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The Once and Future Kingdom — Part II: The Fellowship

Themed entertainment insider Vance Rest continues his exciting debut series at JHM. In today’s installment, Vance talks about what the Walt Disney Company should be doing to keep its Creative staff happy and productive.

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Hey, gang!

Based on the e-mails I got yesterday as well as the notes that popped up on JHM’s discussion boards, it’s clear that you guys really like hearing what Vance Rest has to say. So I’m not going to waste any more of his or your time by foisting yet another yammering introduction on you all.

I just want to remind you folks that Vance is a rather passionate guy and that — upon occasion — he uses words and/or makes jokes that aren’t entirely family friendly. That said, I still feel that this is an important piece of writing. Something that everyone who loves what the Walt Disney Company once stood for should make a point of reading.

Okay. That’s enough out of me for this morning. Let’s see what Mr. Rest have to say today, okay?

jrh


 

IT WOULD BE TUNNEL-VISION, EXCEPT THEY SOLD THEIR EYES ON EBAY

In Part I of this series, “The Meek Shall Inherit the Happiest Place on Earth,” the shroud of ‘business as usual’ that veiled the strip-mining Nihilists in charge of the Walt Disney Company was cast aside, and we examined the roots of their cowardice. We are now at the Second PASS/ FAIL point for Disney’s Resuscitate and Revitalize Team. Once the callous fools that are currently holding the corporate reins are gone, it is time for the Mouse House’s new management team to line up its Creative Troops. With a decade of unrelenting greed by the company’s higher-ups and treatment of Disney employees that was so shameful that it is painful to even consider, this is going to be a Battle Royale to win back the hearts and minds of the people, and Disney’s Creatives are going to need your support.

That’s right, executive-producing-business-end folks. Your new role will be in support.

More than a fundamental understanding of Disney’s role in the American cultural fabric, more than developing a keen eye for storytelling that will keep you from saying “no thanks” to “Ice Age,” “Lord of the Rings,” and “we’ll do fine without ‘Harry Potter’,” you executive-producing-business-end folks need to be in the business of making Glass Tubes…

THE ONCE AND FUTURE KINGDOM *WHAT WENT WRONG* and *The STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITIES to REBUILD the NAME and IDEA of DISNEY* A 3 PART code book to the American Imagination PART II: THE FELLOWSHIP

Awash in a sea of typical ABC dreck, several years ago, there existed a lone program of exceptional quality. Naturally, the executives (who couldn’t market the Second Coming) had no idea what to do with it, and canceled it to make way for little gems like “Are You Hot?” and “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.” But the lessons of the unfortunately named screwball comedy “Sports Night” must not be forgotten. With devilishly clever dialogue and expertly crafted characters, the show revolved around the personal and professional lives of the quirky but immensely talented cast and crew of a “Sports Center” -esque cable sports show. Much of the show within a show’s conflict sprang from the production team’s ON-GOING BATTLE TO DO THEIR JOBS UNDER THE THUMB OF THE NICKEL-NURSING MBAs’ CRIPPLING MICROMANAGEMENT. Yes, Disney is getting dangerously close to buckling under the weight of its own *irony*, but let’s stay focused, people, shall we? Grasping the (hauntingly ironic) importance of one episode in particular is essential to Disney’s rebirth, and sustaining that success once its achieved. It features a tour-de-force 11th hour monologue from William H. Macy’s character, a ratings consultant named Sam Donovan. He addresses a coven of network executives, who, though they have no experience in creative fields, have been providing “helpful” notes on producing the show.

SAM:

You guys know who Philo Farnsworth was? He invented television. I don’t mean he invented television like Uncle Milty. I mean he INVENTED the television in a little house in Provo, Utah at a time when the idea of transmitting moving pictures through the air would be like me saying I figured out a way to beam us aboard the Starship Enterprise. He was a visionary. He died broke and without fanfare.

