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Why For? : Epcot’s Space Center, Jim Korkis and Walt Disney World swamp boat rides

This time around, Jim Hill answers your questions about what Epcot's Space pavilion was originally supposed to look like, points out a new comic book you should check out, looks to recruit some European-based reporters for the site, and more. There's a lot here … get comfy.



First up, Lee H. sends along a note and a photo, seeking some info about Disney's original plans for Epcot's Space pavilion:

Hey Jim,

First off, let me just say that I love the site. This is despite the fact that you tend to leave me hanging on some of your longer stories (remember Tower Tales?), but I'll let that slide.

The real reason I'm writing is to see if you can help me identify a photo. It was sent to me by an unknown source who is kind enough to drop me cool stuff from time to time. It is supposedly an old concept painting for a Space pavillion at Epcot. I've never seen this before and wondered if you could shed a little light on it for me. The photo is attached, and any info will be much appreciated.

Thanks in advance…


Wow. It's been almost 20 years since I last saw this image. Yes, your unnamed source is correct. This is one of the very first paintings that was done for Epcot's long-in-the-planning Space pavilion. Back when the project was still in its blue sky phase.

Of course, the problem with looking at proposed Disney theme park attractions when they're still in their blue sky phase is that you have to be aware that you're looking at the bells-and-whistles version of that ride or show. When the Imagineers aren't afraid to toss in every possible idea that they have for that particular project. With the hope that Disney Company management will eventually allow them to keep a third to a half of what they've actually proposed.

So those enormous fire engine red gantries that you see bookending both sides of Epcot's space complex? They were strictly decorative. The Imagineers just threw the gantries into this Space concept painting because they looked cool. Given their enormous size, these show elements would have been prohibitively expensive to construct. Which is why they were the first thing to get cut as this project moved through WDI's development pipeline.

If I'm remembering correctly, this was the version of Epcot's Space pavilion that would have featured a simulated trip into space aboard a 21st Century version of the space shuttle. As WDW guests would have exited their shuttle, they would have found themselves standing on the deck of an authentic looking recreation of a space station.

If you'd like more information about what this particular version of Epcot's space attraction was supposed to have been like, Lee, then you should go check out a story that I originally wrote for MousePlanet back in October 2000. That article goes into an excruciating amount of detail about what the earlier incarnation of this proposed Future World addition was supposed to have been like.

If I'm remembering correctly, this is one of my MP pieces that eventually ended up being archived at So — if you really want to read the thing — head over there.

Thanks for sharing that Epcot Space pavilion concept painting with JHM readers, Lee. I know that they probably enjoyed seeing this art as much as I did. But — then again — maybe there are some people who got depressed by catching a glimpse of what might have been.

Speaking of people being depressed … Curious Yellowman wrote in this week to say that he was genuinely bummed out to hear about Jim Korkis' recent departure from

Dear Jim –

I am just so sorry to hear about Jim Korkis' decision to stop writing for I was enjoying all of those great stories that he had been doing for your site about comic book history. Now that the Other Jim is gone, do you think that JHM will continue to cover this area of the entertainment industry?

Curious Yellowman

Dear Curious Yellowman:

Well, let's start with the obvious here: There's just no way that we're going to be able to replace Jim Korkis. By that I mean: Jim was a guy who wrote extremely well, whose indepth knowledge of the comic book and the animation field verged on encyclopedic. People like that just don't pop up every day, Curious Yellowman.

So — if you're expecting to be able to maintain that same level of excellent coverage — I'm afraid that isn't going to happen.

But that said, JHM is still going to try and keep an eye on the comic book field. To make you folks aware of various intriguing things that are going on in the industry.

Take, for example, Funnypages Press. Okay. I'd be the first to admit that this operation is a wee bit on the small side. With just three staffers so far. Well, the company may be small. But the guys behind Funnypages Press — Tom Bancroft, Rob Corley and Greg Hardin — are bigtime talents.

You hardcore Disneyana fans out there will undoubtedly recognize Tom Bancroft's name. After all, he's the guy who served as lead animator on Mushu for Walt Disney Pictures' Summer 1998 smash hit, "Mulan."

Well, Bancroft can do a lot more than draw diminutive dragons. He can also crank out a pretty funny comic book. What book am I talking about? "Opposites Forces." A comic that takes all of the clichés that you probably associate with super hero stories and sweetly turns them on their ear.

