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The Once and Future Kingdom — Part I: The Meek Shall Inherit the Happiest Place on Earth

The first installment of an intriguing new series debuts at today. This series — written by a themed entertainment industry professional — discusses what the Walt Disney Company could possibly do in order to turn around its somewhat toxic reputation.



It all started with a rather daunting question: “What would it take to really revise, revive and revitalize the public perception of the Walt Disney Company?”

I was strolling around World Showcase when I first posed this query to Vance Rest. “And who’s Vance Rest?” you ask. Well, Rest is a themed entertainment industry professional. Out of his own passion, Vance has visited every single one of the Disney theme parks, seeing Mickey at his best (Tokyo DisneySea) as well as at his worst (Walt Disney Studios Paris). And at each park he has used his keen eye to determine exactly what is needed at each park and how to accomplish it.

So why doesn’t this guy work for Disney? “For the same reason I don’t shout at the rain, Jim” he tells me. “There are no progressive reformers *inside* the Taliban.” And thus Rest dispenses advice as a free agent.

But — on that frigid night last December — the only person who was seeking Vance’s advice was … me. The two of us had been talking about Roy Disney and Stanley Gold’s efforts to unseat Michael Eisner. More importantly, what might happen should Roy and Stanley actually succeed.

After all, should these guys actually oust Eisner, Disney and Gold still face a pretty awesome challenge. Turning the corporation’s rather toxic reputation around. Stripping away all of the cynicism that has become associated with the Disney name over the past 10 years.

I wondered aloud if it would actually be possible. That the Walt Disney Company’s once shining reputation could be restored and redeemed. Vance immediately said “Certainly it could. But that the Mouse House managers would have to undertake some pretty heroic measures if they really wanted to pull this off.”

“Like what?” I asked. And the rest Rest quickly spun out as we stood shivering in the cold outside of Epcot’s International Gateway shops. The plan that Vance laid out was so ambitious, so audacious that I thought that “I’ve got to get this guy to write this stuff down so that I can share it with JHM readers.”

So — after much wheedling and whining — I finally got Rest to agree to put part of his plan down on paper. Over the next three days, I’ll be sharing some of Vance’s theories with you … as well as welcoming your input on his intriguing proposal.

I think that everyone who loves what the Walt Disney Company once stood for should take a gander at this document. To see one possible scenario that could (perhaps) return the Disney Corporation to its former greatness.

A quick explanation: Today’s installment basically serves as an introduction to Vance’s thesis. Laying out the premise of his plan, so to speak. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we’ll get to the real meat of the matter. So be sure to come back tomorrow and Wednesday to read the rest of Rest’s plan.

Anywho … Let us know what you think, folks? In the meantime, let’s have a big welcome for Vance Rest!



… So other Storytellers of the ’70s and early ’80s had to be Disney for them.

By their own admission, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg would have made the “Star Wars” saga, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the “Indiana Jones” trilogy and a plethora of other generation-defining, medium-changing films for Walt Disney Productions if the studio of that era had even been a shadow of what it had once stood for. The visionless drones who ran the Mouse Factory in the 1970s and 1980s even passed on the opportunities to make such beloved blockbusters as “E.T.” and “Back to the Future,” all the while okaying production of derivative tripe like “The Black Hole,” and their 37 thousandth insipid “The Million Dollar Computerized Duck from Outer Space Who Wore Tennis Shoes” picture.

Still — in spite of the fact that Mouse Corp was STAGNATE and DIRECTIONLESS during this troubled period in the company’s history — Disney still somehow managed to remain *PURE*. People kept Disney Magic in their own way. Allowing the Pixie dust from that classic Mickey Mouse watches that they’d always wear to seep into their veins. Clinging to the memory of movies, TV shows, and Disneyland visits from their childhood that were made during much happier, more *Creatively Courageous* times. This yearning for the Magic Kingdom’s “Good Old Days” manifested itself with the birth of Disneyana Clubs and collectors groups in the 1980s, where people actively SOUGHT EACH OTHER OUT in order to remember WHAT DISNEY ONCE WAS.

Of course — back then — Walt Disney Productions was (if you’ll pardon the tired analogy) a Mercedes that had become stuck in a snowdrift. A seemingly abandoned and forgotten vehicle that just needed someone to come along to turn the key and give it a little gas. And — with the arrival of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells in September 1984 — that’s precisely what happened. Those two dug the Mousekecar out of that drift and put the Walt Disney Company back on the road to a creative and fiscally fantastic rebirth.

And — for a while there — it really did seem like the Mouse was magical once more. The studio produced these beautifully honed films like “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” And Walt Disney Imagineering had this tremendous rebirth, serving up epic attractions like “Indiana Jones Adventure ” and “Splash Mountain” that were both entertaining and ambitious.

