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Why For Central Florida never actually became Hollywood East



Earlier this week, Steve B. wrote in to ask:

Dear Jim,

When the Disney-MGM Studios theme park opened, it was
promoted as a working studio.  Both live
action and animation were being produced there. 
There was discussion in the news about the high costs in California
driving production out of that state and into places like Florida.

Today, the working
studio idea is a thing of the past, the animation building no longer features
real animators working on future films, the sound stages are being converted
into rides like Toy Story Midway Mania, and the backlot tour now features
amazing views of tires stacked in a room for use by the car stunt show.  In the meantime, cities like Chicago, not
exactly known for right-to-work laws or cheap labor, are seeing an increase in
film production.  Why for?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Dear Steve B.,

To be fair, when Universal Studios Florida first opened in
June of 1990, it too was touted as a working studio. Back then, Orlando area
officials were happy to talk up the idea that Central Florida was becoming
Hollywood East
. More importantly, that all manner of high profile motion
pictures & television shows would soon begin shooting at Disney-MGM &
USF. Which would then translate into lots of high paying jobs & steady work
for Central Floridians.

Which isn’t what happened.

Don’t get me wrong. A few films were shot on those state-of-the-art
soundstages that the Imagineers had built at Disney-MGM. The plane interior
sequences for “Passenger 57” come immediately to mind. Likewise the Anthony
film, “Instinct.” And a handful on non-Disney-owned and/or produced TV program
like “The Adventures of Superboy,” “Thunder in Paradise” and HBO‘s “From the Earth to the Moon” were shot in and around this theme park’s backlot. But
beyond that, it was mostly game shows like “Win, Lose or Draw” and “Let’s Make a
” or Disney Channel series like “MMC” and “Adventures in Wonderland.”

The cast of MMC AKA The Mickey Mouse Club. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Universal had a similar sort of problem when it came to luring production to USF. I remember that – back when a good portion of Universal
Studios Hollywood
‘s New York Street set burned down in November of 1990 – that production
of “Oscar” (which – ironically enough – was a Touchstone Pictures release) was
moved to the New York City-themed section of Universal’s Florida theme park.
And – of course – there were all of those family-friendly sitcoms like “Clarissa Explains It All” and “Kenan and Kel” that were shot at USF’s Nickelodeon Studios
facility. But beyond that, it was mostly music videos and the occasional commercial,

But as to why Orlando didn’t become a major movie & television production
center … There were a number of factors, actually. First of all, the cost savings that you mention (which was
supposed to come from shooting in a right-to-work state like Florida) was often
offset by the enormous additional cost of flying name talent & key creatives in from
LA. Not to mention paying for meals & housing for these folks over the
length of the shoot.

More to the point, many of the filmmakers that were sorely tempted to make movies at Central Florida’s Central Florida production facilities were then put off by the idea of having tourists look in on them as they worked. It didn’t matter that
the Imagineers and/or Universal Creative had made these glassed-in viewing
areas sound-proof. Or – in some cases – had lined these production corridors with
one-way mirrored glass, so that these auteurs wouldn’t even known when they
were being observed. Just the idea that there were people up there, potentially
looking down (figuratively as well as literally) at them working was enough to
make some directors & actors deliberately take a pass on working at
Disney-MGM and/or USF.

Ironically enough, the one real success that came out of
Disney & Universal’s flirtation with establishing full-blown production
facilities in Central Florida was the one place where the people who worked
there knew that they were always being observed.

Max Howard and the artists & animators who made up the Opening Day team at
Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida

I’m talking – of course – about that satellite studio which
Walt Disney Animation Studios staffed and maintained at MGM. Which – thanks to
its giant glass windows — gave WDW visitors the chance to peer down into “The Pit” (that’s
what the artists & animators who actually worked in this exposed studio
floor section of the Animation Tour called it) and see what work was being done at that
time on WDAS’s next short and/or soon-to-be-released feature-length project.

Of course, what’s kind of ironic about this particular turn-of-events
is that the animators who worked in the “Magic of Disney Animation” fish bowl
were never supposed to work on feature-length releases like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.” The original plan for the Central Florida facility
is that the artists based here would only be working on special projects like the Roger Rabbit shorts
and Mickey-based featurettes like “The Prince & The Pauper.”