So what's "Opposite Forces" about? It details the adventures of unlikely super heroes Marty Knopf, a schubby web page designer, and Alexis Hilltop, a pretty if somewhat perfectionist corporate lawyer. Marty and Alexis have recently acquired super strength, heat vision, super speed and x-ray vision because … well … it's kind of complicated. And comical.

You see, aliens from Planet Tenalp were determined to snuff out Captain Dynamo, Diamond City's resident super hero. So they trained a death ray on Captain Dynamo. Who has just been splattered with a pot full of hot matzo ball soup. Which Marty had just thrown out the window. And then …

Well, I don't want to spoil the whole story. Let's just say that Marty and Alexis are having quite a bit of trouble adjusting to their new abilities. But they'd better get their act together soon. For there's a brand new super villain in Diamond City. Someone whose bite looks like it would be decidedly worse than his bark.

Filled with beautiful line work as well as some really funny dialogue, "Opposite Forces" (to me, anyway) looks like a comic book series that would be well worth checking out. Though Issue # 1 & 2 of the Funnypages Press publication may be hard to come by — they were published back in 2002 — Issue # 3 of "Opposite Forces" should be hitting store shelves … right about now. So — if you'd like to try and get in on the fun now — drop by your local comic book emporium and pick up a copy today.

Or — if you'd prefer to get a peek at this new comic book series and its intriguing characters before you buy — head on over to the Funnypages Press webpage. Here, you can check out a few sample pages and admire Bancroft's fine line work. Or — better yet — click on "Rob's Weekly Doodle" and view some wickedly funny cartoons that take you behind-the-scenes at Walt Disney Feature Animation-Florida.

These are the sorts of comic book-related stories that we'll be doing here at from now on, Curious Yellowman. Not the great indepth stuff that Jim Korkis used to crank out. But smaller, less ambitious pieces. Stories about new comic books or series that will have (surprise, surprise) some sort of connection to the Walt Disney Company.

My apologies if this is somewhat disappointing news. But, hey, life is full of little disappointments. Speaking of which, DisneyMax recently wrote in to ask:

Hey Jim,

I've got another Why For question for ya. I'm sure you've seen that old hand drawn sketch of Walt Disney World that was drawn by Walt himself. Well, on the sketch on the west side of the property, between Epcot and the Magic Kingdom in what is about the location of the AAA Car Center and Shades of Green, there is a large oval that says "Swamp Ride." What was this? I would assume there has to be a pretty good story behind this because it seems like it would have been a complete departure from the original "theme park" formula. It looks like it would have been a major attraction, OUTSIDE of a "theme park." Was this some well thought out plan? Or was Walt just brainstorming on a napkin?


Ah yes. The swamp boat ride. To answer your question, DisneyMax: No, this wasn't just some idle doodle on Disney's part. For several years in the 1960s, Walt and his Imagineers did give some semi-serious thought to offering Disney World visitors the opportunity to view Central Florida wildlife up-close from inside an airboat.

The idea behind this particular project was that Disney could take that part of the Lake Buena Vista property that the corporation had agreed to leave pristine & undeveloped and turn it into something that would still make some money for the company. The plan was that Disney World would charge tourists $4 or $5 a head (Please keep in mind that the prices that I'm quoting here are the estimated admission costs for a WDW attraction that would have been up and running late in the early 1970s. Were Disney to open this same sort of attraction today, you'd probably have to throw a zero behind that $4 or $5. Anyway …) for an hour-long trip through the swamp. Where they'd (hopefully) get to see some mule deer, alligators and snowy white egrets in their natural surroundings.

So why didn't this project ultimately go forward? Well, as Walt Disney World's construction costs grew from an estimated $100 million to a budget-busting $400 million, a lot of Walt's dreams got moved to the back burner. That swamp boat ride? It was always something that the Imagineers were going to get back to. But — what with all the pressure Walt Disney Productions was under in the last 1970s to finally go forward with construction of Epcot, and then the building boom of the late 1980s / early 1990s (when the Mouse seemed to be adding a new resort to its Central Florida property every other year) — Walt's swamp boat ride never made it off the drawing board.

The last time that I heard anyone at WDI talking seriously about reviving the swamp boat project, DisneyMax, was back in the early 1990s. When the Imagineers were weighing their options when it came to Disney's Animal Kingdom. Given the high cost of the African and Asia enclosures, the team that was designing this new WDW theme park were looking for low-cost lands and attractions to add to DAK. So someone floated the idea of just putting WDW visitors in airboats and sending them out into the swamps to see real Central Florida animals in their natural surroundings.

