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Why For did Universal Orlando sell off all of that property it bought from Lockheed Martin?

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Paul G writes in to ask:

Why on earth are so many Disney fan websites so negative?  There are a
good number of them that I don't even look at anymore because they
spend so much time complaining about every last little thing.  They are
so negative!  (thank you Jim for being one of the few who, while not
being slavishly supportive, are at least still in touch with the
realities of life and still passionate about your love of Disney).

Dear Paul G.

Look, to be fair here, I first have to admit that — over the past 13 years that I've been writing almost exclusively for the Web — I've written a number of stories about The Walt Disney Company that could be considered negative. So we're kind of "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" country here.

But as to why so many Disney fan sites seem to be going negative these days … I think that there are a number of factors coming into play here. Chief among them being the way the Web works these days.

I mean, think about it, Paul G. What's driving the majority of conversations online these days? Social media platforms like Facebook & Twitter which make use of instantaneous communication. And sometimes when Disneyana fans are rushing to be the very first person to post a report on what a new ride, show or attraction is like, they're taking part in the soft opening of said ride, show or attraction. Which is typically when things are kind of rough around the edges, when all of the effects don't work, etc.

Case in point: The Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor attraction at WDW's Magic Kingdom. As Ron Schneider recounts in his excellent memoir, "From Dreamer to Dreamfinder: A Life and Lessons Learned in 40 Years Behind a Name Tag" (Bamboo Forest Publishing, July 2012), though this Tomorrowland attraction wouldn't officially be ready to open to the public 'til April 2, 2007, it did some playtesting back during the Fall of 2006. And at that time …

… a few preview audiences are brought in each day to see a primitive version of the finished product. The screen resolution is only a fraction of what it will be in April, the animation is choppy and the scripts are almost verbatim those created by the Imagineering writers.

But the crowds laugh — and those laughs are captured in the massive yellow 'Laugh Can' ; proof that, even in this primitive state, we're on to something good. The crowds are asked to fill out response forms at the end of each performance and, after a few breathless days, we're closed again.

Thankfully, Disney Operations comes to a preview performance and sees for themselves that we are definitely not ready to open, and we are now assured of spending the remaining three months of prep time undisturbed.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But the damage is done. The Disney Online Fans, tasting blood, have started posting reviews of our preliminary efforts. Their opinions are hopelessly uninformed and almost universally bad, since they cannot imagine that anyone but themselves cares about the quality of our show. We are trashed for the poor animation and the writing and especially for putting a Pixar show in Tomorrowland. In spite of repeated announcements at each performance that the preview is definitely not what the finished show will look like, they're certain that it will be no better. As if buying an annual pass endows one with knowledge of the future …

And as a direct result of those prematurely negative reviews that got posted online while this innovative interactive attraction was still in technical rehearsals, the Disneyana fan community wound up gravely wounding "Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor."  To the point where once WDI had plans to turn this Tomorrowland attraction into a franchise (i.e. building additional versions of "Laugh Floor" for Disney California Adventure, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland), the WDW version of "Laugh Floor" wound up being a one-off. All because senior management at The Walt Disney Company saw the initial negative reaction that MILF got and then figured "Why throw good money after bad?"

Now what's particularly frustrating about the whole "Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor" experience is that — with the possible exception of John Frost — I'm pretty sure that none of these alleged online theme park experts who were so quick to condemn this Tomorrowland attraction then ever bothered to circle back on this show to report on how the final, finished version of this interactive attraction turned out. All that ultimately mattered to these bloggers was that they had been among the first to post online that "MILF" — while it was still in technical rehearsal — had gags that didn't work and/or glitches in its animation. NOT that the Imagineers eventually dealt with all of these issues and — as a direct result — wound up with a far stronger attraction which has been entertaining WDW Guests for nearly six years now.

But that's the way the Web is these days, Paul G. In this rush-to-judgement / I-really-need-to-be-the-first-to-post-something-about-this era that we now live in, there's no time for reflection. Only reaction. As one prominent Disney webmaster told me back in October at an "Epic Mickey 2
" media event that — when it comes to breaking news — " … I don't have to be right. I just have to be first."

Of course, not all of us have the advantage that a Ron Schneider does. From his position of having worked in themed entertainment for over four decades now, Ron brings an awful lot of experience & insight to the table whenever he starts talking about why certain rides, shows and attractions work and why others don't. Which is why — if you or someone you love is thinking about entering the themed entertainment game — then I urge you to pick up a copy of "From Dreamer to Dreamfinder". Because there are life lessons to found inside of this 300-page Bamboo Forest Publishing book that you just won't find anywhere else.


Copyright 2012 Bamboo Forest Publishing.
All rights reserved

Next up, Craig H. writes in with a Universal Orlando-related question:

Hi Jim


First of all, I'm a huge fan of the podcasts you do with Len Testa.


As for my Why For, why for did Universal sell off most of its land before the days of Comcast? From what I understand, there was a rumor that Universal was interested in 4 gates in Florida but the plan ultimately fell through and they sold the land. I hope you can answer this!


