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A JimHillMedia.com exclusive: Your first look at the storyline for Disney / Pixar’s “Finding Nemo”

Just can’t wait ’til May 30th to find out what “Finding Nemo” is actually all about? Jim Hill brings you a detailed breakdown of the storyline for Pixar Animation Studio’s next sure-to-be smash.

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Are you the type of person who peeks at the end of novels? Who rattles wrapped Christmas presents for a hint at their contents? Who spends hours poking around the Internet, hoping to uncover cool inside info about major motion pictures months before they open?

(Look at whom I’m talking to here. What a question. Sheesh …)

ANYWAY … If that’s truly the type of person you are (sadly, I’m one too), have I got a treat for you! The Web’s first blow-by-blow breakdown of the storyline for Pixar Animation Studio’s next big release, “Finding Nemo.”

Where did I come across this truly cool information? Sorry, but that would be telling. Let’s just say that this month’s trip out to Southern California proved to be exhausting, but very informative.

Now, a brief word of caution here before we proceed: the following “Finding Nemo” story contains significant spoilers. It will give away virtually every major plot point in the picture.

So — if you really want to be surprised in May as you head out to your local multiplex — now might be a good time to stop reading this article.

I’m serious, people. There be spoilers ahead. So proceed with caution.

Consider yourself warned, okay?

Still there?

Okay. Let’s get started, shall we?

Putting it bluntly, “Finding Nemo” is going to be a delight. Another certified smash from those clever SOBs in Emeryville, CA. Plan now to buy at least two tickets for “Nemo” during its initial theatrical release. Based on the work-in-progress version of the picture that I recently got to see, this film is just too good to see just once.

More importantly, make sure that the movie theater that you see “Finding Nemo” in has a really large screen. Better yet, try and find a multiplex that will be projecting the picture digitally. That way, you’ll actually get to see all of the amazing imagery that Pixar’s artists have crammed into every frame.

A word of caution, though. Parents should be aware — right from the get-go — that “Finding Nemo” has some fairly intense sequences. Scenes that may startle and/or genuinely scare some of the smaller members of the audience.

One of those sequences comes at the very start of the picture as Coral and Marlin — a happily married pair of Clownfish — carefully stand watch over their soon-to-hatch clutch of eggs. Suddenly a barracuda appears and — in an instant — Coral and the bulk of the eggs are gone. Only the heartbroken Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and a single, damaged, unhatched egg remains.

Such is life on Australia’s beautiful if brutal Great Barrier Reef. Which is how Marlin ends up being such an overly protective parent to the curious and adventuring Nemo. Forever fretting that his son’s damaged fin (a result of the barracuda attack that killed Nemo’s mother, brothers and sisters) will keep Nemo from being a strong swimmer, Marlin is constantly trying to safeguard his son. Holding him back. Even keeping him out of school (yes, a school of fish … one of the many water-based jokes that you’ll hear in this picture) with the hope that it will help keep his sole surviving child safe.

Nemo — of course — chafes under his overly cautious father’s too-tight control. So Marlin finally relents and allows his son to go off to school. Of course, Nemo’s father immediately regrets this decision. Particularly after he learns the school’s first field trip will be to the dangerous Drop-off (I.E. the very spot where Coral and the eggs were attacked by the barracuda).

In a panic, Marlin rushes after his son and unintentionally embarrasses Nemo in front of his new school-mates: Pearl (a Flapjack Octopus), Sheldon (a Sea Horse) and Tad (a Long-Nosed Butterfly Fish).

Nemo is so embarrassed by his father’s behavior in front of his new friends that the little Clownfish feels that he must now do something to show how brave he is. So Nemo brazenly swims out into the deep water and deliberately “tags” a nearby boat with his fin. This impresses Tad, Pearl and Sheldon … until a scuba diver swims up behind Nemo and nets him.

Marlin looks on in horror as the scuba diver clambers up into the boat with his son still trapped in the net. The frantic father then swims after the boat … but is unable to keep as the scuba diver motors away.

It’s at this point in the picture that daffy Dory makes her entrance. Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, Dory is a Regal Blue Tang with a sweet personality but some real short term memory problems. This means that the well-intentioned fish can’t retain any information for more than a minute or so … which explains the film’s running gag of Dory constantly feeling like she has to re-introduce herself to poor, harried Marlin.