The only problem was … the large, flat 500 acre parcel that the Imagineers had chosen as DAK's construction site was at least a half mile or so away from the nearest swamp. So — in order to finally bring Walt's doodle to life — WDI would have had to build a brand new Florida swamp right on site. Which would have involved moving tons of sandy soil. Which really would have negated any possible savings that the Imagineers would have theoretically seen by theming an Animal Kingdom exhibit/attraction around Central Florida's own wildlife.

But still good ideas never die at WDI. So who knows, DisneyMax? Maybe a few years further on down the line, as the Imagineers are looking for somewhat affordable attractions to add to Disney World, maybe someone will unearth a copy of that cocktail napkin that Walt supposed scribbled his initial ideas for his Central Florida resort.

Of course — given how admission prices continue to rise at WDW — I would imagine that when Disney World's swamp boat ride finally does open, you can anticipate paying $60 to $80 for the privilege of viewing an alligator from an airboat. Which (you'll have to admit) is a pretty hefty jump from the $4 or $5 that the Mouse was initially thinking of charging WDW visitors.

And — finally — Nick C. wrote in to ask why JHM almost never provides any coverage about what goes on at Disneyland Paris:

Dear Jim,

As a French "Disney addict" (even if I don't like to call myself like that!), I notice that you never give (or rarely) any information or news concerning the Paris resort, especially during those days where we talk a lot about the WDS expansion as the main goal for our new boss!! Many things have been told but nobody really knows the truth when it comes to Disney!! To that end, I contact you in order to know what things have been said about Paris in the Sates and what is really gonna happen in the future!!

I thank you in advance,

Nick C.

Dear Nick C.

You're right. hasn't really done all that good a job when it comes to covering the Disneyland Paris resort. By that I mean: the site (as of right now) only has one European-based reporter, Andrea Monti AKA Mickeyfantasmic. Who actually does a very nice job with his columns. (After all, Andrea has delivered more than a few scoops for JHM.) But — due to his extremely busy schedule — Monti had never been able to deliver as many DLP-based columns as he or we would like.

So — over the next few weeks — will be attempting to ramp up its Disneyland Paris coverage. Christopher W. will soon be heading over to France to cover DLP's first ever Gay Day festivities. And Eric C. is visiting that resort right now, where he'll be assembling information for an in-depth article about WDS's very best attraction, Cinemagique.

JHM is also looking into recruiting a few new writers to help cover the theme parks at Disneyland Paris as well as the Tokyo Disneyland Resort. So if you know anyone out there who might be interested in a gig like that, be sure and let us know, okay?

Why is JHM interested in increasing its DLP coverage. Because we recently learned — thanks to a mole in Celebration, FL. — that WDI is seriously gearing up its efforts to improve the Walt Disney Studios. The Imagineers have even formed a WDS steering committee, which meets once a month to actively look for ways to turn that troubled theme park around.

So — since WDI is now paying closer attention to WDS — I felt that the least that JHM could do is start paying closer attention the Walt Disney Studio theme park as well.

That's pretty much it for this week, folks … oops … almost forgot.

If you're a theme park history buff and live in the New England area, you might want to consider driving down to Wakefield, MA. this coming weekend. Why for? Because — as part of that town's annual Homecoming event — the Friends of Pleasure Island will be presenting a lakeside display of photos and artifacts from that long defunct theme park on Saturday. And on Sunday the group will actually be offering tours of the former site of the park.

Given Pleasure Island's intriguing ties to Disneyland (I.E. construction of both of these theme parks was supervised by C.V. Wood, the man who also built Freedomland as well as Six Flags Over Texas), taking a trip to Wakefield, MA might be a pretty entertaining way for a Disneyana fan to spend an afternoon. So if you'd like to take part in Sunday's tours (which will be presented at 8 and 10 a.m.), just pay a visit to the Friends of Pleasure Island website and then drop a line to Kory Hellmer to let her know that you'd like to sign up for the tour. Ms. Hellmer will then get back to you via e-mail regarding where to meet, etc.

Okay. Now that's really it for this week. Have a great weekend, okay? And — hopefully — I'll see some of you down in Wakefield come Sunday.


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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