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Did Disneyland inspire the Universal Studio Tour in Hollywood? Or was it actually the other way around?

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What with James Cameron's tour of Disney's Animal Kingdom on
October 17th (which was then followed by this Academy Award-winner's
visit to Universal's Island of Adventure on October 18th), the Web
has once again been a-buzz with stories about how The World of Avatar is
supposed to be Mickey's answers to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. More
importantly, how Disney's now-decades-long grudge match with Universal shows absolutely
no sign of abating.


(L to R) James Cameron, Joe Rohde and Thomas Staggs on a walk-thru of Disney's
Animal Kingdom. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Well, while it is true that things have been a bit testy
between these two media giants ever since February of 1985 (which was when
Michael Eisner revealed his plan to add a studio tour to WDW's
assortment of attractions
. Which would then put the Mouse in direct competition with
that movie-based theme park which Universal had been planning on building in
Orlando since back in 1979
). But these two mega-corporations weren't always mortal
enemies. In fact, there were times over the past 90 years when relations were
downright cordial between Disney & Universal.

Mind you, that's probably because – back when he was still living
in Kansas City – Walt Disney used to be a newsreel stringer. Which meant that –
when there was some local event worth noting (EX: hundreds of  Shriners parading up Petticoat Lane as their
annual convention drew to a close) – Walt would then grab his camera and then get
some footage of the event. Which — being the enterprising young man that he
was — Disney would now try to sell to Kansas City theater owners so that they
could then add a little local color to their nightly presentation.

And Walt was able to do this enough times (i.e. selling
live-action footage that he'd shot around town. Most notably to the movie
theaters that were affiliated with Selznick Studios & Universal Pictures)
that he actually had some business cards made up which stated that Disney was the
official Kansas City rep for Selznick & Universal's newsreels.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which obviously wasn't true. But given that Walt was hoping
to someday make a name for himself in Hollywood, a town whose currency is hype
& hyperbole … I guess we can overlook the fact that this then-22-year-old
inflated his resume.

Now let's jump ahead to August of 1923. When Walt is
actually out in Southern California, actively trying to break into the
biz. And since the only way that a new kid in town like him will ever get
a really-for-real movie producer to look at his work is by "accidentally"
bumping into them on the studio lot … Well, that's what Disney decided to try & do.

So clutching his completely bogus
official-Kansas-City-rep-for-the-Selznick-and-Universal-newsreel business
cards, Walt catches the trolley for the San Fernando Valley and soon finds
himself outside the gates of Universal Studios. Where – after presenting
his business card and slinging a fine line of bull at the guard who is manning that
gate – Walt is then given a lot pass. Which basically allowed this future movie
mogul to wander the length & breadth of Universal City.


Copyright Universal Studios, Inc. All rights reserved

Now let's pause for a moment here to put ourselves in Walt
Disney's shoes: You're a kid just in from Kansas City. You're always dreamed of
someday making the trip to Hollywood and then getting the chance to make
movies. And you've just now managed to con your way onto the lot of one of the
biggest, busiest studios in town.

Harrison "Buzz" Price (i.e. the Disney Legend who – in his
role as a research economist – helped Walt pick the site of Disneyland in 1953
and Walt Disney World in 1963) once told me about a conversation that he had
with the Old Mousestro while the two of them were on the Disney corporate plane
in the early 1960s. If I remember correctly, Buzz and Walt were flying out to
the East Coast to take part in some meetings related to the 1964 New York
World's Fair
when they had this chat.

Anyway … Over a couple of Scotch Mists, Disney started
reminiscing about his early, early days in Hollywood. In particular, Walt began
talking about the days that he spent wandering around Universal City.


Copyright Universal Studios, Inc. All rights reserved

And – yes – I said "days." According to what Disney
reportedly told Price, Walt spent three days exploring the Universal lot
until the guard at the front gate finally got suspicious and made him
surrender his pass. And while Disney did spend a lot of time while he was on
that lot knocking on doors, trying to get producers & executives to look at
his "Alice Comedies" proof-of-concept reel, Walt also spent much of those three
days wandering from set to set, looking in on Universal's various production
teams as they worked.

And as Price listened to Disney describe it was to be
walking down one of Universal's western sets and then turn a corner &
suddenly find yourself in 15th century Paris, on the massive outdoor
set that Universal's artists & craftsmen had just built for Lon Chaney's "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" … Well, it then occurred to Buzz that those three days
that Walt spent exploring the Universal lot obviously had a strong influence on the
look & feel of Disneyland.

