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Why For returns … again

Jim Hill’s back with answers to many of your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim reveals why the changes that are being made to Epcot’s “The Land” pavilion are actually a good thing. Rather than the trashing of a classic that some Disneyana fans might be trying to convince you that they are. Plus Hill takes a moment to praise the JHM staff.

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A WDWMagic.com reader who’s also a JHM fan writes in to ask:


Dear Mr. Hill —


I was wondering if you could help us get out the word about General Grizz’s campaign to save the balloons, fountain & food court over at Epcot’s “The Land” pavilion. Rumor has it that these classic features of this Future World favorite are soon to be scrapped as the Imagineers rethemes the interior of this pavilion. So that “The Land” will be more in tune with its new E-Ticket attraction, “Soarin’.”


Anything you can do to help spread the word about this campaign would be greatly appeciated. JHM readers who’d like to join General Grizz’s on-line call to arms can do so by following this link.


Thanks in advance for your time & help,


A WDWMagic.com reader who’s also a JHM fan


Well, because you’re a JHM fan, I’ll post that link. But I’m not going to say that I support General Grizz’s effort to save “The Land” ‘s interior.


Why for? Well, to my way of thinking, anyway … It’s ill-considered campaigns like this that give Disneyana fans such a rotten reputation among Imagineers and Walt Disney Company management. That make it so easy for the powers-that-be at the Mouse House to just dismiss us all as this weird bunch of obsessed weenies. Rather than being seen as we really should. Which is as a bunch of extremely loyal customers who should be continually courted and coddled.


I mean, don’t get me wrong, folks. I’m sure that General Grizz’s heart is in the right place. And if this guy says that he truly believes that the Sunshine Season Food Court is a little slice of heaven … Well, then who are we to disagree with him? After all, over the years, other people have bonded to odder pieces of the Disney theme parks.


Take — for example — all those Southern Californians who were shocked & saddened in September 1985 when they heard that “Adventure Thru Inner Space” would be closing forever to make way for “Star Tours.” Giving all of the heavy petting that supposedly gone on inside this Disneyland dark ride during its 18 years of operation (Not to mention all of the children who were reportedly concieved while their parents rode its Omnimovers), a lot of baby boomers had an obvious emotional attachment to this Tomorrowland attraction. Which is why it’s easy to understand why they were truly sorry to see ATIS shuttered.


But as for people being emotionally attached to “The Land” ‘s food court, wailing & moaning about how we’re losing something historically significant here … I think it’s also important that we see the forest through the trees here when we talk about this upcoming Future World redo.


General Grizz is asking all of us to join in on his blanket condemnation of the changing of “The Land” ‘s interior. Which (to his way of thinking) just HAS TO be wrong because the Imagineers want to radically revamp the inside of this Future World pavilion. So that Epcot visitors can then make a smooth transition from the outside of this show building right up to the entrance of “Soarin’.” So that the interior of this pavilion would then appear to have a cohesive theme, so that all the decorative elements in this show building will then pull together to tell one single coherent story.


Seriously, folks. Is this really the sort of thing that we should be complaining about? That WDI is willing — eager, even — to spend money in an attempt to upgrade & improve a Future World pavilion? A collection of attractions that even the most rabid of Disneyana fans would have to admit haven’t aged all that well. Shouldn’t this be the sort of thing that we applaud … rather than condemn out of hand?


I know, I know. General Grizz’s main gripe is that the Imagineers want to redo “The Land” ‘s interior so that it will then resemble this stylized transportation center. Where guests can either take a scenic flight over the state of California on “Soarin’ ” or take an educational cruise on board the “Living with the Land” boat ride. Which he sees as being a serious detriment to the pavilion’s original theming.


I say … Is this guy serious? I mean, it’s not like this Future World pavilion has ever had what you could truly call seamless storytelling. Back when Epcot Center originally opened in October of 1982, this attraction had the “Listen to the Land” boat ride (with all of its oh-so-serious talk about hydroponic gardens & fish farming) right next door to “Kitchen Karabet,” arguably one of the strangest shows that WED ever created. Where the whole cracked concept behind this extremely bizarre AA extravaganza seemed to be that the Imagineers were trying to anthropromorphize the very food groups that they were then encouraging “Kitchen Kabaret” ‘s audience to go home & consume.


