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A work-in-progress version of Why For finally finished!

Jim Hill answers even more of your Disney-related questions. This time around, he talks about George Lucas’ original idea for “Alien Encounter,” the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” stunt show, offers up some interesting behind-the-scenes info on “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” and well as revealing what Andreas Deja was going to do with Yzma.

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Sorry, folks. But it’s been a busy, busy week out here in the woods. Which is why I’m not quite through with this week’s “Why For” yet.

Initially, I thought that I’d hold off on posting the column in its unfinished form. But then I had a change of heart. I just figured I’ll just post my response to this week’s first question. And then — throughout the day, as I finished answering the rest of this week’s questions — I’d just tack them on to the end of this week’s “Why For.”

That work for you guys? Hope so. Anyway … Here we go. First up, Dave C. writes in to ask:

Dear Jim–

After reading that Disneyland press release today, I’m really looking forward to hearing about how “Star Tours” actually came together. But when you write about George Lucas, can you talk about two other projects that he was also supposed to do for the parks: the original version of “Alien Encounter” and the “Young Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular”?

Thanks for all the great stories. Love the site.

Dave C.

Dear Dave C. —

Actually, if you’ll do some poking around LaughingPlace.com’s archives, you’ll find that I’ve already written fairly extensively about “Alien Encounter.” Though — that said — I just came across an old piece of concept art for this Tomorrowland attraction which (I think) offers some pretty interesting insights into the way George Lucas originally wanted this story to play out.

You see, George wanted “Alien Encounter” to be scary. But in a classic sci-fi sort of way. So — rather than having a couple of comical robots appearing in AE’s pre-show area, setting up the sensory adventure that was to follow — Lucas wanted to recycle all of “Mission to Mars” ‘s old AA figures. You know? Mr. Johnson and those 10 other robotic humans who used to man the consoles at Mission Control?

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

Only this time around, Lucas wanted all of the Audio Animatronic figures in the pre-show to be dressed with surgical masks & gowns. More importantly, that theme park guests — as they entered the “Alien Encounter” pre-show area — would only be able to see these figures through several layers of extremely thick glass. Toiling away in incredibly sterile laboratories under harsh fluroscent lighting.

You get the story idea that George was trying to get across yet? His version of “Alien Encounter” was going to be about containment. As in: The people who work at this facility were obviously concerned about beaming something dangerous down to this planet. Which was why all these precautions had been put in place.

Which begs the question: If XS Tech is such a dangerous place to work, then why is it holding an open house? Actually allowing all of us to tour this teleportation facility? Ah, but that’s where Lucas’ version of “Alien Encounter” was supposed to take a truly sinister turn.

You see, it was only after you’ve taken your seat in the main theater and that restraining harness had come down over your shoulders that you realized that you’ve lied to. XS Tech wasn’t actually holding an open house. This corporation was just looking for some human “guinea pigs” to expose to a supposedly vicious alien lifeform that they’d captured. Just so the scientists could see what this creature was capable of.

So the alien is beamed into our midst. The containment shield is lifted and … The ironic twist on this version of “Alien Encounter” is — while the creature does look horrible — it’s not really a vicious beast. It’s actually a sentient being that just wants to go home.

So — after inadvertantly terrifying the audience for a few moments — the creature reveals that it doesn’t want to harm us. It just wants all of us to escape.

So — in Lucas’ version of “Alien Encounter” (Which obviously borrows a page or two from “The Twilight Zone”) — it’s actually the alien who comes to our rescue. As the scientists out in the pre-show area realize that their plan has gone horribly wrong and that the alien is now bonding with the audience, they get ready to sterilize the entire auditorium through a combination of radiation & laser fire. But — before they can do that — the creature figures out how to raise our shoulder restraints as well as open the theater doors.

So — as we hurry out of the auditorium — we can’t help but feel grateful toward the horrible-looking creature who had just helped us escape. But — as the same time — it’s hard to ignore all of those terrified screams that are now coming from “Alien Encounters” ‘s pre-show area. Where it’s fairly obvious that this extraterrestrial — before it heads home — is exacting some revenge on its captors.

