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A Grizz-ly edition of Why For

Last week’s “Why For” got such a strong response from WDWMagic.com readers that Jim Hill thought that he’d use this week’s edition to answer some of their queries. Plus can you help us identify this duck?

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Today, we’re going to do a weird sort of edition of “Why For.” One that actually keys off of last week’s extremely controversial version of this same column.

“Why would you want to do something like, Jim?,” you ask. Because over the past seven days, I have gotten dozens of rather heated e-mails from Disneyana fans. People who really took me to task for suggesting that General Grizz’s “Save ‘The Land’ ” campaign was ill-advised.

Some people got right to the point. Like Robert S., who wrote in recently to say:

You jerk. How dare you attack General Grizz? I hope you die.

Which — you have to admit — gets right to the point. Still others — like Rachel R. — were much more polite, but still really upset with me:

Jim —

As a longtime reader of both JimHillMedia.com & WDWMagic.com, I was extremely disappointed to see that you used last week’s “Why For” column as a vehicle to attack General Grizz. Sure, some of the comments that he makes on the WDWMagic discussion boards can be over the top. But Grizz’s heart is really in the right place.

Whereas you, Jim … You seem intent on taking General Grizz’s campaign to save Epcot’s The Land pavilion and turning it into an opportunity to build yourself up by tearing Grizz down. Which is (to my way of thinking, anyway) a pretty shameful way to promote yourself & your website.

Shame on you, Jim. I thought that you were better than this.

*sigh*

It’s letters like these that make me realize that I must have done a really poor job of getting across the point that I was trying to make with last week’s “Why For” column. You see, the real intent of last Friday’s article WASN’T to personally attack General Grizz. But — rather — to talk about why WDI has real problems with certain types of Disney fans. People who are well intentioned but ultimately make life that much more difficult for the Imagineers.

How so? Well, let’s try looking at this whole “Save ‘The Land’ ” call-to-arms thing from Imagineering’s point of view. Here you have a division of the Walt Disney Company that just came through five hellish years. An arm of the Disney corporation that’s suffered through round after round of lay-offs, where virtually every project that WDI has proposed for construction in the stateside parks has had its budget cut to the bone time & time again.

But now — finally — Walt Disney Imagineering seems to have turned a corner. And wonder of wonders, the money spigot has been turned back on! Which is how a big budget project like “Soarin’ ” finally got approved for construction at Epcot in the first place. Plus — for the first time in years — Disney’s money guys have actually agreed to throw some extra dough in the pot to help spruce up “The Land” ‘s interior, upgrade the “Sunshine Season Food Court,” etc. Happy days are here again at WDI!

But then General Grizz starts his “We have to save ‘The Land’ ” campaign. And copies of his call-to-arms get circulated around Imagineering headquarters in Glendale and eventually get into the hands of WDI’s accountants. You know, the sharp pencil boys? Those guys with all the ledgers & the spreadsheets who are always fighting with the Imagineers about how much money they actually need to build various attractions?

Anyway … The accountants take one look at General Grizz’s letter and think “This is an opportunity. If we can just convince management that Disneyana fans really are upset about all the changes that the Imagineers want to make to ‘The Land’ ‘s interior, this could give us a chance to cut some serious coin out of the construction budget for this project.”

You see what I’m getting at, Rachel? General Grizz thought that he was doing the right thing by announcing his call-to-arms. But what he actually did (in this case, anyway) was helped Imagineering’s accountants. Giving these guys just the excuse that they were looking for in order to shave another couple of million dollars off of the proposed budget for this Future World revitalization project.

And — to make matters worse — you have to understand that the pavilions on this side of Epcot operate on a strict 10 year rehab schedule. Which means that what doesn’t get fixed this time around will then have to wait ’til 2014 to receive any additional attention.

So — thanks to a well-intended if somewhat mis-guided effort to save “The Land” ‘s interior — General Grizz and his co-horts may have actually done this Future World pavilion more harm than good. They may have accidentally created a situation where money will now get cut out of “the Land” ‘s rehab budget. Which may result in a version of this pavilion that actually looks worse than the “Transportation Center” that the Imagineers were originally planning on building.

Thankfully — as of this moment — the sharp pencil boys haven’t been all that successful in their effort to convince Disney management that “all those dweebs on the Net” (Their term. Not mine) want the interior of this Future World pavilion to remain just as it is now. But every day that General Grizz continues to push his case gives WDI’s accountants another opportunity to whittle away at this project.

As recently as this past Wednesday, I heard that copies of Grizz’s call-to-arms continue to circulate at Disney. With the accountants forwarding copies of the WDWMagic.com discussion boards that cover this particular subject to influential managers within the Team Disney Burbank building with attachments that read: “Have you heard about this? Maybe we’d better take another look at changing ‘The Land’ ‘s interior.”

