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So, you think that YOU’VE got it tough?

WDW cast members continue to share their war stories about their on-the-job experiences at the Disney World Resort.

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Man, who knew that one little story would strike such a nerve?

A week ago today, JHM ran “Cast Members at DAK’s Kilimanjaro Safari don’t think that WDW management is being very fair-i to them,” an article that detailed how difficult how tough it was to work at DAK’s “Kilimanjaro Safari” ride.

Well, that piece produce a tidal wave of response from WDW cast members. Which is why I decided to reprint a number of their notes as part of a rebuttal article, “The Cry Babies who runs Kilimajaro Safari is complaining again? Well, cry me a Kali River …”

Well — as you might expect — that article also got the folks who work at Walt Disney World writing in. So — this morning — I thought I might share a few of these e-mails with you.

Of course, we got another pile of letters from folks who said that their job at Disney World was at least as tough as working at “Kilimanjaro Safari.” My favorite, though, was this one from Chris T:

Dear Jim,

I was a College Program last year (Fall 2003) and I worked as a busser at Magic Kingdom’s Plaza Pavilion as a busser. I can understand that everyone thinks that their job is so hard and that they have it worse than anyone else, so I won’t say that mine was the hardest.

One of my roommates worked Kilimajaro Safaris as a driver. Everyday he would come home complaining about work and blah blah blah. The whole time he was complaining I was thinking “Yeah if only you did my job!”

Well in November, my roommate pulled extra hours as a busser at Plaza Pavilion. That day I went in a couple hours before him and got off a couple hours after him. When I got home he was laying in his bed in pain. He said he had not worked so hard since he had been at Disney. He said my job was about ten times worse than his job as a driver at KIlimajaro.

I’m not hear to complain about how hard my job was, or that mine was the worse out of all jobs because I know that there other jobs like custodial that are harder than mine. I’m just saying that maybe the Kilimajaro drivers should go out and pull extra hours at a place like Plaza Pavilion or Cosmic Rays to see what it’s like to not be sitting in a truck or handing out fast pass tickets all day long.

Sincerely
Chris T.

Then — of course — there were those who took a more pragmatic approach. These folks were the ones who sent me the e-mails that broke down who got paid what, what the built-in hazards for various jobs at Disney World might as well as how difficult it was to work with people who constantly complained about how difficult they thought their job was.

Here. Let’s let this WDW cast member explain:

Dear Jim.

Just read the letter from the Safari Cast member and I have to say boo hoo. I also work at DAK in attractions and all attractions cast members have an almost equally level of problems.

As far as pay … Well — first of all — Entertainment gets paid that 45 cents an hour more and is not worth what they go through like being abused by guests who have no sense of respect for them. Trust me there are at least 10 times as many characters who are injured and put out of their job for days or even weeks.

Security has to deal with guests who think because they paid $50 dollars and can treat us anyway they want, and have to deal with emergency calls and so on. Transportation has hundreds of more guests to deal with and they drive 8 hours each day.

I am not totally unsympathetic but crying changes nothing. There are other job classifications that have harder jobs and get the same pay. It’s not strictly management’s fault.

I have friends who drive Safari trucks and have no complaints. I also know a couple of their managers too. The problem with the union is they are too weak. Which is why we end up with lousy contracts. For instance, my medical insurance went up $3 a week and now — for some reason (that) I don’t understand — they decided to start having us pay 10 percent of our hospital stay. And this is an HMO!

(Mind you), I’m not complaining. I pay it and still love my job. It shouldn’t really matter what you’re paid but that you like your job. Everybody that works for Disney thinks they should be paid more even if their only job is to smile and say hi. We all consider ourselves underpaid.

Yes, driving a Safari truck may be hard. But it’s not the hardest job. The hardest job is going to work and listen to some of your fellow cast members complain every day when all they have to do is transfer. I say: suck it up or find another location to transfer to. He or she should be so lucky that they are not on the college program. Because (those poor kids) only get paid $6 an hour for the same (work that the full time cast members do). And — if anyone should be paid more — they should.

Then there were the folks who tried to put the whole thing in perspective. Give me a little historical background as well as offer up some psychological insights.

Our old buddy, Big Mike, perhaps did the best job with this sort of letter. Which is why I’m happy to share his note with you folks today:

Dearest Jim,

First off, I must say that if you weren’t around here, I would have to head off into the nether regions of the internet to find a good bit of insider info.

I read, with a smile, the articles regarding the Kilimanjaro complaint and the subsequent anti-Kilimanjaro rebuttals. I read with interest on how our Kilimanjaro safari host or hostess complained bitterly about his/her conditions and how he/she was paid only $6.70 an hour to perform these functions. I also read with interest about the “suck it up” articles.

