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Why “Western River” Went South — Part 10

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I spend weeks writing articles about Disney theme parks that haven’t opened yet. Months researching attractions that never made it off the drawing board. A lifetime collecting never-before-revealed stories about Disney animated features.

None of that matters anymore. After the ton of mail I received last week from you folks, I now know what turns on DIG readers. Grabs your attention. Sends chills racing up your spines.

Not stories about corner cutting or staff in-fighting. Not items about soon-to-be-built attractions or soon-to-close shows. All I have to do to really excite you folks is write about … missing geese.

That’s right, kids. Geese. I was stunned by the volume of mail last Tuesday’s story that mentioned – in passing – the mystery surrounding the missing “America Sings” geese generated. (I got hit with so much stuff that my “Outlook Express” account crashed and burned last Wednesday. My computer still hasn’t fully recovered).

I want to thank all of you kind folks who came forward with information about the attraction. After wading though that vast pile of e-mail I think I can finally provide all your “America Sings” and “Star Tours” fans with a definitive answer to that all important question:

“It has long been rumored that the two labor droids featured in the repair bay at “Star Tours” are actually geese AA figures recycled from Disneyland’s “America Sings” attraction. But – if “Star Tours” opened in January 9, 1987 but “America Sings” didn’t close ’til April 10, 1988 – how can this be so?”

In my article, I jokingly suggested that maybe “the Imagineers just took two of the singing geese out of “America Sings” … But wouldn’t you think that someone would have noticed two of the attraction’s AA figures were missing?”

As it turns out, a lot of you did. Many of you wrote to me last week, saying that you’d been to Disneyland during “Star Tours”‘s first year of operation. During these ’87 – ’88 visits to the park, most of you went to see “America Sings” and noticed that something wasn’t quite right.

(This reminds me of a story Imagineer Bruce Gordon – who served as a show producer on Disneyland’s “Splash Mountain” – loves to tell. He used to say that the folks at WDI “wanted to see how many AA figures they could sneak out of ‘America Sings’ before anyone would notice.”)

A lot of you then told me that you did notice that some of the singing geese were missing. Trouble is – none of you could then remember which “America Sings” sequence these AA figures had come out of.

Some folks told me that the two geese had been grabbed out of the “Songs of the Old South” segment. Others argued that one goose had been plucked out of the “Songs of the Old West” scene, while the other came out of the “Gay Nineties.” One gentleman insisted that four geese had been snatched out of “America Sings” finale.

Oh my God! It’s a conspiracy.

Thank heaven for Dan Alexander. Dan is a fan of my “View from a Hill” column. He writes in regularly with detailed information about Disney theme park attractions that no sane person should have access to. I am constantly amazed and humbled by Dan’s in-depth knowledge of all things Disneyana- related.

Anyway, Dan has in his possession a video tape of “America Sings” that was taken during that attraction’s last year of operation. This automatically makes Mr. Alexander the definitive authority when it comes the Disney goose caper.

After careful frame-by-frame analysis (“Notice how the goose’s head snaps back and to the left … back and to the left .. back and to the left”), Dan provided me with the all-important answer:

Old South sequence: 3 geese

Western sequence: 3 geese

Gay 90’s: 4 geese

Modern: 4 geese

There you have it, kids. I think we Disney dweebs can all sleep better now, knowing that – at last – we finally have a definitive answer to the all important “America Sings” goose question.

Seriously, thanks to Dan for unearthing that tape … as well as making me aware of the other questions that continually taunted Disneyana trivia buffs when it comes to “America Sings.”

Kevin Yee – best known on the Web for his excellent, on- going DIG series, “Cast Place” – also provided me with some fun facts related to the missing geese saga. Kevin wrote to tell me that the Imagineers just jerked the geese AA figures out of those two “America Sings” sequences … but neglected to reprogram the three remaining singing geese.

