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Jim Hill provides answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about when Ace Ventura appeared at Disney-MGM, why that new-Disney-theme-park-in-Turkey rumor really is a turkey, why “Plectu’s Fantastic Intergalactic Revue” never landed in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. Plus Mr. Hill apologizes to the staff of Feature Animation-Florida for an unintended slight.



Before we get started here, I just want to share a bit of good news. That brand-new snazzy version of that I talked about earlier this week over at Well, it’s finally gone live. And it’s well worth a looksee.

Anyway … first up, we’ve got an e-mail from big WALL with a question about an old MGM street show:

Dear Mr. Hill,

I am a huge fan of your work. Now that we got that out of the way, I remember in the mid-90’s an advertised attraction at MGM Studios for an Ace Ventura meet and greet. I don’t think it ever happened, but do you know anything of its fate? And yes, I’m sure it was Disney. I have the brochure somewhere in here.

Thank you for your time.


big WALL

Dear big WALL,

Strange as it may seem, Ace Ventura actually DID make appearances at the Disney-MGM studio theme during the winter of 1995. No, not Jim Carrey himself. But — rather — a Disney cast member who looked and dressed like Carrey’s pet detective.

As far as theme park shows go, this one was pretty lame. WDW guests who gathered out on New York Street got to watch this Carrey clone climb the side of a building and then rescue an albino bat (a supposedly rare creature that played an important part in the 1995 “Ace Ventura” sequel, “When Nature Calls”). Afterwards, Ace returned to street level and happily posed for photos and signed autographs.

That was pretty much the show in a nutshell. No singing, no dancing. No live animals on display. Just some Disney cast member wearing a Hawaiian shirt as well as an Ace Ventura wig doing a G-rated impression of Carrey’s character. Given that this Disney-MGM show only ran for three month before the Mouse pulled the plug … well, I’m guessing that you can tell that Mr. Ventura didn’t prove to be all that popular with WDW visitors.

Which is why the “Ace Ventura Live” show ended up on Disney-MGM’s scrap heap. Alongside R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” show and the “New Let’s Make a Deal.”

Next, Tonny S. from the Netherlands checks in to ask about a persistent rumor that’s been bouncing around the Web.

Hi Jim,

Disney and Turkey?!

No, I’m not talking about those flying creatures that inhabit the earth, I’m talking about turkey as a country. Here’s something I found on the Internet:

BIGGEST EUROPEAN DISNEYLAND TO BE BUILT IN ANTALYA — Antalya is preparing to be the host of one of the biggest projects in Turkey. The meetings between Ata Holding Company and Walt Disney Corporation, which were being held secretly to build one of the biggest entertainment centre in Europe, reached the final stage. According to the news published in the ‘Para’ magazine, the Deputy Chairman of the Executive Board of Walt Disney Corporation will arrive in Turkey and start this project. A member of the Executive Board of Ata Holding Company, Erhan Kurdoglu, said, “We made an agreement in principle for the implementation of the Disneyland project, which we expect to amount to nearly 1.6 billion dollars according to the first calculations. During the meeting that we held with the officials from Walt Disney administration, they told us that they would meet half of the investment cost.”

Now I know how unreliable the Internet is. I actually heard someone mention that this “news” came from an international hotel association or other (which sounds pretty reliable). But still, I haven’t heard a
thing about this! Do you have any idea if there is any truth to this story? It seems rather farfetched to me, but who knows…

Tonny S.
The Netherlands

Dear Tonny,

To be honest, this sounds a lot like that Spain-is-adding-a-new-pavilion rumor that was flying around the Web a year or so. I.E. Wishful thinking that’s masquerading as real news.

But — just in case this could actually be true — I forwarded your e-mail to a friend who works fairly high up in WDI and asked if there was any truth to this Disney-theme-park-in-Turkey rumor. Here’s his reply:

Jim –

RE: Your Disney theme park in Turkey story

Nope. There’s no such theme park in the works. Just to be sure, I called my friend over in Imagineering’s international projects department. He said that — after Hong Kong — we’re concentrating on the Shanghai park. Then possibly another park for the mainland of Japan, followed by Australia and South America. But no Turkey theme parks.