Of course, what's kind of ironic about this particular story
is that – back in early 1955 – when the bankers were quizzing Roy O. Disney
about what the Company's contingency plans were if Disneyland failed to catch
on with the public, Roy reportedly replied with "We'll just shoot our movies
& TV shows out here. We'll also rent the place out to other production
companies. They can shoot their westerns in Frontierland and medieval adventures out in
front of the castle. We'll figure out a way to make some money off of this
place."


Construction of Sleeping Beauty Castle nears completion in the Spring of 1955.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So if Disneyland hadn't succeeded, it might have then become
the Anaheim equivalent of Universal Studios. Which – come to think about it –
is actually what happened in April of 1962. Which is when Walt allowed director
Norman Jewison and a film crew from Universal to spend two weeks shooting in
& around the Happiest Place on Earth for the Tony Curtis comedy, "40 Pounds of Trouble."

But I'm kind of getting ahead of myself here … So let's get
back now to Walt Disney and his ties to Universal Studios. Which – as the 1920s
continued on – just got stronger & stronger.

To explain: After the "Alice Comedies" had kind of run their
course, Walt created a new cartoon character — Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
– which
he hoped to then build a new series of animated theatrical shorts around. Disney and
his team created a prototype "Oswald" cartoon, "Poor Papa," which Charles Mintz
(i.e. their "Alice Comedies" producer) was then able to get screened for
Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And Laemmle – who was anxious for Universal to have a cartoon series of its own
that could compete against the then-hugely popular "Felix the Cat" and "Koko the Clown" animated theatrical shorts – agreed to take Oswald on. But only
after Carl had given Charles & Walt extensive notes about how to they could
improve the appeal of this character (EX: make Oswald younger & less sloppy
and fat). The second Oswald cartoon, "Trolley Trouble" sealed the deal. Mintz
& Disney then signed a deal with Laemmle which promised that they'd produce
26 "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" cartoons which Universal Pictures would then
release.

And throughout much of 1927 & 1928, Walt Disney was
reportedly very happy with this deal. Not only because the "Oswald" series
quickly became a hit with moviegoers. But also because the animated shorts that
Walt and his team were producing were being released by a major studio like
Universal Pictures.  Which — to Disney's way of
thinking —  meant that he'd finally made the big time in Hollywood.

But then – of course – this all came crashing down in the
Spring of 1928, when Walt (buoyed by "Oswald" 's box office success) traveled
to New York City with the hope that he could then persuade Charles to not only give
the Disney Brothers Studio team a raise but also increase the production budget
of the next round of "Lucky Rabbit" cartoons. But Mintz had another idea in
mind. For he actually proposed a 20% reduction in the amount of money that Disney & his
crew was spending on each "Oswald" cartoon.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

When Walt balked, Charles advised him to take a look at his
contract. Which then revealed that it was Universal – not Disney – who actually owned
the rights to the Oswald-the-Lucky-Rabbit character. What's more, Mintz had
secretly hired away most of the animators that worked for Disney Brothers
Studio. Leaving Walt with very few cards to play in this genuinely awful
situation.

Of course, as any Disney history buff can tell you, it was
directly after this meeting in NYC with Mintz – on Disney's long sad train trip
back to Hollywood — that Walt initially dreamed up Mickey Mouse. So this story
has kind of a happy ending. Kind of.

But from a history point of view, where this tale gets interesting is that – while Disney
despised Charles Mintz for his underhanded dealings in the "Oswald" situation –
he bore no ill will against Carl Laemmle & Universal. After all, Walt had willingly
signed the contract for that cartoon series. More importantly, it was Disney's
own fault that he hadn't read the fine print and learned that it was Universal
Pictures, rather than Disney Brothers Studio, that retained all rights
to the Oswald-the-Lucky-Rabbit character.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But as Walt was famous for saying: "You may not realize it
when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for
you." And the hard lesson that he learned in the Spring of 1928 helped shape the
way that The Walt Disney Company deals with intellectual property. Even today,
Disney's attorneys are famous for the convoluted contracts that they craft. Which then virtually guarantee that the Company retains the rights to any &
all characters which the Studio's employees create.