So you see what’s really going on here, Rachel? The sharp pencil boys are using General Grizz’s “Save ‘The Land’ ” campaign to further their own agendas. NOT because these guys actually care about what Disneyana fans think. But — rather — because Grizz’s call-to-arms has given the accountants a convenient excuse to try & cut that project’s budget.

Now earlier this week, General Grizz and I exchanged a few e-mails. I made him aware of this situation within Walt Disney Imagineering. And he seemed genuinely surprised & concerned that his “Save ‘The Land’ ” campaign could have been turned into something might actually hurt this Future World pavilion. This is clearly not the outcome that the General was going for. Now as to whether this news will — in the future — effect the way Grizz announces his call-to-arms over at WDWMagic.com … Who can say?

I guess what I’m really saying here is that — from here on in — all us folks who work with the Web need to be a bit more careful about how we pick our battles. Make sure that — when we issue a call-to-arms — that we’re actually fighting for the right side.

After all, we don’t want to aid & abet WDI’s sworn enemy: The sharp pencil boys. The people who said “We don’t need to spend big bucks on the ‘Journey into Imagination’ rehab” and “It’s okay to shut down Disneyland’s ‘Country Bear’ show and replace it with a bargain basement version of WDW’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ ride.”

Anyway … Out of all the notes that I received this past week, the following message from Travis Y. was probably the best written. As well as one of the most aggravating. And I’m not just saying that because this particular e-mail starts out with a quote from yours truly:

“Well, this is where I have to remind you guys that the Walt Disney Company is actually a business. And what you may view as a peaceful & tranquil environment to dine in, the execs who are running the Mouse House see as an area at Epcot that is severely underutilized. A section of Future World which is not pulling its weight.” 10-15-04

Dear Jim,

In several previous articles (though I cannot recall any specifically off the top of my head), in order to provide explanation for various decisions of the WDC, you’ve made a point of stating WDC is a business. Granted, WDC is a business and must do what makes sense as such. But on the other hand, I HATE the reality that the WDC puts business first. Walt would have changed The Land not because the space was underutilized, but because of why it was underutilized, i.e. — bad show.

Certainly I understand some of the changes from the bad show angle. As fond as I am of those balloons, I never understood how they fit in exactly, and I won’t really miss them when they float away. Also, from the space angle, I agree they’re gonna have to modify something to accomodate the new crowds. What bugs me is that damn business angle.

That’s my own problem I realize. Facts are facts, and the way you deal with them in life determines your success. But the more you write about the business arguement, the more irked I get, not just because I don’t like the facts themselves, but it’s as if you yourself are siding with them, excusing away some of their more controvertial considerations and decisions, all in the name of attendance increases and stuffed cash registers. I hate that.

Personally, I believe if they were thinking show — and not just show, but Walt’s show — they would do exactly what Grizz is talking about. Take the more expensive and unsound business route by retheming Soarin, not retheming the entire pavillion to match a Soarin’ clone. I love the intro to the AK segment on the latest WDW souvenier DVD — a sound clip of Walt talking about preserving nature. Walt would have loved The Land’s symbiosis theme circa ’82 or ’94 or whenever the heck they introduced it to the pavillion. Would they have to change the Food Fair to accomodate the new crowds? Of course. But a travel agency? Gimme a break.

The more I read your articles, the more I sense that while you love a good Walt Disney back story more than anyone, you place a different value on them than some of us. You don’t romanticize his way of thinking, his outdated 1950’s modernist ideals the way we do. As such, you are less concerned w/ how new decisions impact the original vision, looking instead to whether it works today as entertainment or not. You always wanted those Time Racers. I for one am glad they’re dead.

Will retheming Soarin’ draw less crowds than retheming the Pavillion? Perhaps. I like Soarin’ as it is, I’ve got the Jerry Goldsmith track on repeat in the computer. Shooting new footage for the ride will likely result in losing this music that is such a key to it’s current success. But I’m willing to take a chance. Change everything you want in The Land if it draws in crowds. Just don’t change the theme.

Travis Y.

Dear Travis:

Given that what you’ve written here is a basically polite, very respectful letter, I really feel like a jerk for saying something like this: But I’m not going to answer your e-mail, Travis. NOT because I don’t think that you bring up some valid points (Because you do). But — rather — because I have grown tired of Disneyana fans who invoke Walt’s name as part of their defense of Epcot.

“What do I mean by that?,” you ask. Well … Let’s take a look at these sentences from your e-mail: “Walt would have loved The Land’s symbiosis theme circa ’82 or ’94 …” and “… not just show, but Walt’s show.”

Quick question, Travis: Are you a member of the Disney family and thereby privvy to information that the rest of us don’t have? Or are you a member of the Psychic Friends Network and — as a result — able to channel messages from the Old Mousetro straight from the great beyond?

If none of the above in true, Travis … Then what gives you the right to pretend that you know what Walt Disney’s likes & dislikes might be?

Please don’t get me wrong, Travis. I don’t mean to single you out for doing this. Sort of like I didn’t mean to single out General Grizz last week for being the perfect example of the sort of Disney dweeb who blindly insists that nothing ever changes at the theme parks. (And look how that “Why For” answer came back and bit me in the ass.)

