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Will Johnny Depp’s version of the Mad Hatter soon be making appearances at Disney’s theme parks?

Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. In this week’s Why For column, he talks about why WDW isn’t going forward with construction of a 5th theme park, why “Song of the South” may soon be available for viewing online and how The Walt Disney Company plans on turning Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” into an evergreen

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First up, Mark K. writes to ask about WDW’s Night Kingdom / Jungle Trek project:

There was considerable talk several years back about a potential 5th park opening but I have heard no mention of it recently. Did the recession and the decision to remake fantasy land doom this project?

Dear Mark K. –

There are a number of reasons that Disney Parks & Resorts has tabled (for now, anyway) any talk of building a 5th theme park in Central Florida and is concentrating instead of expanding WDW’s existing parks.

Chief among these is … Well, you have to understand that Disney’s Night Kingdom / Jungle Trek was supposed to be WDW’s answer to SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove. In that it was always meant to be a niche park (meaning that only 2000 Guests were going to be allowed in each day) with a high gate fee (Projected admission prices ran from $250 – $300 per person).

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After the economy tanked in the Fall of 2008 … Well, it obviously made no sense for The Walt Disney Company to spend $520 million on the construction of a project that was meant to lure higher end customers to WDW. Especially at a time when that market segment – in direct response to what had just happened on Wall Street – was seriously cutting back on its discretionary
travel.

So rather than pursue new customers, Walt Disney World opted to better service the customers that it already had. Create compelling new reasons for Guests who had already been to this Resort and had extremely fond memories of the place to return.

That’s kind of the driving idea behind the expansion of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. That the Mouse’s marketing department will then be able to create this series of commercials that will talk about how “ … you’ve never been to a Disney theme park like this before. Where you can literally walk into exact replicas of places that you’ve only seen in Disney’s
animated features and then have one-on-one interactions with your favorite Disney characters.”

Disney Parks & Resorts feels that a transformed Fantasyland (That’s the language that they’re using in-house, by the way. WDW’s Fantasyland isn’t being expanded. It’s being transformed) coupled with a new 3D version of Star Tours will give Mickey’s marketing department plenty to work with when it comes to creating compelling new print ads & TV commercials
that will (hopefully) lure people to plan return trips to Orlando in 2012 and beyond.

Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And let’s not forget about Disney’s Art of Animation Resort with its 1,120 suites. Which Parks & Resorts hopes will compel larger family units to make return trips to Disney World.

And speaking of returning … It’s possible (particularly if the economy rebounds and Guest spending really picks up) that The Walt Disney Company will eventually circle back around to the idea of building a niche park in Florida. But – as of right now – that project remains in the deep freeze.

Next up, Jeff S. is looking for a status report on “Song of the South.” He writes:

Jim,

You’ve hinted off and on for years that a Song of the South DVD or Blu-Ray release was on the way.  What is the latest status of this rumor?

Jeff S.

Dear Jeff S.

As of right now, there are no plans to make a DVD or Blu-Ray version of “Song of the South” available for purchase in the United States or Canada. And it’s Bob Iger himself who’s putting on the brakes here.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Long story short: Bob has viewed this movie twice over the past five years. And each time, Iger’s come away from those private screenings with the belief that whatever money the Company would make off of selling this 1946 release in the U.S. just wouldn’t be worth it in the long run. Given that Disney’s reputation with the African-American community would take such a serious hit should
this movie be available for purchase at WalMart, Target, Toys R Us et al that it’s probably better if the Company just leave this title locked away in the vaunted Disney vault.

That said, there are those in Burbank who have allegedly been actively campaigning to make “Song of the South” available through the Company’s still-pending Keychest program. Which — as you may recall — is this Disney-devised system which would allow consumers to have access to movies & TV shows across multiple digital platforms and devices that the Company hopes to launch soon.

The thinking here is that by only making “Song of the South” available through Keychest  … Well, that’s a pretty strong incentive for animation fans & the Disney faithful to embrace this program.

What’s more, given the stricter-than-strict access control that Mickey would theoretically have through Keychest … Well, Disney could then make it so that the only way  you’d ever be able to see “Song of the South” is by first sitting through a 20 – 30 minute-long documentary that puts this motion picture in historical perspective. Where, whether you want to hear about this aspect of the film’s production or not, you’d be reminded of America’s cultural & racial climate during the mid-1940s. With the idea here being that the viewer comes away with the concept that Walt Disney Studios doesn’t make these sorts of movies anymore. That there’s a far more
enlightened management team in place at the Mouse House these days.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

That sort of historical & cultural reference (more importantly, that sort of restrictive access) would certainly go a long way toward addressing Bob Iger’s concerns about “Song of th South.” So will this actually happen? Given that Disney still needs to sort out its concerns about Keychest’s encryption issues (Not to mention the number of homes in the U.S. that still don’t have access to the Internet or Broadband. I’m told that Mouse House execs would like to see a far higher percentage of the population wired into the Web before they then will feel comfortable about actually turning the key on Keychest) … Well, it could be a while yet before you’re then able to view a perfectly legal copy of Disney’s “Song of the South” (not that illegal dub of the Japanese DVD which is currently available on YouTube) on your laptop or iPhone.

Finally, Jack S. writes to say:

So Alice in Wonderland 
(has) obviously made a huge sum of money over (the past three months). But what’s next for this Tim Burton film? It’s not like Disney to just not do anything to something that’s this big. although,  I doubt they would ever make a sequel, and they already have a lot of Walt Disney’s Alice in the parks.

