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Why For returns

Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to you Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim discusses what became of that “Song of the South” DVD, what may next be in the works for DAK, defends Don Hahn’s reputation as well as trying to get to the bottom of that “Walt’s last film” myth

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First up, Jeff S. writes in ask:

What is the word behind Bob Iger’s announcement in the Disney Shareholder’s meeting that “Song of the South” is still not coming to DVD?

Dear Jeff S.

Well, if you listened to the webcast of Disney’s annual shareholder and/or were at Arrowhead Pond last Friday morning, you heard what I heard. That Bob Iger himself was the one who put the brakes on Buena Vista Home Entertainment releasing “Song of the South” on DVD.

And let me tell you, Jeff, that this project was already well underway when Iger finally pulled the plug. By that I mean: A company had already been chosen to handle the restoration of this 1946 Walt Disney Production release. And there had already been a protracted discussion within BVHE as to whether “SOTS” should be released as a “Walt Disney Treasures” (I.E. A limited edition, with possibly as few as 250,000 units actually being produced) or as just a general title.

More to the point, I don’t think that we should entirely lose hope here. Given that Bob himself said that Disney will periodically review this decision and — should circumstances eventually change — there is still a chance that the Walt Disney Company will eventually release “Song of the South” on DVD.

Okay. I know that there are hundreds — if not thousands — of Disneyana fans out there who are disappointed and/or upset that Iger reversed Michael Eisner’s decision. But me? You know, I gotta tell you that it was kind of refreshing to have a top Disney executive take personal responsibility for a decision.

I mean, in years previous, whenever Uncle Michael was backed into a corner and had to make an unpopular decision, he’d automatically default into corporate CYA mode. Using vague sounding execu-speak to muddy the water, cover his tracks. So you’d hear phrases like “… We’ll take that under advisement” or ” … We’ll have to review this matter internally before the company makes any official decisions.”

But now here’s Bob Iger. Standing on the stage at Arrowhead Pond saying things like “I recently watched that movie” and “… I personally have concerns that people won’t be able to take in consideration the context under which this film was originally produced.” Making it very clear that he was the one who decided that the time just wasn’t right to release a “Song of the South” DVD.

So, sure. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to put an official, authorized version of “SOTS” into my DVD player anytime soon. But — to be honest — I’m perfectly willing to make that trade-off if the Walt Disney Company now has a CEO who says what he means and means what he says.

Next up, Jason M. wants to know about:

Jim,

There is much anticipation and many rumors flying around just about every Disney site that I visit that says the Imagineers are collectively dusting off plans for Beastly Kingdom and re-visiting this exciting concept for DAK. As it stands, this is probably the most beautiful park in the world. But I’ve always felt that it lacked the fantasy aspect that makes Disney… Well, Disney. Can you please give us an update?

Dear Jason

To be honest, it’s kind of premature to be talking about any future expansion plans for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Given that it has yet to be proven that “Expedition Everest” will actually be a hit with Disney World‘s paying customers.

I mean, sure. Right now, this runaway train ride appears to be a success. But Disney being Disney and all … I would imagine that the Mouse will want to see at least a full year’s worth of attendance figures for DAK (As well as some accompanying spreadsheets that show EE’s direct impact on in-park merchandise purchases in addition to food & beverage sales) before they’re officially ready to declare “Expedition Everest” a success.

More to the point, let’s remember that Disney World has three other theme parks that are also in desperate need of new rides, shows and attractions (FYI: Keep an eye on Epcot over the next 18 months or so. Given that the celebration of that theme park’s 25th anniversary is expected to be the hook for WDW’s 2007 / 2008 promotional campaigns, you’re probably going to see an awful lot of money being thrown at Epcot over the next year or so).

Once the Magic Kingdom, Disney/MGM Studios theme park and Epcot all receive some TLC … Then the Imagineers will most likely turn their attention back to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and (perhaps) revisit the idea of adding a new fantasy-based land to that theme park.

Though, based on what I’ve been hearing come out of Burbank lately, I’m think that it’s fairly safe to say that Beastlie Kingdomme is now DOA. Though … In its place, we may see a few “Narnia” -based rides and attractions rising up out of the woods in that corner of the property. Or even (Provided that J.K. Rowling finally signs off on the idea) some “Harry Potter” -themed shows. Where perhaps everyone’s favorite half-giant, Hagrid, will lead us through a “Care of Magical Creatures” class.

