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Cast Member Corner: Another “Cautionary Tale” Rebuttal

Following up on last Tuesday’s story, a Disney insider comes forward and — going point-by-point — disputes many of the claims made about Disney World’s College Program.

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Okay. I give.

Over the past week, I have received dozens of angry e-mails from former and current WDW cast members. Each of them taking issue with the “A Cautionary Tale” that I ran here on JHM last Tuesday. Claiming that that article was full of exaggerations, if not outright lies.

Now — given that, prior to actually running last Tuesday’s “Cast Member Corner” article — I had actually ran this e-mail by someone who still works with Disney World’s College Program and asked for their comments. (Their response? “Basically truthful. Clearly, this guy had a miserable time while he was staying at Vista Way. Which is why he’s probably out for a little revenge here by exaggerating some stuff that happened to him. But his comments aren’t really that far off the mark, Jim. So I’d say that it’s safe for you to run this letter on your site…”) Which is why I assumed that it then would be okay to run this particular letter on JimHillMedia.com.

Well, I guess I assumed wrong.

Given the large numbers of you that have written in over the past seven days, who have gone point-by-point through that article — pointing out the over-statements and inaccuracies … this issue clearly has be addressed.

Which is why I’ve decided to allow (NAME WITHHELD) to use today’s “Cast Member Corner” column to address many of the concerns that some of you folks had with this particular article:

Hello Jim!

First, I just want to say how much I love your website. I’ve been reading for years. Also, I hope you are having a wonderful vacation in southern California and wish I could be there to take one of your tours. Somehow, my vacations are never scheduled at the same time as yours. I was there last week!

Now, I just want to respond to the WDW College Program horror story you posted on your site on Monday, March 15. It is full of inaccuracies and exaggerations and I feel your readers deserve a more accurate look at the program before they start making judgments regarding the program. If you do choose to use any of this e-mail on your site, please do not disclose my name as I do still work for the company and would like to continue working for the company!

I hate to break it to you, but that story is just that: a story. I did the CP Spring semester 2000 and have been very involved with the program and online discussion forums about it since then. Even though I have had wonderful experiences working for the mouse, I do know that it’s not all bells and whistles. There are many people who get terminated or leave the program with bitterness, who go home and COMPLETELY exaggerate their stories to make Disney look like the bad guy, which is not always the case. I can usually tell the real stories from the fake and this one is definitely fake. Let me point out a few things:

After acing the interviews and talking to my CP Recruiter, who told me that he might be able to “pull a few strings” and get me into working at Guest Relations at one of the Parks.

First of all, Guest Relations is an Advanced Internship, which is ONLY offered to alumni of the WDWCP. All recruiters know this and know that everybody who wants to do an Advanced Internship (with the exception of a few positions) MUST do the regular program first. I know several recruiters and there is no way that any of them would have made an applicant believe he/she could move directly into a Guest Relations role.

He mentioned that another student was told by a recruiter that he might be able to work in Imagineering. Again, that is completely untrue, considering that College Recruiting hires for entry-level park jobs and is NOT associated with Imagineering, even for Advanced Internship positions.

My Dad cited a Penthouse Forum article that quotes Vista Way apartments (one of the apartment complexes housing the college program) as “the # 2 place to get laid in the United States.”

This is incorrect also, but is a very common misconception. This is a WDWCP urban legend that goes back well over a decade. Some other alumni have researched every issue of Penthouse and Playboy as far back as 1992 trying to confirm this rumor and found nothing; however, the program has been listed on playboy.com as one the sexiest internships, but it wasn’t specifically a ranking on top places to get laid.

I called the “Vista Transportation” number given to me for pickup at the airport when I arrived. After 50 rings, a man with a thick foreign accent groggily answered, “Vista Transportation.” I explained that I arrived at Orlando International and needed to be picked up.

Disney does not provide transportation to Vista Way upon arrival at the airport. I’m not sure if they still do this, but they used to refer students to Mears, which as you may know from your travels is a private company that offers airport shuttle service to hotels throughout the Orlando area. I remember getting a $1 off coupon, but it was up to me to call ahead to book it and if they weren’t operating in the wee hours of the morning, like this person stated, then that was not Disney’s fault. They could have done things differently in the past, but I know this person did his internship after I did simply by the fact that he said it was 8 months in length. Disney only started offering 8 month long internships in late 2000 after I did my program and I’ve followed the program closely since then, so this is a flat out lie.

I heaved my heavy bags into the apartment. “Where’s my room?” I asked. “Oh, dude. It’s over there,” pointing at it. I opened the door and an embarrassed nude girl draped in a bed sheet ran out of the room. The place was a pig sty. Clothes strewn everywhere. Crooked venetian blinds immediately told a tale of wild parties and blasphemous orgies. Some guy lay in his bed moaning, “Dude…you must be my new roommate.” He wore a leather bracelet with studs and seemed to nursing a hangover. A cigarette dangled carelessly from his mouth. “That’s your bed over there.” It looked as someone had sex on it the night before. Crumbs of Doritos were sprinkled all over it.