Dear Jack S.

It’s interesting that you bring this up now. For – on Wednesday of this week – Andy Mooney (i.e. the Chairman of Disney Consumer Products) as part of that virtual press briefing he gave to hype DCP’s participation in next week’s Licensing International Expo did talk a bit about Disney’s future plans for its Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Given that Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (since it was initially released to theaters back in October of 1993) has become an evergreen (i.e. a property that the Company can now count to move a certain amount of merchandise, sell a predictable number of DVDs & movie tickets each Fall, etc.) … Well, Disney’s now hoping that it can turn Tim Burton’s “Alice
in Wonderland” into an evergreen as well.

“And how might they do that?,” you ask. Well, given that Easter (in the U.S., anyway) is a holiday that’s already strongly associated with fashion, hats
and rabbits, there are those at Disney who’d like to try and position Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” as a property that reappears every Spring.

The tentative thinking (at least according to the Company insiders that I’ve spoken with earlier this week) is that Disney will start this effort slowly. Test the waters, if you will, by putting “Alice” back in theaters for an extremely limited run (or – more likely – as a special midnight show) in the late winter / early spring of 2011. This brief return to theaters
(which would mostly likely be only in big urban centers & college towns) would then be supported by a smallish selection of new Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” –themed merchandise.

Should next year’s test prove to be successful, Disney would then try and build on that success. Slowly expand the reach of Tim Burton’s version of “Alice in Wonderland”  in 2012 and beyond.

Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Now as for a sequel … To be honest, even though this Walt Disney Pictures release has already earned over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, what I’ve been hearing from folks at the Studio isn’t so much that execs there would like Tim to direct an “Alice in Wonderland” sequel. But – rather – that they’d like him to get started ASAP on that “Maleficent” movie.
Which Mouse House management believes has big box office potential as well.

Mind you, there’s also been a big push lately for Disney to put another “Alice” – like project into production. The current front runner is “The Great and Powerful.” Which is a prequel of sorts to “The Wizard of Oz.” In that it’s an origin story for the Wizard and shows how this Kansas humbug wound up as the Big Cheese in the Emerald City.

As of this week, Disney’s trying to persuade Timur Bekmambetov to come direct “The Great and Powerful.” Which – given that Robert Downey Jr. is said to be interested in playing the Wizard – could wind up being one of Disney’s big releases for 2012. Which already looks to be a
pretty competitive year for the Mouse, what with all of the high profile sequels (i.e. “Batman 3,” “Men in Black 3,” “Star Trek 2”) that the other studios will be sending out into theaters then.

Getting back to Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” now … Given how hugely popular this Walt Disney Pictures release has been, would it surprise you to hear that people have actually been dropping by Guest Relations at the theme parks, asking if there’s somewhere where they can go within the Park to meet with the Johnny Depp version of the Mad Hatter?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Which I know – at first glance, anyway – may seem a weird request. But then again, let’s remember that there’s a face character version of Depp’s other Disney persona (i.e. Captain Jack Sparrow) meeting & greeting with the public at WDW’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. So it just
stands to reason that – if Johnny’s Jack Sparrow is available for autographs & pictures – shouldn’t Johnny’s Mad Hatter be available too?

So there are now reportedly conversations underway about what should be done to address this Guest request. What makes this particularly difficult is that … Well, Disney’s animated version of “Alice in Wonderland” from 1951 already has a strong presence in the Parks. More importantly, the walk-around face character version of the Mad Hatter from that film is quite popular with Guests.

So what’s the best way to handle this situation? From what I’ve been hearing, at least when it comes to Florida, the current thinking is that the version of the Mad Hatter that’s associated with Disney’s 1951 animated version will continue to appear at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot (at the U.K. pavilion) and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (at 1900 Park Fare)
while a Johnny Depp version of the Mad Hatter could possibly start making appearances at Disney’s Hollywood Studios sometime in the not-so-distant future.

Mind you, nothing’s written in stone here. Plans could (and most likely will) change. More to the point, I have absolutely no idea how they’d handle the 1951 animated version of the Mad Hatter versus Tim Burton’s version of the Mad Hatter situation at the Disneyland Resort. Perhaps they could make the animated version a Disneyland Park exclusive while the Johnny Depp version would only make appearances at the Disney California Adventure Park.

Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

If I hear anything, I’ll let you folks know. In the meantime, if you’d like to have one of your own Disney-related questions answered as part of a future Why For column, please send them along to whyfor@jimhillmedia.com.

That’s it for this week. Look for lots of great content here on JHM next week as I travel out to Las Vegas to cover the 2010 Licensing International Expo and then continue on to Anaheim to attend the world premiere of Disney’s World of Color.

Oh — and if you live out in the LA area and would like to help out an extremely worthy cause, don’t forget the Animation Guild‘s reception and silent auction for Pres-Aid. which is being held tonight at 1105 N. North Hollywood Way in Burbank from 6 – 10 p.m. If you drop by there, you’ll not only get to see some amazing animation art, you’ll also learn about how you can become a bone marrow donor and/or donate blood & platelets directly for Pres Romanillos. Who’s this really great guy who could use our love, support and cash right about now.

Speaking of which: If you can’t be there in person tonight, you can still help out Pres-Aid by donating directly to the Talbert Family Foundation. You can learn more about that charitable fund by clicking here.

That’s it for now, folks. Have a great weekend, okay?

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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