Still, Dory is relentlessly optimistic. Which is why — when the Regal Blue Tang discovers the scuba diver’s mask (which somehow got left behind as he and Nemo were motoring away from the area of the deep Drop-off) has the diver’s address inside (P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney) Dory proposes that she and Marlin head off to rescue Nemo. Which is what they do.

It’s at this point in the picture that “Finding Nemo”‘s storyline basically splits in two. Marlin and Dory’s on-going quest to find Sydney Harbor and then rescue Nemo sort of plays out like an aquatic / neurotic version of “The Searchers.” At times comic (their encounter with Bruce, Anchor and Chum — three sharks who have formed their own support group in an effort to cut back on eating fish — is a highlight). At other turns, terrifying (the moment when Bruce falls back into his old habits, as the Great White relentlessly pursues Dory and Marlin through the hull of a sunken submarine, not to mention the pair’s far-too-close encounter with a hungry Anglerfish). Which makes this section of the story immensely entertaining.

But — if I had to pick my favorite part of this story — I think I’d have to go with Nemo’s half of the adventure. For the little Clownfish goes indeed get taken back to Sydney, where he winds up a prisoner in a dentist office aquarium. This portion of the picture then mutates into this brilliant comic riff on “The Great Escape.”

Once he’s been transferred to the dentist’s tank, Nemo finds that he’s surrounded by colorful characters: Gill, the tough but likable Moorish Idol (voiced by William Dafoe) who’s the leader of this motley crew; Bloat, the Blowfish who’s under a lot of pressure (voiced by Richard Kind); Peach, a Starfish (voiced by “The West Wing”‘s Allison Janney) who — thanks to the hours and hours of dental procedures she’s observed while being trapped in Dr. Sherman’s fish tank — has become something of a dental expert. Plus Bubbles, the obsessive Yellow Tang (voiced by Stephen Root) who just lives to retrieve the bubbles that come burbling out of the tank’s teeny-tiny treasure chest.

Gill, you see, has a plan which will allow all of the fish that are trapped in the doctor’s tank to return safely to the ocean. (Why is it so urgent that Gill and Co. get back to the sea? Well, as it turns out, Dr. S has this niece called Darla. And Doctor Sherman periodically gifts some of the fish he catches to his niece as pets. The only problem is … Darla is really rough on her pets. She reportedly likes to shakes fish to death … which is why Gill and Co. must find a way to escape their aquarium prison before Dr. S finds himself in a giving mood again.)

Toward this end, Gill has hatched a simple but ingenious plan. The imprisoned fish will deliberately try to make their fish tank as dirty as possible, which will force Dr. Sherman to clean the aquarium. This means that Dr. S will have to place Gill et al in little plastic bags along the countertop as he cleans out the inside of the tank.

From there … well, given that Dr. Sherman’s office directly overlooks Sydney Harbor, all the fish have to do is “hop” in their little plastic bags along the countertop over to the open window and then … jump out the window into the harbor to freedom.

It sounds like a fool-proof plan, doesn’t it? Well, it is … until Dr. S installs a brand-new filter in the fish tank. Then — try as they might — Gill and Co. just can’t get their aquarium dirty. This new super-efficient filter just sucked all the dirt and debris out of the water.

Meanwhile … back out in the open water, Marlin and Dory have survived encounters with swarms of jellyfish, not to mention almost getting swallowed by a whale. They’ve even lived through a trip through the “swirling vortex of death” as they tagged along with a squadron of thrill-seeking sea turtles (who sound suspiciously like a bunch of Southern Californian surfer dudes).

Eventually, Marlin and Dory wind up befriending a pelican named Nigel (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) who agrees to take the concerned Clownfish and absent minded Regal Blue Tang inside his bill and fly them straight to Dr. Sherman’s office.

Little do Marlin, Dory and Nigel realize — as they’re en route to the dentist — things have come to a head at Dr. Sherman’s. Darla had arrived and is now insisting that her uncle hand over his latest prize, the little Clownfish. So Dr. S reluctantly scoops up Nemo with a net and places him in a plastic bag. All seems lost …

When Nemo decides to pull a fast one on Dr. Sherman and his niece. Rolling over on his bank, the little Clownfish plays dead. Watching closely from inside the aquarium, Gill and the other fish immediately realize what Nemo is attempting: the old toilet escape. Nemo’s hoping that — if Dr. S thinks he’s dead — he’ll just flush the little Clownfish down the toilet … which will eventually allow Nemo to return to the sea.

