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Why For did Epcot’s Future World not turn out as WED had originally planned?

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Epcot Enthusiast wrote in this week to say:

I saw a Tweet today that said that you and Len Testa were
touring Future World and World Showcase recording stories for a new "Unofficial
Guide Disney Dish with Jim Hill" podcast.
Epcot is my very favorite WDW theme
park. Could you please share some stories about rides and attractions that were
planned but not built at that theme park?

Dear Epcot Enthusiast,

To be honest, it's kind of hard to know where to begin with
EPCOT Center. There are so many strange & bizarre stories associated with
the development & construction of this futuristic theme park.

Take – for example – how EPCOT Center was initially supposed
to be built much closer to World Drive. With the idea being that you were
literally supposed to be able to see Spaceship Earth looming up over the trees
as you drove past towards The Magic Kingdom.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.

"So why did these plans change?," you ask.  During the initial site survey work of this
project, a colony of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers was found to be nesting right on
the spot where – ironically enough — EPCOT Center's "The Land" pavilion was originally
supposed to be built.

And since continuing with development of this particular piece
of Walt Disney World property would have then disturbed this endangered
species, the Imagineers opted to shift EPCOT Center's construction site over 300
feet to the East. Which was great for the Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers, but kind of
screwed up WED's plans for Spaceship Earth to be dramatically revealed while
driving up World Drive.

"But why didn't Disney just relocated these birds?," you
ask. Well, you have to keep in mind that this was/is a federally-protected
species. So it's not like the Mouse really had any options in this particular
situation. More to the point, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wasn't
entirely sure (at that time, anyway) that Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers could actually
be relocated.


A naturalist at the Disney
Wilderness Preserve places a Red-Cockaded
Woodpecker in its new home

But times changes. And in the Fall of 2008, five pairs of
Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers were successfully moved from Florida's Apalachicola
National Forest to the Disney Wilderness Preserve in Kissimmee. And  these birds seem to have really taken to their
new 12,000-acre home
. At last count (which was done back in October of 2010),
this Red-Cockaded Woodpecker colony had grown from just 10 birds to 30.

So who knows: If this particular relocation technique had
existed back in the late 1970s (More to the point, if the Feds had be willing
to sign off on the idea of Mickey moving an entire colony of endangered birds),
EPCOT Center would have probably had a slightly different layout. At the very
least, "The Land" pavilion in Future World would have been built in a different
spot.

And speaking of "The Land" … Thanks to "Soarin'," this
Future World pavilion is quite popular with modern-day Epcot visitors. But this
wasn't actually the sort of structure that the Imagineers had originally
planned on building in this part of that theme park.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All
rights reserved

What WED had originally wanted to fo with "The Land" was
construct this pavilion which was made up of seven massive crystalline
structures. And each of these giant crystal-like chambers was to have housed a
different habitat from the Earth. We're talking snow-covered peaks, the burning
desert, even the lush greenery of the rainforest.

Mind you, only five of these chambers were to have held natural
environments. The other two would have been agricultural and urban
environments. And it was in both of these parts of the show building that the
Imagineers were looking to hammer home the basic premise of this Future World
pavilion:

The Land Pavilion will graphically illustrate man's role as
the "protector" of this finite resource, as well as his alternatives and
choices in maintaining, and even enhancing, the delicate balance within the
natural environment. Through a variety of exciting and informative shows and
experiences, guests will be introduced to the basic concepts essential for
understanding the need for harmony between man and his home on "The Land."


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

That's how this Future World pavilion was described in Walt
Disney Productions' 1977 annual report. And as for the rides & the shows
that the Imagineers had in the works for this version of "The Land" back then …
Well, this pavilion's signature attraction was to have been "The Blueprints of
Nature." Where Epcot visitors were to have boarded this balloon and suddenly found
themselves caught up in a fierce snowstorm high up in the mountains.

As these Guests rode along in their balloon, they were to
have followed along as this snow became water and then flowed through the other
six of "The Land" 's natural habitats. As they floated along in their balloon observing
this water from above, these WDW visitors were to be introduced to the four
basic components of Nature's Blueprints (i.e. the snowflakes of Winter, the
germinating seeds of Spring, the flowers of Summer and the leaves of Fall). And
as the water reached the desert habitat and then evaporated, the Guests (aboard
their balloon, of course) were to have followed this water vapor high into the
atmosphere. Where it then was to have reformed as snow.