But when “The Little Mermaid” was released in November of
1989 and then turned into this genuine box office phenomenon, Disney’s future plans
for its feature animation department changed virtually overnight. Then-studio
head Jeffrey Katzenberg suddenly wanted to move WDAS from a one-new-feature-film-every-two-years
production schedule to a much more ambitious plan. One that called for the
Studio’s staff to crank out a brand-new full-length animated feature every single

And in order to pull off what Jeffrey was planning … Well, that
meant that it was “All Hands on Deck” time at Disney-MGM. With the
relatively young crew at Feature Animation Florida (which had only been working
for the Mouse for about six months at this point) suddenly being handed entire
sequences for “Beauty & the Beast” and “The Lion King” to animate. And given
what a great job they did with those assignments, the artists and animators at
WDFAF eventually found themselves working on their very own feature-length project, “Mulan.”

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

I have to tell you folks that – between May of 1989 and March of 2004 — I
spent many happy hours wandering the corridors of Feature Animation Florida. I
knew dozens of the artists & animators that worked there at that time. And you could not
ask for a nicer, more talented & dedicated group of people. Who would then do flat-out amazing work on Disney hand-drawn movies like “Mulan,” “Lilo & Stitch” and “Brother Bear.”

And when Walt Disney Feature Animation (back in the bad old
days when David Stainton was running the Mouse Factory) began talking about
reinventing itself in 2002 & 2003 so that Mickey’s movies could then better
compete with those that were being produced by Pixar, DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky Studios, I always
kind of hoped that Stainton would leave Feature Animation Florida alone. That –
given the charming, quirky, ambitious, highly successful hand-drawn films that the team at
Disney-MGM were consistently turning out at this point – you don’t fix what ain’t broke. It only made sense to
maintain the status quo in Orlando and then limit Feature Animation’s reinvention to
the crew that was working on the Burbank Lot.

But David … He didn’t see things that way. He wanted all of
Disney’s artists to be in one place. So Stainton not only shut down Feature
Animation Florida, he also pulled the plug on Disney’s Paris-based facility (i.e.
the animation studio that did the bulk of the work on “A Goofy Movie” and “Tarzan“).
He then gutted hand-drawn animation in an attempt to turn Disney Feature
Animation into this CG-only production facility.

And we all remember (with the possible exception of the people
in charge of Paramount’s Motion Picture Group. Who just hired David to be the president
of this studio’s new animation division) how well that went.

Concept art for WDI’s original vision forDisney-MGM’s Muppet Studios “land.” Which — in
addition to MuppetVision 3D — was supposed to have featured a Swedish Chef-themed
restaurant in addition to a “Great Muppet Movie” ride-through attraction. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Anyway … Getting back to Disney-MGM Studios … Excuse me …
Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Universal Studios Florida: The Imagineers
tried to address the whole
big-name-filmmakers-who-don’t-like-being-looking-at-while-they-work issue in
1990 by proposing building four more soundstages.
Only these new production facilities wouldn’t be located inside of
the studio theme park. They were actually supposed to built on the other
side of World Drive, directly across from Disney-MGM. Which would then
insure that — if they ever wanted to come shoot a movie in Central
Florida — the George Lucases, Steven Spielbergs, Peter Jacksons and
James Camerons of the world could then work in private. Well away from
the prying eyes of WDW Guests.

Of course, by doing something like
this, it would then become much, much harder to sell Disney-MGM Studio theme
park as this working studio where Disney World visitors would then be able
to see really-for-real movies & TV shows being made. Which
is why — about this same time — it was revealed that the Sunset
Boulevard and Muppet Studios expansion projects were in the works. With
the hope that — once all of these new rides, shows and attractions came online at Disney-MGM — the paying customers
wouldn’t even notice that they were seeing precious little work actually being
done at this allegedly working studio.