And don’t even get me started on that 70MM snoozefest that was called “Symbiosis.” Disney sent cinematographers all around the globe with the hope that they’d be able to come up with some compelling footage for this Future World attraction. What they got instead was this high-minded film that was so stultifyingly dull that Epcot visitors were known to doze off 5 minutes into the picture.


This is why — faced with the obvious fact that “The Land” had so clearly missed the mark with the public — that the Imagineers chose to radically rework this Future World pavilion in late 1993 / early 1994. The first attraction to go under the knife here was “Listen to the Land,” which hauled its last boatload of tourists past the space squash on September 27, 1993. After reworking the attraction’s extremely dated narration as well as overhauling a number of the ride’s introductory scenes, the slightly renamed “Living with the Land” re-opened on December 10, 1993.


Less than four weeks later, “Kitchen Karabet” closed its doors for good on January 3, 1994. Three months later, a modernized (and some might say severely dumbed down) version of this same attraction — “Food Rocks” — opened at this same location on March 26, 1994.


“Symbiosis”? That 70MM snoozer shut down on January 1, 1995. Only to be replaced on January 21st of that same year by “Circle of Life : An Environmental Tale.” Whose main claim to fame was that the “Lion King” footage which was featured in this film was actually produced at the WDFA satellite studio located at the Disney/MGM Studio theme park.


And as for “The Land” ‘s food court area … Well, that’s also what makes me a little crazy about General Grizz’s cry that “… we have to preserve the atmosphere and ambiance of the Sunshine Season Food Court.” You see, this area also got significantly revamped during this Future World pavlion’s 15 month long overhaul. How many of you recall the eatry that originally occupied this area? That’s right! The Farmers Market!


(Here’s an interesting bit of trivia for all you Epcot history fans. How many of you recall the automated rooster that used to be located over the Farmers Market? The one that used to crow every 15 minutes or so? Would you like to know where this piece of Future World wound up?


Well, the last time I saw that mechanical rooster and the little red barn-like building that he resided in, they were both outside rotting in the Central Florida sun. This whole artfully designed unit had been left out in the elements beside WDI’s field office [Which is located out behind Epcot’s “Universe of Energy” pavilion]. When I first saw the thing [during a visit with a friend who was working for Imagineering at the time], I couldn’t help but think: “What a waste.” Followed by a second thought: “I wonder if I can stuff this thing in the back of my car while nobody’s looking.” But — alas — I was never able to help Epcot’s rooster fly the coop. Anyway … )


Getting back to General Grizz’s call-to-arms … You see what I’m saying here, folks? It’s a little too late to try & save “The Land” ‘s original ambiance & artistic integrity. After all, all that disappeared during this Future World pavilion’s first redo back in the mid-1990s. When even the much ballyhoo-ed hot air balloons got a brand new paint job.


Okay. I know. In spite of everything that I’ve already said here, there will still be some Disneyana fans who don’t ever want Epcot’s “The Land” pavilion to change. These people just love the peace & the quiet of the Sunshine Season Food Court. They like to dine next to the tranquil albiet-seriously-dated fountain without dealing with the crush of the crowds outside.


Well, this is where I have to remind you guys that the Walt Disney Company is actually a business. And what you may view as a peaceful & tranquil environment to dine in, the execs who are running the Mouse House see as an area at Epcot that is severely underutilized. A section of Future World which is not pulling its weight.


This is why Eisner agreed to allow “Soarin’ over California” to be cloned & shipped off to Orlando. With the hope that this extremely popular DCA attraction might be just the thing to revive “The Land” ‘s sagging attendance levels. That “Soarin’ ” could be the show that convinces WDW visitors that it’s time for them to revisit this Future World pavilion. That there’s finally more to do hear than look at Audio Animatronic prairie dogs.


That’s the real reason that the Imagineers are ripping out the fountain and redoing the Sunshine Season Food Court. Not because these aspects of “The Land” are seriously out of date (Which they are). But — rather — because WDI is anticipating that large numbers of guests will soon start flowing into this Future World pavilion once “Soarin’ ” begins operating on a daily basis. Which is why something needs to be done to “The Land” to in order to accomodate the huge influx of guests that Disney expect to be arriving soon.