You get the idea, right? The never-ending cycle of Nature.
How we are all interconnected. More importantly, how fragile our ecosystem
actually is. Which is why man must do everything he can to preserve the balance
of nature. Make sure that this cycle is never interrupted.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Which was a great message for when "The Land" was supposed
to be sponsored by a lumber company (which wanted Disney to help get across the
message that they were doing everything they could – i.e. replanting forests
after they had harvested all of the trees – to be an environmentally responsible
corporation). But when that would-be Epcot sponsor dropped out and Kraft Foods
then offered to underwrite the construction of this Future World pavilion …
Well, the central story, the underlying message, even the overall look of "The
Land" now had to be radically reworked.

Even so, given all of the architectural work that had
already gone into the creation of this giant crystalline-structure version that
was to have housed this proposed Future World pavilion, the Imagineers didn't
want to totally abandon this design idea. Which is why Epcot's Journey into Imagination
wound up being housed inside of a crystal-shaped show building.

More to the point, given all of the time & effort that
WED had put into designing those seven carefully interconnected natural
habitats that were to have been the heart of the original version of Epcot's "The
Land" pavilion … Well, this wasn't a concept that Dr. Henry Robitaille was
willing to walk away from.


Biosphere 2

For those of you who aren't familiar with Henry's work, Dr.
Robitaille is known worldwide for his contributions to the science of
hydroponics. Dr. Robitaille worked for 20 years on the Epcot project. And if
you're ever floated through "Living with the Land," you've already seen a lot
of Henry's cutting-edge work (EX: soil-less growing technologies) on display in
this Future World pavilion.

Well, Henry genuinely believed that there was something to
WED's original idea for "The Land" (i.e. creating seven interconnected natural
habitats to then demonstrate how the Earth's ecosystem actually worked together).
Which is why – in the late 1980s – Dr. Robitaille agreed to become a consultant
on the Biosphere 2 project.

For those who don't remember this quirky scientific experiment,
Biosphere 2 was this massive glass greenhouse that was built in the Santa
Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, AZ. Built by Space Biosphere Ventures (a
company that received much of its funding from Texas multimillionaire Edward P.
Bass
. Whose family – at one time, anyway – used to own almost a quarter of The
Walt Disney Company), this artificially closed-off complete ecosystem was
initially thought to be a dry run for man building a colony on Mars.

Sadly, personality conflicts and flaws in this enormous enclosed
ecosystem eventually derailed the Biosphere 2 project. Today, this massive
structure is being used by the University of Arizona as an environmental lab.

And speaking of space travel … Perhaps the greatest loss to
the early, early version of Epcot Center was the Space Pavilion. Which – based
on the description of this proposed Future World pavilion which can be found in
Walt Disney Production's 1977 annual report – sounds like it would have been
something truly extraordinary.

Space – a huge, interstellar "Space Vehicle" will transport
passengers to the outer frontiers of the universe, highlighting man's efforts
to reach out for the stars around him … from the early pioneers who looked and
wondered … to modern-day space travelers and their triumphs … to the challenges
and possibilities of future space technologies and exploration.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

"And how exactly would this Future World pavilion have
worked?," you ask. The key to pulling off Space's central illusion – that you and
several hundred other Epcot visitors were actually aboard this massive vehicle
that was hurtling through the cosmos – was the Omnimax Sphere. Which was to have
filled this Future World pavilion's many "windows" (i.e. projection screens)
with this moving-in-perfect-sync starfields.

This — coupled with the sleek space vehicle that three-time
Academy Award-winning production designer John De Cuir Sr. had drawn up as well
as the inspired script that sci-fi pioneer Ray Bradbury had written for this proposed
theme park attraction – would have made this version of Future World's "Space"
pavilion a must-see for all Epcot visitors.

"So why wasn't this version of the 'Space' pavilion ever
built?," you ask. For the same reason that many of the rides, shows &
attractions that were initially proposed for Future World & World Showcase never
made it off the drawing board. Because Walt Disney Productions executives had a
lot of trouble lining up sponsors for EPCOT Center. Mainly because many
countries & corporations just couldn't see the long-term benefit of being
associated with this forward-looking theme park.