While the loud music and drinking is probably true and this technically COULD have happened, this sounds like something copied straight out of a porn magazine, as someone pointed out in the discussion forum. Considering that he had also said earlier “the first feeling I received was a magical stirring in my loins” is another clue that this guy is exaggerating the sex thing.

Also, considering that he arrived at Vista Way so early in the morning, his roommates may not have had time to get that comfortable and that messy yet. In most cases, students move in with other students who arrive on the same day. Usually they fill up one apartment at a time, so the people standing in line around you are likely to be your roommates. That being the case 90% of the time for new arrivals, they may have had time to turn on the loud music, get out the beer and light up cigarettes, but they wouldn’t have had time get messy, reach hangover stage, and even though it’s possible, probably hadn’t gotten laid quite THAT quickly.

When I told her my recruiter said he would get me into Guest Relations, she cackled loudly. “Pull a few strings? Ha ha ha!!! I’ve heard it before, kid!! The truth is they need a warm body to fill a space. You’re just a faceless cog in the corporate wheel! Ha ha ha!!!” I sank lower. I wanted to leave right away.

Yes, I’ll admit that there are full-time cast members who have a pessimistic attitude toward CPs, but I’ve never really heard one speak like this to somebody on their first day! Most people tend to still put things in friendly Disney terms even when they are being very negative, especially trainers.

My first paycheck was a moment of excitement. I eagerly tore the borders off and opened the check. My eyes grew wide. “Minus $26.83???” Ruth cackled loudly. “It’s called “indentured servitude!”” She laughed even louder. “You pay them to work for them! Ain’t it a hoot??!!!” Apparently they took out two weeks of rent in advance, minus $130 for the first check, and $65 a week thereafter. All at $6 an hour.

Okay, first of all, this isn’t really how it works. Disney KNOWS that you will not be working much during the first week, so they don’t take rent out of the first paycheck. 1-2 days (or 3-4 if you’re lucky) of training aren’t enough to cover the weekly rent and they realize that. To make up for that, they take out 2 weeks (that’s the $130 he mentioned) worth of rent on the 2nd paycheck. Yes, it is possible to have a minus paycheck, but that is only when people call in sick or take so many days off in a week that their paycheck doesn’t cover the rent. Then they just take that out of the following paycheck.

I realized quickly that Disney was not interested in hiring real employees with benefits and decent wages. It was wanting to hire college kids and foreign college students for up to 8 months at a time with no benefits and no rights on the job, and charge us insane rent.

The full-timers were not happy with us, as they rightfully felt that Disney is using the College and International Programs to subdue their union’s bargaining power at the negotiating table and depress their pay scales. Many full-timers pointed out that Disney receives some sort of tax break for the some 6,000 students enrolled in the College Program.

To start with, the rent is not insane. $67 dollars a week to live in a very nice, fully furnished apartment with all utilities and cable included is definitely not insane. It’s a bargain. Secondly, there are not tax breaks, BUT, yes the reality is that it is cheaper for Disney to fill its staff with interns. Lower pay, few benefits, improved bottom-line: it’s very sad for the full-time cast members, but it’s unfortunately true and part of business.

After 2 months into the Program, our apartment was raided by apartment security guards. Marijuana, booze (we were all under 21) was found in our apartment and we were all evicted and terminated. It didn’t matter who it belonged to. Zero tolerance. “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” seemed to be their attitude.

Sorry Charlie, you break the rules and you’re out. All the rules are clearly stated and all new students are told about the zero tolerance policy. Even if he didn’t participate, if this cast member had a problem with his roommates breaking these rules then he should have reported it and/or asked to be moved to cover himself. And as in most cases with disgruntled former CPs, this one event is most likely why the person is so sour about the program and has exaggerated things here.

My friend Jim? He got to work on the Dumbo ride in the Magic Kingdom, but was terminated when someone filed a complaint against him at Guest Relations, saying he started the ride up when they weren’t seatbelted in. He denied the allegations, and the union rep gave him advice on how to fight it, but explained he wasn’t covered under the union contract since he’s not full-time.

Even though some people may be concerned about Disney and safety considering recent events, safety still comes first and if this cast member put a guest in danger then yes, he should have been terminated.

The students who got on stage and babbled how wonderful the College Program is? Most were Recruiters trying to further their own Mickey Mouse careers.

They weren’t really recruiters, just representatives who actually attend the school where the presentation is held at and have done the program. I am a rep, and yes, we need to live up to Disney standards, but we don’t lie when we get to speak about our experience. In fact, I know reps who told the audience they started out having a bad experience, but stuck it out and it turned out great and changed their lives. We’re there to a put a real face on the program that students can relate to, because we’ve all been through it and know both the positives and negatives.

I am the first to tell people that it’s not all fun-and-games all the time. You do have to work really hard, you’re most likely not working in a job that’s related to your major, you don’t make much money, a lot of full-timers do have a bad attitude toward you, and it can be difficult to move up the ranks, but overall it is an amazing experience that you can learn a great deal from. This person failed to mention any of the positives.

