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Eisner emerges as “Save Disney” submerges

Jim Hill uses last month’s walk of fame ceremony for Donald Duck as a leaping-off point for an update on the Save Disney movement.

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There was a surprise guest at Donald Duck’s walk of fame ceremony last month in Hollywood: Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

In honor of his 70th birthday, Johnny Grant — the Honorary Mayor of Hollywood — and Michael Eisner — CEO of the Walt Disney Company — presented Donald Duck with his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last month.

Photo by: Eric Charbonneau©Berliner Studio/BEImages.

“What’s so surprising about Eisner turning up outside of the El Capitan for this photo op?,” you ask. Well, for months now, Disney’s embattled CEO has been limiting his public appearances. Trying to maintain a very low profile. Out of concern that – should Michael appear in public and wind up getting cat-called by some of the Disney faithful – it would look very bad for his image.

But – over the past few months – Disney’s Big Cheese has begun emerging from the shadows. Which – according to some Mouse House watchers I’ve spoken with – speaks volumes about the CEO’s psyche.

“Yeah, Michael’s been making a lot more public appearances lately,” said one company insider. “He’s no longer concerned about having to deal with embarrassing questions from the folks associated with Save Disney. Eisner feels that that movement has lost a lot of its momentum over the past few months. Which is why he now feels free to appear in public again at functions like that Donald Duck thing.”

That’s quite a statement, don’t you think? But – then again – it is kind of hard to argue that the Save Disney movement remains the powerhouse that it once was.

I mean, can it really be just six short months since Roy Disney & Stanley Gold rode into Philadelphia – determined to ouster Eisner? Back then, these guys were front page news.

photo by Nancy Stadler

Whereas now … To be honest, it’s actually kind of sad to go by SaveDisney.com & see what’s become of the Save Disney movement. By that I mean: Roy & Stanley used to be newsmakers. Nowadays … Well, they seem to be reduced to running this anti-Disney clip service. Where Disney & Gold eagerly link to any & all articles that say something negative about the Walt Disney Company.

And – even when the articles posted there have something positive to say about the Mouse – the Save Disney folks still try to put a negative spin on that story. Take – for example – the recent Reuters report about how Euro Disney SCA is thinking of adding a “Tower of Terror” attraction to that resort’s Walt Disney Studios.

Given that that fledgling theme park is admittedly desperately in need of new rides & attractions, you think that this would be good news, right? Not in the eyes of the Save Disney folks. Who chose to frame their site’s link to Reuters’ “Tower of Terror” story with a snide headline of their own: “It Worked So Well at DCA …”

This is what’s so sad about Save Disney these days. Disney & Gold supposedly started this movement because they saw themselves as a positive force. Agents of change for the Walt Disney Company. And now … The whole thing seems to have devolved into this group that likes to grouse about the Mouse.

Oh, I know, I know. The Save Disney faithful will tell you that “We have to stay positive. We have to stay focused. Remember that our goal now is that we get Michael Eisner to step down by September of 2006.”

Which is all well and good … Except that I remember all this talk back in February about Save Disney was going to have Eisner ousted by the end of April. So what happened to that plan?

Okay. I know. Nobody anticipated that Michael Eisner – when confronted with that extremely embarrassing proxy vote back in March – would simply dig in his heels and refuse to give up control of the Walt Disney Company. Roy & Stanley never anticipated that contingency.

Now – to make matters worse – Eisner’s actually begun addressing some of the concerns that Save Disney initially brought up. Take – for example:

  • The condition of Disneyland: As Roy spoke with the Disney faithful in Philadelphia back in March, he was heard to remark: “Would it kill them to paint some of the buildings at Disneyland?”

    Evidently not. Disneyland’s right in the middle of an amazing park-wide facelift. Supposedly on Eisner’s order, every single structure within the theme park is to be painted. So that the “Happiest Place on Earth” can look its best when Disneyland’s 50th anniversary officially gets underway in May of 2005.

  • More family-friendly films: Another of Save Disney’s bones of contention was that the Walt Disney Company is losing its family-friendly image. That the corporation is no longer associated with quality family entertainment.

    Supposedly in direct response to this specific accusation, Eisner ordered that remakes of two of Walt Disney Studio’s most popular family comedies – “The Shaggy Dog” and “The Love Bug” – be put into production. The “Love Bug” remake – tentatively titled “Herbie: Fully Loaded” – started shooting last month in LA with Lindsay Lohan as its star. The “Shaggy Dog” remake – which is supposed to feature Tim Allen in the title role – is slated to begin production next week.

  • ABC Family: Roy & Stanley have repeatedly ripped on Michael Eisner for over-spending when the Walt Disney Company paid $5.3 billion for the Family Channel back in 2001. Saying that – at that price – the Mouse may never turn a profit on its investment in this cable channel.

