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You know what really Bugs me? Where are all the “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” ads?

In kind of a change of pace for JimHillMedia.com, Jim Hill talks up a new animated feature from Warners. Which — in spite of some stupid studio interference — is really shaping up to be one fun flick.

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Okay. Even a casual reader of JimHillMedia.com has to know that we’re big-time supporters of Disney Feature Animation here. That the folks behind this website are always pulling for the guys at WDFA. Always hoping that they’ll be able to produce another big hit. Be able to knock another one out of the park.

Which is why I was pleased to see that Disney’s marketing department is mounting such a clever and comprehensive campaign for “Brother Bear.” I mean, it seems like — every single time I turn on the tube — Rutt and Tuke are right there. Those two talking moose (mooses?), urging me to rush on out to my local cinema on Saturday, November 1st. To catch “Brother Bear” when this film finally hits the big screen.

But — just because we do a lot of stories about Disney Feature Animation here at JHM — that doesn’t mean that we actually play favorites here. I mean, fair’s fair, after all. If JimHillMedia.com is going to be about “More Than Just the Mouse” … well … that means if Dreamworks or Warners Feature Animation has a promising picture in their production pipeline, we should help to get the buzz going about those films as well. Which is why — this morning — I’d like to talk to you about “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.”

Now let me explain: I’m not just writing to you today because I’ve heard nice things about this film (which I have). But rather, because I’m worried that “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” may somehow slip through the cracks. Why for? Well, because I’m not entirely sure that Warner’s publicity department is up to the job of properly promoting this picture.

“And why would Jim say something nasty like that?” you ask. Two names come immediately to mind: “The Iron Giant” and “Cats Don’t Dance.”

Ask any serious animation fans and they’ll tell you about how Warner’s publicity department really dropped the ball with the studio’s 1997 release, “Cats Don’t Dance” as well as Warner’s 1999 release, “The Iron Giant.” The promotional campaigns that the studio’s marketing staff mounted for these two really entertaining animated features were so inept, so amateurish, that potential movie-goers stayed away in droves.

So — out of concern that Warners’ marketing team may not actually be to the challenge of properly promoting “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” — I have decided to step into the breech.

So — all of you loyal JHM readers (all five of you) — go pick up a pen, and then walk over to your calendars. Now circle the date “Friday, November 14th.” This is the day that “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” opens in theaters nationwide. Now — on Friday, November 14th — do yourself a favor and actually go to the cinema and see “Back in Action.” How come? Because this is the sort of film that you really want to see on opening day.

Yes, it really IS that good.

Why for? Because Warners got smart and/or got lucky. (And — given how this studio’s execs have treated the Looney Tune characters in the past 10 years [“Space Jam,” anyone?] — I’m inclined to believe that it was the latter, rather than the former.) They hired the two guys who were actually able to take Bugs, Daffy et al — animated characters who did their very best work in 7 minute long shorts — and turn them into compelling performers who could carry a 90 minute long movie.

Who am I talking about? “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” director Joe Dante and the film’s animation supervisor Eric Goldberg.

Most of you will probably know Dante from his live action work: “Gremlins,” “Explorers,” “Innerspace,” “The Howling” et al. Where Joe gleefully mixed all sorts of movie genres together to produce pictures that were both horrific yet satirical, cynical yet optimistic. Not to mention really entertaining.

But what you may not know is that Dante is a big-time animation fan. How big? Joe actually sought out and befriended animation legends Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett. Just so he could learn more about the cartoons that he’d loved as a child.

More intriguingly — for the past few years now — Dante has actually been trying to get a feature film off the ground that would celebrate what it was like to work in animation back in the 1930s and 1940s. This proposed movie, tentatively titled “Termite Terrace,” would feature characters that are loosely based on Jones and toon titan Tex Avery.

So — for Dante to land a job directing a film where the Looney Tune gang would actually carry the movie — was like a dream come true for Joe. (If — of course — you can overlook the constant meddling by studio execs during the movie’s production. Which we’ll get into in a moment …)

Of course, to properly pull off a picture where animation and live action are mixed so liberally, you really need to have a great animation supervisor. So how lucky was it for Warners and Joe Dante that — just as “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” was getting underway — that Eric Goldberg suddenly became available.