So now – when this newly formed trio would perform in the attraction’s “Old South” and “Wild West” sequences – these geese would just follow their old programming. This meant that the AA figures would continually turn and acknowledge the now invisible fourth member of their used- to- be quartet. Folks who saw the geese robotic trio’s perform this way during “America Sings” last year of operation describe these scenes as being “really creepy.”

In a half-assed attempt to hide the fact that an AA figure was now missing out of each of these “America Sings’ scenes, Kevin described how the Imagineers just piled props up in the spot where that goose used to be. This made WDI’s decision to stick with the attraction’s old programming all the more comical – as the trio of the geese kept gesturing toward these piles of crates and barrels, as if to say ” Come on, you inanimate objects! Why don’t you – SING!! “

After digging through all that e-mail last week, I was amazed to learn how many other people look back fondly on “America Sings.” I mean – given the number of times I personally sat alone in the theater- go -round building, thinking “Am I the only person on the planet who actually likes this show – I was amazed to learn how many other Disney dweebs on the Web truly liked this old Tomorrowland show.

What really surprised me, though, was the number of folks on the Net who have made it their life’s goal to account for the whereabouts of every single “America Sings” AA figure. You see, kids, not all of those computerized critters successfully made the trek from Tomorrowland to Splash Mountain. Some of these AA figures are still MIA.

Mr. Alexander clued me in to the mystery surrounding the old Grey Mare (It’s believed that this car- driving Clydesdale may have undergone a sex change operation during its 1988 rehab at WDI. Now masquerading as a male, this “America Sings” favorite reportedly can be spotted among the AA figures whooping it up in Splash Mountain’s “Laughing Place” sequence). He also revealed to me the current whereabouts of the show’s infamous “Pop Go the Weasel” weasels (These rascally rodents supposedly ended up in WDW’s “Splash Mountain,” where they spend their days popping up and surprising guests in that version of the attraction’s “Laughing Place”.

Dan also told me about the “America Sings” AA figures that haven’t resurfaced (yet) in any Disney theme park attractions. Disneyana trivia buffs are still on the look-out for all six sets of of the show’s robotic narrators: Sam Eagle and that un-named owl.

And then there’s the matter of that guitar- playing, rock- and -roll stork AA figure from the show’s finale.

This stork robot – which (in a not- so- clever jab by Marc Davis at “those kids who listen to that rock & roll”) actually had a dust mop for hair – has been unaccounted for for over 12 years now. Disney dweebs have been wondering for years whatever became of this AA figure.

Well, wonder no more, kids. I have found the stork!

You’ll be pleased to hear, kids, that – after 14 years of endlessly playing watered- down versions of “Hound Dog” and “Joy to the World” in Disneyland – this bass playing bird found himself a cushy gig in Glendale. Nowadays, the stork robot is used to train Imagineers in the subtle art of programming audio animatronic figures.

Truth be told, this stork AA figure is WDI’s equivalent of a final exam. Before they are officially certified to program audio animatronic for Disney theme park attractions, Imagineers are given two hours with this “America Sings” figure and a programming console. Their mission: Get a pleasing performance out of this robotic bird.

Believe me, folks. It ain’t as easy as it looks. Many folks actually wash out of Imagineering’s AA training course because they can’t pass the stork test. (There’s also a very tired WDI joke that’s associated with this portion of the audio animatronic programming training course. When a would- be programmer gets to this point in class, his or her teacher says ” Well, I guess it’s time we give you the bird.” Ha Ha. It is to laugh … )

So – finally – the stork has been accounted for. But there are other mysteries associated with “America Sings.” Questions like:

“What was the deal with Disney changing the voice of the AA Dog’s voice that sang “Who Shot That Hole in my Sombrero?”

Actually, that’s an interesting bit of Disneyland history. Something that might particularly intrigue those folks who get so mad at Disney’s attempts to make its theme park attractions politically correct.