Which was why it appeared — for a brief span of time, anyway — that the generation who grew up loving Disney would be able to pass along that love to their children. Make them believe in the Magic too, so to speak.

It seemed that way. For a while, anyway …


The company that stoked the fires of a billion imaginations — redefining each of the multitudes of Art forms that it touched and giving birth to twice as many — now faced the most singularly destructive force of our age: Cowardice.

To be specific, Cowardice of the Imagination. This cancer lingers in the shadows at the Walt Disney Company, shrouded in “business as usual” rhetoric that these suits use to justify their allegedly creative efforts to gut the company’s legacy and drive its core ideologies to the brink of total collapse.

The Mouse Factory has become CORRUPT and desiccated. A wheezing, heartbreaking ghost of what it once was, forced to sell off its former glory, piece by piece. Its once enviably shimmering image has become ERODED. Which forced the People to once again turn to other Storytellers who had to become Disney in Disney’s absence. Which explains why the public’s rush to embrace the staggering magic of the Harry Potter books, the noble whimsy and heart of the PIXAR movies as well as the majestic “Lord of the Rings” films.

But now — what with Roy Disney and Stanley Gold’s stirring call to return the Walt Disney Company to its creative roots, that QUALITY (not commerce) must be the watchword that people most closely associate with the Disney name — one has to wonder: Can this seemingly terminal situation actually be turned around?

After all, the Walt Disney Company has a fairly toxic reputation to overcome right now. Over the past 10 years, the Disney name has become far too closely associated with unnecessary direct-to-video sequels, theme parks that are built on-the-cheap as well as cutthroat corporate negotiating tactics. (EDITOR’S NOTE- Just look at all the negative press that the Mouse received late last week on the heels of Steve Jobs’ decision to break off the Pixar contract extension talks. Stories like that would tarnish the reputation of most any firm. But for a corporation like Disney — which works so hard to associate itself with GOODNESS, KINDNESS, INNOCENCE and FAMILY FUN — a PR debacle like this could be truly disastrous. We’ll try to get Vance’s thoughts on the matter by tomorrow’s piece.)

So — you see — this isn’t a repeat of that “Just pull the Mercedes out of the snowdrift” scenario that Eisner and Wells were facing back in 1984. These days, the public — all too often — associates the Disney name with greed and short sightedness — and some words I can’t say without putting a 48 inch height requirement on the article.

Which is why Disney’s coming battle — to win back the hearts and minds of the people who have become all too dismissive, cynical and jaded toward the Mouse’s efforts — is going to be that much harder. After all, for almost a decade now, the public has had their love for the kind of magic that ONLY Disney could muster EXPLOITED by strip-mining ghouls.


TO WIN BACK the hearts and minds of the people, you have to understand how deeply the IDEA of Disney runs in our cultural fabric. Consider America, the world’s Menlo Park. Our nation is Edison’s Idea Factory. The United States of America was the first country in the history of history that was founded as an *experiment* in the accordance rights NOT IN RESTRICTING OR DENYING THEM.

The Pioneering of Ideas is America’s raison d’etre. AND DISNEY IS A MICROCOSM OF THE AMERICAN SPIRIT. That’s why the company’s ideas and ideals always rang so true for the people of the world. HOLDING ITSELF TO A HIGHER STANDARD and TAKING RISKS are the very principles that the Walt Disney Company was founded on.

It is time for the Mouse to re-embrace these principles. For Disney to find its way back to greatness by remembering all that this corporation seems to have been forgotten over the past 10 years.

To do this, the current Disney management is obviously going to need a road map. Which I’ve tried to provide for them byputting together:




A 3 PART code book to the American Imagination


Television, the Internet, Music … the Art that we see around us each day intravenously feeds us Storytelling fodder, sparking new thought, and fueling the imagination. And in our culture, by and large, the weekend means going to Storytelling church: The Movies.

There, a Storytelling clergy (a director) offers his interpretation of the human experience, myth, legend, or some drivel with Freddie Prinze Jr. Meanwhile, visiting Disneyland (or one of its sister kingdoms) is like visiting the STORYTELLING HOLYLAND. Be it once a year or once in a lifetime, a trip to the concentrated immersive wonder of Disneyland is Plutonium for your Imagination. To blow the “cannots” and “impossibles” clean out of your head.

With that, we come to the first Strategic Reversal checkpoint. This is the first PASS/FAIL point which Roy, Stanley and the rest of their “Order of the Phoenix” must adroitly navigate as they plan the biggest resurrection since the Biblical Age. And their entire noble endeavor won’t make it out of the gate if they cannot make sweeping changes in this first arena.


The devastating fact of the matter is that the majority of the dogma shapers who currently work within the Walt Disney Company go to their jobs each day NOT to tell good Stories, but with the hope that they’ll be able to do something that will impress their pseudo-intellectual friends. So the decisions that are being made that affect Disney’s movies, theme parks and the jobs of thousands of the most talented artists walking the earth today are being made by people who are only concerned that their allegedly-creative endeavors will be considered socially acceptable to their old college buddies.