You know what was the real giveaway that the news story that you sent me was a hoax, Jim? That the Walt Disney Company would actually agree to pick half the construction costs for a $1.6 billion resort. Disney management would NEVER agree to a deal like that nowadays. They much prefer deals like the one we cut with the Hong Kong government. Where — by just putting up $314 million of its own money — the Walt Disney Company was able to claim a 43% ownership stake in this $3 billion resort project.

So this news story has the Mouse happily putting up $800 million to build a theme park in Turkey. That’s not the Disney Company that I know, Jim. So this has gotta be a hoax.

So there. Does that answer your question, Tonny?

Next, it’s Dan A. asking about one of those “Disney Decade” projects that never made it off WDI’s drawing board:

Hi Jim,

Back when Disney announced the “Disney Decade” and plans for Walt Disney World, one of the proposed additions was for “Plectu’s Fantastic Galactic Revue” to replace the Carousel of Progress. I have never seen any concept artwork for this show, but I believe I caught a glimpse of some maquettes of the figures during a behind the scenes glimpse of WDI in a Walt Disney World Special (there was a sculpted head on a shelf that looked a little like a cross between Alien Encounter’s Skippy and Imagination’s Figment).

There was also a rumor that WDW’s Sonny Eclipse was taken from Plectu’s Revue and that George Lucas was somehow involved with the performing aliens show. I know that Sonny Eclipse is actually a duplicate of Officer Zzzzyxxx from Tokyo Disneyland’s Star Tours/Pan Galactic Pizza Port complex, but was this alien originally created for Plectu’s Revue?

Also, where can I see some concept art from this show? Are there any books out there that feature artwork from this attraction?


Dan A.

Dear Dan A.

Sadly, I don’t think that there’s a Disney book on the market that contains images of the “Plectu” project. The only place outside of WDI that I ever recall seeing any imagery of this proposed “Carousel of Progress” redo was in the “New Tomorrowland” show that the Disneyland Gallery presented three or four years again. This display featured at least one concept painting of what the exterior of the COP’s theater-go-round building would have looked like if “Plectu’s Fantastic Galactic Revue” had been installed inside. “What did it look like?” you ask. Like someone had brought the Mothership from “Close Encounters of a Third Kind” in for a three-point landing in the heart of Tomorrowland.

So what sort of exotic out-of-this-world creatures would we have found inside? Well, I remember the late David Mumford once giving a bunch of folks at an N.F.F.C. convention a brief glimpse of some characters from the “Plectu” show. These including this flying circus’ three-armed ringmaster, P.T. Quantum as well as some giant swamp creature that — as part of its performance — rose out of the muck and sang operatic arias with its multiple mouths.

But as for why this neat sounding “Tomorrowland 2055” attraction never made it off of WDI’s drawing board: AA-heavy shows like this are expensive to build and difficult to maintain, Dan. (Just look at all the problems that WDW Ops department has had lately with keeping the Magic Kingdom’s “Carousel of Progress” looking neat and tidy. My good friend, Jeffrey Lange, visited this Tomorrowland favorite last month duing his Disney World vacation. He described the condition of the Audio-Animatronic figures featured in the show as being “just awful. Eyes were malfunctioning. Their plastic skins didn’t fit right. It was really, really sad.”)

Plus Disney CEO Michael Eisner reportedly never really warmed to the whole “Plectu” idea. In meetings where the Imagineers would try and pitch him various different versions of the show, Eisner would allegedly say things like “A revolving theater full of singing aliens? How is that different from what they’ve got at Chuck E. Cheese? We need a better idea for this show.”

WDI supposedly pitched dozens of variations of the “Plectu” project to Disney’s CEO. But Michael reportedly never liked any of them. Which is why — in the end — the “Tomorrowland 2055” project was eventually scrubbed. “Plectu’s Fantastic Galactic Revue” never came in for a three point landing. Which is why we’re now stuck with (God help us) Innoventions.

To my way of thinking, Marty Sklar’s 50th anniversary Disneyland museum can’t get here fast enough. But — come 2008 — somebody in WDI HAS TO come up with a halfway decent, workable and affordable concept for this Tomorrowland facility. Please?

And — finally — Back to Burbank takes me to task for supposedly giving JHM readers the wrong impression of what happened this past Monday at Feature Animation Florida:

As an employee at WDFA-F, I have been enjoying your coverage of these events. However, I was in the multi-purpose room yesterday, and I am somewhat disappointed at the spin you put on your article. I’m talking about all of your references to booing. I only heard one boo at one point in the meeting. You may have emphasized it for dramatic effect, but it reflects poorly on the people in that room, who behaved themselves in a very professional manner (and were complimented on that fact by Andrew Millstein during his emotional remarks.) I feel you owe all of the WDFAF staff a public apology. There are other factual errors in your article, but they are minor in comparison to this.