These two stories indicate 2 things to me: the length these respective CM’s have worked at Disney and the typical decreasing morale level that can be found as the years go by as a Cast Member. So let’s, based upon my opinion and observations at the workplace, examine a Cast Member’s career and their differing levels of morale as time goes by.

Typically Jim every cast member fresh out of casting goes to Disney University for “Traditions”. Traditions, in the way past in the Disney golden age (the good old days), was a few days long and introduced the newest members of the Disney family to the Disney culture, its time honored practices and beliefs, and its willingness to go the extra mile for every guests of every day of every year…all with some perma-grin attached to your face. Nowadays, Traditions is only the better part of a day, if even a few hours, but it still manages to give the newbies some insight as well as a morale boost before they hit the chaotic frenzy known as Walt Disney World.

Now, fresh off of our Traditions tour and with freshly minted perma-grin chiseled onto our faces, we enter the chaotic frenzy ever willing to make the visit magical “for each and every guest.” This is where the fun begins…

Let’s take a side detour or a minute and look at our 3 writers. Case A, or the disgruntled Kilimanjaro Safari worker, exhibits behavioral signs of someone that has been working there between 1-2 years. Why do I know this? Well, first of all, he/she gets paid $6.70/hour which tells me he/she has been there for this length of time.

Secondly, he/she shows all the classic signs of a CM who has lost that shiny luster from Traditions and realizes that this isn’t as great as I once thought. To rebut what someone said earlier, it is not as easy to leave a high-stress job like Kilimanjaro as you might believe. I know people that used to work there…Cory and Elton for whom I mentioned in the first article. They left together and said that even though they hated it there and they couldn’t stand the lack of hours and overtime as well as the high-stress “wear your ass out” attraction Kilimanjaro is, it was hard for them to leave because they had developed friendships with people there who shared in their misery with them.

Thirdly, not being paid appropriately for an extremely hot and repetitive job like Kilimanjaro takes its toll and the worker begins to exhibit resentment. Imagine, you work your butt off for a week at Kilimanjaro and come home to a paycheck of roughly 260 gross and 215 take home. Wow, after you pay the rent and car insurance, if you have a car, and pay the utilities and the cable…oh, wait I can’t afford cable…you have no money, you are drained, and the resentment and hate starts to grow much like it did to Anakin Skywalker. Ok, sorry, I had to use the “dark side” perspective. And finally, the tedium of work and losing friends to termination and the introduction of cast destroyment, oh I mean cast deployment (the computer), and the “move bodies” mentality of management takes its toll and over time produces a disgruntled cast member. While this is not always true, I have observed that this is true for about 90%+ of all cast members, especially after 3 years or more of time with the company.

Case B, or the CM who “sacrificed” (sacrifice is the Iraq War, not working at Disney) of him/herself at Great Movie Ride for $6.35/hour instead of $10.50/hour at home (trust me, go home, make $10.50/hour and save Disney for visits), is a classic example of someone who is fresh out of Traditions and has an unbreakable belief in Disney (I do too, but only in the Walt Disney school of thought—not Eisner’s culture he has created there). Unyieldingly defensive of the product and “gee, this is so great” mentality overwhelms his passionate drive to ensure the best service humanly possible.

While I agree with this mentality in order to succeed, the Cast Member’s unwillingness to understand that $200 bucks a week “ain’t gonna keep the smiles” going for a whole long time. Also, the fact that he believes there are scores of others ready to take the job is frightening, at best. Why would scores of people believe that $200 a week is a good move? Because it’s Disney. Either they have no chance at employment elsewhere and the Mouse will hire them (trust me, I have worked with convicted sex offenders at Disney—child molestation sex offenders) or because they believe in a hallowed institution like Disney and will make the “ultimate sacrifice” to work there.

Working at Disney is a novelty; once the novelty wears off, reality sends a crushing blow almost immediately. Be careful of what you wish for…this is one institution that traps you…and you become institutionalized, afraid to leave what has become so familiar for 6 bucks an hour.

Case C, or the “suck it up” CM, is a classic example of someone who has worked there for a while and just wants to vent at someone letting them know they are not the only ones with a crappy job. The funny thing, is it’s true. I must, based on experience, say that Kilimanjaro is probably one of the most difficult (top 5) attractions host jobs at Disney. The Case C cast member is a person who believes in Disney but secretly resents their place of employment. This comes after many years of working there but is a byproduct of a “not giving into public negativity” mentality of those co-workers around him/her who hate the place and let it be known quite regularly. Case C seems to be pretty straightforward, but this is only my opinion (and besides, what do I know).

Jim, go back to my cast deployment letter. Think about what I said in there. The byproducts of the Eisner regime have been negativity and extremely high turnover. Why? The bottom line. Cast deployment, low pay, overbearing managers…it all adds up after a while. I didn’t mean to offend anyone on this board who posted, but the truth is real and tangible. Working for Disney is not what everyone thinks it is, unless you are an Imagineer or Animator (and even that is tough nowadays).