Of course, back when he was working in the 1920s &
1930s, Walt had absolutely no idea that the characters – more importantly, the
films that his studio was creating — would have the shelf life that they
enjoy today. Believe it or not, Disney actually assumed that the animated
features which his Company was producing would be like all of the
other movies that Hollywood was producing at this time. In that they could only be
released theatrically once … And after that … Well, that was pretty much it.

According to Neal Gabler, the author of "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination," what changed Walt's attitude on this
matter was 1930's "Dracula" and 1931's "Frankenstein." Or – rather – the huge
amount of money that Universal Studios made when they repackaged these classic
horror films as a double feature and then sent them back out into theaters in
1938.


Copyright Universal Studios, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, Walt didn't look at that "Dracula / Frankenstein"
double bill and then – all on his own – come up with the idea of putting past
Disney hits like "Snow White" and "Pinocchio" back in theaters. According to
Gabler, it was an WWII-era encounter with a Universal executive that actually
set those wheels in motion:

While coming back on the train from one of his Washington
trips in 1942, (Walt) had met Nate Blumberg, the head of Universal Pictures,
who had told Walt how Universal had mined its old film library for pictures
they could reissue and advised the Disney Studio to do the same. Walt (then)
prodded Roy on this matter, asking him to consider re-releasing Snow White and
possibly some of the other features for Christmas in 1943. Roy finally agreed
on Snow White, though the Company missed the holiday season and opened it
instead in February 1944.

And it was this one change in attitude, thinking of the films
that Walt Disney Studios produced not so much as dairy products (i.e. things
that had a limited shelf life, that you used once and then discarded) but – rather – as
long-term assets which then allowed the Mouse Factory to make it through the
late 1940s & early 1950s. When television suddenly arrived on the scene and
the movie game changed forever.


The poster for the 1944 re-release of "Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

And helping Walt through this extremely tumultuous time in
the entertainment industry's history was Jules Stein, the head of the Music
Corporation of America AKA MCA
. So when the Old Mousetro began thinking about
getting into television in 1952 (to help finance the construction of
Disneyland), it was Stein who helped open the doors for Disney at CBS, NBC and
ABC. And if the stories that Company old-timers have told me are true, Jules
not only brokered the deal for American Broadcasting executives (which – in exchange
for producing a weekly "Disneyland" TV series for ABC – Walt got $500,000 in
cash as well as $4.5 million in loans which he could then use to fund the
construction of his project in Anaheim), Stein also got MCA to kick in a little
seed money for that theme park as well.

And Walt never ever forgot about how helpful Jules had been, the
key role that this Hollywood mover-and-shaker had played when it came to moving
Disney Studios to the next level. Not to mention how personally helpful Stein
had been towards the Disney family (EX: when Roy E. Disney graduated from
Pomona College in 1951, Jules had the then-president of MCA, Lew Wasserman,
call around and find Walt's nephew a job in the industry. Which is how Roy E.
wound up at a page at NBC).

Which is why – after MCA had merged with Decca Records in 1962 and thus became
the owner of Universal Pictures as well as of that studio's 423-acre backlot –
Walt was pleased to get a call from Jules. Asking him to come over the hill so
that these two studio heads could then go for a stroll around the Universal
lot.


Copyright Universal Studios, Inc. All rights reserved

Now as Buzz Price told me this story, as Jules walked with
Walt around the backlot, he explained that he wanted to pick Disney's brain.
You see, MCA was toying with the idea of reviving Universal's studio tour
(which had been such a moneymaker for the Company back in the 1920s). And since
the success of Disneyland had now made Walt the world's leading authority on
what tourists would really respond to, Jules wanted to know: Did the backlot have the makings of an attraction? Did Disney think Southern California visitors would pay for the privilege of visiting Universal City and then see how movies & TV shows are really
made? Or are people in the oh-so-sophisticated 1960s just too jaded now to be sucked in by that sort of Hollywood hokum?

And it was at this point in their walk that Walt supposedly told Jules
about his own visit to Universal Studios nearly 40 years earlier. How he had
spent three days exploring the backlot, looking on in various sets. He made a point of saying that this
early Hollywood escapade had been one of the big thrills of his life. Which was
why Disney was certain that the public would still love to get the chance to walk
through Universal's gates and then see what went on behind-the-scenes.