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Dear Craig H, 

Yeah, what Universal Orlando had in the works for those 2000-acres that it acquired from Lockheed Martin back in September 1998 really was pretty impressive. We're talking (at full build-out, mind you) two brand-new theme parks, seven or eight hotels, yet another Universal CityWalk-like nighttime entertainment district. And because this $3 billion project was to have been built right across the way from the Orange County Convention Center, Universal's thinking was that … Well, given the sheer convenience of this state-of-the-art entertainment complex, the hundreds of thousands of people who annually attend events at the OCCC would have had no choice but to walk across the street and then sample what Universal was offering.


The green space out behind the South Concourse of the Orange County Convention
Center is some of the Lockheed Martin property that Universal Orlando planned on
turning into a new entertainment complex.

The only problem with the proposed site of this Universal Orlando expansion project is that — between 1958 and 1996 — this was where Lockheed Martin used to test its Copperhead, Hellfire and Pershing missiles. Which meant that this site was littered with decades of missile debris & toxic waste. And all of that hazardous material would first have to be cleaned up & hauled away before Universal could then get started on building its new multi-billion entertainment venue at what had once been known as Lockheed Martin's Sand Lake Road Complex.

Now what was kind of interesting about this clean-up effort was that Universal & Lockheed Martin partnered on the project. With Universal initially underwriting the costs of this rather pricey onsite work by selling off select pieces of the Sand Lake Road Complex. Take — for example — the 230-acre chunk that Universal sold off to Orange County in October 1998 for $65 million. Which then allowed the county to go forward with its planned $748 million expansion of the Orange County Convention Center.

And while the Environmental Protection Agency eventually recognized
Universal & Lockheed Martin
for the innovative way that they had worked with
State, Federal and local agencies to streamline the hazardous waste clean-up
process, in the end, the costs of these on-site clean-up efforts really began to mount.  

Take — for example — the $4 million that these two companies had to spend to clear toxic metals & industrial solvents out of the landfill at Site 5. Given that six such sites had been identified on the Sand Land Road Complex property .. Well, that then put the initial clean-up cost estimates for this project at $24 million. And then when you factored in the amount of time necessary to complete a hazardous waste clean-up project of this size, it would have taken at least until 2004 before Universal could even begin construction of this massive entertainment complex.

Make no mistake. Universal Creative really, really believed in this expansion project. To the point — according to the plans that the Company filed with Orange County — Universal eventually wanted to build two 18-hole golf courses, 10,000 hotel rooms, 700 time-share units and more than 2 million square feet of retail space on top of Lockheed Martin's old missile testing range.


Lockheed Martin's Missiles and Fire Control Center in Orlando, FL.

But then Vivendi, the French media giant who owned Universal Studios at this time, began having serious financial difficulties in 2004. And in an effort to make their corporation look that much more attractive to any would-be merger partners, Vivendi officials began spinning off / selling off any problematic divisions & projects. And even though Universal & Lockheed Martin were already four years & $40 million into their clean-up efforts at this point, the word came down to get the remaining 1,800-acres ready for sale. Which is why this primo piece of property was eventually sold off to Thomas Enterprises, Inc., a Georgia-based developer.

For the folks who worked at Universal Creative (i.e. the people who design all of the rides, shows and attractions for the Universal theme parks), losing the Lockheed Martin property was a real heartbreaker. By that I mean: Universal Creative saw this 1,800-acre site directly across from Orange County Convention Center as a way for the Universal Orlando Resort to finally become seriously competitive with Walt Disney World.

Of course, what's kind of ironic about this whole situation is that when Universal's next owner — General Electric — opted to sell off both NBC and Universal Studios theme park division to American cable giant Comcast in December 2009, Universal Creative found itself dealing with a group of executives who were genuinely excited about expanding Universal Orlando's entertainment offerings. Which is why — over the past three years — we've seen an explosion of growth & innovation at that Resort. Everything from the all-new Hi-Def 3D version of The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Universal's Superstar Parade, the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride, the Universal's Cinematic Spectacular — 100 Years of Movie Memories nighttime show, the Hollywood Drive-In miniature golf course and Transformers – The Ride 3D. Not to mention the 1,800-room Cabana Beach Resort that Universal Orlando will be opening in 2014 as well as USF's yet-to-officially-be-announced Krustyland expansion & Diagon Alley project.

So one has to wonder: If Universal Creative — working with Comcast officials (who — unlike the execs who ran Vivendi & GE — genuinely seem to like / are enthusiastic about being in the theme park business) were able to do this with the 840-acres that the Universal Orlando Resort currently occupies … Well, if Comcast officials had been equally enthusiastic / just as financially supportive of the Lockheed Martin project, what would Universal Creative have been able to do with the 1,800-acre Sand Lake Road Complex? After they cleared away all of that missile debris & hazardous waste, I mean.


Concept art for Universal Orlando's Cabana Beach Resort. Copyright
NBCUniversal. All rights reserved

Anyway … That's it for this week's Why For column. Remember if you want one of your Disney or theme park-related question answered in a 2013 edition of this JHM column, please send your query e-mails along to whyfor@jimhillmedia.com.

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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