You know. Producing something less lame than what Disney usually does. EX: Disney’s California Adventure theme park. Which was built on a shoestring … “But (According to the rationalizations of the too-cool-for-school execs who okayed the project) that’s okay. Because no one really needs all that UNCOOL Disney magic garbage anyway. Shopping, High-End Dining, and a few cheap naked Thrills. That’s the ticket.”


Why do these people, who are so clearly unfit for their professions, seek out jobs at the Walt Disney Company? Status. Having a job at a major media outlet has a certain cachet to these idiots. Having a high profile position at a Fortune 500 corporation like Disney is considered extremely sexy by creeps like this. More importantly, it gives them the illusion of depth as a human being without their actually having to achieve anything.

So ambitious bottom-feeders like this pursue jobs at the Walt Disney Company (With the hope that a position at the Mouse Factory will eventually serve as a stepping stone to the corner office at the Gap or Comcast) with little real understanding of how truly difficult the Mouse Factory is to run.

This is a fascinating, though ultimately depressing and devastating, phenomena. Everyone *thinks* they know a lot about Disney. And — what’s worse — that they know the proper way to run the Mouse House. There is a perception that Entertainments (particularly ones that focus on innocence, hope, whimsy, and fantasy) are simplistic. Additionally, everyone thinks they know a lot about Disney because it is such a sprawling and accessible company. Everybody knows somebody whose cousin worked there and SWEARS that a guy got decapitated on Space Mountain, and he may or may not have been eating Pop Rocks and drinking Coke while it happened.

The attitude that seems to prevail within the Team Disney building (be it in Anaheim, Burbank and Orlando) these days is: “How hard can this be? It’s just a dumb amusement park” or “It’s just a cartoon that’s aimed at 4-year-olds. What the hell do you need to *know* to do that?!? I went to the park once when I was a kid. I watched Saturday morning cartoons. Ergo I know how to build theme parks and/or make cartoons.”

Sometimes the way that these people think is downright terrifying. Take — for example — the rationale behind the creation of Disneyland’s 45th parade. Which seems to have been cobbled together by allegedly creative drones who were thinking along these lines: “My pseudo-intellectual theater friends will think that I’m lame if I create a *real* Disney parade. So — instead — I will offer the guests an artist’s interpretations of the Disney characters — with the actor’s faces showing through — as well as a gilded Tantor.”

You want to know the really sad part? The main reason that most of these people actually take these “simplistic, beneath-them jobs at Disney” is in order to get to ESPN anyway. Because everyone who likes watching sports on television thinks that they already know everything that they need to know about how to run a sports television network.

Sensing a pattern yet?


In order to turn this exceedingly cynical situation around, we need the Walt Disney Company to be made up of men and women who are not here just because of the allegedly “cool” aura that they acquire by working for a major media outlet. In order for the Mouse House to come back to full flower, we need people working there who are not afraid of the real Disney (I.E. The spirits of HOPE, HONOR, INNOCENCE, WHIMSY and PLAY that embody that work). Inspired artists, technicians and executives who understand that magic is really just a turn of a bedknob away.

On a strictly procedural level, WE NEED PEOPLE WHO ARE WILLING TO GO INTO THE THEME PARKS AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK. Not execs who never leave their offices, who base their allegedly in-depth knowledge of what the guests are supposedly experiencing based on PowerPoint presentations they’ve attended and/or roller coaster specials that they’ve viewed while watching the Discovery Channel. No more FOCUS GROUPS and SURVEYS. These Disney Company officials have to acquire their keen understanding of what the guests are going through by watching, listening, and (above all) BEING A GUEST.

The same applies for the Studio. The people who work there should be animation fans who would never blaspheme their artform by saying that it’s a medium meant “just for kids.” As Guardians of Disney’s Heart and Soul, they must know why a story is told through animation. (I.E. YOU ARE CHARGED WITH TELLING THE STORY OF CHARACTERS SO CAPTIVATING, SO MOVING, THAT THEIR TALE *DEMANDS* THE CARE OF FRAME-BY-FRAME CRAFTING BY MEN AND WOMEN WHO BEGIN WITH A BLANK PAGE AND FINISH WITH 1/24TH OF A MOMENT ERUPTING WITH LIFE.)

There is a place in this world for the computer. But there is no place for fools who think that traditional animation’s day is done.

Okay. I’ve given you folks a bit of the back story about the Walt Disney Company’s recent past. As well as a sense of the sorts of people that we need manning the Mouse Factory these days in order to bring it back to greatness. Tomorrow, I’ll lay out a possible road map for Mickey. A path that the Mouse could follow should the corporation actually wants to earn back the loyalty and trust of its once faithful customer base.

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 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.

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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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