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Why For: The “Monsters, Inc.” that might have been

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C.D.A. G.U.Y. just sent me a Why For question earlier this
week that asked about some Pixar concept art that he’d seen back in January.

Jim,

I got to see that “Pixar: 25 Years of Animation” exhibit
just before it left the Oakland Museum of California earlier this year. And in
the “Monsters, Inc.” section of this exhibit, I noticed that was a lot of concept
art that seemed to be about television broadcasting.


Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights
reserved

I know that there’s that simulator / training room sequence in this Pete Docter
movie with all of those TV monitors. But this stuff looked different. Almost as
if Monsters, Inc. wasn’t set in a factory anymore but at a television network
instead.

Was this concept art from an earlier, abandoned version of
“Monsters, Inc.”? Or maybe for a subplot that got cut out of the final film?
What do you know all of this TV studio stuff that I saw?

Dear C.D.A. G.U.Y.

You got in one. That “Monsters, Inc.” concept art that you
were looking at was from a very, very early version of this movie. The one that
Pete Docter and his development team had in the works on back in October of
1996.


Copyright Disney Pixar.
All rights reserved

Mind you, the proposed opening sequence (for what was then
known as just “Monsters,” rather than as “Monsters, Inc.”) was somewhat similar
to what we all saw in the finished film. It was supposed to go something like
this:

Picture … A boy wearing one sock asks his mother where his
other sock is. She tells him to check the laundry pile down in the basement.

We then see that missing sock lies, as bait, in front of
this pile of laundry. From deep within the pile, red eyes glow and a low growl
is heard.


“Monsters, Inc.” maquettes.
Photo by Rod Mongenel. Copyright Disney Pixar.
All rights reserved

We now watch as that boy nervously creeps down the basement stairs
and is then frightened out of his mind as this giant hairy monster leaps out from
the laundry pile with a mighty roar.

That’s a pretty great opening sequence, don’t you think? So
where “Monsters” go to from there? Not to the Scare Floor at Monsters, Inc. But
– rather – to a late 1940s / early 1950s-era 1950s television studio. Which is
located inside of this theater in downtown Monstropolis.

As the camera turns, revealing an audience full of hideous
creatures applauding wildly, we then realize that this sock-in-the-basement scare
was just part of this wildly popular, live TV broadcast. Which is presented
nightly in the Monster realm to entertain all of the guys & ghouls at home.


Image courtesy of
Chronicle Books.
Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

And who’s the giant hairy star of this live TV show? A
monster named Barrymore. Who – just as Sid Caesar did at the end of “Your Show of Shows” and/or as Milton Berle did as “Texaco Star Theater” wrapped up its
weekly broadcast – stands in front of the curtain, acknowledging the audience’s
cries of “Bravo!” and “Encore!,” bowing graciously.

But when the applause ends and Barrymore steps backstage,
out of view of his adoring fans, this scare-actor is anything but gracious. As
Barrymore heads back to his trailer, removing his make-up and shedding his
costume, he belittles the show’s crew. Complaining loudly about all of that
night’s missed  sound effects and lighting
cues.

As this TV broadcast’s director, J.L. (As in “John Lasseter.”
Get it?) runs along at Barrymore’s elbow, trying to placate this rather pompous
performer (who – according to Pete Docter’s October 1996 treatment for “Monsters”
– was supposed to have been modeled on Orson Welles during the latter part of
his career), this obviously egotistical scare-actor doesn’t take any comfort
from hearing how great that night’s ratings were. How many monsters were tuning
in at home. Barrymore continues to berate J.L. and the rest of the backstage
crew, letting them all know how completely unprofessional they are. How the
only things holding this show together is Barrymore and his enormous talent.


Please note marquee to
far left. Which reads “Barrymore in Mary’s Room.”
Copyright Disney Pixar. All
rights reserved

And given how the backstage crew all quietly roll their eyes
as they strike the show’s set (which is basically this giant mechanical screen.
Which then allows the monsters who are running this live nightly TV broadcast
to dial up any location in the human world) … Well, this is clearly a rant that
they’ve heard hundreds of times before. Which they reluctantly put up with
because – after all – Barrymore IS the star of this show. More importantly,
because these creatures like being part of the team which produces one of the
more popular television programs that’s shown in the Monster realm.

Now where this gets interesting is – while Barrymore is the
star of the live TV show that serves as the principal setting / provides the
spine for the story in “Monsters” – he isn’t actually the lead character in
this proposed Pixar production. Hob is.