The College Program is a great way to start a career whether you want to work for Disney or not. I have been asked several questions about Disney at EVERY job interview I have gone on for other companies. The employer is usually so fascinated by it that a large portion of the interview is spent talking about Disney. Also, I did the college program, kept in touch with my managers and recruiters, went back and did an advanced internship directly related to my major, and am well on my way to getting a full-time position on the professional side of the company.

This goes to show that the college program is not a dead end. I realize that it’s not for everyone and that many people DO have negative experiences, but the story you posted is full of inaccuracies, which do not truly represent the college program. I feel that it definitely is important to see both sides of a story and I hope that if you choose to post this that it has corrected any misconceptions of the Walt Disney World College Program that your readers have, while still giving a realistic viewpoint of both sides, and I haven’t even begun to write about all the great things the program has to offer! This is probably long enough, so I’ll leave you with that.

Okay. So — hopefully — the above article addresses many of the inaccuracies that some of you found in the original “Cautionary Tale” article.

So what happens now? To be honest, I’m not sure. Given that today’s story basically calls the author of the original “Cautionary Tale” story a liar, I’d like to give the poor guy a chance to respond. So I’ll be heaving an e-mail his way later this week (once I get back home to New Hampshire). See if he’d be willing to send along a follow-up e-mail of his own. One that perhaps addresses whether he actually really remembers things happening exactly the way he described OR is willing to admit that he exaggerated a few items, with the hope of producing a more entertaining story for JHM readers.

One thing I can tell you, folks. Even though the brouhaha that bubbled over because of last Tuesday’s “Cautionary Tale” column may have dinged JHM’s credibility a bit, that’s NOT going to stop me from covering the Disney World College Program story. For there are still lots of stories that have yet to be told. Some good … and some bad.

That said, I now want to apologize to those of you who were upset by last Tuesdays’ “Cast Member Corner” column. Who were surprised to see an extremely negative article like “A Cautionary Tale” pop up on JHM.

But you also have to understand that “Cast Member Corner” is intended to be a place on JimHillMedia.com where the cast members — the people who actually work at the Disney theme parks, who see what really goes on behind the scenes — are allowed to speak their minds. To have their say.

That’s why I try to do very little editing and/or massaging of the articles that run in JHM’s “Cast Member Corner” section. (Last Tuesday’s “Cautionary Tale” column? The only thing that I actually removed from that article was a reference to a used condom. Which — given the number of kids who come by the site on a regular basis — I felt wasn’t really appropriate.) I want these stories to come across — for the most part — as they were originally written. So that we can then hear the authentic voice of Disney members.

Mind you — as I mentioned at the top of today’s article — I DO make an effort to verify the truthfulness of each of the letters that I run in JHM’s “Cast Member Corner” section PRIOR to posting them on the site. But — in this case — one person’s acceptable exaggeration turned out to be everyone else’s out-and-out lie.

Clearly, given the reaction that “Cautionary Tale” got from JHM readers (particularly from those of you who are familiar with the way the WDW CP actually operates), something has to be done here. Which is why now I promise to redouble my efforts when it comes to verifying “Cast Member Corner” stories before they run on the site. From here on in, I’ll see if I can’t get find TWO Disney insiders to confirm whether questionable info contained in a particular e-mail is legit BEFORE we post that piece on JHM.

Just be aware, folks: I’ve made mistakes before. And I know that I’ll make mistakes again in the future. That’s why JimHillMedia.com has its “Jim, You Ignorant ***!” section.

So let’s review: Last Tuesday, we ran a “Cast Member Corner” story (that some people said was filled with out-and-out lies). Today, JimHillMedia.com ran an article that went — point-by-point — through “A Cautionary Tale,” disputing that author’s claims. Sometime in the future, we’re hoping that the author of the original e-mail responds to my queries and drops by to defend himself.

Whatever happens next … you have to admit that — between the articles in question as well as the fiery debate over on the JHM discussion boards — all this hub bub made for a pretty entertaining week of reading. At the very least, we now all have an intimate knowledge of how Disney World’s College Program actually works.

So — what the hey. I guess it all worked out in the end. After all, any day where — before your head hits the pillow — you can say to yourself: “I actually learned something new today” … THAT’S a good day.

And — provided that this guy actually ever writes back to me — we may yet all have another extremely entertaining, if somewhat controversial, e-mail to read in the not-so-distant future. And that could turn out to be a good thing too.

But — in closing — I want to thank (NAME WITHHELD) for coming forward and clearing up some of the misconceptions that the original “Cautionary Tale” column may have foisted on JHM readers.

I also — once again — want to apologize to those of you who were offended by the original “Cautionary Tale” article. Both for the alleged misinformation that it contained as well as its somewhat adult, caustic tone.

Okay. That’s enough apologizing for a Tuesday. I’m sorry that there’s only the one story for today. But — as you read this — I’m in the process of getting back home to New Hampshire.

Speaking of which … I gotta finish up packing.

So look for JimHillMedia.com to get fully back up to speed on Thursday and Friday, okay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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