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Why “Western River” Went South — Part 1

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On Saturday May 20th, 1,400 Disneyland fans will gather in New Orleans Square to take part in the special ticketed “Celebrating the Pirates of the Caribbean” event. These folks will have paid $85 apiece for the privilege of paying tribute to what many call the greatest theme park ride ever created.

As part of the evening’s festivities, these guests can attend a panel discussion featuring many of the folks who helped create this legendary attraction. These Imagineers are sure to reveal many never- before- told tales about the creation of the original “Pirates” (which – even though it’s 33 years old – still regularly tops guest satisfaction surveys as the most popular ride in all of Disneyland).

While the stories these old timers will tell about “Pirates” are sure to be intriguing, it is a shame that the folks at Disneyland’s Special Events office won’t allow these veteran Imagineers to take questions from the audience. Imagine what sort of queries these guys would get from such a hardcore group of Disneyana fans.

Questions like: “Why is that you guys never made a ride that topped ‘Pirates’?”

If master Imagineer (and chief concept design of “Pirates”) Marc Davis were still alive, I know how he’d answer that question.

“We *DID* design a ride that topped ‘Pirates.’ But those $@%$&?#! in Burbank never let us build the thing.”

What would Marc have been talking about?

“Western River Expedition.”

Just that name is enough to drive Disneyana fans of a certain age off the deep end. First they’ll tell you about the model they saw ‘way back in the ’70s while touring the post-show area of “The Walt Disney Story” at WDW’s Magic Kingdom. Then they’ll gibber about the amazing production paintings they saw for this proposed attraction and how they dreamed of someday getting the chance to ride the thing.

Normally, Disney doesn’t like the public to see concept art from “Western River Expedition” (WRE). Afterwards, these folks tend to ask questions that the current Mouse management team just finds difficult to answer. Questions like “How come something that looks this good never made it off the drawing board?”

But – last month – as part of the “Tribute to Marc Davis” that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, the Imagineering Research Center did display some of Davis’s marvelous concept paintings for this proposed attraction. And – as people stood around in the Grand Lobby, marveling what may well be Marc’s best work – that same old question was heard again.

How come something that looks this good never made it off the drawing board?

It’s a long sad story, folks. Full of artists working at the top of their form, only to be undercut by guys who only cared about the bottom line.

Sound familiar?

Well, this time, we’re not talking about the Walt Disney Company in the year 2000. This story starts ‘way back in the Spring of 1967 … Six months after Walt Disney had died … Just weeks after Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” had first opened to the public.

It should have been a time for celebrating. After all, the last attraction that Walt Disney had personally supervised was proving to a huge hit with the public. Record crowds were daily pouring through the gates at Disneyland, eager to set sail on “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

But – back at WED – the Imagineers were worried about other pirates. Corporate raiders, to be exact. Huge companies like General Electric, Gulf & Western and Litton Industries, who were supposedly circling the company like hungry sharks. Eager to make a deal should Roy decide to put Walt Disney Productions up for sale.

That may seem like a pretty laughable scenario now. But – back in the Spring of 1967 – this sort of talk was rampant at Walt Disney Productions. For it was well known that Roy had been actively trying to retire when Walt suddenly passed away in December 1966. The scuttlebutt around Burbank was that the elder Disney was still thinking of packing it in and selling the whole company off to the highest bidder.

Again, given what we know now in the year 2000, it’s hard to imagine that Roy would ever think of selling off Walt Disney Productions. But – in 1967 – the elder Disney *DID* seriously consider an offer from Westinghouse to acquire the company. Word of the proposed deal somehow got out to Disney Productions employees … and panic quickly swept throughout the company.

Since folks feared for their very jobs, they were eager – desperate even – for some indication from Roy that Walt Disney Productions was not in fact up for sale. But the elder Disney – who was typically a very private person – became almost a recluse while he mourned for his brother. For weeks, he’d stay away from the studio – preferring the seclusion of his Toluca Lake home. Since no one knew for sure what Roy’s future plans for the company might be, wild rumors regularly began racing through the company.

Of all the divisions of Walt Disney Productions, WED probably had it the worst in this situation. For work on Imagineering’s next big project – Disney World – had virtually ground to a halt following in the wake of Walt’s death. No one at WED knew for certain when – or if – work would ever get underway again on the Florida project.

Since many of the Imagineers’ jobs depended on Disney World going forward, lots of folks at WED spent hours on the phone that spring. They’d call their friends back in Burbank several times a day, eager for any new information about Roy and the Westinghouse deal.

Every hour, it seemed like there was a different story coming out of Disney corporate headquarters. Scary scenarios like “Westinghouse only wants to run the studio and Disneyland. If the deal does go through, the Florida project’s dead as a doornail.” Or “I hear Roy’s sick now too. He’ll never live long enough to complete Disney World.” Or – worst of all – “Well, of course Roy doesn’t want to go forward with the Florida project. The one guy who actually knew how to build the thing is dead!”

It was a scary, scary time to be an Imagineer. Which makes Marc Davis’s behavior in the Spring of 1967 all the more admirable. Other folks at WED filled their days with fear and gossip.

Marc just worked.

Rather than give into the terror that was paralyzing so many other Imagineers, Davis just came in every day, sat at his desk and drew. He worked up scenes for Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion.” And – when Marc temporarily ran out of ideas for the “Mansion” project – he switched over to making character sketches for the Bear band show Walt had hoped to build for the Mineral King, CA. ski area project.