“And who is Hob?,” you ask. Well, Hob is the newest hire on
the backstage crew for this Monstropolis TV show. As he goes on & on about
how great Barrymore was that night, reenacting key moments from this scare-actor’s
performance, it’s clear that Hob is a little star-struck. More to the point,
that he secretly dreams of someday being the monster in the spotlight. Entertaining
creatures all over the Monster realm as he scares little kids and then stars in
a show just like this one.


Image courtesy of
Chronicle Books. Copyright
Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

But in order for that to happen, Hob would first need a big
break. Which comes far sooner than expected when the next night’s broadcast
goes disastrously wrong.

You see, Barrymore is slated to scare a brand-new human
child, Raymond. Who’s this 8-year-old boy that’s always been fascinated with
monsters. Which is why — when this acclaimed scare-actor enters Raymond’s
bedroom and roars – the little boy doesn’t scream and shriek. Raymond just
stares up in wonder.

And as it turns out, it’s Barrymore who winds up shrieking
when Hob accidentally closes the closet door on this scare-actor’s tail. Which
then causes Barrymore to lose his place in the scene, so the scare-actor exits prematurely
without having actually scared Raymond.


Image courtesy of
Chronicle Books.
Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

This – as you might expect – doesn’t not go over all that well
with the audience in the theater. They boo when Barrymore tries to take his curtain
call. What’s more, the ratings for that night’s broadcast are abysmal. As
viewers all over the Monster realm quickly turned off the program when it
became obvious that Barrymore wasn’t going to be able to frighten this boy.

And when the trades the next morning are full of headlines
like “Has Barrymore Lost It?,” this scare-actor locks himself in his trailer
and then refuses to come out. According to what he shouts at J.L. through the
door, it was the crew’s fault that he wasn’t able to frighten Raymond. Their
unprofessionalism is what threw him off

And since Barrymore is now refusing to come out of his
trailer and take part in that night’s broadcast, J.L. is panicking. After all,
when viewers all over Monstropolis tune in that evening, they’re going to
expect to see Barrymore. Or – at the very least – a monster that looks &
sounds like Barrymore.


Color thumbnail sketches for “Monsters,
Inc.” Photo by Rod Mongenel.
Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

That’s when J.L. looks on the ground and notices a shadow
that looks just like Barrymore. But when the director seeks out the source of
this silhouette, J.L. discovers that it’s just Hob. Who – as he stands in front
of a spotlight changing a bulb – with the help of a hat rack & a few nearby
props, Hob looks just like Barrymore. Sort of.

Which is when J.L. has an idea. He drags Hob into the
make-up trailer. Where – after Lucy (the show’s make-up girl) spray Hob’s hair
green and then glues some horns on his head & a tail to his skinny butt –
the new hire stagehand does actually look like Barrymore. Which is when J.L.
rushes Hob to the set and then begins rehearsing him for that night’s scare
broadcast.

Meanwhile – in the human world – Raymond tries to tell his
parents about the monster that came into his bedroom last night. Holding
Raymond’s new baby brother, Mom glances knowingly at Dad. Clearly they think
that Raymond’s crazy story is just a bid to get their attention.


More “Monsters, Inc.”
maquettes. Photo by Rod Mongenel.
Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

Which is why – after his parents brush him off – Raymond decides
to take matters into his own hands.  So –
as he climbs into bed that night – this 8 year-old boy hides a flashlight and a
baseball bat under the covers.

What with Hob under-rehearsed and Raymond prepared for
battle … Is it any wonder that that night’s broadcast goes worse than the one
before? I mean, Hob is so unsure of his lines that he actually walks into
Raymond’s bedroom carrying the script for that night’s show with him. And when
this 8-year-old boy shines his flashlight in Hob’s eyes, the would-be
scare-actor immediately becomes blinded. And as he stumbles along all over
Raymond’s bedroom, crashing into the furniture as Hob tries to avoid that
baseball bat that the liitle boy keeps poking the monster with, he then drops
his script before Hob quickly exits the bedroom.

As you’d expect, the monster audience in the theater just
hates what they saw onstage. They actually pelt Hob with fruit when he tries to
take a bow during his curtain call. Embarrassed and ashamed, this monster is
further humiliated when J.L. comes up to him with the ratings for that night’s
show. Which are the worst that this program has ever received. J.L. even got a
call in the control room from an executive at the Monstropolis television network.
Who suggested that – unless this program starts improving and fast – the
network may wind up cancelling this show.


Color tests for Sulley’s fur. Copyright
Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

Sensing how badly the new hire stagehand feels about blowing
his big break, J.L. tries to let Hob down easy. “Hey, at least you tried, kid,”
the director says. “But some of us just aren’t cut out to be scare-actors.”

As J.L. and the rest of the stage crew wander away, Hob sits
alone backstage. His dreams crushed. He wonders aloud “Could this night get any
worse?”

