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Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This week’s effort starts off with an explanation as to why Disney World won’t be getting its very own version of Disneyland’s popular “Haunted Mansion Holiday,” then talks about who almost did voices for “Hercules” before closing out with a fond look back at WDW’s “River Country”

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First up, Louis T. writes in to ask:



What happened to that seasonal retheming of WDW’s “Haunted Mansion” that you talked about a few years back? I thought that the Magic Kingdom’s version of Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion Holiday” was supposed to have officially debuted this past October. But that never happened. Was this project actually cancelled or did you just get your original information wrong?


Dear Louis T.


Actually, my original information was dead-on. Two years ago, I had people in Magic Kingdom Operations telling me about all the money that was then being poured into WDW’s “Haunted Mansion” in preparation for “HMH” ‘s arrival. How effects that hadn’t worked since the late 1970s (EX: The chillers in this Liberty Square attraction. This particular effect replicates that sensation of super-cold air that humans supposedly feel whenever they’re in the same room as a spirit) were finally being repaired. All because WDW management was now getting this Magic Kingdom favorite to be in tip-top shape once its initial “Haunted Mansion Holiday” makeover  began.


But then the money that was supposed to be used for the very first installation of “HMH” at WDW got sucked out of the Magic Kingdom’s annual operational budget (Supposedly to fund the desperately-needed-fixes the then-still-floundering “Stitch’s Great Escape” needed at the time). And then the following year, when it came time for Disney to once again cough up all of the dough necessary to turn this sinister old structure into Jack & Sally’s Christmas-themed playland … Well, WDW managers had had a change of heart.


Mind you, it wasn’t that the folks at Walt Disney World had fallen out of love with the Pumpkin King. Far from it. They saw all of the money that Disneyland & Tokyo Disneyland were making off of their “Haunted Mansion Holiday” seasonal overlay and thought “Well, I want some of that.”


But — at the same time — these WDW management-types recognized that WDW’s Magic Kingdom was not at all like the original Disneyland and/or Tokyo Disneyland. Where 60% of the people who push their way through the turnstiles at those particular theme parks each day are locals. Folks who’ve come from less than 100 miles away in order to experience some Disney magic. Who typically visit their local Disney theme park at least two & three times each year.


So when an individual visits the original Disneyland and/or Tokyo Disneyland and sees that this theme park’s “Haunted Mansion” is down for six weeks while its seasonal overlay is being installed and/or closed for three weeks while all of the “Haunted Mansion Holiday” decorations are being removed … That’s not exactly a hardship. These folks know that — the very next time they drop by this theme park — that it’s more than likely that the “Haunted Mansion” will be up & running again. So they’ll get their chance to commune with those “999 happy haunts” then.


On the other hand, people who visit the Walt Disney World Resort … Better than 60% of these individuals are out-of-towners. Folks who’ve traveled from cities & towns that are at least 300 miles away from Lake Buena Vista. And many of these people have saved for years for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience some Disney magic with their family & friends.


So when an individual like that comes such a long way at considerable personal expense … Only to find that one of the Magic Kingdom’s signature attractions is closed for almost two months each year, so that some seasonal decorations can be installed and/or removed … Well, that’s not going to wash.


Taking a cold-blooded look at this entire situation, WDW management anticipated a Guest Relations nightmare should they ever actually go forward with their initial plan to install “Haunted Mansion Holiday” at the Magic Kingdom’s “Haunted Mansion” each holiday season. They could just picture red-faced tourists screaming at the hosts behind the counters at City Hall, demanding some sort of explanation as to why this signature attraction has to be closed for a sixth of every year.


FYI: This is also why WDW officials eventually backed away from the idea of seasonally retheming the Magic Kingdom’s “it’s a small world” attraction. Even though Disneyland’s “it’s a small world holiday” has proven to be hugely popular with Orange County locals, with attendance levels at that Anaheim theme park going straight through the roof ever since this season redo originally debuted back in November of 1999 … The amount of time needed for the installation and then removal of all those “small world” – themed holiday decorations means that it’s just not practical (from an operational standpoint, that is) to duplicate this particular redo at Walt Disney World.


So does this mean that WDW is now going to become “The Nightmare Before Christmas” -free zone? Far from it, folks. With the brand-new Disney Digital 3D version of this 1994 Henry Selick classic due to roll into theaters later this year, the Mouse obviously believes that there’s lots of life left in old Jack Skellington.


