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The Once and Future Kingdom — Part III: The Return of the Kingdom

Themed entertainment insider Vance Rest wraps up his highly acclaimed JHM series. In today’s installment, Vance explains how the Walt Disney Company could best use its characters and film library in order to win back the hearts and minds of the public.




Attention Feckless executives of today and Disney Resuscitate and Revitalize Team standing on the horizon: It’s this simple. Do not follow trends. Get the best people. Get the best out of them by trusting them. See Parts I and II for itemized lists of executive idiocy.

When you follow trends (which by the way, in the whole of human history- has never worked), you are telling the public (who, by the way, is NOT beneath you) that you do not trust the judgement of your Creatives. Treat them with the utmost respect.

If you don’t care about them and their work, then why should the public? This is the key that opens all the doors.

*THE SECRET TO DISNEY MAGIC*, the dying inner light that keeps people the world over returning to Disney films, parks and products when they have been shamelessly exploited by corporate stripminers for the last decade, is the image of the Sorcerer’s Workshop. Though evident since the company’s inception, this concept crystallized with the public with the arrival of the Sunday Night “Disneyland” TV Show. You are nothing if you do not have vibrant, quality, fearless shows, movies and parks. *BUT* more importantly you are NOT Disney if these shows, movies and parks are not created in a magical place.

The Disney Animators are mythic heroes. Eccentric artisans creating the world’s most strikingly resonant characters at a visionaries colony that we catch a few privilieged glimpses of on TV specials. And the euphoric dream of becoming one keeps scores of children up many a wonderous night.

And the Imagineers? The very word conjures up images of mad geniuses forging marvelous universes out of their boundless imaginations in a toy factory we are certain looks like Willy Wonka’s factory crossed with the Dream Port from the classic “Journey into Imagination.”

ASK YOURSELF WHY DISNEY INTERNET RUMOR, NEWS AND DISCUSSION CULTURE ERUPTED IN THE LAST 6 YEARS? People want to know that Disney is still creating. “Is there hope for the next project or will it be a disappointment like the ones that came before it?” Enter the retro/vintage sites like and “widen your world”. Places that cry out “Hey, remember good Disney?”

And with that, all the tumblers fall into place and the vault unlocks. This is the primer. With this you can begin to rebuild the name and idea of Disney.



A 3 PART code book to the American Imagination



For 10 years now, Disney has put a “Have Nice Day” face on their repellant greed. Given the state of the world where we have leaders who don’t seem capable of leading, people feel vulnerable… alone. And historically, these are the times when the Storytellers of the world earn their keep. HONESTY IS REASSURING.

So — if Disney executives were actually looking to forge an honest relationship with the public — that would mean that they’d no longer be allowed to stick fingers in their ears and shout things like “WE NEVER MADE A FILM CALLED ‘TREASURE PLANET’ (we made a write-off called that, though). EVERYONE LOVES DCA! IF YOU DON’T, YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND IT! AND THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY HAS ALWAYS BEEN AT WAR WITH EURASIA!” It doesn’t play, people. You just look like condescending liars who think the public is simple. And it’s the kind of Amateur Hour trash that people who’d declare “Treasure Planet” a failure an hour *before* it came out would do.

Total Honesty, anathema in business today, must be your native tongue. Be out there. Put a very personal face on everything. Let FDR’s FIRESIDE CHATS be your guide. ‘Well, that didn’t work. Let’s try this…’

MEA CULPA is the first order of buisness. We know it wasn’t the fault of those who are rebuilding, but you are the CUSTODIANS of DISNEY MAGIC now and it is a necessity for beginning with a Tabula Rasa.

DCA, Disney Studios Paris, the shameful treatment of the artists at Feature and Imagineering, a decade of stripmining and avarice instead of innovation, every piece of crap on ABC, spending a billion dollars on the rights to the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” while firing already underpaid artists left and right… You’re sorry not because you did it. You’re sorry that it happened under the banner of Walt’s company.

Provide further shock and awe for the public by pulling the curtain back on what things done in the last 10 years *really* are. Wash the transgressions of the past regime away by DE-RATIONALIZING ALL THAT WAS RATIONALIZED, SPUN and CLOAKED IN LIES.