“And just who is Eric Goldberg?” you ask. Huh? What are you, a maroon? Eric Goldberg is the guy who drew the Genie in “Aladdin.” The man who co-directed “Pocahontas” and did practically everything on the two best things in “Fantasia 2000”: that film’s “Rhapsody in Blue” sequence as well as the “Carnival of the Animals” number. He’s one of the very best animators working today.

And Eric — just like Joe — is a huge “Looney Tune” fan. HUGE. By that I mean, Goldberg has been quoted as saying that Bugs Bunny is “the greatest animation character ever.” So to land a job on a film like “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” was also like a dream for Eric.

But — in order to make this dream come true — Dante and Goldberg had to assemble a top flight team. Which is why big-name actors like Brendan Fraser, Steve Martin, Jenna Elfman and Timothy Dalton were hired so that the toons would have some top drawer talent to interact with.

For the behind-the-scenes stuff, an equally talented team was assembled. Veteran cinematographer Dean Cundey (who — like Goldberg — had also worked on “Roger Rabbit”) was hired to shoot the picture. And animation vets like Dave Brewster, Tony Derosa, Bert Klein, Frank Moleiri and Jeff Seirgy were brought on board to bring the characters to life.

It would be nice to report that — with this sort of talent in front of as well as behind the camera — that the Warners executives just did the smart thing. Which is was to stay the hell out of the way and let the professionals do their job. But that’s not actually what happened.

Even before Joe Dante’s original cut of the film was shown on the Warners lot, studios execs were already insisting that this film had to be “Bigger! Better!” Which is why — late last year — they poured an additional $7 million into the movie’s budget for reshoots. (Of course, an intelligent person might ask: “How can someone ask for reshoots when they haven’t actually seen the picture yet?” Well, let’s remember that this is Hollywood that we’re talking about, kids. A place where daring to question a decision that’s been made by a studio head can quickly end one’s career. So the best thing to do in a situation like this is just grit your teeth and get back to work. Anywho …)

But you want to know the really funny part? As part of the film’s already established storyline, “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” actually makes fun of studio politics. There’s a sequence in this picture where Daffy barges into a Warner Brothers board meeting (which is presided over by twin brother actors, Dan and Don Stanton. Who — in a typically inspired Joe Dante touch — play the movie’s studio heads, Mr. Warner and Mr. Warner’s brother) doing a great job of sending up the whole corporate mentality that’s undermining creativity in Hollywood today.

Yet here’s really-for-real Warners execs behaving just as goofily as Dan and Don Stanton do in “Looney Tunes” Back in Action.” Insisting that new scenes be shot and folded into the film. Or worse … insisting that scenes with already completed animation be completely redone/reanimated. Talk about life imitating art.

But here’s the good part of the story, folks. Joe and Eric? They’re total pros. They just took this nonsensical studio interference stuff in stride. So all of those new scenes that those Warner executives insisted be folded into the film? Well, they’re still in the picture. But these last-minute additions have all been done in a somewhat seamless fashion. So all these unnecessary “improvements” (foisted on the film by people who suddenly realized how successful “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” could be. Which is why they then insisted on being able to have input on the picture. So that they then could claim to be part of the film’s success) haven’t actually ruined the movie.

Even these execs’ most idiotic idea — adding a giant CG mechanical dog to the film’s finale (to hopefully give the end of “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” some more action and drama) – was made to work by Dante and Goldberg. But maybe that’s because Joe and Eric decided to redesign this computer-animated dog so that it now look more like a Chuck Jones character. Which would make it a better fit (stylistically, that is) in the “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” universe.

Anyway … given that the animators of this film are still hard at work, trying to get everything done in time for the movie’s November 14th release date — it would be extremely premature of me to say whether I thought whether this film was going to be a success or not.

However — based on what little footage I have seen to date — what I CAN say is that the “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” production team has really done an amazing job. What would have taken another animation company a year and a half to deliver the amount of footage necessary to finish this film, these guys have churned out in just over six months.