I know, I know. That’s sounds pretty dark and sinister for a theme park attraction. But let’s remember that this is George Lucas that we’re talking about here. The man who just sprang “Revenge of the Sith” on the world. Which (I can almost guarantee you) is one of the most dark & sinister summer blockbuster that you’ll ever see.

Anyway … Moving on to the “Young Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” now: FYI: The title that this show was actually developed under was “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectcular.” Which is admittedly somewhat awkward. But — that said — it still would have been one hell of a show.

To give you a little background on the “Young Indy” stunt show:  This attraction was originally  proposed for Disneyland back in the late 1980s as part of the “Disney Decade.” Which was this ambitious project that called for dozens of new rides & shows to be added to the Disney theme parks around the world during that 10 year span between 1990 & 2000.

Anyway, getting back to “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” … This project was actually had two inspirations: The overwhelmingly positive reaction that the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” show recieved when it finally opened at Disney-MGM Studio theme park in August of 1989. Plus moviegoers’ enthusiastic response to “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” ‘s prologue. Which — FYI — was released to theaters in May of that same year.

When the guys at Walt Disney Imagineering saw “Last Crusade” [Particularly those scenes toward the beginning of the film, where the young Indiana Jones (played by River Phoenix) is scrambling across the roof of that moving circus train, trying to escape those tomb raiders ]… They suddenly realized that they now had a logical way to bring a huge show like MGM’s “Epic Stunt Spectacular” to Disneyland.

You see, for more than a decade, WDI had been looking for a project to place on that huge piece of property out behind Disneyland’s “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.” For a time, the Imagineers tried to get Discovery Bay built back there. But — in the end — Disney execs didn’t believe that this concept (as colorful & creative as it might have been) justified its projected construction cost.

But here now was Indiana Jones. A character that three highly successful films had been built around. More to the point, here was “Last Crusade” ‘s prologue sequence, which had been set in the American West in 1912. More importantly, that this portion of that Paramount Picture had prominently featured a steam train.

And here was Disneyland with this large piece of empty space inbetween Frontierland & Fantasyland. Which — not-so-co-incidentally — a steam train ran right through.

To the Imagineers, it seemed like this project was almost preordained. Which is why plans for the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” flew together fairly quickly.

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

The concept for this proposed Disneyland stunt show went a little something like this: In the area where Big Thunder Ranch and the “Festival of Fools” are currently, a large red-and-white-striped canvas circus tent would be erected. At the start of each performance, up to 5000 Disneyland guests would be allowed to enter the circus’ midway area. Where — after interacting with various streetmosphere performers who helped establish the date & location of the show (I.E. American west, 1912) — these visitors would then enter the big top.

Once they took their seats in the wooden reviewing stands, these Disneyland guests would probably have noticed something unusual about this performance venue. In that the tracks for the Disneyland Railroad actually ran right through the backmost portion of the stage area. Which meant that the steam engine could actually be used as a set and/or a prop in this production.

And — to be honest — that’s actually what was supposed to happen in the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular.” At one point in the show, the steam train was supposed to come roaring through the circus tent. And — just like he did in “The Last Crusade” — Young Indy was supposed to race across the tops of the rail cars as he tried to elude his pursuers.

By the way, there’s one important thing that you need to understand about the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular.” Unlike the MGM stunt show — which stops and starts at various points, given that the performers are pretending that they’re shooting an “Indiana Jones” movie — the “Young Indiana Jones” was going to be performed just like it was a play. Meaning that its performers were going to remain in character through the entire 30-minute-long performance. With no stops or starts, just continuous action all the way through.

I’ll say this much. Based on a version of the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” script that I read a few years back, this proposed Disneyland show was going to have one of the oddest endings in show business history. To explain: This stunt show was actually supposed to start off with the older Indiana Jones reminiscing about his boyhood. Then — for the next 20 minutes or so — it would have been just Young Indy on stage. Battling with the villains, performing all sorts of outrageous stunts, etc.

But then — at the very end of Young Indy’s adventures — the older Indiana Jones would come back onstage. Only this time, he’s not walking. Indy’s riding on horseback.