Mind you, a constant source
of frustration for the Imagineers was that Disney’s own movie divisions
— Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures and Hollywood Pictures — were reluctant to come on down to Central Florida and then shoot a film at the
Company’s studio theme park. Though — to be fair — the executives who
worked for these three divisions at the Studio would then argue that
they had a responsibility to Disney’s shareholders and the Company’s
board of directors to be fiscally responsible. And after weighing the
cross-promotional possibilities of shooting something like “Honey, I
Sent the Kids to the Moon” or “Honey, I Turned the Kids Invisible”

(Believe it or not, these were actually  premises that were seriously considered for the proposed third & fourth installments of the “Honey” series.
Disney even went so far as to register these titles with the MPAA [i.e. The Motion Picture Association of America] — along
with “Honey, I Switched Brains with the Dog” — before they eventually opted
to go the direct-to-video route with 1997’s “Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves“) at Disney-MGM versus the cost savings that would be had by shooting
this very same movie up in Toronto or Vancouver, the projected cost savings would almost 
invariably win out.

So in spite of the tens of millions of dollars
that had been poured into building all these state-of-the-state soundstages in and
around Orlando, Central Florida’s dream of becoming Hollywood East
slowly faded away. These days, while you’ll occasionally see a TV game
show like “Wheel of Fortune” being shot at Walt
Disney World and the “IMPACT Wrestling
show is still being produced at Universal
Studios Florida, most of the time these buildings stand empty. Which is
why — for years now — USF has staged some of the mazes that it builds
annually for “Halloween Horror Nights” inside of these soundstages.

The “IMPACT Wrestling” set on a Universal Studios Florida soundstage

Which now brings us to the problem that the Imagineers have
been struggling with for the better part of a decade. In that Disney’s movie-themed theme park was originally built around all of these soundstages & production facilities that were meant to support a working studio. And given that many of these buildings were deliberately designed so that the Guests could then peek in on the work that was being done … Since there haven’t been any movies or TV shows of note being shot at the studio theme park in years, how do you now reinvent Disney’s
Hollywood Studios to reflect that reality?

WDI has learned the hard way (i.e. the congestion problems
that continually plaque Pixar Place. Especially right in front of “Toy Story
Mania,” where – thanks to the extremely narrow street that cuts through this
part of the studio theme park – WDW visitors pushing strollers and/or Guests riding
on ECVs find this section of DHS extremely difficult to travel through) that it’s
sometimes a mistake to try and repurpose a pre-existing structure at the
Studios like a soundstage.

On the other hand, when you consider the expense involved
with first ripping out something of size (like one or more of Disney-MGM’s
original soundstages) so that you then have enough room to build a proper show
building – complete with a FastPass-friendly queue, a load/unload area that’s
both wheelchair & ECV accessible plus, of course, the inevitable post-show
gift shop … That’s an awful lot of money to have to tack onto the already-hefty
cost of building a NextGen ride, show or attraction for one of the stateside
theme parks.

Which is why the Imagineers have usually opted to retrofit (EX:
gutting DHS’s old “Superstar Television” theater to make way for the “American
Idol Experience
“) rather than tear things down. But with primo pieces of real
estate at Disney’s Hollywood Studios now being occupied by facilities that aren’t
being used as they were originally intended, one wonders how long it’s going to
be before WDI finally do officially let go of Central Florida’s Hollywood East
dream and starts knocking down buildings in order to bump out the borders of
this WDW theme park.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And speaking of Walt Disney World … I just wanted to give
you folks up that the latest installment of the “Unofficial Guide’s Disney Dish
with Jim Hill” podcast series
is now available for downloading from iTunes. And
this time around, Len Testa and I tour the Magic Kingdom Resorts. So if you’d
like to learn about what the Imagineers were considering as possible
replacements for Discovery Island or – better yet – take an audio tour of the
Grand One (i.e. the yacht that Guests staying at the Grand Floridian Resort
& Spa
can rent for an evening for an extra-special viewing experience when
it comes to the Magic Kingdom‘s nightly fireworks), you should definitely give
this show a listen.

Anyway … That’s it for this week’s Why For. If you have a
Disney-related question that you’d like to see answered in a future column –
you need to send those queries along to

Also, could you please do my ex — Shelly Valladolid — a favor and go vote for her teacher? Thanks.

Your thoughts?

The article was updated / corrected on October 14, 2011 to fold in additional information

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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