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$485 Million doesn’t count?!

Jim Hill tries to make sense of the controversy surrounding “Toy Story III,” a film that Disney really wants Pixar to make … sort of.

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Perhaps animation veteran Floyd Norman put it best.

Floyd (who’s beloved by animation insiders for his bitingly funny take on the biz. Don’t believe me? Then find yourself a copy of Norman’s 1992 book, “Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side to the Art of Animation.” You can thank me later. Anyway … ) once drew a picture of Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Pixar CEO Steve Jobs duking it out.

And what were the weapons that this cutting cartoonist placed in Michael and Steve’s hands? Bags of money. Floyd drew a picture of Eisner & Jobs attempting to beat each other to death with bags of money. And – appropriately enough – Norman titled this toon “Clash of the Titans.”

That – in a nutshell – is what’s actually going on right now between the Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studio. Michael Eisner & Steve Jobs are duking it out over money-related matters.

To be specific, they’re fighting about all of the moola that a third “Toy Story” film could potentially pull in. Based on the worldwide grosses of 1995’s “Toy Story” and 1999’s “Toy Story II,” conservative estimates suggest that “Toy Story III” could pull in $350 – $400 at the global box office. Not to mention the additional cash that could be raised off of the sale of “Toy Story III” merchandise. As well as the hundreds of millions more that could be racked in from the sale of a “Toy Story III” home video & DVD.

So we’re obviously talking about a huge wad of cash here, folks. That Disney & Pixar – once all of the production & marketing costs for “Toy Story III” were recovered – would be splitting right down the middle.

So it sounds like a no-brainer for these two companies to green-light production of “Toy Story III,” doesn’t it? Particularly since all of the actors who provided voices for the first two “Toy Story” films are positively itching to get back in the saddle.

Take – for instance – Tim Allen : While doing press interviews earlier this year to help promote Touchstone Pictures’ “Big Trouble,” Tim Allen was asked about “Toy Story III.” His reply: “Tom Hanks wants to do it. So do I, and Don Rickles and the director and the writers.” So what’s the hold-up? Tim explained that “It’s a corporate and business thing. And it’s a shame. (Because) There’s an absolutely great idea for a new script.”

And Tom Hanks – while doing promotion for Dreamworks’ “Road to Perdition” this summer – basically confirmed what Allen had said. He told reporters that voicing Woody was one of his favorite assignments and “… if there are plans for Toy Story 3, I’d be more than willing to talk to the folks at Pixar and Disney about being part of it.

So there you have it. A film sequel that’s almost guaranteed to make a fortune. A project that the original voice actors would be glad to be a part of. And then there’s that “great idea for a new script.” (More on that later).

So what exactly is holding up “Toy Story III”? Well, Disney CEO Michael Eisner wants Pixar Animation to honor its February 1997 agreement with the Mouse House. To the letter.

To explain: Under the terms of this contract (Which supercedes the original three picture deal that the computer animation studio signed with Mickey ‘way back in 1991), Pixar has ’til 2007 to deliver five finished feature length animated films to Walt Disney Studios. The movies covered in this agreement are 1998’s “A Bug’s Life,” 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.” as well as these forthcoming Pixar Animation Studio projects; “Finding Nemo” (Summer 2003), “The Incredibles” (2004) and “Cars” (2005).

You’ll note that nowhere in that listing did “Toy Story II” come up. Why’s that? Well, that’s because it’s a sequel to “Toy Story,” a film that was covered under Pixar’s earlier deal with Disney. And – according to language included in the 1997 agreement – sequels don’t count. At least when it comes to those five pictures that Pixar owes Disney.

And why exactly don’t sequels count? Because – back in 1997 when Disney and Pixar originally signed this new deal – it was assumed that any and all sequels that would be done to earlier Pixar productions would be done on the cheap. Like “The Return of Jafar,” Disney’s 1994 direct-to-video follow-up to their 1992 hit, “Aladdin.”

Both parties assumed that – if sequels were made to “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life” (or any other Pixar projects) – they’d probably be thrown together very quickly. Made for as little money as possible. With an eye toward making a maximum profit off of a fairly low grade product.

So, while Pixar’s A team labored on “A Bug’s Life” in early 1998, the B team got to work on “Toy Story II: Collector’s Item.” Only the script that these folks came up with turned out to be pretty good. And the preliminary animation on “Toy Story II” project … Well, that turned out to be pretty good too.

And – as the folks at Disney & Pixar began looking at the rough assembly of footage for “Toy Story II” – people at both companies began to realize that this film was just too good to throw away as a direct-to-video release. Which is why – in June of 1998 – Disney & Pixar announced that “Toy Story II” would be coming to the big screen first, THEN going the home video route.