But — to be honest — we shouldn’t even expect to see construction of something like that get underway ’til 2008 or 2009. In the mean-time, there are much more pressing matters to deal with at DAK. Like what to do with all the guest flow-through issues in the “Rafiki’s Planet Watch” section of that theme park. Or whether the new enclosed version of the “Theater in the Wild” meets with WDW visitors’ approval. Or whether that new “Asia” restaurant actually proves to be popular with DAK guests (Or whether this means that that theme park now gets stuck with yet another restaurant that under-performs).

All this … Plus how Disney Animal Kingdom should go about properly go about staffing that theme park during its new extended operating hours. Plus whether it’s wise to greenlight production of that after-dark entertainment that Steve Davison wants to stage inside DAK? Not to mention Disney’s desire to borrow a few pandas from China and use those rarer-than-rare creatures to temporarily bump up attendance levels at Animal Kingdom.

So as you can see, Jeff … When trying to forecast DAK’s future, there’s a lot more factors to take into consideration here than “Will the Imagineers finally revive their plans to build Beastlie Kingdomme?” So this might be a moment when you want to take a step back and try to see the forest for the Tree of Life.

Next up, Rustin P. drops by to ask:

Hey Jim!

I have a “Why For” question for ya! With all of this Pixar/WDFA talk over the past couple months I’ve seen Don Hahn‘s named mentioned a lot typically in terms of his creative prowess and high-ranking position in WDFA – basically everyone seems to be talking about him as a positive force within WDFA and that we’re lucky he’s still in there. My question is, Why For?

Sure he was worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and produced two great films (“Beauty and the Beast” and “Lion King“) and is a really cool guy to watch/listen to in interviews … but he is also the Producer of “Atlantis” and “The Haunted Mansion,” amongst others of questionable (in my opinion) quality, and I really have to wonder, is he really all that good of a creative Producer any longer and a reason to be hopeful for WDFA?

Rustin:

Sorry. If you’re looking for someone to dish dirt on Don Hahn, you’re going to have to find yourself another webmaster.

As far as I’m concerned, Don is the real deal. By that I mean: For 22+ years now, I’ve been writing about the Walt Disney Company. And — in all that time — I’ve never once come across a person who had a single bad thing to say about Hahn.

I mean, I’ve talked with dozens of animators, CG artists, writers and directors. People at all levels of productions. And not a one of them ever had anything bad to say about Don. All I’ve heard is what a nice guy Hahn is, how he genuinely cares about Disney Feature Animation and just wants this division of the company to get back to making great motion pictures.

That’s why I think that *** Cook’s announcement that Don was being named as interim head of WDFA was greeted with such acclaim back in February. For here was a guy who genuinely seemed to care about the Walt Disney Company and its legacy. Who only wants the studio and its staff to make the best possible motion picture.

So okay. Maybe “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” didn’t exactly set the world on fire. The way I hear it, that wasn’t so much Don’s fault or even the fault of that film’s directing team, Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. But — rather — the blame for that film going so seriously off-track actually lies with then-WDFA head Thomas Schumacher.

As I understand it, Tom really didn’t get what Don, Gary and Kirk were trying to do. Which was make the sort of Saturday matinee big screen adventure that film-making legend Ray Harryhausen used to make. Schumacher … He didn’t get the whole “monsters attacking the explorers” motif. He kept pushing the production team to add more magic & heart. Which is how this 2001 WDFA release slowly devolved into a somewhat schizophrenic mess. Half Harryhausen tribute, half touchy-feely New Age hugfest.

As for what happened with “The Haunted Mansion” … Let’s be honest here, folks. Eddie Murphy was just the wrong guy to star in that Rob Minkoff movie. Though audiences had previously seemed eager to see Eddie in such family-friendly comedies as “The Nutty Professor,” “Doctor Dolittle” and Daddy Day Care,” they had also turned their noses up at high profile Murphy projects as “I Spy” and “The Adventures of Pluto Nash.” So it was pretty much a crapshoot as to whether movie-goers would actually turn out to see this former “Saturday Night Live” star appear in a motion picture based on a Disney theme park attraction. Disney bet big and then lost big.

So — to be honest — Hahn could hardly be held responsible for audiences back in November of 2003 not exactly being in the mood to see another Eddie Murphy comedy.

So don’t be so quick to judge a man’s career based on the box office performance of two motion pictures, Rustin. Don Hahn is well liked by both the executives as well as the working staff at Disney Studios. And provided that John Lasseter and Ed Catmull (I.E. The soon-to-be new heads of WDFA) actually allow Don to do the job that he does so well, you’ll soon see Hahn’s name attached to several soon-to-be-great motion pictures.

