Connect with us


“Why For” returns!

Your questions about the Walt Disney Company (the obscurer the better) answered in that patented long-winded Jim Hill style



Listen to the Article

Belle from Celebration, FL. writes:

Dear Jim:

Love the web-site. But you have to be kidding me? Disney’s actually talking about doing a live action movie version of “Beauty and the Beast”? I don’t care how good the Broadway musical is. Seeing live performers portray Cosgworth, Lumiere and Mrs. Potts will just ruin the original for me …


Would it help if I told you that Disney’s animated version of “Beauty and the Beast” actually started out life as a live action project?

Strange but true. But as a follow-up to his highly acclaimed 1983 Touchstone Pictures release, “Never Cry Wolf,” director Carroll Ballard talked with Disney execs about doing a big screen version of this classic fairy tale. This project made it so far along in the studio’s development pipeline that “Beauty and the Beast” warranted a mention in the company’s 1982 annual report.

The problem – as you might well understand – was how to pull off the Beast in a live action film. Carroll reportedly didn’t want to copy Jean Cocteau’s 1946 take on this tale and just have his romantic lead slathered in make-up. So – for a time – there was actually supposed some talk about doing the Beast (at least while the character was in Beastly form) as an audio-animatronic.

However, before Ballard’s “Beauty and the Beast” made it too far along the Disney development track, there was a management change at the studio in September 1984. Suddenly Ron Miller was out & Michael Eisner was in. Consequently, any film projects that Miller had initiated just prior to his exit had to be reviewed by Eisner’s people before they could officially go forward. These folks then read through Carroll’s treatment and said “Well, I don’t know about live action. But this might make a cool animation film.”

So the new management team at Disney reportedly told Ballard “Thanks but no thanks,” then sent him packing. (Which was really kind of sad. Why? Because after his Disney deal fell through, it would be nine years before this gifted film-maker could deliver another film to the big screen: Columbia Tristar’s 1992 release, “Wind.”). They then assigned a few screenwriters the task of turning “Beauty and the Beast” into a screenplay for a feature length cartoon.

Of course, these guys ran into the same problems that Walt Disney’s team ran into in the late 1930s, and again in the late 1940s (When these guys repeatedly tried to turn the story of “Beauty and the Beast” into something that could support a full length animated feature). Which is: What do you do in Act II? When all that the girl and the beast seem to do is sit around and eat dinner. Every so often, the Beast blurts out “Will you marry me?” The girl says “No” … Which is not nearly as entertaining as watching – say – a Fairy Godmother conjuring up a pair of glass slippers (Which is why Disney ultimately decided to make “Cinderella” instead of “B & B”.)

So, from early 1985 to 1988, two different teams of writers took a whack at turning “Beauty and the Beast” into a big screen cartoon. Both failed … Which is why the project eventually end up in Linda Woolverton’s lap. Woolverton (Whose only work for the Mouse prior to this point was churning out a few scripts for “Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers”) had written a novel that had impressed an unnamed executive at Disney Feature Animation. Which is why Linda ended up getting a shot at writing “Beauty and the Beast.”

Four drafts later, Woolverton came up with a screenplay that everyone at Walt Disney Feature Animation thought they could live with. Mind you, this was the now-legendary non-musical version of “Beauty and the Beast.” The one that then-Disney-Studio-head Jeffrey Katzenberg shut down after just 10 weeks of production. One look at the film’s leica reel convinced Katzenberg that “B & B” was still too dark, too dour, too slow.

So “Beauty & the Beast”‘s original director – animation veteran Richard Purdum was “persuaded” to step aside. Alan Menken & Howard Ashman were reluctantly (And when I say “reluctantly,” I mean “REALLY reluctantly.” These guys just didn’t want to make “Beauty & the Beast” as their follow-up to “The Little Mermaid.” They wanted to push ahead with Howard’s dream project: a big goofy Bob-Hope-and-Bing-road-picture-version of “Aladdin”) recruited to write some songs for the film …

And the rest of the story … Well, you can see for yourself next Tuesday, when the Platinum Collection edition of “Beauty and the Beast” goes on sale everywhere. Hopefully, somewhere among all those cool extra features that Disney crammed onto this DVD, they’ll make some mention of the live action version of “Beast” that Carroll Ballard wanted to make. Or – at the very least – give us a peek at those 1930s & 1940s versions of “Beauty” that Walt tried to get off the ground.

So anyway, Belle … To make a long story short (“It’s too late now!”), Disney turning “Beauty and the Beast” into a live action film isn’t really all that strange an idea. I mean, if the cards had fallen the other way, Carroll Ballard would have probably gotten a chance to make his version of “B & B.” Which undoubtedly would have been loaded with sumptuous cinematography.