So old Indy would then ride up next to the younger version of himself. He’d then pull Young Indy up onto the horse behind him. And then — with the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” march blaring in the background — these two would ride up onto Disneyland’s berm. And — after their stallion reared up on its back legs — the two versions of Dr. Jones would wave to the crowd, then disappear behind the berm … Seemingly riding off into the sunset.

That sounds like a pretty strange way to end a show, don’t you think? Well — believe you me — the proposed finale was the least of the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” ‘s problems. The folks who were operating Disneyland’s railraod didn’t like the idea of their trains’ operating schedule being disrupted just so a steam engine could be used as a prop. And Disneyland’s managers were already carping about the proposed size of the production. In particular  the huge number of performers that would have to be on hand on each day in order to properly stage this show.

Then there was that other set of Imagineers who were pushing for Disneyland to get a very different sort of “Indiana Jones” attraction. One that would actually put theme park guests on board troop transports and/or inside mine cars and then send them careening in, around, over and through a forbidden temple.

Given that an “Indiana Jones” ride — instead of an “Indiana Jones” stunt show — was more in keeping with Disneyland’s already established assortment of rides, shows and attractions, that’s what the Imagineers eventually decided to go with. Much to the chagrin of George Lucas. Who — over the many months that the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” had been in development — had grown quite fond of this younger version of Indy.

How fond? So fond that — starting in 1991 — George actually built an entire TV series around this version of Indiana Jones: “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.” Which debuted on ABC back in March of 1992.

And — while no one can claim that “TYIJC” was a ratings smash– the show did have its fans. It even managed to win an Emmy or two.

After three years of production and 36 episodes, “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” also rode off into the sunset. Though fans of that show will probably be pleased to hear that Lucas is reportedly planning on putting the series out on DVD later this year.

Next up, uncle same drops me a line to say —

jim —

Just got back from disneyland and i have to say i really like that ‘first 50 magical years’ exhibit at the main street opera house. but not so much that i’d be willing to give up my ‘great moments with mr. lincoln.’ so can you please reassure me that honest abe will be back where he belongs once this ‘happiest homecoming’ nonsense is over.

uncle same

Dear Uncle Same —

I don’t think you really have to worry about Honest Abe. WDI Vice Chairman Marty Sklar was making the rounds at the Disneyland 50th anniversary press event earlier this month. And — whenever anyone would ask about the original occupant of the Main Street Opera House — Marty would swear up and down that “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” will be returning to the park.

While that “Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years” exhibit is currently slated to occupy that venue through the last week of December 2006 / first week of January 2007, once that run is completed … The anniversary exhibits will be packed up and stored away. And — after the Main Street Opera House recieves a general sprucing-up — “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” will begin presenting performances again in the Spring of 2007.

Here’s an interesting little sidenote, though: That Steve Martin / Donald Duck film has gotten such a nice reaction from Disneyland guests that WDI is already reportedly casting about for another place  in the park to show the flick once the 50th anniversary is over. Among the ideas that are currently being knocked is shifting this film down to the Main Street Cinema, where it could then be shown on all six screens.

I know, I know. That means replacing all of those black & white Mickey Mouse cartoons that are currently running in that theater. But — to be honest — given that (not all that long ago) these cartoons actually displaced all of the silent films that used to run in the Main Street Cinema, it’s not like we’re talking about removing some classic piece of Disneyland history. The damage was already done years ago.

Speaking of classic pieces of Disneyland history … Let’s get back to talking about “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” shall we?

Copyright 1965 Walt Disney Productions

I just heard a great story about this attraction. Which reportedly dates back to the early 1960s, when Walt was getting “Great Moments” ready to be shown at the 1964 New York Worlds Fair.

Word had evidently gotten out around Hollywood that Disney was working on a “winkin’, blinkin’ Lincoln.” For one day while Walt was working in his office at the Burbank studio, he got a call from Henry Fonda.

Mr. Fonda got right to the point. Henry had heard that Walt was working on a robotic version of Honest Abe. And — given that Fonda had already played our 16th president in a John Ford film (I.E. “Young Mr. Lincoln,” which was released by 20th Century Fox back in 1939) — Henry felt that he was the perfect performer to provide the voice for this figure.