Of course, to get some sense of how many people would
really be interested in visiting a Universal Studios Tour attraction (more
importantly, what they'd be willing to pay to get in), Disney suggested that
Stein reach out to Price's firm and have this research economist run the
numbers for MCA. And given that the backlot was looking pretty ratty in spots
during their walk-thru, Walt then told Jules hire a designer to unify
Universal's looks. Spruce the place up a bit. Or – at the very least – give the studio tour a strong
starting-off point as well as a big finish.


Copyright Universal Studios, Inc. All rights reserved

And Stein followed each and every one of Disney's suggestions.
Turning to Albert Dorskind (i.e. the longtime MCA executive who had noodging
upper management for years about how they should revive the Universal Studios
Tour), Jules ordered Albert to reach out to Buzz Price's company and commission
a study. Stein also had Dorskind hire Harper Goff (i.e. the future Disney
Legend who not only designed the Nautilus for Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" but also helped Imagineer Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A. area &
Jungle Cruise attraction) to develop a distinctive look & transportation
system for this proposed Universal our.

And two years and $4 million later, the Universal City
Studio Tours officially opened for business in June of 1964. For the princely sum of just
$2.50 for adults and $1.50 for children, you could climb aboard the Goff-designed
Glamour Tram and then head out for a 90 minute-long adventure. Which – at that time,
anyway – included a walk-thru of a faux version of Doris Day's dressing room.
Not to mention a chance to dine-with-the-stars by grabbing a quick lunch at the
Universal Pictures commissary.

As for Jules & Walt, they stayed friends 'til the day
that Disney died in December 15, 1966. With Walt being a big support of Jules'
philanthropic efforts (which explains that Mary-Blair-designed mosaic which you'll
find decorating one of the waiting rooms at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute).
And Stein … Well, given that he was such a big believer in Disney's magical
touch, Jules was always calling Walt with new projects that he thought the Old
Mousetro should take on. Like the time Stein phoned Disney and suggested that he
buy the then-abandoned Ellis Island complex and turn into an off-shore
Disneyland for New Yorkers.

But Walt didn't always listen to Jules' suggestions. In
fact, Disney deliberately ignored Stein's advice when it came to the subject of
EPCOT. When Jules learned of Walt's plan to build a futuristic city as part of
his Florida Project, Stein immediately got Disney on the phone and told him
flat-out not to go ahead with that aspect of Disney World. That if the
bureaucratic red tape which Jules had to deal with on a daily basis because
Universal City had been incorporated were any indication, Walt was in for years
of headaches & heartache.

But as it turned out, Disney didn't have years. He had
months. And Stein … Well, while he tried to keep the lines of communication
open with Disney Studios after Walt died … To be blunt, Jules just didn't have the same sort of
long-term friendship / good working relationship with Roy O. that he did with
Walt. And when Disney's brother died in December of 1971 and Stein retired from
Universal in 1973, relations slowly began to deteriorate between the two
companies.

Mind you, Disney Studios and Universal Pictures could still occasionally work together. But only at times when one or more of these media giants felt
threatened. Take – for example – when Disney & Universal jointly sued Sony
in 1976. All because these two studios saw the Betamax video recorder as a
direct threat when it came to maintaining the long-term value of their film libraries.


Copyright Sony, Inc. All rights reserved

But perhaps the strangest times that Disney & Universal came
together was in 1984. Which was when the Mouse – as it found itself under attack from
greenmailers like Saul P. Steinberg & Irwin Jacobs – began searching for
safe harbors. Which – in this instance, anyway – meant quickly finding a way to make
Walt Disney Productions a far less attractive target for acquisition.

And one of the easiest ways to do this was by merging with a
competitor. In effect making Disney too big to buy. Which was what Ron Miller
& Card Walker were trying to do when they reached out to Lew Wasserman (who
was now Jules Stein's successor) and asking him if MCA  / Universal would be
interested in acquiring Walt Disney Studios.

As Connie Bruck recounts in her 2003 book, "When Hollywood Had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence," Wasserman was interested in acquiring Disney. And this deal came within inches of actually happening. Only to then be derailed at virtually the last minute due to Lew's stubbornness:


Copyright Random House, Inc. All rights reserved

"All the terms were done," said Barry Diller, who
had learned what happened from one of the principals. "But the Disney
family said that Ron Miller [a Disney executive] had to be president. Sid
[Sheinberg]
said to Lew, 'It's fine.' Felix [Rohatyn, the investment banker
advising MCA] said to Lew, 'Do it – a year from now, you'll get rid of Miller,
and make Sid President.' But Lew said 'No. Sidney is president.'