    Well, never say never, folks. Last month, the Hollywood Reporter revealed that “the Walt Disney Company is close to finalizing a new broad carriage deal with Time Warner Cable.” Which – in essence – means that the ABC Family channel will now have access to more households. Which (hopefully) will expose the floundering cable channel to a wider audience. Which (in theory) will eventually lead to higher ratings and (sometime off in the far distance) profitability.

You see what I’m saying here, folks? Michael has begun addressing many of the same issues that Roy & Stanley initially brought up. Trying to move these problems off the table. Which – in the end – is going to make him that harder to remove from power.

Of course, one might argue that the above actually demonstrates that Disney & Gold ARE effective agents of change. That – by exiting the Walt Disney Company and making a lot of noise about the sorry shape the Mouse House was in back in December of 2003 – they have essentially forced Michael Eisner to clean up his act.

And – given that Eisner actually gave up his chairmanship of the Walt Disney Company as well as freed up the money necessary to improve Disneyland’s appearance – even I have to admit that Roy & Stanley have accomplished some pretty amazing things over the past 9 months.

But – that said – I still haven’t been all that impressed by Save Disney’s post-Philadelphia performance. Back in March, Disney & Gold had the media’s attention. They had heat. They had momentum. They had the Disney faithful right in the palm of their hands.

And now … That’s really not the case anymore. Oh, sure. I hear from Save Disney insiders that they’ve sold a couple of hundred of those “Disappointed” t-shirts. And Roy & Stanley are still said to be trying to put together an alternate slate for Disney’s Board of Directors. Which Disney & Gold are expected to announce sometime in late November.

But in the meantime … The Walt Disney Company has been hard at work, trying to woo back the Disney faithful. Don’t believe me? Then what about that elaborate presentation that the Mouse mounted for the National Fantasy Fan Club back in July? Mickey supposedly sank over $10,000 into putting together that show for the N.F.F.C.’s annual convention. They built an ornate set. Disney brought in singers, dancers and characters from the theme parks. They even hired Steve Whitmire – the veteran Muppeteer who now performs Kermit the Frog – to provide entertainment for the closing evening’s banquet.

The end result was that a lot of Disneyana fans went home from this year’s N.F.F.C. convention thinking: “Maybe the Mouse has turned a corner. Maybe things aren’t really as bad as I had been led to believe.”

Now the real irony here is – back in January – it was Roy’s appearance at the National Fantasy Fan Club’s annual “Kick-off” event that initially got the Save Disney movement its first real major media exposure. It was Walt’s nephew’s comments in front of the Disney faithful that provided fodder for dozens of feature stories. Which is what put Disney & Gold’s efforts on the radar for many business section editors around the country.

Nowadays … Save Disney really has slid off of a lot of people’s radar. It’s been weeks – months even — since any major stories have been written about Disney & Gold’s efforts. (Though my understanding is that the Associated Press may have an article in the works that will serve as sort of a Save Disney update. So I guess we should all keep an eye for that.)

And perhaps because they’re just now getting a sense that – by putting a negative spin on everything that the Walt Disney Company does – Save Disney may actually be alienating the Disney faithful, Roy & Stanley have recently taken a new tack. Witness this excerpt from the most recent SaveDisney.com e-newsletter:

“We’d like to hear from you about the positive changes needed at The Disney Co. We’ve received countless examples of things that haven’t gone right at the Company in recent years. We’d like to ask you to redirect those thoughts a bit and give us a 10 point (bullet point) list of positive changes you would like to see take place at your favorite entertainment/media company.

Please send us an email with your contributions. We’ll compile a master list of the most repeated items and share them on the site. We also want your views so that Roy and Stanley can be responsive to shareholders and customers needs when the time comes to implement change. Write in and be heard!”

Did you catch the significant difference there? The emphasis being placed on “the positive changes needed at The Disney Co.”? Roy & Stanley are now actively trying to shake off their “Grumpy Old Men” images. To once again emerge as positive agents for change at the Walt Disney Company.

Will this gambit work? To be honest, I don’t know. An awful lot has changed since March. There’s no denying that the whole Save Disney movement has lost momentum over the past six months. And a lot of the Disney faithful have (at least temporarily) seem to have lost interest in the cause.

In the meantime, Michael Eisner’s been out there mending fences. Talking with major Wall Street movers & shakers about how Disney has turned a corner. Reportedly even reaching out to Steve Jobs to see if there might be a way for the Pixar / Disney production & distribution deal to be saved.

“That’d be the real death knell for Save Disney,” said one Disney observer. “If Eisner’s actually able to get Steve Jobs to come back to the negotiating table & then cut a deal with Pixar. If Eisner could actually ever pull that off, there’d be no way that Disney & Gold could ever remove him from power then.”

So now … Well, it’s kind of a waiting game. To see what Roy & Stanley now have up their sleeve. To see if Save Disney actually has a way to get people excited about the cause once more.