And – after he ran through all of his ideas for these projects – Marc toyed with ways he could improve Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Why look for ways to improve an attraction that was already a huge hit with the public? Marc wasn’t entirely happy with the way “Pirates” had turned out. Why for? Well, that Anaheim favorite ended up looking the way today because Disney’s “Pirates” ride was originally supposed to be a walk-through attraction.

Strange but true, folks. Then known as “The Rogues Gallery,” this walk- through attraction was supposed to have been the centerpiece of Disneyland’s newest “land,” New Orleans Square. Intriguingly, this pirate themed show – as originally designed – would have been presented below ground, in a huge basement-like area below the streets and shops of New Orleans Square.

Guests would have entered “Rogues Gallery” by walking down a steep set of stairs. Once they were below ground, a Disneyland hostess would have lead the tour group past various gruesome set pieces while spieling a humorous narration for the show.

Using a live tour guide to lead guests through a Disney theme park attraction might sound a little strange today. But – in 1961-62 – WED had yet to develop a continuously moving ride system like the omni-mover. So the walking tour approach seemed to the only way the Imagineers could move large numbers of people through atmospheric, story-driven attractions like “The Rogues Gallery.” (A similar walking tour scenario had already been mapped out that other soon-to-be-opened Disneyland attraction, “The Haunted Mansion.”)

The Imagineers were confident that the walking tour approach would work with their “Rogues Gallery” show. Walt wasn’t so sure. He worried that ñ what with Disneyland’s ever increasing attendance ñ there was no way a walk- through version of “Rogues Gallery” could be able to handle the huge number of visitors who would daily try to experience Disney’s new pirate show. So Walt ordered construction stopped on New Orleans Square while he and his Imagineers figured out a way to solve “Rogues Gallery” ‘s capacity problem.

Now please keep in mind that Disney had already poured $3 million dollars into New Orleans Square when he called a halt to construction in late 1961. All work at the site stopped. That foundation hole stood empty – its structural steel rusting – for the next three years.

But Walt had faith that his Imagineers would eventually find a way to fix “Rogues Gallery” ‘s capacity problem. And – a year or so later – they actually did.

What ended up saving Walt’s pirates was a ride system that WED had originally designed for a much kinder, gentler attraction: “it’s a small world.” This revolutionary system – which quickly and quietly moved hundreds of guests an hour through a show building by using flat bottomed boats that were gently pushed along a ride track via a clever system of water jets and conveyor belts – had worked out great at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It seemed the perfect solution to Disneyland’s pirate show problems.

This new ride system solved “Rogues Gallery”‘s capacity concerns as well as neatly fit into the waterfront theming of Disneyland’s latest “land.” The only downside of using this water- based system was that there was no way the attraction would now fit into New Orleans Square’s basement area it had originally been designed for.

So Marc and the Imagineers had to map out a whole new floor plan for Disneyland’s Pirate attraction. They eventually decided to build “Rogues Gallery” show building (which – by now – had been renamed “Pirates of the Caribbean”) outside the berm. This meant that the basement area under New Orleans Square was now just transitional space – though which boatloads of guests would have to be moved from the show’s first floor entrance area down to the attraction’s watery track (and – once their ride was through – back up to the unload area).

What made this doubly difficult was that – since most of the money for “Pirates” had already been budgeted for the AA figures to be featured in the scenes presented in the main show building – there was virtually no money left to theme the basement area under New Orleans Square. So Marc and his Imagineers had to come up with an affordable way to redress this space.

Eventually, Marc came up with the idea of turning the New Orleans Square basement area into an eerie set of pirate caves – where the bleached bones of some rascally rogues would be found scattered among mounds of ill-gotten treasure. Walt loved this concept because 1) it set the stage beautifully for the attraction that followed and 2) it was a smart, affordable way to retheme the basement area.

But – even though guests and his Imagineers repeatedly praised Marc for his design work for “Pirates of the Caribbean’s” haunted cavern sequences – Davis was never entirely happy with the way WED had handled the basement area under New Orleans Square. He thought it was all too obvious that Disney was just vamping in that section of the attraction, killing time ’til the real ride got underway.

Marc vowed that – if he ever got the chance to do another ride like “Pirates” again – he’d finally do it right then. This time, there’d be no last minute changes in ride systems or attraction layout. Right from the start, the show building would be large enough to contain the entire attraction. There’d be no more busting through the berm just to have enough room to tell the story correctly.

Marc was eager to take another chance to create at a show the size and scale of Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean.” He had learned a lot about what did and did not work with AA figures while staging the scenes for this New Orleans Square attraction. Given how well the more ambitious figures in the ride had been received (Disneyland guests just raved about the lifelike movements of the auctioneer in the “Win a Wench” sequence), Davis wanted to push the envelope of audio animatronics even further. He wanted to see what the wizards of WED could really do if they set their minds to it.

Then – in August of 1967 – Davis got his chance. Roy finally came out of his period of mourning and let the rank and file at Walt Disney Productions know that he was *NOT* selling the firm to Westinghouse or any other corporate suitors. In fact, the elder Disney seemed fiercely determined to keep intact the company that he and his brother had worked for decades to build up.

More importantly, Roy announced that Walt Disney Productions would be going forward with his brother’s ambitious plans for the company’s Florida land holdings. But – from this point forward – the project would no longer be called Disney World. In tribute to his deceased partner, the Florida project would now be called Walt Disney World.

This news thrilled the folks at WED. Particularly when Roy asked the Imagineers to come up with concepts for rides for the Florida park that would top anything Disney currently had in Anaheim.

That was exactly what Marc wanted to hear. For he had an idea for a great new attraction …

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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