And just because Jack & Sally now won’t be moving into the Magic Kingdom’s “Haunted Mansion” doesn’t mean that the cast of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” won’t soon be able to find somewhere to settle at the Walt Disney World resort. The way I hear it, WDI allegedly has a number of “TNBC” -related irons in the fire right now for WDW. These ideas suppsedly range from a “Nightmare” -themed dark ride that would be built at Disney-MGM (This proposed attraction would reportedly occupy the spot where the “Sounds Dangerous” show currently sits) to several nights of “Nightmare” -themed fun at the studio theme park.


As for that last idea … This would be a hard ticket event that would held after-hours at Disney-MGM. With the basic goal here being to create an annual on-property Halloween-themed happening that would then appeal to those individuals who consider the Magic Kingdom’s “Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party” to be far too juvenile  to attend.


In short, the Mouse is looking toward Jack Skellington to finally help them come up with a way to effectively combat Universal Studio’s hugely popular (and profitable) “Halloween Horror Nights.” Based on what the WDW guests (Who were recently guest-surveyed about this proposed annual event) have been saying, this “Nightmare Before Christmas” -themed redo of the studio theme park could debut as early as 2007. The evening’s entertainment would include a special “Nightmare” -theme parade & fireworks show as well as an all-new version of “Fantasmic” entitled “Fiend-tasmic.” Which would then supposedly paid tribute to all of Disney’s great villains.


Mind you, there are those with the WDW organization who believe that it would be probably wiser for Disney-MGM to walk before it begins running. Meaning that it probably would be smarter to hold off on this “Nightmare” -themed Halloween party until that “TNBC” dark ride is actually built. That way … Well, WDW’s event planners would then have a logical hook for the inaugural event (As in: Come to a special after-hours party at Disney-MGM. Be among the first guests to experience the studio theme park’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” ride). And if that after-hours party proves to be a success, then they can launch the annual “TNBC” -themed event for Disney-MGM.


So — getting back to Louis T.’s original question now — No, my original information about WDW getting ready to install a version of Disneyland’s popular “Haunted Mansion Holiday” seasonal redo at the Magic Kingdom’s “Haunted Mansion” wasn’t wrong. All of those changes & improvements that I talked about earlier were actually made at that Liberty Square attraction. But then — over the past two years — WDW management’s plan for this Magic Kingdom attraction changed. Which is why my story about this planned redo had to change too.


Here’s hoping that — over the next year or so — that the folks at Walt Disney World don’t change their minds yet again and then opt to pull the plug on Disney-MGM’s proposed “Nightmare Before Christmas” dark ride and/or back away from the idea of holding an after-hours “Nightmare” -themed party at the studio theme park.


Next up, Kaye R. writes in to say:



Hercules” is my absolute favorite Disney cartoon. Do you have any new stories to share about that animated feature?


Dear Kaye —


Actually, what I find interesting about “Hercules” is the people who almost did voices for this 1997 animated feature. Among the well-known actors who auditioned for parts in this Ron Clements & John Musker film were Brendan Fraser (For the role of Hercules), Anne Heche (for the role of Meg) and Rod Steiger (For the role of Zeus).


On the villain’s side of the fence, comedian Richard Lewis was actually Ron ‘n’ John’s first choice for Hades’ minion, Panic. But Lewis’ trademark kvetching didn’t translate all that well to the world of animation. Which is why Richard was eventually replaced by “Max Headroom” himself, Matt Frewer.


As for Hades himself, Musker & Clements had hoped to persuade Jack Nicholson to come voice the Lord of the Underworld. And Nicholson was said to be quite eager to play this part. Unfortunately, Jack was never actually able to terms with Disney when it came to what Nicholson thought was an appropriate salary for this role (My understanding is that — in addition to being paid handsomely for voicing the part of Hades — Jack was also looking to get a healthy cut of all the “Hercules” toys that featured his character’s likeness). Which is why Nicholson eventually took a pass on the project.


After that, Ron ‘n’ John worked with John Lithgow for a year or more. Seeing if this “Third Rock from the Sun” could fill the Lord of the Underworld’s sandals. But try as he might, Lithgow just couldn’t bring the energy or the ego to the part that Musker & Clements were looking for. Which is why John was eventually let go.


After that, Ron ‘n’ John tried out William Shatner (Who — I’m told — gave a really fun reading but ultimately wasn’t big enough in the part) and Phil Hartman (Who — in his last moments at the mike — read a few pages of the script as Jack Nicholson. Giving Musker & Clements the sense of what their film really would have been like if Disney had finally be able to work out some sort of arrangement with Nicholson. And I’m told that those scenes really soared) before eventually settled on James Woods. Who (obviously) did a bang-up job in that role.