Now these days, when studios scramble to cram as many celebrities as possible into a picture, the Walt Disney Company would have probably jumped at an offer like. Immediately made the deal to have Henry Fonda provide the voice for the Abraham Lincoln AA figure for the “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” attraction.

But this is Walt Disney we’re talking about here. Not some spineless suit from today’s Hollywood. And — while he was obviously flattered by Henry Fonda’s most generous offer — Walt’s main concern was still the integrity of his “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” show.

To explain: Disney was worried that — should he agree to allow a well-known actor like Henry Fonda to provide the voice for Honest Abe — that might actually wind up hurting the show. As in: audiences would be less likely to buy into the whole this-is-an-authentic-recreation-of-our-16th-president idea if — at the same time — they were thinking “Hey, that’s Henry Fonda doing the voice of Abraham Lincoln!”

Which is why — despite Fonda’s persistant campaigning for the job — Walt ultimately turned down Henry’s offer to provide Honest Abe’s voice. Opting instead to go with Royal Dano. Obviously a lesser known performer, but one that had the reedy sincerity that Disney was looking for in this role.

Mind you, Walt really knew what he wanted when it came to Royal’s performance in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” Which is why Disney reportedly ran Dano really hard during the recording of the vocals of this show. The late Sam McKim used to tell this great story about that recording session:

I went to the studio that Saturday morning and Walt handed Royal Dano a 20 minute or so script and asked him to read it while doing a few simple movements. Royal Dano read the script and I thought it was pretty good. But Walt turned to him and said, “No. No. No. You haven’t got it. Do it again!”

So Royal Dano read the script and did the action again. At the end of that reading Walt again said “No. No. No. Do it over!”

I was perplexed because I thought Royal Dano was doing a good job. The look on Royal Dano’s face was evidence he was thinking the same thing. I wondered why Walt was picking on him.

Well, Royal Dano shrugged his shoulders, let out a big sigh and started the long speech again. This time I thought his performance was terrible; he was obviously tired and had lost energy. At the end of this last reading, Walt jumped up in front of us and started leading us in “The Battle Hymn of The Republic.” Which is the closing scene in the presentation.

This was where Walt was going all along. He knew Lincoln was tired both physically and emotionally over the Civil War and wanted the speech to reflect his weariness. In fact, the last reading was the audio used in the final attraction.

That’s an intriguing story, don’t you think? That Walt was a sharp enough guy to know exactly how to get the kind of vocal performance he wanted out of Royal. That — if he just drove Dano hard enough — he’d eventually get the weary sounding Lincoln he was looking for.

Finally, MacaRonnie writes in to say:

Jim —

Yzma has to be my favorite character in “The Emperor’s New Groove.” I just love the work that animator Dale Baer did with her in that picture. I didn’t think it was possible that anyone could ever do a better job with that character … Until I heard that Andreas Deja was Yzma’s original animator.

That just blew my mind, Jim. Obviously, Andreas is one of the greatest animators of our modern age. And given what a fiendishly fun character Yzma is, I’m sure that Deja would have done a great job with her.

So what I can’t understand was why Andreas would walk away from an assignment like that to go work on “Lilo & Stitch.” I mean, Yzma’s so wild & colorful, while Lilo’s just this plain little girl. Where’s the challenge in that?

So can you explain Deja ditched “The Emperor’s New Groove” to go work on “Lilo & Stitch”?

MacaRonnie

Dear MacaRonnie–

First of all, the movie that Andreas Deja had been working on wasn’t “The Emperor’s New Groove.” But — rather — the film that he was animating on was first called “Kingdom of the Sun,” then “Kingdom in the Sun.”

Copyright 1998 Walt Disney Company

Secondly, Dale Baer’s version of Yzma doesn’t really have a whole lot in common with Andrea’s take on this same character. I mean, sure. They’re both painfully thin former beauties who will do whatever they have to in order to hang onto power.

But Dale’s Yzma accurately reflects the comic sensibility of the movie that she’s appearing in. Whereas Deja’s version of Yzma … Well, it was created for the movie that Roger Allers was trying to make, “Kingdom of the Sun.” Which was a far more ambitious, much more emotionally grounded animated feature.