"It was Lew's inflexibility that caused him to blow
deals he should not have blown," Diller added. "He and Jules [Stein]
had built the best company – they should have owned the world. And had they
made this deal with Disney, everything would have been different."

Now contrast this with what happened just one year later
when Ron Miller was out and Michael Eisner was now in charge of the Mouse
House. Within three months of coming to power at Disney, Eisner announced that
Walt Disney World would soon be adding a studio tour to its already large
assortment of attractions.


Concept art for the 1985 version of the Disney MGM Studio Tour. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And why would this news upset the folks at Universal?," you
ask. Because – as I mentioned at the very top of this article – MCA / Universal
had been trying to get a clone of their Hollywood studio tour built  in the Central Florida area ever since 1979. What's more,
Michael Eisner (while he was working at Paramount Pictures back in 1981) had
allegedly sat in on a meeting where Universal executives had gone into great
detail about the sort of theme park that they were planning on building in Orlando. So
the new head of Disney not only knew what the competition was planning on building, he knew how to top them.

Which is why Universal – for a while, anyway, in early 1985 –
took a "If you can't beat them, join them" approach. Executives from MCA  / Universal
Studios Recreation Group actually reached to Disney and suggested that the two companies join forces on this studio tour project. Which (on paper, anyway) did make sense. Given
that Disney (at that time) didn't have a library full of films which would appeal to adults.
Whereas Universal did. More to the point, MCA / Universal had over 20 years of
experience at that point when it came to running a studio theme park
attraction. So the Imagineers could immediately tap into that expertise.

The way I hear it, Disney listened politely to Universal's
offer and then opted to go with MGM/UA instead. Mostly because MCA  / Universal
was looking for some sort of on-going, royalty-based arrangement. Whereas MGM/UA would license
its name to Disney (more importantly, give WDI access to 250 titles in its film
library) for 20 years at a ridiculously low rate. Starting at $100,000 a year
and then slowly climbing to $1,000,000 in the final year of this licensing deal.


Copyright HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
All rights reserved

"And how did Universal react to this news?," you query.
Well, as Kim Masters recounted in her 2000 book,  "Keys to the Kingdom : The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else," Sid Sheinberg (i.e. MCA/Universal's
then-president and COO) clearly missed the good old days when people like Jules
Stein & Walt Disney were the kings of Hollywood. When the competition
between studios was cordial, not quite so cutthroat.

In "Keys of the Kingdom," Masters quotes Sheinberg as saying
that the Disney studio tour attraction was " … a rip-off of a concept that we
worked hard to develop." More importantly, that "… Michael Eisner had been
exposed to a lot of very confidential information and knew (exactly) what our
plans were." But the crew at MCA / Universal ultimately wound up getting snookered by Disney because " … we
were trying to behave by a code of chivalry that I guess was out of date."

There's a lot of story still left to tell here, folks. Especially
when it comes to the brutal PR battle that erupted between Universal & Disney in
the mid-to-late 1980s when it came to who was building the best studio theme
park in Central Florida. More importantly, who stole the ideas for what attractions from whom.

But rather than end things on a down note like that, I'd prefer to
circle back on a better time & place in our narrative. To be specific, the strong friendship / good working relationship that Jules
Stein & Walt Disney had (which is actually commemorated as part of that Mary
Blair-designed mural  at the UCLA Eye
Center by the dedication tile depicted above). More importantly, the part that Walt played in the revival
of the Universal Studio Tour. Which can be directly traced back to those three
days that a certain 21 year-old spent exploring the magical movie kingdom which Universal City's backlot used to be back in the 1920s.

Which brings us now to the obvious question: Did Disneyland inspire the Universal Studio Tour in Hollywood? Or was it actually the other way around?

Your thoughts?

 

Editor's note: My apologies for JHM being a bit light on
content last week. But after that freak Nor'Easter, I initially thought that I'd be able to knock out this how-Walt-influenced-and-impacted-the-Universal-Studio-Tour
story in just a day or so. But six days later … Well, there's still a ton of
material that I wasn't able to fold in here. Which brings me to my question: Would you
guys be interested in more stories that look back on the Disney /
Universal theme park wars of the late 1980s / early 1990s? If so, please let me
know. And I'll then see if I break this "War And Peace" -length narrative into a more
Web-friendly format.

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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General

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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