The only problem is … Dr. Sherman doesn’t immediately decide to dispose of this alleged corpse by pouring the contents of the little plastic bag in the toilet. Distracted by his niece’s tantrums, he sets Nemo’s plastic bag down on the counter by the window on top of a dental mirror.

It’s at this exact moment that Marlin, Dory and Nigel come flying up to the open window of Dr. S’s office. And — peering out of Nigel’s bill — Marlin sees Nemo floating upside down inside the plastic bag and (understandably) mistakenly thinks that his son is now dead. Grief stricken, the father Clownfish asks Nigel to take he and Dory back to Sydney Harbor.

Meanwhile, Dr. S shuts the open office window (to prevent the pelican from getting back in). Now all of Nemo’s possible avenues of escape seem to be cut off. The little Clownfish seems doomed to end up in the trash …

Until Gill — with the help of all the other fish in the aquarium — launches himself out of the tank in a last gasp effort to save Nemo. The Moorish Idol lands on the same dental mirror that Nemo’s plastic bag is resting on. This impact then sends the little Clownfish soaring through the air, with Nemo’s plastic bag eventually landing in the dentist office’s spit sink. The plastic bag bursts open upon impact, leaving Nemo free to swim down the drain and eventually make his way back to the sea.

Dr. Sherman then scoops up Gill and places him back in the aquarium … where all the other fish congratulate the Moorish Idol on his daring rescue of the little Clownfish.

Meanwhile, back in Sydney Harbor … the grief stricken Marlin has already made his goodbyes to Dory and Nigel. Wishing to left alone in his time of sorrow. Literally moments later, the forgetful Regal Blue Tang runs into Nemo! Given all of her memory problems, it — of course — takes Dory a few minutes to recognize Marlin’s son. But — as soon as she does — these two take off in search of Nemo’s father.

Eventually, Dory and Nemo find Marlin. And there is — of course — a heartfelt reunion. But — since this is a Pixar Animation Studio production (I.E. The studio that believes “Why settle for a climax when you can have a climax on top of a climax on top of a climax?”) — the story can’t just end there.

Which is why an enormous fishing net suddenly descends into Sydney Harbor and scoops up a group of fish, including Dory! All seems lost … Until Nemo has an idea. Using some of the lessons that he learned in the aquarium in Dr. Sherman’s office (I.E. when a group works together, it can accomplish almost anything), the little Clownfish tells all of the fish trapped in the net that if they all work together and “swim down,” their combined force could possibly tear a hole in the net. Giving the terrified group of groupers an avenue of escape.

The only problem is … the panicked fish in the net don’t exactly understand what Nemo is trying to say to them. So — in order for his plan to succeed — the little Clownfish is going to actually have to get inside the rapidly rising net and show the fish what he wants them to do.

Of course, when Marlin hears about what Nemo wants to do, the father Clownfish is beside himself. Here, he’s just found his son again, only to have Nemo immediately risk his own life in an attempt to rescue Dory. Still — sensing a new strength and a sense of purpose in his son (not to mention a change in Marlin’s own once overly-protective nature) — Marlin agrees to let Nemo go into the net and try and save the other fish.

Once inside the net, Nemo convinces the group of frightened fish to work together and … Well, whaddaya know? The little Clownfish’s plan works! The fish all escape through a hole in the net and Marlin, Nemo & Dory all have a very happy reunion.

As the trio now make their way back to their home in the Great Barrier Reef, Nemo tells his father that he can’t wait to go back to school to tell all of his friends about his exciting adventures. And Marlin — who’s obviously also grown up a little bit because of his ordeal — is now finally willing to let go of his son. To allow his child to grow up and venture out into the world.

Sounds like a pretty happy ending, doesn’t it? Well, what about Gill and all of the other fish who are still trapped in Dr. Sherman’s aquarium? Well, I’m pleased to report that — just before fade-out — we get to see Gill and Co. in little plastic bags floating free across Sydney Harbor. So I guess that we can say that the “Great Escape” portion of the story ended happily as well.

Sounds like a fairly convoluted but pretty entertaining story, doesn’t it? Well, I should warn you that the version of “Finding Nemo” that I got to see was an early work-in-progress print. And (as often happens in Hollywood) films are subject to change right up ’til their release date. So — when you finally get to see this Pixar production at the end of May — that version of the film maybe somewhat different from the synopsis you just read.