Disneyana fans who became so irate about that recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” rehab (where those salty old sots in the “Rape and Pillage” sequence lost their affection for femininity and began lustin’ after lunch instead) might be interested to learn that changing shows and attractions so that they would not offend theme park guests is not a recent development at the Walt Disney Company. The Mouse actually began doing stuff like this back in the mid-1960s.

Take – for example – the changes Disney made to its films and theme parks due to the civil rights movement. Sunflower, the black comic relief centaurette character featured in the Beethoven’s “Pastoral” sequence in the original version of “Fantasia”, was snipped out of the picture. Bacchus’s two scantily clad zebra attendants from this same segment of that film were severely cut back. Around this same time, Walt Disney Productions also gave serious thought to locking up all existing prints of “Song of the South” up in the vault and throwing away a key.

(Over 30 years later, it looks like Disney’s done just that. Earlier this year, Disney Studio head Peter Schneider announced that “Song of the South” was going on permanent moratorium. As of this moment, the Mouse has no plans to ever re-release this 1946 Academy Award winner. Mind you, this moratorium seems to only be in effect in the United States. If you’d live in Japan and want to have your very own copy of “Song of the South,” no problem. Just head down to your local laser disc shop and snap up a copy today. “Song of the South” has been on sale in the Orient for years now … One can only assume that the Mouse sells this controversial film in Japan because the company figures that there are precious few African Americans in this region to offend. Though I bet you won’t find any copies of Disney’s infamous 1940s era anti-Japanese film, “Victory Through Air Power,” on sale in the Emporium at Tokyo Disneyland. Funny how that works, isn’t it? … ANYWAY … )

Back in the late 1960s, Disney also made an effort to keep Disneyland from accidentally its African American guests by changing the name of that Frontierland favorite – Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House – to the Riverbelle Terrace. As they made this name change, the Mouse also fired the black woman who had played Aunt Jemima since the park opened in 1955.

I’m told that this woman – a much beloved member of the Disneyland cast – wept bitterly when she learned she was being let go. Aunt Jemima wondered what she had done to lose a job she loved so much. Disneyland management tried explaining to the weeping woman that it was nothing that she had personally done. It was just the changing times. ( That didn’t do much to stop her tears, though … )

ANYWHO … Getting back to “America Sings” …

When this Tomorrowland attraction opened in June 1974, this “Wild West” section of the attraction featured a Mexican dog wearing a sombrero who sang while seated on a burro. Using a comically thick Hispanic accent, this AA character did a truncated version of “Who Shot That Hole in my Sombrero?”

Just how thick was that accent? Do you remember Speedy Gonzalez from the old Warner Brothers cartoons? That’s what this character in “America Sings” sounded like. (Curiously, the last time I listened to a recording of the original version of the Mexican dog in this Tomorrowland show, I couldn’t help thinking that this AA figure’s voice had been provided by the same gentleman who also done Speedy Gonzalez’s vocals: late toon voice master Mel Blanc. Can any of you Disneyana trivia buffs out there confirm this for me?)

Anyway … Almost immediately after “America Sings” opened, Hispanic guests began storming Disneyland City Hall and complaining about how offensive the Mexican dog character was. (Hindsight is always 20/20. But – given the great number of Mexican- Americans that live in Southern California and regularly visit Disneyland – wasn’t it kind of dumb for the Imagineers to put an AA figure in this show that deliberately made fun of that segment of public? )

Startled by the numerous complaints this “America Sings” figure was receiving, Disneyland management immediately asked the Imagineers to come up with less offensive vocals for the Mexican dog. Within a month’s time, the offending vocal tracks were gone. The Mexican dog had completely lost his Hispanic accent. He now sounded like your standard canine cow-poke.

That’s pretty much it for my behind- the- scenes stories for “America Sings.” I want to thank Dan Alexander, Kevin Yee and all the DIG readers who wrote in to share their tales of this Tomorrowland attraction and their memories of the missing geese. It’s nice to know that there are other folks out there who now look at Disneyland’s “Innoventions” shopping-mall-go-’round and think:

“I remember when there was a real show in that building.”

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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