And finally — speaking of movies — Jay comes by with a real Mythbuster of a question:

Jim,

I’ve got a great “Why For” question for you. Actually it’s a “Mythbuster.”

As a CM, I’ve often heard stories that Walt Disney left detailed notes of what was to be done with his parks after his death. These notes went so far as to include a film that was made for each year. As I hear it, the Company big wigs would sit in a boardroom at the start of each year and screen the film for that year. In these films, Walt would lay out all the plans he wanted done that year, and in years to come. Some versions of this story include Walt even predicting the events of 9-11 and how it would impact the park!

Whatta say Jim? Care to dig into this one?

Jay

Dear Jay:

To be honest, over the past 30 years, I’ve heard a number of variations on this story. But the most consistant version goes something like this:

A year or so after Walt’s death, a select group of Disney execs were supposedly invited to a particular screening room on the lot. Once they entered this screening room, these executives reportedly noticed that their names were attached on particular seats in the theater. Once everyone was in their appropriate seats, the lights allegedly went down … And then — up on the big screen — there was Walt.

As the story goes, Disney supposedly started off by saying: “Well, boys. If you’re watching this movie, I’m obviosuly not with you anymore. But hopefully you’re still following the plans that I laid out.”

And — with that — Walt then began to go around the room. Reportedly pointing directly to individual executives seated in the screening room and saying things like “Now, ***. By this point, you and Joe should have completed Phase One of site prep on the Florida project. With all of our primary drainage canals being in place and …” Well, you get the idea.

Anyway .. Disney allegedly addressed each of the execs in the room, giving specific directions as well as offering words of encouragement. Then — after supposedly signing off by something to the effect of “Well, hopefully, I’ll see you all again soon. But not too soon” — the film ends.

These Disney executives supposedly sit there dumb-founded. Simply amazed at what they’ve just seen.

But wait! This story’s not over yet … As the rest of this urban legend goes, the projectionist then takes this reel of film outside and — after placing the reel in a trash can — he follows Walt’s last order and sets the film on fire.

That’s a pretty bizarre story, don’t you think? And I have to tell you, folks, that this particular tale (and all of its variations) have been making the rounds since the early 1970s.

“But is it true?,” you ask. Well …

Here’s my problem. The one guy who really loved to tell this story was Disney Legend Ward Kimball. And given that Ward was a guy who enjoyed practical jokes, I can’t help but think that this may be just another Kimball caper. Ward trying to put one over on a bunch of us gullible rubes.

I mean, you gotta remember that Kimball was also the guy who loved to tell people that he knew for sure that Walt Disney had been crygenically frozen. When everyone who worked on the Disney lot in the late 1960s knew that Lillian had had Walt cremated and then scattered his ashes in the desert

Mind you, I’ve also heard that Eric Larson — when pressed by his animation students — would tell a similar story. One about a mysterious movie starring Walt that had been privately screened for studio execs. And Larson’s version of this tale also ended with this particular reel of film being taken outside and burned in a studio trash can.

So here we have two Disney Legends seeming to tell the same story. Is that really corroboration? Or just a case of Ward having tricked Eric into believing his tall tale about Walt’s last movie being shown select studio execs …

“So will we ever really have an answer to this story?,” you ask. Well … Kimball was a renowned diarist. So maybe the truth lies somewhere in all those diaries that Ward kept during the decades that he worked at Walt Disney Studios.

Perhaps if someone asked nice, Ward’s widow, Betty, might finally grant some Disney historian access to Kimball’s diaries. So that — for once and for all — we might actually be able to find out if there’s any truth to this particular urban legend.

But as for there supposedly being this series of secret films starring Walt. Including one where the Ol’ Moustreo actually predicts 9/11. That’s a pretty laughable idea, don’t you think?

I mean, it’s not bad enough that — for decades now — conspiracy theorists have had Walt stashed away in some freezer somewhere, sharing shelf space with Clarence Birdseye. But now he’s got to be Nostradamus too? That’s just … sad.

Anyway .. That’s pretty much it for this week, folks. Thanks again for sending along your “Why For” questions. More importantly, I hope you enjoyed my answers.

Have a great weekend, okay? And hopefully, we’ll see you all again come Monday morning.

Til then, you take care, alright?

j

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

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“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

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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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