And we’re talking top quality animation here, people. Stuff that lovingly duplicates the look and feel of those classic “Looney Tunes” shorts.

So — to my way of thinking, at least — this is a film that really deserves to become a big-time box office success. Which is why I keep asking: Where are all the “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” ads?

I mean — sure — there was that one trailer that I’m sure some of you saw this past summer in front of “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.” Which you can still see on the official “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” website (click on the trailer link).

And I actually like this ad. I think it’s a really clever idea to take what initially looks like “007” and turn that into the Looney Tunes logo. And the banners that I’ve seen hanging up at my local multiplex are kind of cute too.

But where’s the rest of this film’s promotional campaign? Given that Disney’s already aggressively getting the word out about “Brother Bear” (which opens on November 1st) as well as priming the pump for “The Haunted Mansion” (which floats into theaters on November 26th), wouldn’t it make sense for Warners to at least be doing SOMETHING right now to let the public know that “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” is on its way?

I mean, I can’t help but think back to August 6th, 1999. The opening night of “The Iron Giant”‘s nation-wide release. When I found myself sitting in a theater for the 7 p.m. showing … when there were only 4 other people in the entire theater. Mind you, this was a house that could have easily sat 300-400 movie-goers. But only 5 of us had seen the “Iron Giant” ads and/or had been intrigued by the film’s poster. So there we were — five complete strangers — seated rows apart in this enormous empty theater.

Have you ever felt lonely in a crowd? Well, this — being alone in a virtually empty theater — felt worse somehow. As if I’d made a profoundly bad choice. Which was why I gave some semi-serious thought to bailing out of the theater before the film began.

But then “The Iron Giant” finally appeared on the big screen. And those next 86 minutes were magical. Absolutely magical. If you haven’t seen this Brad Bird movie yet, go now. Go pick up a copy. You’re in for a real treat.

But then … well, you want to know the really weird part? Once the film was over, there we were — five perfect strangers, still wiping away tears — standing in the aisle, jibbering at each other. Saying things like “Wasn’t that good?” “That was a really great movie!” “I’m so glad I came” and — the most important question of all — “Where the hell is everybody else?”

It’s generally agreed now that Warners pretty much botched the “Iron Giant” ad campaign. With ads and posters that played up the film’s action angle, rather than talking about the movie’s heart. And Warners Home Entertainment (God love’em!). They keep trying to reintroduce “The Iron Giant” to the public. (Look for the deluxe 2-disc DVD edition of this Brad Bird film to turn up on stateside store shelves in November of 2004. Which will be just in time to cash in on the release of Brad’s first Pixar picture, “The Incredibles.”)

But all these reintroductions never quite work out because … well … Warners’ promotional department blew the initial theatrical release of “The Iron Giant” back in August of 1999. Which is why the film is still seen (by ‘way too many people at Warners) as being damaged goods in 2003.

Now I really don’t want for the same thing to happen with “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.” For me to be one of only a handful of lonely dweebs who turns up at my local multiplex to catch this film on its opening night. This movie (and the people who worked on this picture) deserves better than that.

So attention! You suits in Warners’ marketing department! Yeah, I’m talking to you: Don’t leave it up to one lousy little website based out of New Hampshire (I.E. JimHillMedia.com … US!) to have to spread the word about “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.” You should start getting the word out about this Joe Dante / Eric Goldberg film as soon as possible. ASAP. This is a movie that’s been put together by some really talented, very dedicated people. It genuinely DESERVES to be seen by as big an audience as possible.

Not because it’s a Warner Brothers film. Not just because it’s traditionally animated or because it features a set of classic cartoon characters that have be woefully underused. But because it was put together by a truly talented group of people who — in spite of studio interference — still busted their asses to deliver the best possible picture.

If that’s not a good enough reason for you … well … I hear that Warners is going to debut the trailer for the third “Harry Potter” film — “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” — in front of “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.”

So NOW will you go buy a ticket to this movie?

I thought so.

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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