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Why For do the WDW monorails not make a stop at Wilderness Lodge?



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First up, Brandon S. writes in to say:

Hi Jim,

I love listening to the Unofficial Guide’s Disney Dish podcasts with you and Len Testa. Even when you guys are touring the resorts and not just the Theme Parks its really cool to here all the stories about how things came to be. One question I always have when looking at a map of WDW or visiting the resort is why Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is NOT on the monorail loop since it is really very close to it? It seems like if it was on the monorail it would be even easier to get people into this ‘Deluxe’ Resort.

Thanks! And do you guys plan to keep doing new podcasts? I would love to hear your thoughts about the new Fantasy Land addition. Thanks!!

Brandon S.
Chicago, IL

Concept art for Disney World’s never-built Cypress Point Resort. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Dear Brandon,

Even back in the 1970s, when the then-named Cypress Point project was one of four hotels that were supposed to be built as part of Walt Disney World’s Phase Two (FYI: The other three were the Asian, the Venetian and the Persian Resorts), the Imagineers never had any plans to have the monorail make a stop at this wilderness-themed hotel.

If anything, the very idea of having an ultra-sleek, modern transportation system making regular stops at Cypress Point’s front door kind of undermined the sort of story that WED was looking to tell with this particular hotel. Which was: You’re out at this remote spot in the woods. The whole point of booking a stay at Cypress Point was that you were looking to disconnect from the hectic, modern world and then reconnect with nature.

That kind of explains one of the initial design conceits of Cypress Point. That — in addition to the 550 rooms which would be available for rent within the central core complex of this wilderness-themed hotel — the Imagineers also planned on building 20 rustic cabins out along the shore of Bay Lake for those WDW visitors who really were looking to ” … get away from it all.”

Disney Legend Dick Nunis

Of course, by the mid-1970s, Walt Disney World officials were refocusing all their efforts on trying to find some way to deliver on the promise of EPCOT. So plans for Cypress Point — along with the Asian, Venetian and Persian Hotels — got tabled for a time. But as work on EPCOT Center was well underway in the Fall of 1981, Dick Nunis — the then-executive vice president of Disneyland and Walt Disney World —  realized that demand for on-property hotel rooms would radically increase once this futuristic theme park officially opened on October 1, 1982. So Dick had the Imagineers dig out some of their original hotel plans for the WDW Resort for review. And the project that Nunis then decided to revive was Cypress Point.

“Why Cypress Point?,” you ask,”And not the Venetian or the Persian? Or especially the Asian, whose prepped-and-ready construction site had been jutting out into Seven Seas Lagoon ever since the Resort had first opened back in October of 1971?” To be blunt, Nunis was looking for a hotel that could be built in the Magic Kingdom area that then would have the least day-to-day operational impact on that theme park during that hotel’s construction phase. And had the Imagineers opted to go ahead with construction of the Asian instead … Well, that would have meant disruptions of the Magic Kingdom’s monorail service as they built that hotel’s covered-and-connected Monorail station. And that really wasn’t what Dick was looking for. He wanted a hotel that could be built which would then have little or no impact of the Guest experience of the tens of thousands of people who were staying out in Kissimmee and driving up 192 to come spend the day at the Magic Kingdom & the soon-to-open EPCOT Center.

That was what was kind of unusual about Dick Nunis. While he was running Walt Disney World, he prided himself on being a good neighbor. Dick didn’t view the people and/or the companies who ran all of those off-property hotels, motels & restaurants as the enemy. Nunis figured that … Well, given that the Mouse made so much money off of the tourists who visited the Company’s Central Florida resort during the day, it really wasn’t necessary to chase after every single nickel which rolled off of Disney’s table. Which is why — when Dick talked about building new on-property hotels — he wasn’t all that enthusiastic about 1920 – 2112 room behemoths like Disney’s All-Star Sports or the Caribbean Beach Resort. Nunis was more of a “share-the-wealth” guy. Which is why he favored smaller, low capacity resorts like the 550 room Cypress Point project that was supposed to be built along the shore of Bay Lake.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, as the cost of building EPCOT Center ballooned from WED’s initial estimates of $400 million to $800 million (with the final price tag for this futuristic theme park winding up being just shy of $1.2 billion), Dick wound up having to put off the start of construction on Cypress Point. And then when EPCOT Center failed to meet its initial attendance projections during that theme park’s first full year of operations … Well, that then caused the price of shares in Walt Disney Productions stock to tank. Which then left the Company vulnerable to attack by greenmailers like Saul P. Steinberg & Ivan Boesky. And it was the resulting uncertainty about Walt Disney Productions’ financial future that resulted in a management change at the Mouse House in September 1984. With Ron Miller being forced out and Michael Eisner then being appointed as Disney’s new chief executive officer.