Anyway … I’m sorry if this seems like a very strange response to your e-mail. But — when people play the Walt card (particularly when they’re talking about projects that weren’t even in the talking stage while Disney was alive) — it always makes me a little bit crazy.

Why for? Because, to be blunt, I don’t think that there’s anyone left on the planet — short of Diane Disney Miller — could have predicted what Walt would do from one minute to the next. (I used to include Roy E. Disney in this group. But ever since Walt’s nephew began using DCA to beat up Michael Eisner [Which seems really hyocritical. Particularly given that — on this theme park’s opening day back in February 2001 — Roy told numerous members of the press that Walt would have loved California Adventure.] , I’ve pulled him off my list of definitive Disney authorities.)

Don’t believe me? Then talk with real Disney old timers like Bob Gurr, Alice Davis & Harrison “Buzz” Price. People who actually worked with Walt and were always genuinely surprised by the sorts of assignments that he’d give them … Like trying to find a way to build a bobsled ride that would work in sunny California, or designing 300+ distinctly different ethnic costumes for a UNICEF attraction, or finding out if it was financially feasible to build a Disney theme park indoors.

If these people (who knew Walt well) couldn’t predict what Disney was going to do from one minute to the next … Then how can you pretend that you know what Walt would have thought about the proposed Land redo?

Don’t get me wrong, Travis. I’m sure that you’re a very nice guy. More importantly, that you’ve read all of the Disney biographies as well as the company histories that are out there. You’ve also seen the man speak on various videos & DVDs. Maybe you’ve even spoken with a few veteran Disney Company employees and/or elderly Imagineers, people who actually worked with Walt & had day-to-day contact with the man. Which is why you now may feel that you have some sort of special insight into Walt Disney might say or do.

Well, Travis, I’ve done all that and then some. And you know what I’ve learned from my 30 years of studying Walt Disney’s life? That the man was unknowable. As in: Disney was a constant surprise to all those who knew him, worked with him and/or loved him.

That said, if I had to bet on which of the four Florida theme parks would upset Walt the most, I’d have to say that Epcot would seem to be the safest bet. After all, even when Disney was on his death bed at St. Joseph’s hospital in Burbank, he was still using the ceiling tiles of his hospital room to map out the exact layout of his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

Which was supposed to have been a city, Travis. NOT a futuristically themed theme park.

Which is why I think that it’s … Well … wrong-headed to try & defend General Grizz’s call-to-arms with sentences like “Walt would have changed The Land not because the space was underutilized ...” When — truth be told — that Future World pavilion (And the entirety of Epcot Center, for that matter) is a much better reflection of the corporate mindset & artistic sensibilties of Card Walker (I.E. The man who was actually in charge of Walt Disney Productions when that theme park was initially designed & built) rather than of Walt himself.

But Disneyana fans (particularly those who love Epcot) don’t like to be reminded that Disney himself had so little to do with the creation of Epcot Center. That Walt was 10 years dead when all the really tough decisions were being made on this project. They’d prefer to cling to the myth that Walt Disney Productions’ publicity department created. That Epcot was Walt’s “last and best dream.”

Epcot the city, sure. Epcot Center, the theme park … Not by a long shot, Travis.

So how’s about this, Travis? You send me another e-mail that doesn’t include any lines like “Walt wouldn’t have done it that way” … And I promise that I’ll then answer your note, okay?

Send me a letter like that, Travis. THEN I’ll be happy to discuss my whole “The Walt Disney Company is a business” position with you, alright?

Okay. Now that I’m sure that I’ve offended dozens of WDWMagic.com readers, let me ask you folks a question. Particularly all you Donald Duck fans out there. What can you tell me about this duck?

My significant other — Nancy Stadler — recently received this Donald Duck from her Dad. Evidently, Mary (Nancy’s late mother) found this 4 1/2 inch tall plastic figure at a flea market in Georgia. And — since she knew that her daughter was a big-time duck collector — Mary set this Donald aside to send to Nancy later this year.

But — now that Mary’s gone — Nancy’s been trying to fill in a few of the blanks on this figurine. As in: Where exactly did it come from? And why is Donald Duck dressed in such strange garb? With a blue pin-striped shirt & cap, rather than his usual sailor suit & hat. Plus Donald appears to be wearing brown gloves. And while one glove appears to have fingers, the other (on the duck’s left hand) does not.

As for any additional identifying marks: On the back of this figure — in raised writing — are three words: ARCO, Disney & China.

So can any of you Donald Duck fans out there help me out here? Any info that you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Not to mention clearing up some of the questions that Nancy may have about this one last gift from her Mom.

That’s it for this week, folks. Here’s hoping that I haven’t upset too many people over at WDWMagic.com. If not … Well, I guess there’s next week.

Have a great weekend, okay? We’ll all talk again come Monday, alright?

jrh

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.

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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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