I only wish that this bare bones description of “Finding Nemo”‘s plot that I’ve cobbled together to could do justice to the great quirky pieces of the picture. The weird little character bits (Like poor Deb. The Black-and-White Humbug fish in Dr. Sherman’s tank that’s voiced by Vickie Lewis. You see, Deb is convinced that the reflection that she sees in the aquarium’s glass is actually another Black-and-White Humbug fish named Flo. [Deb and Flo. Get it?] So Deb spends hours laughing and talking with this fictitious fish) which add so much to the fun of the film.

Then when you add in “Finding Nemo”‘s amazing art direction and how effortlessly the production team tosses off eye popping setting after setting … not to mention the great job that Pixar’s animators did with “Finding Nemo”‘s human characters (if this is the level of work that Pixar can do now with human figures, I can’t wait ’til next summer to get to see what the studio does with Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles”).

So where does this film fit into the grand scheme of things, Pixar-wise? Is “Finding Nemo” as good as “Toy Story” and “Toy Story II?” Sadly, no. Those two films (at least for me) are the gold standard by which all Pixar productions are to be judged. And “Finding Nemo” doesn’t quite reach that very high bar.

Nor is “Finding Nemo” really in the same class as Pixar’s 2001 release, “Monsters, Inc.”

(Again, my opinion. Your mileage may differ.) Why for? Well, “Nemo”‘s somewhat episodic nature (with the story stopping and starting whenever Marlin and Dory encounter another group of kooky characters) sometimes undercuts the film’s emotional momentum. Which prevents this picture from having the same sort of extremely satisfying emotional pay-off that “Monsters, Inc.” had (I.E. that moment when Sulley finally got to see Boo again).

Which (to my way of thinking, anyway) puts “Finding Nemo” in the same class as “A Bug’s Life.” Which — as you’ll remember — was also a visually ambitious film with a very large cast of characters. And — given that “Nemo”‘s director Andrew Stanton also helmed “A Bug’s Life” — it just makes sense that these two projects share some of the same virtues.

So, okay. “Finding Nemo” isn’t exactly “Toy Story” redux. It’s still miles ahead of the competition. A beautiful looking film with a genuinely entertaining story. Tons of colorful characters. If you’re in need of an entertaining night out at the movies, make plans now to go out to your local multiplex on May 30th to go see “Finding Nemo.”

That’s the only downside to the whole situation. Disney and Pixar have this great picture in the pipeline. But we’ve all still got to wait two more months before we finally get to see the finished version.

They’re actually just now putting the finishing touches on “Finding Nemo.” Thomas Newman (cousin to Academy Award winner Randy Newman, the guy who usually scores all of Pixar’s pictures) is waving the baton this time around. Earlier this month, Newman and an elite group of Hollywood’s best studio musicians trooped over to Culver City to record the film’s score on one of Sony’s soundstages.

Once the score and all the sound effects for this picture are finally in place, “Finding Nemo” should go from being merely a very entertaining film to something truly extraordinary. Based on what I’ve been able to see of this film to date, Pixar appears to have another huge hit on its hand.

But just how huge a hit? Given that this will be the very first Pixar Animation Studio release that Walt Disney Pictures has seen fit to release during the extremely lucrative but highly competitive summer season, it’s going to be really interesting to see how this film actually does at the box office. Will “Finding Nemo” go on to become the highest grossing picture that Pixar’s ever released? Or will “Nemo” — like so many of last year’s seemingly sure-fire blockbusters — end up under-performing as its legs get cut out from under it as the next box office behemoth (EX: “The Hulk,” “X-Men 2,” “Terminator 3,” “Tomb Raider 2,” and “The Matrix Reloaded” et al) comes rumbling in to your local multiplex.

Provided (of course) that the promotional campaign that Walt Disney Pictures has put in place for “Finding Nemo” can get the word out, I would imagine that this Pixar production will have no trouble pulling in at least $100 million. But how much bigger a blockbuster this fish story will turn out to be … that all depends on the vagaries of the summer movie-going season. When even well-received traditionally animated films like “Lilo & Stitch” have had to struggle to pull in $145 million.

So how will “Finding Nemo” ultimately end up doing at the box office? Check back in with JimHillMedia.com come late June / early July and we’ll discuss whether this CG project actually sank or swim.

But — in the meantime — if you’re an animation fan (or just someone who likes good movies), I strongly recommend that you make plans now to seek out “Finding Nemo.”

“Finding Nemo” images © Disney/PIXAR

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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