And — in that version of the picture — Yzma wasn’t played quite so much for laughs. She was the really-for-real villain of the piece after all. So this “Kingdom of the Sun” character had to look like she was really capable of villainy. Which is why Andreas drew her the way that he did.

Copyright 1998 The Walt Disney Company

Anyway … When Allers left “Kingdom” and Mark Dindal reimagined this picture as a go-for-broke comedy, Deja saw that his far-more-serious take on the Yzma character wasn’t going to fly anymore. And — rather than attempt to retool his version of the villain in order to fit the new comic sensiblity that Dindal and producer Randy Fullmer were retrofitting into this movie — Andreas opted to vacant this assignment instead.

Not because Deja didn’t like Dindal or Fullmer, mind you. Andreas reportedly had nothing but respect and affection for Mark & Randy. Who — in essence — ran into the burning building that was “Kingdom of the Sun” and saved that production by reinventing the picture as a wild-ass comedy.

But after several years of working on his version of Yzma, Deja supposedly didn’t feel like he had it in him to successfully reinvent the film’s villain to fit “Groove” ‘s newer, wilder, crazier comic sensibility. Which is why Andreas ultimately decided to go down to Orlando and work on “Lilo & Stitch.”

And — just so you know, MacaRonnie — just because a character like Lilo looks small, round and cute doesn’t mean that she’s actually particularly easy to draw. Especially when you work as Andreas does, and you try & deliver a top calibre performance every time you sit down at your drawing table.

“Lilo & Stitch” works as well as it does because Deja did such a great job with his character. Sure, Stitch is the showier part. But Lilo is actually the heart of that picture. This lonely sad strange little girl who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, who still hasn’t gotten over the death of her parents, who really needs a friend …

If Andreas hadn’t delivered the goods with Lilo, that Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois film never would have worked. To care about Stitch, you first had to care about Lilo. Who was the very first person in the universe to see any good in Experiment 626.

Anyway … That about does it for this week’s “Why For.” I apologize again for the protracted nature of today’s column. Hopefully, the questions that I’ve chosen to answer this time around have made it somewhat worth your while to make all these extra trips over JHM.

Anywho … Before I go, a few quick reminders:

  • “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” is on ABC tonight starting at 8 p.m. If you want Disney to produce even more Muppet-based material, I’d make a point of tuning to watch this new TV movie out. Particularly if you’re a Nielsen family.
  • Speaking of movies … “Dream On Silly Dreamer” will be having its LA premiere next Monday at the Alex Theater. So if you live in the Glendale area and want to see Dan Lund & Tony West’s extraordinary little documentary about the demise of traditional animation at Walt Disney Studios … Well, here’s another chance. Monday night’s screening starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are only $7. So be sure and go check “Dream On Silly Dreamer” out.
  • Monday is also the day that Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom is supposed to begin beta-testing. So, if you’d like to be among the first to try out this new website that will allegedly allow you to “… experience the Disney theme parks from anywhere” … Well, you might want to make a point of dropping by this URL repeatedly on Monday to see if you can successfully sign up to be part of VMK’s testing team.

And — finally — for all of you who’ve been writing in, asking what the hell is going on with my Disneyland history CD … Well, due to all the big Disney-related stories that have broken over the past two weeks, that project has fallen a little bit behind schedule.

I know, I know. A Jim Hill-related project that’s fallen behind schedule. I bet you’re all shocked.

But the good news is … The CD project isn’t really running that far behind schedule. In that I’ll be recording tracks for the disc sometime next week. Which means by mid-June we should have an actual product in hand.

In the meantime, I’ll be sending that long overdue e-mail to JHM readers that explains how they can pre-order a Disneyland history CD (at a significant discount, mind you) sometime next week. Sooo … If you’d still like to get on that official notification list, here’s your one last, really-for-real final chance. Drop me a line at jim@jimhillmedia.com before the list closes out on Monday morning. And I’ll make sure that you get your official pre-order e-mail next week.

Anyhow … That’s it for this week, folks. Here’s hoping that you enjoyed this week’s array of stories and that you’ll be back for more come next Monday morning.

Til then, you have a great weekend, okay?

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.

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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