But — to be honest — virtually every animated film goes through something like this, Kaye R.. As the production team chases after an actor that they ultimately can’t get (EX: Al Pacino as the voice of Hopper in “a bug’s life“) and/or has to replace a great performer who — for one reason or another– just isn’t working out (EX: William H. Macy, the original voice of Marlin in “Finding Nemo“). That’s just the nature of the business.


Finally, Bill F. writes in to ask about:



Do you have any news on WDW’s River Country? One of the main reasons that my family & I used to really enjoy camping at Walt Disney World is that we’d then get at least one day at that water park. Why’d Disney shut it in the first place? Are there any plans to re-open it?


Dear Bill F.


To be honest, WDW’s River Country was a victim of its own popularity. From almost the day that the “ol’ swimmin’ hole” first opened at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground (Back on June 20, 1976), RC was ridiculously popular with WDW visitors. In fact, there was many a guest who actually missed out on their chance to experience Whoop ‘n’ Holler Holler (I.E. River Country’s two themed water slides) because they failed to make it down to the park before it reached capacity. Which on some days happened as early as 10 a.m.


Of course, given the number of tourists who’d complain bitterly about driving all the way over to Fort Wilderness only to encounter that “Sorry! River Country is sold out for today!” sandwich board … In the late 1980s, the Imagineers finally got serious about dealing with Disney World’s water park capacity problems.


First Typhoon Lagoon opened in June of 1989, then Blizzard Beach opened in April of 1995. A third WDW water park — Ragin’ Cajun Lagoon — was proposed back in the late 1990s but ultimately never built. Since that time, Disney World has allegedly also toyed with the idea of constructing a “Pirates of the Caribbean” -themed super water park on property. But — to date — beyond a few concept paintings, there’s been no real movement on that project.


And as for River Country … Well, given its relatively small size and remote location, once Typhoon Lagoon & Blizzard Beach opened for business, guest demand for access to WDW’s original water park fell right off.


Which — in theory — should have been great news to campers at Fort Wilderness. Meaning that they’d no longer have to compete with virtually every WDW guest in order to experience Slippery Slide Falls and/or White Water Rapids.


But then the state of Florida supposedly changed the statutes governing the safe operation of water parks. Insisting that each of these operations now had to get their water from a chlorinated municipal supply, rather then just recycle unfiltered water from a natural source.


And since River Country (With the exception of Upstream Plunge, the 330,000 gallon clear water filtered pool at the base of Slippery Slide Falls) got all of its water from Bay Lake … Once that statute was in place, the end was in sight for the Fort Wilderness favorite.


Mind you, there are those that say that — because of the charter of the Reedy Creek Improvement District (I.E. That piece of legislation that basically allows the Walt Disney World resort to be self-governing) — that the Mouse could have fought this piece of legislation. If it really wanted to.


But the fact of the matter was … The Walt Disney Company really didn’t want to fight the closing of WDW’s River Country. The success of both Typhoon Lagoon & Blizzard Beach seemed to clearly indicate the direction that Disney World should be taking with its water parks. In order for these operations to really be successful, they needed to be centrally located off of one of the resort’s main roads with an enormous parking lot.


And given that River Country was a smallish water park that had limited capacity and was really difficult for WDW guests to get to … Well, it’s easy to understand why the Mouse finally pulled the plug on the operation back in November of 2001.


Since then, there’s occasionally been talk of reviving River Country. Of spending the $20 – $25 million that would be necessary to seal off WDW’s original water park from Bay Lake. So that guests who are staying at Fort Wilderness would then have their own ultra-cool swimming area like the Beach Club’s Stormalong Bay.


But given that the Imagineers are also supposedly toying with the idea of building Buffalo Junction (I.E. A Western-themed hotel that would sprawl from Wilderness Lodge & the Villas at Wilderness Lodge all the way to Pioneer Hall), spending money now to revitalize River Country just doesn’t make sense. Particularly given that — in just a few years — you could be tearing down the place in order to make room for a brand-new WDW resort.


Which is why River Country remains as it is today. Gates closed, overgrown with weeds. And on a humid spring day like today, it surely would be fun to take one more trip down Whoop ‘n’ Holler Hollow.


Speaking of which … Here’s hoping that all you JHM readers find fun & safe ways to spend your long Memorial Day Weekend. Nancy and I plan on spending the next three days picking up the pieces here at the site. So that JimHillMedia can then finally be back up to full strength when Monday morning rolls around.


Thanks again for all your patience this week. We’ll see you again on Monday, okay?


j

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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