The guy I really like, though, was his brother-in-law, Cliff Gardner. He said, “Philo, I know everyone thinks you’re crazy, but I want to be a part of this. I don’t have your head for science, so I’m not going to be able to help much with the design and the mechanics of the invention, but it sounds like you’re going to need glass tubes.” You see Philo was inventing the cathode receptor, and even though Cliff didn’t know what that meant or how it worked, he’d seen Philo’s drawing, and he knew he was going to need glass tubes…

Sam goes on to rhapsodize on Cliff’s sacrifices and steadfast dedication to play an invisible, supporting role in this monumental achievement that would afford him NO fortune or glory.

SAM:

…”I want to be a part of this,” Cliff said. I don’t have your head for science. How would it be if I were to teach myself to be a glass blower? And I could set up a little shop in the backyard. And I could make all the tubes you’ll need for testing.” There ought to be Congressional Medals for people like that.

(turning to the Network Executives) I’ve looked over the notes you’ve been giving over the last year or so, and I would have to say they exhibit an almost *total* lack of understanding of how to get the best from talented people. You’ve said before that for whatever reason I seem to be able to exert some authority around here. I assure you it’s not ’cause they like me. It’s ’cause they knew two minutes after I walked in the door I’m someone who knows how to do something. I can help. I can make glass tubes. That’s what they need.

In “The Sting,” Paul Newman says “Don’t treat your Friends like your Mark.” The Second PASS/ FAIL point for the Better Angels in Disney’s immediate future is whether or not they can assemble a support network of producing- executive-business-end types who can “make glass tubes.”

HOW IT’S DONE

Getting the best from creative people is a difficult skill to learn in the best of circumstances, but given the amount of damage control that is going to have to be done when the rebirth is launched, it’s going to be like teaching shell-shocked war veterans to be pyrotechnicians. Fortunately, we have a decade of laughably disastrous mismanagement to turn to for anti-precedent. Whole careers will be made trying to undo the damage of that braying joker Pressler.

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR CREATIVES: TREAT THEM RESPECTFULLY

This one should go without mention, but sadly, the state of the art is that the folks up top treat their Creatives in a manner unbefitting prisoners of war. HOW CAN YOU EXPECT MEN AND WOMEN DEATHLY AFRAID OF LOSING THEIR JOBS TO FUNCTION ARTISTICALLY?!? In fact, forget that they are even in creative positions for the moment, you CANNOT treat any employees in this fashion. As you continue to give yourselves multi-million dollar bonuses for screwing up the most intellectually significant company in the world, it is UNCONSCIONABLE that you would say to the Heart and Soul of your company that “You were overpaid.” These are real people with real husbands and wives and real children, and given the FREEDOM and JOB SECURITY to create, they will provide you with the most extraordinarily resonant stories ever told.

This is an adjunct to the above point, but (apparently) it must be said: You Must Treat the Outside Companies You Deal With In An EQUALLY Respectful Manner. NO MORE CHEAP NEGOTIATING and SCHEMING to SCREW YOUR CREATIVE PARTNERS. This is precisely what blew the Muppet deal in the early ’90s- when the lawyers and executives tried to take advantage of the death of Jim Henson to craft a cheaper deal. And this POSTURING GARBAGE is what’s screwing up the PIXAR deal for Disney (EDITOR’S NOTE- Vance sent this last week, BEFORE PIXAR walked away. Jeez, the Psychic Friends Network should have called this guy). Folks, this is not typical deal-making, not even in Hollywood. Last May, Disney Executives reportedly CONSPIRED to plant stories the week after “Finding Nemo” opened- billing it as ‘the Summer’s Big Disappointment’ in an effort to strike a cheaper deal with PIXAR. Fortunately the good taste of the public (with the largest opening weekend for an Animated Movie- Ever) forced them to scrub that plan at the last second. Remember that the next time you hear Michael and his underlings take credit for “Finding Nemo,” and how it gave Disney a deceptively profitable year for the Studio. The fact remains, the higher-ups at the Mouse House pull this kind of bush league trickery ALL THE TIME. It’s offensive to their Creative Partners, and the absolute worst way to get the best out of creative people. Not to mention it’s Amateur Hour crap that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, including the public’s. THE PUBLIC NEEDS TO SEE YOU TREAT YOUR CREATIVES RESPECTFULLY… You’ll see how this is the cornerstone to Disney’s future and how this pays off in Part III.