And Eisner? Well, he had a very different attitude than Dick Nunis’ when it came to Walt Disney World. Michael wasn’t interested in being a good neighbor to all of the hotel, motel & restaurant operators out along 192. His main goal was to maximize the profit potential of the Florida property. Which is why — during the 20+ years that Eisner was calling the shots at the Mouse House — there was almost continuous construction on those 43 square miles of land that the Company owned in Orange & Osceola County. As Michael turned Walt Disney World into this virtual walled city in his effort to make sure that not a single dollar was left on the table.

This is why the 550 room Cypress Point hotel that Dick Nunis initially wanted to build alongside Bay Lake eventually got turned into the 730 room Wilderness Lodge Resort. More to the point, once this WDW hotel opened in May of 1994 and proved to be a huge success with Disney World visitors, the Company immediately began looking for ways to expand the footprint of this super-popular resort. They were eventually able to add an additional 137 units to this property in November of 2000 by building a brand new DVC — the Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge — right next door to the main lodge building.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Getting back to your transportation-related question now, Brandon … It may interest you to know that — while Cypress Point / Wilderness Lodge was never intended to be connected to the Magic Kingdom Resorts monorail loop — the Imagineers did initially plan on this wilderness-themed resort having its own unique internal transportation system.

Take a look at the 1994 era site plan that the Urban Design Group (i.e. the architectural firm that Michael Eisner tapped in 1989 to create a National Parks-inspired hotel for this 100-acre site) came up with for the overall Wilderness Lodge / Fort Wilderness campground area. Do you see that proposed rail loop in the center of this image?

Well, if Peter H. Dominick — the lead architect on this project — had had his way, the Fort Wilderness Railroad (which provided somewhat reliable transportation for Guests staying at the Fort Wilderness campground between the years of 1973 & 1977) would have been resurrected in a far hardier form. And this time around, that steam train would have taken people who were staying at Wilderness Lodge over to Fort Wilderness Junction. Where they could have caught a performance of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, had a meal or gone shopping in the new western-themed village that Dominick was looking to build next to Clementine Beach (i.e. that strip of sand to the right of River Country where Fort Wilderness visitors used to be able to swim. Until WDW officials began discouraging people from bathing in Bay Lake, that is).

Interesting enough, this adding-a-western-themed-village-at-Fort-Wilderness idea actually dates back to the early, early days of WDW’s campground. According to what Gary Goddard once told me in a 2008 interview, the Imagineers were already talking about seriously expanding this corner of the Resort as far back as 1974. And then …

EDITOR’S NOTE: I had reached this point in writing last week’s Why For column last Friday morning when the news began to break about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Which kind of knocked me for a loop for a while there. Given that — over the past three years — I’ve made three separate trips to Newtown, CT. And all of them for Disney-related reasons.

To explain: My significant other — Nancy Stadler — is a huge ABC soaps fan. And when Disney’s Hollywood Studios cancelled its annual Super Soap Weekend in 2009, Nancy took that kind of hard. Which is why we then began casting around for some sort of replacement event.

And as it turns out, in 2010, Treehouse Comedy Productions began staging ABC Soap-related events at Edmond Town Hall. Which is this 80 year-old theater located right in the heart of a picturesque small town in southwestern Connecticut. Which is why on two separate occasions (September 10, 2010 and June 24, 2011 to be exact) we made the 3 1/2 hour drive down from New Boston, NH to Newtown, CT. Just so Nancy & friends could then see Port Chuck (which is this band made up of four actors from “General Hospital“) & Maurice Bernard (who plays Sonny Corinthos on that same ABC soap).