So who knows? Maybe some enterprising executive at Disney Feature Animation will read this and think: “That’s what we should do! Hire Carroll Ballard to direct the live action version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’!”

Don’t laugh. This is Hollywood that we’re talking about, after all, Belle. A place where bizarre things like this happen all the time …

And speaking of bizarre Hollywood related stories, let’s go to our next letter. BigFatTom from Cleveland writes:

What’s the deal with Disneyana fans getting so excited about that “Journey to the Center of the Earth” ride over at Tokyo Disney Sea. I mean, it looks like a cool ride and all. But it’s not like Disney ever made a movie based on that Verne book.

That’s true, BigFatTom. But you might interested to know that – within the last 10 years – Disney actually came within inches of making a big budget live action version of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

The screenplay that I’ve seen for the project (Which – on its title page – says that film was to have been called “Walt Disney’s ‘A Journey to the Center of the Earth’) was written in September 1993 by Clifford & Ellen Green. For those of you who don’t know, the Greens are a fairly successful screenwriting team. They’re the folks who wrote “SpaceCamp,” “Three Wishes,” “The Seventh Sign” and “Bless The Child.” (Disneyana fans might know Clifford & Ellen best from their work on their 1985 ill-fated Touchstone Pictures’ release, “Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.”)

Anyway … Jules Verne fans will no doubt be disappointed to hear that the Greens’ script wasn’t exactly a faithful adaptation. To be honest, it ditches the book’s original 18th century setting entirely and sets “Journey” in the modern world. A few memorable locations and set pieces are carried over from the novel. But, beyond that, it’s basically a brand new story.

That said, this story does start off with a bang. Disney’s “A Journey to the Center of the Earth” begins out in the Mojave Desert in the middle of the night. Scientists at the Goldstone Tracking Station think that they’re on a brink of a huge scientific break-through. Why for ? Because their enormous array of antennas are picking up what appears to be a signal from deep space.

But – as they try to get a fix on the signal – the scientists are in for a rude shock. For this beacon isn’t actually coming from outer space. It’s coming from inner space. Deep inside the center of the earth, to be precise.

Eventually, we learn that this signal – a distress beacon, to be precise – is being sent by a speleological expedition that being lead by Robby MacLachlan. Who – not-so-co-incidentally is the son of the gruff, driven billionaire J. Robert MacLachlan.

Of course, Robby and J. Robert have been estranged for a number of years. But that doesn’t Mac from quickly mounting a rescue mission. As is usually the case in films like this, the billionaire assembled a team of colorful characters to help him find his son. These include Billy Holden, a caving expert who’s looking for a big score; Dr. Caryl Wickham, a trauma specialist; Alex MacLachlan, Mac’s headstrong grandson who’s determined to go along on the expedition and help save his dad; as well as Hans, an expert rock climber that the script describes as looking “like a Norse God with the smile of an angel.”

This unlikely group of explorers journeys to Iceland. There – on the slope of Mt. Snaeffel – they follow the clues in an ancient manuscript – which directs them down a particular lava tube in the not-so-extinct volcano. From there, it’s an exciting but often treacherous trip down deep into the bowels of the earth.

I won’t lie to you, folks. There’s a reason that Disney ultimately opted not to make the Cliffords’ version of “A Journey to the Center of the Earth.” The third act of this proposed film kind of loses its way. Instead of being an epic adventure, suddenly “Journey” becomes about how greed undermines the team at a very crucial point in the plotline. And what do the explorers have to be greedy about? How about rubies the size of softballs?

But before that happens, there are some great set pieces in this script. Mac and his hand-picked team sailing across a vast subterranean sea while seated inside of an enormous upturned mushroom cap. A hellish electrical storm that sends ball lightening raining down on the explorers. Fleeting encounters with the citizens at the center of the Earth.

Which is why Disney Studio officials probably felt that “Journey” – once the Greens’ version was significantly rewritten, of course – would be a pretty safe bet for the company. A film that they could advertise as being “in the tradition of Disney’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Seas.'”

At the very least, the Imagineers were excited by the idea that Disney was thinking of making a movie based on Jules Verne’s “A Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Which is why WDI immediately set to work designing “Journey” – inspired rides and attractions.

“What sorts of rides?” you ask. Some of you who visited “The Walt Disney Story” at WDW’s Magic Kingdom in the early 1990s may recall seeing some intriguing artwork up in the post-show portion of that theater. It showed a giant magma worm (which reportedly was going to be the largest audio-animatronic figure that WDI ever built) rising up out of a pool of lava, snapping at passengers who were riding through a “Journey to the Center of the Earth” attraction.