Which — in this case — means building a brand-new restaurant that is actually large enough to handle the number of people that we’re talking about here (Which is why the Sunshine Season Food Court is being shut down. So that this 1980s era eatry could then be radically revamped & expanded in order to meet the anticipated demand) as well as creating additional seating for all the extra guests who are expected to begin dining here daily (Which is why that fountain had to go too!). And — to accommodate all those Epcot visitors who might like a “Soarin’ ” souvenir to remember this Future World attraction by — that means that the Imagineers had to create additional retail space inside “The Land” pavilion. Which is why some sections of the old “Food Rocks” / “Kitchen Kabaret” theater are now being turned into a store.


So you see what’s really going on here: The Imagineers are making these changes to “The Land” NOT because they’re out to upset Epcot nostalgia fans like General Grizz. But — rather — because they’re trying to lure crowds back to this Future World pavilion. And — more importantly — WDI wants to make sure that this facility will be able to accomodate large groups of people, should the crowds actually come back once “Soarin’ ” opens for business sometime in the Spring of 2005.


So my apologies to that “WDWMagic.com reader who’s also a JHM fan.” I’m sure that they sent along that e-mail with the hope that’s I champion their cause. Not go out of my way to take the wind out of General Grizz’s sails.


But folks like General Grizz … They always make me a little crazy. For I can never quite understand how someone can arrive at the mindset that says: “The Disney theme parks may never change. They must always stay the way they were when I first encountered them, when I first fell in love with the place. “


Me personally? I’m not a big fan of the idea of an Epcot that’s forever encased in amber. A theme park that only celebrates the future circa 1982. I’d much prefer an Epcot that was always exciting & vital, a place that WDW guests can discover new sights & wonders each time they visit … Rather than a theme park that only appeals to hardcore Disneyana fans.


You see, this is why the Walt Disney Company has always resisted efforts to get buildings in its theme parks listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Sure, it would be a feather in Mickey’s cap if people in power began to recognize the cultural significance of a structure like Sleeping Beauty Castle. But NOT if it then came at a cost of not ever being able to update the look of that Disneyland icon.


That great paint job that everyone’s been “Oohing” & “Aahing” over lately? That never would have been allowed to happen if everyone within the Walt Disney Company thought like General Grizz does. That things must always remain the same because … Well, that’s the way they’ve always been.


Change is healthy, folks. Walt Disney certainly thought so. That’s why he said that “Disneyland will never be completed. It will always continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Walt knew that — in order to keep the people coming to Anaheim & Orlando — he’d have to continually make changes to the place.


So — with all due respect to General Grizz — please don’t buy into what this guy is trying to sell. The revamping of “The Land” ‘s interior really isn’t the end of the world. Future World, anyway. Given what a wonderful ride “Soarin’ Over California” is, all these changes will be worth it in the end. Particularly two or three years down the line, when Epcot gets its very own “Soarin’ ” movie that’s filled with footage of incredible sights & sounds around the globe.


But that’s probably a story for another time …


I’m sorry that this week’s “Why For” was so late going up on the site this week, folks. More importantly, that I haven’t exactly been playing my A game lately. But it’s been a tough couple of weeks here at the Stadler / Hill household. Nancy’s Mom died suddenly at the start of this month. And — as you might understand — that threw the both of us into a tailspin.


Well, a couple of weeks have gone by at this point. So things are sort of returning to normal around here. Still, it’s hard to shake off the blues sometimes. Which is why I’ve kind of been maintaining a very low profile at JHM since the tail end of September / beginning of October.


Hopefully, that will change in the weeks ahead. Even so, I’d like to thank Tony Moore, Jeff Lange, Roger Colton, Matthew Springer, Andrew Franks, Sara Allen and David Michael for everything they did to keep JimHillMedia.com up & running while Nancy & I dealt with family stuff. When I needed their help earlier this month, these guys stepped up to the plate — no questions asked.


You really could not ask for a finer bunch of people to work with. Which is why — every day — I’m grateful for their talent & their friendship.


Anywho … That’s enough yammering for this week. Nancy & I have to head off for a wedding in Bar Harbor (Not our own), so I’d best close now.


Talk to you folks next week, okay? Until then, take care,


jrh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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