Feature project to undergo a “reduction in scope.” I.E., to have several of its more-expensive-to-produce sequences get cut for cost reasons during the film’s pre-production phase.)

Secondly, early test screenings of “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” revealed that audience members were actually pretty anxious to finally get to see the fabled underground city. So anything that slowed Milo & the other adventurers down – even if it was something as exciting as the crew’s encounter with the Lava Whale – seemed to lessen these folks’ enjoyment of the movie. So – to help speed the story along – four monster scenes (Actually five monster scenes. Milo was originally supposed to encounter Kida when he accidentally got in the way of an Atlantean hunting party that was pursuing a caterpillar that was the size of a school bus) ended up being reduced to two.

And the third (and final) reason that Wise, Trousdale and Hahn eventually decided to cut back on “A:TLE”‘s monsters was perhaps the most controversial. You see, early test screenings of the movie revealed that audiences – while being vastly entertained during “Atlantis”‘s action sequences – weren’t really emotionally involved with the movie’s characters. In other words, they thought that the film lacked heart.

So – in order to given “Atlantis” a heart transplant – some radical surgery was in order. The first thing to go was “A:TLE”‘s original prologue, where a bunch of fortune seeking Vikings lost their lives at the hands … er …claws of the Leviathan. In its place, WDFA created a sequence that actually showed the destruction of Atlantis (Which – it was hoped – would whet the audience’s appetite for seeing even more of the fabled city later on in the movie) as well as setting up Kida’s emotional arc. It was also hoped that – by showing that the Atlantean princess had suffered such a cruel hardship at the very start of the story (having Kida’s mother, the Queen, mysteriously snatched away as that massive tidal wave bore down on the city) – this would somehow make movie-goers care even more about this character.

Did all of this extra effort eventually pay off? In the end, as a result of all these cuts, was Disney’s “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” ultimately a more-affordable-to-make and (more importantly) a more-emotionally-engaging motion picture? Given the film’s lackluster performance at the box office last summer (as well as the deep discounts that retailers had to offer in order to finally move all that “A:TLE” merchandise off their shelves), it doesn’t seem so.

So- in the end – maybe it would have been wiser to go forward with Wise, Trousdale and Hahn’s original vision for “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” The ultimate Ray Harryhausen tribute film. The movie that the project’s designer – “Hellboy”‘s Mike Mignola – described as being an endless “monster parade.”(For further information on the monster scenes that you missed out in “Atlantis : The Lost Empire,” check out the additional features on the Special Edition version of the “A:TLE” DVD. You’ll find leica reel versions of the film’ proposed Squid Bat & Lava Whale sequences as well as the film-makers’ commentary about why Gary & Kirk & Don ultimately decided to cut these scenes.)

And – finally – Brian8871 (Also writing in reference to this week’s “When Good Attractions Happen to Bad Movies” article) posted this angry item as part of that story’s discussion board. Brian – it seems – was somewhat steamed by my “Sorry, but that would be telling” comment in that article. Which is why he wrote:

What the hell? If the attraction isn’t going to get built, then for whom would it be a spoiler? If you don’t know, Jim, then just say so!

Actually, Brian8871, I DO know what was supposed to happen next in the storyline of Disneyland’s proposed “Atlantis Expedition” attraction. The problem is … Sometimes it’s just not wise for me blow all of the info that I know about a particular subject in a single story.

Why for? Well – for one thing – most of my stories are too damned long already. So sometimes I hold things back just for the sake of brevity.

But the rest of the time – if I’m holding back info – it’s usually because I’m deliberately trying not to hurt a source that I’ve got at Walt Disney Feature Animation and/or inside WDI.

You see, the more specific I am about the information that I use in my articles, the easier it is for Imagineering or Disney Studio management to chase down the actual source of that info. And – as much as I like bringing you folks seldom told tales of the Walt Disney Company’s history – I’m just not willing to end someone else’s career over what is ultimately just a well sourced piece of gossip.

Think I’m being over dramatic? Then let me tell you the sad story of one of the top talents over at Universal Creative. This guy shared a few relatively innocent stories with the folks over at Screamscape.com a few years back. Universal’s response? They fired him. For reportedly revealing company secrets.

So that’s why I have to sometimes hold stuff back, Brian8871. Not because I’m out to tease my readers. But – rather – because I don’t want to start a witch hunt at WDI or Walt Disney Feature Animation. Where clueless Mouse House executives begin to badger their subordinates, demanding to know who’s vital leaking info to “that fat *** Hill.”

When was the last time this happened? Last week, actually. I’m told that a lot of people at WDFA management weren’t very happy that I revealed that Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis were doing voices for “Bears.” Evidently, these folks thought that the whole Rutt & Tuke / Bob & Doug McKenzie thing would be a great promotional hook for the film … Provided (of course) that they were actually able to keep this story under wraps ’til “Bears” finally got released in November 2004.

These folks were also reportedly very unhappy that I talked about all the problems that the “Bears” team was having trouble with Griz, the character that Michael Clark is voicing for the film. (Just to be fair, I should point out that – according to the numerous phone calls that I’ve received this week in response to last Thursday’s story – the Griz character is STILL in the picture. Though supposedly in a somewhat reduced role.)

So – again – Brian8871, I’m not deliberately trying to be a tease here. I’m just constantly in the middle of this very delicate balancing act. Trying to deliver the best possible story loaded with inside info for all you folks … while still making sure that whatever I write doesn’t end up costing someone their job.

Besides, Brian8871 … I mean, think about it. You’re on a Disney theme park attraction. Supposedly trapped inside a submarine that’s being crushed by the claw of a giant lobster-thingy? If you were an Imagineer (particularly who had been raised watching Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Seas” and Irwin Allen’s “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” TV series), how would YOU go about resolving this story point?

Would you – perhaps – send a little electricity coursing through the outside of the hull? How about launching a few torpedoes at extremely close range? Of course, that might cause even more pinhole leaks to sprout on the inside of your vessel. Which means – in order to avoid sinking – you’d probably have to get to the surface ASAP, right?

Does that sound like a fairly likely way for this proposed addition to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland to come to a close, Brian8871? Glad you think so, Bri … But – then again – you never heard this from me, okay?

Anywho … That’s it for the first edition of “Why For?,” gang. Here’s hoping that you guys enjoyed it.

By the way, we’re looking for a really compelling visual to use with this new regular feature here at JimHillMedia.com. If any of you artistic types out there would like to take on this project, I’m offering up a copy of the original screenplay for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” to the person who delivers the very best logo.

The deadline for this very first JimHillMedia.com contest is 11 p.m. EST on Thursday, September 19th. So let’s see what you got!

Talk to you 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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