So this “Walt Disney Studios presents a Pixar Animation Studios film” finally hits theaters in November 1999. It garners rave reviews as well as earning $245 million during its domestic release (Which is $54 million more than the original “Toy Story” earned, by the way).

So Steve Jobs reportedly calls Michael Eisner so that the two moguls can gloat over their immensely successful film. Jobs then casually mentions that – since “Toy Story II” was such a huge hit – that he’s assuming that Eisner would be willing to count this film as one of the five projects that Pixar owes Disney. So – with “A Bug’s Life” and “Toy Story II” already in the hopper – that means that Steve only owes Michael three more …

Eisner then allegedly interrupts Jobs. “Re-read your contract, Steve,” Michael says. “Sequels don’t count. You still owe me four films.”

Steve was supposedly flabbergasted. How could “Toy Story II” – a film that would eventually go on to accumulate a worldwide gross of $485 million – not count?

Okay, okay. According to the letter of the law, Pixar DID owe Disney four films. I understand that.

But – at the same time – some consideration has to be paid to the hard work and effort that the staff at Pixar Animation Studio poured into “Toy Story II.” They COULD HAVE treated this film like it was a throw-away and just made a half-hearted effort. After all, what’s the point of busting your ass on “Toy Story II”? Had things actually gone according to plan, it would have only been a direct-to-video film. A lesser product.

Only the folks at Pixar didn’t treat “Toy Story II” like it was a lesser product. They kept plussing & plussing & plussing the production until it became the film that totally won over audiences in November of 1999. Me personally? I think that Disney should have done something to recognize all that extra effort … And a good place to have started would have been by recognizing “Toy Story II” as one of the five films that Pixar still contractually owed to the Walt Disney Company.

Anyway … It was at this exact moment that the bad blood reportedly began boiling between Eisner & Jobs. Soon after this conversation, Steve allegedly began making noise about finding a new production partner for Pixar as soon as the Disney deal wrapped up in 2007.

Eisner – who, amazingly enough, still seems totally unaware that his insistence that Pixar honor its contract TO THE LETTER will probably result in Jobs refusing to reup his studio’s production pact with Disney – actually acerbated the situation by pressing Pixar to go forward with “Toy Story III.” Again without offering to count that proposed project toward the five films that the computer animation studio still owed Mickey.

According to Pixar insiders, the only way that Jobs would now agree to make “Toy Story III” was if it would get his company out of its arrangement with the Mouse that much quicker. There are also reports that Pixar has already begun production on the studio’s first post-Disney film. This feature – which is supposedly being developed by Jan Pinkava (the director of Pixar’s 1999 Academy Award winning short, “Geri’s Game”) – could be out in theaters as early as the Summer of 2006.

All because Michael Eisner wants Pixar to follow its contract with the Mouse House right down to the last codicil. Rather than honor the spirit of the agreement. Me personally? I just can’t understand how a film like “Toy Story II” – a movie that’s so incredibly entertaining, that earned rave reviews, a project that earned nearly a half billion dollars internationally – still doesn’t count. That’s just mind blowing to me.

Okay. Enough about that: What about “Toy Story III”? According to Jobs, “(That) train has left the station. (Our) next three films are spoken for … We wanted to make a Toy Story 3. But – in the current deal – it’s not going to happen. Toy Story 2 was a big success and we never complained (that) it didn’t count (as a contracted film). But we can’t do (that) again.”

As for Disney: Well, if what I’m hearing is correct, Eisner’s actually toying with the idea of making “Toy Story III” WITHOUT Pixar’s involvement. In an interview earlier this year, Uncle Mike was actually quoted as saying “We have the right to do a sequel irrespective of the two deals (Disney made with Pixar). I don’t need a new deal (with Pixar) to make Toy Story 3. I can get (the) five movies (that Pixar owes Disney) plus Toy Story 3.”

So would Disney really dare to make a “Toy Story III” without Pixar’s direct involvement? The contract that Pixar has with Disney expressly prohibits that studio from taking any of the characters that they created for “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles” and “Cars” and using them in a non-Disney film. On the other hand, the Mouse does appear to have plenty of latitude when that corporation wants to use the Pixar characters. Which (perhaps) explains the “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command” animated TV series, WDW’s “Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin” attraction as well as DCA’s soon-to-be-opening “Flik’s Fun Fair.”

I guess the bigger question is – were Disney to go forward with a “Toy Story III” as a solo project – would they follow the story arc that John Lasseter & Co. have tentatively mapped out for that movie? Because – if they did – it would at least provide a fitting cap to this much beloved film series.