Please don’t misunderstand, folks. I don’t write stories like this because I enjoy saying bad things about the Save Disney effort. I actually have a lot of respect for Disney & Gold. Remember, I’ve spoken with Roy on the phone. And — when we talked — he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

And as the crew that works for SaveDisney.com … Talk about dedication.

Here. Let me tell you one story that shows how dedicated these people are. Back in July, I’m out in San Diego, attending Comic Con. And one afternoon, I decide that I have to run the great heaping bag of crud that Nancy and I have acquired while walking around the convention center back out to the car.

So I exit the hall. And who do I find out on the steps of the San Diego Convention Center? A Save Disney rep. Standing there in the blistering hot sun, handing out bumper stickers & business cards, trying to win a few more folks over to Roy & Stanley’s cause.

Say what you will about Save Disney’s effort … But it was hard not to be impressed by that individual – standing in that sea of people – still trying to get the word out about Save Disney.

I genuinely felt bad for the guy. Which was why I flipped over my Comic Con credential so that he couldn’t see my name (I’m told that I’m considered the Anti-Christ in Save Disney’s circles for daring to say that Roy & Stanley haven’t always done a good job) and went over to talk with him.

This guy was very polite, very personable. Handed me a bumper sticker, a business card and a “Save Disney” info letter. Tried to win me over to the cause. I’d told him that I’d review the material and try & make a decision later.

I’ve still got that stuff here on my desk, folks. Not so much because I admire Disney & Gold. But more as a tribute to someone else who really believes in their cause. Who stood out in the sweltering July sun for hours at a time, trying to win over a few more converts.

I don’t know if this guy was ultimately successful. I DO know that the janitorial staff of the San Diego Convention Center wasn’t all that fond of Save Disney by the time Comic Con was over. Why for? Well, I’m told that a large number of those bumper stickers wound up getting plastered all over the bathrooms at the convention center. But – hey – I guess when you’re trying to get the word out, you spread the message wherever you can.

Anyway … Getting back to Roy Disney: This past summer, I spoke with a lot of people who’d actually worked with Walt’s nephew while he was chairman of Disney Feature Animation. To a man, they all described Roy as a genuinely nice guy. Sincere. Dedicated. Not at all aloof. A very approachable individual who actually cares about the craft of making feature length animated cartoons.

I was regaled with all these tales about how much fun it was to travel with Walt’s nephew on press junkets. Or to have dinner with Roy & his wife, Patty.

In fact, it was one story that I was told about a recent dinner with Roy & his wife that I found particularly telling. When asked about how things were going with the Save Disney effort, Patty Disney was supposed to have said: “This would be so much easier if we were dealing with Ron Miller again.”

Unfortunately, Michael Eisner isn’t some former football player from USC. Uncle Mikey is an extremely confidant corporate executive, exceptionally skilled when it comes to surviving in tough boardroom situations.

More importantly — to date — Eisner played his side of this game very well. He never once rose to any of the bait that Roy & Stanley put out there. Disney’s CEO also did okay on his appearance on “Larry King.”

And – in the weeks leading up to Philadelphia as well as the months that immediately followed the Disney shareholders meeting – Michael kept a very low profile. All the while quietly addressing many of the concerns that Roy & Stanley had about Eisner’s stewardship of the Walt Disney Company.

Michael Eisner shakes hands with Donald Duck in front of the El Capitan theater as part of the character’s 70th birthday celebration.

Photo by:

Eric Charbonneau©Berliner Studio/BEImages.

Which bring us back to Donald Duck’s walk of fame ceremony. Where Eisner actually seemed happy to be out in public, cutting up on stage with that anonymous cast member who was dressed in the Donald Duck costume. There were no boos when Michael strode on stage. If anything, the crowd assembled on Hollywood Boulevard seemed genuinely thrilled to see Disney’s CEO at this ceremony.

photo by Nancy Stadler

But me? As I was attending this ceremony last month, I couldn’t help but notice one small detail that seemed to escape the Hollywood press corps. That camera platform – where all those shutterbugs frantically jostled for position in order to get a picture of Michael Eisner shaking Donald Duck’s hand – was raised. Which meant that you had to walk up a short set of stairs in order to get up on the platform.

photo by Nancy Stadler

“And just whose star on Hollywood Boulevard was this set of stairs leading up to the camera platform set up upon?,” you ask. Well, I don’t know if you can make it out from this photograph …

photo by Nancy Stadler

… And I’m not entirely sure that this was done deliberately. But those stairs were set up right on top of Roy Disney’s star. Pretty much blocking it from view.

Which – given that literarily dozens of reporters & photographers strode up & down those stairs and never once noticed this great story that was right there in front of them – I think that speaks volumes about how far Roy Disney & Stanley Gold have slid off of the media’s radar.

But – then again – all of the above is just one man’s opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Your thoughts?

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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