So, please, anyone who reads this letter…don’t throw your life away to work as attractions host for the MOUSE. It will ruin your impression of the place, trust me. It may not happen in a year, maybe no even 5…but as surely as time passes, it will happen.

Y’all come back, ya hear!?

Big Mike

*Disclaimer-it will be worth working for again if they 1., get rid of Eisner, and 2., go back to the old ways of the old days…just my two cents

But then there were the folks who — in spite of all the miserable working conditions that they had to put up with during their days at Disney — wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world.

My favorite — out of all these sorts of letters — had to have come from Jonathan D. Who wrote in to say:

Hi, Jim

I’ve read your stories over the last two days talking about who has it tough at Disney World. And as an ex-Cast Member (College Program; Spring 2001), I wanted to put my $.02 in.

For the three months I was there, I worked in Food and Beverage (Quick Serve). Which meant, for me, I was in a kitchen, specifically the kitchen of Restaurantosaurus in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It was the first job I’d ever had, and I was 21 years old (I was a spoiled child, and I’m very sorry for everyone who got a job when they were 15, honestly).

So, first of all, going from no job at all to standing on my feet for 8 hours a day was a bit difficult. Then one day while cleaning out the hood over the burger fryer I got some Encompass (a cleaning product, if you didn’t know) directly in my left eye, freaking out all the managers who were sure I was going to lose it (the eye…I didn’t, but it was bloodshot for a day or so). Another day, I was wiping down the large freezer doors when one of them came off its hinges and smashed me right in the face, bloodying my lip, nose, and giving me a black eye. And then there’s the various and sundry burns from oil, grease (is the word), hot cooking equipment, etc.

I also did some work as a busser, which meant wearing pink pants and a striped blue shirt (a great color combo, IMO) and doing general bussing-type stuff. Like emptying out huge trashcans that the guests would always fill to overflowing if you didn’t keep your eye on them at all times and replace them whenever they got to half full. Of course, when you’re emptying out one, inevitably one on the other side of the restaurant requires your attention. The trick was to put 4-5 bags in each trash can, so you weren’t
constantly having to replace the bag when you took a full one out (a valuable time saver).

Then there was the fun time that was always had when guests would ask for straws or lids for their little kiddies drinks…but of course, there ARE no straws or lids in DAK (for the safety of the animals, don’t you know). Of course, not having lids inevitably meant that their kids would be spilling drinks left and right (better then a protein spill, though) and while you’re cleaning that up, guess what? Those trash cans are filling right back up.

And of course there was the other routine stuff that comes with bussing, like pointing out the way to the bathrooms (for the guests who couldn’t see the large sign), wiping down tables, and checking lost and found for sunglasses. The best part, though, was the unusual questions you’d get: “Excuse me, where’s the Tower of Terror?” “Well, you want to go out this door here, walk on down the path, take the first left, then head out to the buses and go to MGM.”

But for any wacky guest question like that, there were the great once in a lifetime guests. Like a mother who was there with her son, who happened to have cerebral palsy. They were having such a great time, and it was so much fun to ask them what they’d seen so far, and what they were still planning to see, and to share in the joy that Disney was bringing them.

See, that’s what Disney is, Jim. It’s magic, pure and simple. Magic can’t be expressed in shareholder value, and it’s not a commodity that Michael Eisner can buy and sell. It exists in Disney, and it’s recreated every time a kid gets excited the first time they see that castle, or they meet Mickey or Donald or Goofy. And it’s passed on every time a cast member can do their part (even if it’s just keeping a smile on while telling the five thousandth guest that we don’t have straws or lids) to give a little bit of that Disney magic to someone else.

Whether any of this is easier or harder then any of the other stories you’ll get is anyone’s guess. But Jim, let me tell you…I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else in the world. The people I worked with there were some of the best people I’ve ever met. People like Gretchen, Cesar, Plinio, David, Louis … managers like Brandon, Rich, and Jake (master of the tough love and the salad cooler talking to).

And best of all, it’s where I met my wife, Angela, who was there working in the same kitchen during the same College Program. So I’d say, as tough as it was, and as lousy as the pay was…it was worth every minute. Every single minute.

That’s all I’ve got for you. Thanks for letting me share my story, and thanks for all the great articles you’ve always got on the site. Later!

Jonathan D.

So — as you can see — there’s still a lot of people out there with strong opinions about what it’s really like to work at Walt Disney World. Which is why I’m giving some semi-serious thought to creating a whole new area at JimHillMedia.com. A place where we maybe could archive all of these great job-related stories.

So — if you’ve got a good or bad story that you’d like to share with JHM readers about your job related experiences at the Disney theme parks and resorts, feel free to toss it my way … and I may post it as part of this new section at the site.

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.

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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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