And what might that cap be? Well, let me preface this by saying that I personally am quite happy with the way that the “Toy Story” saga has already wrapped up. The end of “Toy Story II” – with Buzz, Woody, Jessie, Bullseye, Bo Peep and the gang looking on as Wheezy sang “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (With a trio of Barbies as the penguin’s back-up singers) – was sheer bliss for me. I don’t think that you could have ended that story on a higher note.

But the proposed storyline for “Toy Story III” (at least the little bits that I’ve heard) concludes in such a warm, winning way – leaving all of these characters that we’ve come to love in a much better place – that I can’t help but wish that Disney or Pixar or SOMEBODY would get off their asses & make this movie.

So what happens during “Toy Story III”? Sorry, but that would be telling. You want your movies spoiled years in advance? Go over to Aint It Cool News. (Particularly this week. Where Moriarty just revealed EVERYTHING that there is to know about J.J. Abrams’ new “Superman” screenplay. As the good doctor so eloquently puts it, “You will believe that a franchise can suck.” Anyway …)

So – without really spoiling the film – what can I tell you about “Toy Story III”? Well, I can tell you is that the film deals with a subject that Pixar has reportedly gotten a lot of mail about: What happens when Andy grows up.

It seems that hundreds of kids out there have written to Pixar over the years, wondering what’s going to happen to Woody, Buzz et al when Andy finally outgrows his toys. Is it going to be a rerun of what happened to Jessie, where she was ignored, forgotten, then eventually given away to charity?

To do that … would just break the hearts of thousands of kids around the globe. To think that Slinky Dog, Rex and Mr. Potato Head came to such a sad end.

Which is why the folks at Pixar – particularly Lasseter – reportedly wants to end the “Toy Story” story with all the characters in a safe place. So – as “Toy Story III” faded out – it was crucial that Woody, Buzz and the gang would be somewhere where they’d always be cared for. Where they’ll always be loved.

So how to do you do this? Well – to get to the end – sometimes you have to go all the way back to the beginning. In this case, that meant digging out of the original treatment for “Toy Story” (written in the Spring of 1991).

How many of you out there have the ultimate “Toy Box” on DVD? Okay. Go get it. Now slap in the supplemental disc & find your way to the original treatment that’s archived on this disc. Isn’t it amazing how many pieces of “Toy Story II” (Not to mention, of course, the original “Toy Story”) can be found in this document? The yard sale that the characters accidentally end up in? The greedy toy collector? The dangerous crossing of the highway? And – of course – the toy penguin with the broken squeaker.

Yes, the original treatment for “Toy Story” is fun to read. But what we’re here to talk about is the proposed ending of “Toy Story III.” Well – if you read the original treatment for “Toy Story” – you’ll get a large-sized hint as to where Lasseter and Co. want to go with the third and (supposedly) final chapter of this much beloved film series.

So what happens at the end of the original treatment of “Toy Story”? Tinny (a tin toy based – appropriately enough – on the title character in Pixar’s 1989 Academy Award winning short, “Tin Toy”) and his friend, Dummy (A ventriloquist dummy modeled after Charlie McCarthy that occasionally wears a cowboy hat), have survived encounters with obnoxious dogs, obsessive toy collectors, being separated from the kids that love them, even tumbling out a garbage truck into speeding traffic … And they really deserve a break. After their long ordeal, these characters deserve to find a loving home where there will always be kids to play with them. (For a toy is never truly happy unless it is being loved by a child).

And – miracles of miracles – they actually find this wonderful place. Right next door to where the obnoxious dog lives. It’s a pre-school with a kindergarten. Tinny and Dummy (along with their new friends, Slinky Worm and Wheezy) eventually their way into the kindergarten class room. Here, the other toys tell them that their troubles are finally over.

Why for? Because in this room, there will always be children who are willing to play with Tinny & Dummy. And each year, a brand new crop of kids arrives to shower the playthings with affection and attention. And the best part of the deal is … The children go home every day once school lets out. And the toys get the entire summers off. To rest. To vacation. Play with their fellow playthings. Whatever.

This is where Lasseter & Co. supposedly want to leave Woody, Buzz and the crew to be at the end of “Toy Story III.” In a place where there’ll always be kids to play with them. Where the audience knows that they’ll be loved and cared for years yet to come.

That’s not too shabby a way to wrap up the “Toy Story” saga, now is it? Of course, given that it’s looking more & more unlikely that we’ll never see this movie (Because – according to Michael Eisner’s way of looking at things – a film that makes $485 million still DOESN’T COUNT !!!), I guess that we’ll just have to make do with the ending of “Toy Story II.”

Which is still pretty snazzy. At least to my way of thinking. What with the glitter ball and all.

But I still can’t wrap my head around the idea that a film that makes almost a half a billion dollars … just doesn’t count. That just boggles my mind.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

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“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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