Actually, it could. You see, it’s that this point in the
story that this monster realizes that he left the script to that night’s show
behind when Hob exited Raymond’s bedroom. Which is when this monster decides to
sneak back into the human world so that he can then reclaim this script.


Concept sketch for Sulley and
an 8-year-old version of Boo.
Copyright Disney Pixar.
All rights reserved

But when Hob returns Raymond’s bedroom, he discovers that
8-year-old boy sitting up in bed reading the script via flashlight. The monster
initially tries to frighten the boy into dropping those pages. But without the
TV program’s sound effects and lighting, Hob is even less frightening than
before. And to make matters worse, Raymond tells Hob that the script he was
working off of wasn’t really all that scary.

“Oh, I suppose you could do better,” the monster snorts. And
– to Hob’s surprise – Raymond does. Right off the top of his head, this
8-year-old boy comes up with several suggestions that would have punched up
that script. More to the point, would have radically improved that night’s broadcast.

Impressed by what this boy came up with, Hob comes clean to
Raymond. Explaining the whole monsters-scare-kids-because-that’s-how-we-entertain-ourselves-back-in-the-Monster-realm
concept. More to the point, Hob lets Raymond know that the live TV show that he
and his friends work on is in real danger of being cancelled unless it starts serving
up far more entertaining scares on a nightly basis.


Another early version of Sulley
was showcased on the “Pixar: 25 Years of Animation”
exhibition sign. Photo by Rod
Mongenel. Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

That’s when Hob & Raymond strike a bargain. The boy will
now work with the monster to help make his nightly scare broadcast seem that much
more entertaining IF Hob then hangs out with Raymond on a regular basis and
teaches him about what goes on in Monstropolis.

Mind you, this is only Act One of the 1996 version of “Monsters.”
Act Two deals with what happens when Barrymore is booted off the program
because Hob – with Raymond’s help – is pulling in much higher ratings. Which is
why the scare-actor – in authentic Orson Welles-like Shakespearean tones – vows
revenge on the former stagehand.

Whereas Act Three dealt with what happened when Barrymore
exposed Hob. Revealed that this now white-hot Monstropolis TV star had been
collaborating with a human. There is, of course, a huge scandal. And given that
Raymond now knows all sorts of secrets of the Monster realm … Well, there’s
some earnest discussion about whether this 8-year-old boy can be allowed to
live.


Concept painting of Downtown
Monstropolis.
Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

Which – I know – sounds kind of grim. But accoding to the
story that Pete D. & Co. mapped out, Hob ultimately stands up for his human
friend. Which is why Raymond is then allowed to live. What’s more, because Hob
is banished from the Monster realm and forced to find work elsewhere … Well, it
turns out that the monster and the 8-year-old boy will still get to see one
another. Since Hob gets hired by the Tooth Fairy.

So, okay. That’s what Pete Docter’s early, early version of “Monsters”
would have been like. Now you have to admit that this proposed Pixar production
had some interesting ideas and concepts. But – then again – there was just a
lot of stuff here that was flat-out unworkable.

But given the story process at Pixar (i.e. that they try and
make as many mistakes as possible early on. Which is when story problems are easiest
to fix), Docter & Co. kept refining & refining their concept for “Monsters.”
Finding all sorts of way to make this story, these characters and their world that much more
appealing & accessible to audiences.


Copyright Disney Pixar.
All rights reserved

And the finished version of this film – I’d have to say – is
one of my absolute favorite Pixar films. Whenever “Monsters, Inc.” is on, I
inevitably find myself being sucked into this movie yet again. Marveling at all
the humor and the heart.

Speaking of which … If you haven’t seen “Monsters, Inc.” in
a while, this Peter Docter movie is actually having its world premiere on ABC
Family
this Sunday evening. This Academy Award-nominee will be
screened twice on that cable channel that night. Once at 8 p.m. ET / PT and then
again at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Which means that you can then double-up on the fun of
watching Sulley, Boo and Mike battle and then defeat Randall Boggs.

FYI: Given that I’ve such a huge fan of this particular
Pixar film, I’ve actually collected a number of treatments for “Monsters, Inc.”
over the past 10 years. Some of which suggest that Pete Docter & Co. were
considering taking this project in some very interesting directions.


Image courtesy of
Chronicle Books.
Copyright Disney Pixar. All right reserved

If you’d like to see some additional JHM articles about
those other proposed versions of “Monsters, Inc.”  … Well, please let me know by posting a
comment here. And I’ll then see if I can go dig those treatments out of my piles
… er, files in the basement.

Your thoughts?

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.

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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