John De Cuir Sr. and Ray Bradbury
examine the model for the show car which was to
have been used in the original
version of Epcot's "Space" pavilion.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All
rights reserved

Plus there were mechanical issues with the original version
of Epcot's "Space" pavilion. To be specific, the Imagineers couldn't figure out
an affordable way to make the enormous theater car (which served as the central
ride vehicle for this Future World attraction) feel as though it were actually floating
in space. Which was one of the key emotional beats that Bradbury had included
in his show script. That Epcot visitors – even if it was only for just a moment
– had to experience what it felt like to be in zero gravity.

Mind you, it wasn't 'til some 25 years later — when the
Imagineers came across that centrifuge-based technology which currently powers
Epcot's "Mission: SPACE" attraction — that they actually found a way to give WDW
visitors what Ray had been asking for (i.e. the chance to feel what it's like
to float in space). But WDI did eventually make this happen. Albiet in a very different
form than what De Cuir Sr. and Bradbury had originally proposed.

This has actually happened quite a bit over the course of the
Walt Disney Company's history. The Imagineers come up with a genuinely great
concept from a new ride, show or attractions for the Parks … but then have
absolutely no clue as how they'd pull off a particular effect, build the cost-effective
/ easy-to-operate-and-repair ride system that's necessary to pull off  this show concept.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Take – for example – the "Incredible Journey Within" ride
that was supposed to be the marquee attraction at Epcot's Life & Health
Pavilion. Guests were to have boarded super-sized blood cells and then traveled
through a realistic representation of the human circulatory system,
witnessing " … the inner workings of the fascinating, complex human machine" as
they rode through this Future World show.

The only problem was … The Imagineers had absolutely no clue
how they were going to create a 35 foot-tall working heart value. One that
would flex & pulse continuously for 12 hours a day, seven days a week as
each blood-cell-full-of-WDW-visitors then moved through that particular show
scene in "The Incredible Journey Within."

Which is why it was almost a kindness that it took the Walt
Disney Company so long to find a sponsor for Epcot's "Wonders of Life"
pavilion. By then, the Imagineers had come up with that simulator-based technology
which is used to power "Star Tours." Which made it that much easier to create a
ride film that took Guests on a trip through the human body, rather than
building the enormous & elaborately themed physical sets that would have
been necessary to properly pull off the "Incredible Journey Within" ride.


An early model for Epcot's Life and Pavilion.
Please note – that as you look to the back of
this photo – you can see some of
the sets which would have been built for Future
World's "The Incredible Journey
Within" ride. Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

Now I know that it sometimes depresses Disneyana fans to
read these what-might-have-been articles, hearing about all of these great rides,
shows and attractions that didn't quite make it off of WDI's drawing boards.
Well, at least you're not as disappointed as then-President Jimmy Carter must
have been when he finally got to visit EPCOT Center.

You see, back on October 2, 1978, Card Walker – the then-President
and Chief Executive Officer of Walt Disney Productions – announced that the
Company had decided to definitely move forward with its plans to build EPCOT
Center. And at the 26th World Congress of the International Chamber
of Commerce meeting (which was held that year at Walt Disney World), Walker actually
unveiled Disney's plans for Future World and World Showcase.

So as President Carter and his wife Rosalynn wandered
through that gallery of concept art that the Imagineers had set up in the
convention center at Disney's Contemporary Resort Hotel, they got to see
extremely cool things like the magic carpet ride that was proposed for World
Showcase's United Arab Emirates pavilion. Which was to have sent Guests flying
past scenes straight out of "A Thousand and One Arabian Nights," not to mention
soaring over sequences which were to have showcased what the modern Arab world
was actually like.


(L to R) as Donn Tatum and
Rosalynn Carter look on, Card Walker
walks President Jimmy Carter through a
gallery full of EPCOT
Center concept art. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

And did I mention this magic carpet ride was supposed to
have made use of that mist curtain / project system that Imagineers eventually
installed in "Pirates of the Caribbean" as a way to bring Davy Jones and
Blackbeard into that popular theme park ride? Or that this attraction at Epcot's
United Arab Emirates pavilion was to have featured a Disney-created genie
character that would have predated the one that Robin Williams voiced in "Aladdin"
by more than 10 years?

But the story of the United Arab Emirates' magic carpet ride
will have to wait for a future Why For column. Sorry to be such a tease here.
But this week's story is already 'way too long.

Anyway … That's it for this week. Here's hoping that you
folks have a great Columbus Day Weekend. And in the meantime, remember that –
if you have a Disney-related question that you'd like to see answered in a
future Why For column – you need to send those queries along to whyfor@jimhillmedia.com.

Your thoughts?

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.

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“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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