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR CREATIVES: TRUST AND CONFIDENCE

You are the executive-producing-business-types. Your role is to support the creative. You must TRUST THE CREATIVES ON THE CREATIVE. Did you work hard to get where you are? So did they. Only more so because there is only ONE place in the world that does what they do. They are the summital of their craft. Leave the artistic decisions to them. When you figure that out, your lives GET A LOT SIMPLER.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO SPEND MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN MARKETING AND SURE-FAIL QUICK-FIXES TO CONVINCE PEOPLE TO COME TO SOMETHING IF IT’S WHAT THEY WANTED TO DO IN THE FIRST PLACE. Stop telling people what they want. If people had wanted to go to a Six Flags with delusions of California Grandeur, they would have gone by now. How reliable was your marketing researching after all?

I very briefly touched on this in Part 1, but focus groups and surveys only tell you what that independent vendor wants you to hear to ensure more work for themselves. The way people answer surveys and in focus groups enters variables of posturing and what is socially acceptable. After an election, surveys show a significantly higher number of people who say they voted than actually did. Trust your artists, they won’t make fools out of you. Additionally, confidence in projects is essential to more than the artists. IT IS THE ROCK THE PUBLIC BUILT THEIR CHURCH ON. Again, you’ll see how this pays off in Part III, but (let me give you a little preview) not waiting to see if an animated or live action picture cracks $200 million before starting development of a ride would be a good thing. These things energize one another.

While we’re on the subject of box office, the receipts for the first 3 days (or in the case of the screwing of “Brother Bear” 2 days) are NO INDICATOR OF HOW WELL A STORY HAS RESONATED WITH THE PUBLIC. Quick, NAME the characters in “Armageddon” or “Independence Day” (and don’t say Bruce Willis and Bill Pullman). Remember, “The Wizard of Oz” tanked royally when it first hit theaters in 1939. It was only after WWII, with Annual Televised Valentine’s Days’ showings, that “Oz” found its way into the hearts of the people. If you can’t see parallels between this and current cash cow “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” you’re not trying hard enough.

To revitalize, to succeed, DISNEY MUST BE A BRAIN TRUST OF THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST CREATIVE MINDS IN THE WORLD TODAY- fostering new genius and partnering with established brilliance (Hey, executives. That was your cue to put down that product proposal for the “Lizzie McGuire” home pregnancy test and call J.K. Rowling and Peter Jackson NOW).

NO MORE CASTE SYSTEM OF IDEAS. there’s no such thing as “good enough for TV.” DON’T MOVE ON ANYTHING UNTIL IT BLOWS YOUR HAIR BACK AND MAKES YOUR EYELIDS FLAP LIKE WINDOWSHADES!

Do you producing-executive-business-types even watch the Bonus Features on the PIXAR DVDs? They’re only the highest selling movies of all time… <pause for awkward silence from executives>… Fine, let me explain… no there is too much, let me sum up- THE STORY IS EVERYTHING!

Your R and D and STORY Departments are your best friends. And they must have YOUR TRUST and THEIR FREEDOM to do their jobs. The Haunted Mansion was in development for over a decade. And now it is one of the most beloved attractions of all time. It has been a tent-pole of the park experience since the day it opened in 1969 and its merchandise potentials (only vaguely being realized now) are making more $ for the company than ever.