And since I’m really not all that much of a soap opera fan, while Nancy & Co. were inside Edmond Town Hall enjoying performances by Port Chuck & Mr. Bernard, I killed time by exploring Newtown. Which is very much like New Boston. Right down to the old-fashioned general store in the center of town which has this really great deli hidden in the back. I got a terrific turkey wrap at the Newtown General Store right before that store closed at 5 p.m. Which — I know — might seen kind of a pretty early time for a general store to close. But that’s the way things are in small New England towns. Once people are settled into their houses, safe & snug for the night, you’re really not going to do all that much more business. So what’s the point of staying open longer than you have to?

Newtown General Store decorated for the holidays

Anyway … I really enjoyed what I saw of Newtown, CT during my two visits there. It seemed like this very tight little community. By that I mean: When I was parked in the lot directly below Edmond Town Hall, I had this clear view of the volunteer fire department. And when a call came in that damp June night, I watched as all sorts of locals came tearing into the parking lot with their cars & SUVs. They quickly pulled on their fire gear and then fearlessly climbed up on that truck, willing to do whatever they had ro in order to help their neighbors.

Of course, it’s one thing to help a single family deal with the aftermath of a house fire. It’s quite another to help 20 different families deal with the sudden, brutal loss of a child.

Anywho … My most recent trip to Newtown wasn’t even a planned thing. Earlier this Spring, Nancy and I were driving through Connecticut on our way back home from Georgia. We had been down in Carnesville, GA dealing with her Dad’s estate and had just a few hours of driving to go before when we’d make it back home to New Boston. And as the two of us were driving up 84, I suddenly realized that I had a phone interview scheduled with Elijah Wood (who voices the character of Beck on Disney XD‘s “TRON Uprising“) which was supposed to begin shortly.

So I took the very next exit off of 84. And where did we wind up totally by chance? Newtown, CT. Again. And I sat in the parking lot of the Blue Colony Diner talking with Mr. Wood (who’s a very nice guy, by the way), I couldn’t help but think how happy I was to be back in this place once more. I mean — while so much of Connecticut now feels like an extended bedroom community for all of the bigger cities in that state like Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven — Newtown really has an identity that’s all its own. It looks like this really great place to live. A place where you can sit out in front of the General Store and have total strangers say “Hello” to you as they walk by on Main Street.

“Why exactly are you telling me this, Jim?,” you ask. “I don’t want to hear about Main Street in Newtown, CT. I want to hear about Main Street, U.S.A. at one of the Disney theme parks.” The reason that I’m sharing these stories with JHM readers is — just like you — I’ve been watching all of the coverage coming out of Newtown, CT this past weekend. Where people like Geraldo Rivera stand in front of this small town’s high school football field and then attempt to be profound. Talking about what this senseless, brutal tragedy says about America. Who we are as a nation. Who we are as a people.

And I just want to remind you that — if you can just look past all of those satellite trucks and those slickly produced news segments with their solemn musical underscores — Newtown, CT is a real place with real people who are still reeling. All because some animal with an automatic weapon shot his way into an elementary school last Friday morning and then — for whatever reason — decided to turn a group of heroic teachers and their terrified students into targets.

As a parent and coming from a family of educators as I do (My mother was a teacher. My father was a principal. My brother & my sister are principals today. My sister-in-law is also an educator), that something like this could happen to little kids & their teachers in the one place that they were all supposed to be safe just sickens me. Then factor in that this shooting happened in Newtown, CT. Which really is the sort of place that Norman Rockwell used to make his paintings about … just escalates this tragedy to unimaginable heights.

But since this is America that we’re talking about here … By this time next week, once the first wave of the memorial services are over, there’ll be some other tragedy that’ll comes along which will then immediately grab our attention. And Geraldo & all those satellite trucks will pull up stakes and move on to that story. Finally leaving the residents of this small southwestern Connecticut town alone to mourn their own in their own way.

Last night outside of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, CT. Copyright American
Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

But before that happened … I just wanted to talk about the real Newtown, CT. Which is more than just that high school football field or those candlelight vigils in front of St. Rose of Lima Church that you keep seeing over & over & over again on television. I’m just hoping that — after all of the tears & the anger & the mourning — that the good people who actually live in this quiet corner of Fairfield County find a way to heal. That these folks can somehow find their way to being the sort of community where you immediately begin chatting up a complete stranger when they sit themselves down at the counter of the Blue Colony Diner. Or just automatically say “Hello” to someone who’s seated out in front of the Newtown General Store because it’s the polite thing to do.

Here’s hoping that things someday get back to normal in this small New England town. Though — right now — I don’t see how that could ever be possible.

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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