Back to Burbank


First of all, I do appreciate you taking the time to write to me to express your concerns about JHM’s coverage of David Stainton’s meeting with the WDFAF crew this past Monday. And if that article really did offend you or any other Feature Animation Florida staffers that actually attended that meeting, then I do sincerely apologize for any offense that I may have caused you.

So why did I write that article the way I did? Well, by this past Monday evening, I had received upwards of a dozen e-mails from various WDFAF staffers who were actually there in the multi-purpose room earlier that morning to hear Stainton’s remarks. Some painted the meeting as being this relatively civilized affair with just a little grumbling and a few boos from the staff. Still others painted the event as being something like the “Kill the Beast” number from “Beauty and the Beast,” with Feature Animation Florida vets waving torches and pitchforks and calling for David’s head.

Since I wasn’t in the multi-purpose room that morning to see for myself what actually happened, I had to make a judgment call, BTB. I felt that the truth must lie somewhere in the middle. And — since most of the e-mails that I received that afternoon stressed the booing as well as the WDFAF staff’s audible reaction to Stainton’s comments — that’s the why I decided to write my article.

If it’s any consolation, BTB, you weren’t the only one to take me to task for this article. Over on the JHM discussion boards, Mortimer Mongoose said:

“David didn’t get that many ‘boos’ at all. I heard one small one when he handed the mic off to Andrew Millstein. There was some small grumbling, but all in all everyone handled themselves very professionally.”

And Laidoff chimed in with:

“Well, as mentioned above, the ‘boos’ weren’t really there. Maybe twice, there were very low rumblings, but I will say, nobody was happy, but everyone conducted themselves very professionally. No shouting or booing. Arguing, yes.”

And even David Stainton himself — in an e-mail that was just forwarded to me — supposedly had problems with that article. Particularly the part where I repeated what he reportedly said about the public not being able to tell the difference between Disney’s feature animation and its direct-to-video product. When queried about that, David said:

“I didn’t even remotely say that. That was the point that was implied by the question I was being asked–the artist was saying that the public was very confused by the direct-to-video product and our feature films, and I was making your point exactly–the audience knows and is not at all confused by the different types of movies that we make.”

So my apologies to Back to Burbank, Mortimer Mongoose, Laidoff and especially David Stainton if they were offended by Tuesday’s JHM article. It honestly wasn’t my intention to hurt anyone’s feeling at Disney Feature Animation with that piece.

Of course, in the spirit of full disclosure, I guess I should point out that I received 74 other pieces of e-mail over the past few days. Many of them from other WDFA-F staffers who were in the studio’s multi-purpose room Monday morning. These folks seemed thrilled with my coverage of that meeting, saying things like:

“You really nailed it. Particularly the part where Stainton froze like a deer in the headlights when we all started booing.”


“You were actually too nice to Stainton. That speech he gave us just reeked of insincerity. It was obvious that he didn’t really care about what was happening to us. That’s why we decided to give him a hard time in return.”

So the truth … As I said earlier, I think it lies somewhere in the middle. If I did actually overstate the amount of booing in the meeting, then I do apologize. But there’s no getting around the fact that WDFAF staffers actually DID boo David Stainton. Which (to my knowledge) is the first time that the head of Disney Feature Animation was treated that derisively by his staff.

And as for getting Mr. Stainton’s quote wrong … well, if David would like to let JHM readers know what he actually said this past Monday, he’s welcome to contact me here at My e-mail address is I’d be happy to post a piece that corrects and/or clarifies the comments that I said that David made to the Feature Animation-Florida staff earlier this week.

The ball’s in your court now, Mr. Stainton. I sincerely hope to hear from you soon.

Beyond that … Man, it’s been a busy week here at I just did a quick count of the number of articles that I’ve churned out over the past six days. Counting the piece over at AintItCoolNews, that’s seven articles in six days. No wonder I’m bushed.

Which is why I’ve decided to take advantage of the long Martin Luther King weekend to recover. So no new stories ’til Wednesday morning, okay?

You folks have a great weekend. We’ll talk again soon, alright?

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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