Speaking of which, CLASSIC IS CLASSIC BECAUSE IT NEVER GOES OUT OF STYLE- THE GOAL MUST BE TO MAKE EVERYTHING YOU MAKE CLASSIC (THE PARKS ARE THERE FOREVER. QUICK-FIXES ARE FICTION. PEOPLE WHO PROPOSE THEM ARE LIARS TRYING TO GET AHEAD AT THE EXPENSE OF THE LONG TERM. THEIR LOYALTY IS TO THEMSELVES. This is a great Loyalty Test.).

Now that’s only the tip of the ice berg, but this foundation should give you an idea of how to progress. But I would be remiss not to at least mention an epidemic that has slipped in under radar- one that absolutely cripples any attempt to get the best from your Creatives…

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR CREATIVES: THE CHEATER’S OPINION

Cynicism. This unspeakably detrimental outlook is poisonous and it courses through the heart of the Walt Disney Company, heralding its downfall. There is not enough time now to examine its roots, but there is time to warn of its existence to those that would rebuild.

No one ever asks you to back up a cynical argument, because it comes with BUILT-IN LEGITIMACY. A cynical perspective *implies* you have examined an idea and rejected it because you know better. And now you are able to reap the windfall brilliance mystique. It’s easier. It isn’t risky. The power-players responsible for the gutting and collapse of Disney only offer negative fodder, and they *SEEM LIKE* the Smart Ones. Hell, anybody can sit around and criticize and reject. In a post-post-modern, info-saturated world, it’s a remarkably easy, popular position to take, just for the sake of having a position.

QUO VADIMUS — WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE

Randy Bright was right. His “American Adventure” show at Epcot speaks the truth. It is in mankind’s darkest hours that Americans are at their best, when they pull together and shine most spectacularly. Today, everywhere you turn, hope has faded to a twinkle — invisible to the naked eye. Who is refueling the imagination of man? Who is sparking the excitement of a world of possibilities to children? Disney must be the WPA for the human Imagination- lifting man’s hopes up by their bootstraps and giving them a new star to follow. This is only possible with management that TRUSTS the Creatives.

Returning once more to that lost gem “Sports Night,” this time we look to wisdom of Robert Guillome’s character, managing editor Isaac Jaffee.

ISAAC:

If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.

You must let go of the obsessive need to follow trends, and marketing data and all that other b.s. Trust your Creatives. Support them and your lives become a lot simpler. As it has been said, THE BEST WAY TO PREDICT THE FUTURE IS TO CREATE IT.

There are Greater Minds poised to unleash Disney’s potential standing at the gate. They have learned from the abundant mistakes of the past. They have the will to fight. They have the drive to enact change. Their quest is clear. Rid the company of the Creative Cowards whose loyalty is to themselves.

Fill the executive positions with folks who have finely honed instincts for creativity. You wouldn’t have a Medical Review Board without Doctors, would you?

Allow the artists to do their jobs by showing that you TRUST THEM

Then all that’s left is the fun part… ELECTRIFYING NEW IDEAS. And knowing what we know about the Creatives of Disney, when they have the freedom to do what they do best, well… THEY’LL BLOW THE DOORS OFF THE PLACE!

We’ll explore the specifics of these plans in Part III.

ADDENDUM: If I may have a word with the UNenlightened executives in power now…

Attention all producing-executive-business-end types who are incapable or unwilling to TRUST the Creatives in the manner discussed in Parts I and II: If you’re ashamed of what the real Disney is, you have no place at the organization.

Heed my words like you’ve never listened to another piece of advice in your lives. TIME IS UP. The Ramifications you’ve been ducking for a decade are breaking down the front door. IT’S TIME YOU FOUND GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT ELSEWHERE, WHERE YOU CANNOT HARM ART, STORIES AND THE IMAGINATIONS OF THE YOUNG AND THE YOUNG AT HEART. It might be best to leave Disney now, decrying it as a madhouse run by the inmates, than to be forced out when the great purging is upon you and the STENCH of your transgressions hangs upon you for the rest of your professional lives.

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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