Where exactly would this ride have been located at Florida? At Disney-MGM, actually. The preliminary plan was that a “Journey” – themed sequence would be added to that park’s Backstage Tram Tour. The tram would roll into a soundstage where several scenes from the “Journey” movie had allegedly been shot. You’d pass through jewel encrusted caverns, the ruins of Atlantis and then – just as you pull alongside a boiling pool of lava – the magma worm would rise up out of the muck and begin snapping at the trams full of tourists.

The idea was – by adding another big special effects filled sequence like “Catastrophe Canyon” to the Backstage Tram Tour – the Imagineers could finally get guests excited about riding this somewhat underwhelming Disney-MGM attraction again (Let’s face facts, folks: “Catastrophe Canyon” aside, rolling past facades used in the filming of “Ernest Saves Christmas” as well as rusted-out wrecks from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” just doesn’t scream “reride.” At least to me.)

But all of this never happened. Why for? Because – in the end – Disney execs weren’t entirely certain that modern moviegoers would turn out for a film that was based on a 125 year-old novel. Which is why the studio ultimately ditched “Journey” in favor of doing a film that was based on a 43 year-old book: “Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters.”

That this Hollywood Pictures release sank without a trace was – in a weird sort of way – actually a comfort to Disney Studio execs. If you can believe this circular bit of thinking, they actually used the failure of “Puppet Masters” to make themselves feel good about their decision to cancel production of “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

See if you can follow this logic: “Puppet Masters” bombed at the box office NOT because it was a bad movie. But – rather – because movie-goers don’t like films that are based on science fiction books. Which is why – ultimately – it was a real good thing that Disney didn’t go ahead with production of “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” After all, that movie would have been based on a really OLD science fiction book. And everyone in Hollywood knows that people hate old books.

So everyone at Disney Studios forgot about “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” At least on the live action side of the house. Over in Feature Animation, Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale and Don Hahn – for a short time, anyway – did toy with the idea of doing an animated version of “Journey.” Until they decided that it might be more fun to make up their own journey-to-the-center-of-the-earth story. Which is where “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” ended up coming from.

But the Imagineers … They never, ever forgot about “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Which is why – as they were prepping the “Mysterious Island” section of Tokyo Disney Sea – someone floated the idea of folding the “Center of the Earth” mythology into Capt. Nemo’s secret base at Vulcania. Particularly the notion of guests having this far-too-close encounter with an enormous, extremely angry audio-animatronic creature.

So, yes, BigFatTom, you’re right. There was no Disney’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” movie to serve as the inspiration for the Tokyo Disney Sea attraction. But – just like with Carroll Ballard’s proposed live action version of “Beauty and the Beast” – if the cards had fallen just a little bit differently, there could have been.

And – finally – Steve C. wrote to say:

Hi Jim,

Given your Big Idea article on Digital Media FX a while back, I was wondering if you had any thoughts or insight regarding their feature film debut this Friday, “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.”

Love the new site, keep up the good work!

Thanks, Steve

Okay, Long story short here, folks. I am NOT a Christian. (The joke that I usually make at this point is that I am so far from being a Christian that I’m actually in the Express Lane to Hell. Down to three virtues or less. Anyway … ) That said, I still have nothing but respect for the folks over at Big Idea.

Why? Because they make these great videos that could be preachy, but aren’t. Sure, the VeggieTales tapes (as well as 3-2-1 Penguins and the LarryBoy Cartoon Adventures) all slip in a little spiritual teaching. But it’s not in your face stuff. It’s subtle. Soft-peddled. You wanna listen and learn, that’s okay. If you just want to laugh at the silly talking vegetables, that’s okay too.

And the VeggieTale tapes ARE funny, folks. Personally, I’d put them right up there with the very best work of Jim Henson and Charles Schulz. Loaded with wit and whimsy. But plenty of heart too.

Which is why I’m heading out today to check out Big Idea’s very first feature film, “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.” I just can’t wait to see what the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything do on the big screen.

I promise that I’ll be back next week with a full report on this sure-to-be fun motion picture. But, in the meantime, if you’re in need of a laugh and/or a bit of a spiritual lift this weekend, I’m betting that it would be a good idea to check out Big Idea’s “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.”

That’s it for today, folks. Here’s hoping that you all have a great weekend. We’ll talk again on Monday, okay? Til then, take care.


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.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading


Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading


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



Listen to the Article

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

Continue Reading