A good example of just such a flagrant rationalization that needs de-mystified would be, “See, Animal Kingdom’s Dino-Rama is only *themed* to those seedy, road side rip-off stands that Walt crusaded against. It’s not *actually* tawdry crap transparently masquerading as a cornerstone of your incredibly expensive immersive storytelling dream vacation.”

Tell people what these things really are, why good artists (and architects with delusions of grandeur) were forced to build them, and you’ll begin to make headway with the hearts of the people. Remember, people know when you’re doing quality things for them. Folks have a sixth sense about “special.”

Follow this with announcements for crazy exciting NEW PROJECTS and SPRAWLING RE-IMAGININGs of the many many existing entertainments not worthy of the name Disney. *We’ll get to the specifics of these plans a little later.* Talk a lot about the FUTURE in a hopeful, energizing way … then blow people’s minds by actually delivering on it.

But these things take time, so follow that with announcements for what you’re going to do in the meantime. NOTE: these are not Quick-Fixes, which we know are fiction. The purpose of these is to REMIND PEOPLE OF WHAT THEY ONCE LOVED ABOUT DISNEY.


Want to really win back the hearts and minds of the public? Well, you can start by launching a 6 month FILM FESTIVAL. Every week (when the release of a new Walt Disney Pictures film isn’t already schedued), another Disney Classic debuts in your neighborhood theater. Strike a deal with theater chains so that Tickets to this Disney film festival are sold at a reduced rate, with EVERY SINGLE PENNY going to CHILDREN’S CHARITIES (Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Children of 9/11 Victims, Give Kids the World, Make A Wish, etc).

Then empty the vaults. Show beloved classic Animated Features and the ones that didn’t get the chance they deserved in their initial run, as well as a smattering of the best live action films (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Mary Poppins,” “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” “Pete’s Dragon,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “The Rocketeer,” “Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” etc) over the duration of the Festival.

Make this Film Festival much more than just some Mouse-based movie marathon. It must be a CELEBRATION of DISNEY MAGIC (in much the same way that the “Star Wars” Special Edition Releases were in 1997). Donate prizes to help theaters hold costume contests tailored to each week’s film. Plan Games, show Vintage Trailers before the film. Those advertisement slide presentations that are shown before every movie? Instead, have the theaters hold Disney Trivia contests and/or have them play Making-Of anecdotes that are geared to that week’s release.

Advertise this Festival through the corporation’s already extensive network of media outlets — I.E. ABC, Disney Channel, Toon Disney,, and always make a point of teasing the next week’s release prior to screening that week’s film.

A six month long program like that — particularly one that would play up the fact that the Walt Disney Company isn’t making dime one off of this film series. That all the monies raised are going straight to charity — would go an awfully long way toward turning around the public’s perception of the Mouse.


It is oddly perfect that the ludicrously thick higher-ups recently moved the “Disney Sunday Night Movie” to Saturday night, since moving this program back to its traditional Sunday night spot will allow you to RELAUNCH THE CLASSIC WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY franchise. Only in a bigger, grander way than Disney’s current management team has ever dreamed of doing.

Picture an all new weekly 2 ½ hour block of Disney programming that’s modeled after Cartoon Network’s inspired “Adult Swim” line-up, but one with greater variety and approachability. This new Sunday show would be comprised of…

a MOVIE ( a Disney favorite old or new OR a worthy classic from another studio [“Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Harry Potter,” etc.]) OR (once a month) TWO ORIGINAL ONE-HOUR SERIALS (each consisting of 6 Chapters [beginning with, say, the “Discovery Bay Chronicles]) Peppered with INTERSTITIAL SHORTS, perhaps 1 Classic Cartoon, played each week along with one of the following… 1 New Cartoon featuring the Fab 5.

And this new Fab 5 Cartoon … It should not be one of those awkward “Mouse Works” cartoons produced by an assembly line of child labor in the Grand Duchy of St. Sally Struthers. These new toons should display the kind of all-out production values that made Disney what it once stood for. Again, people can tell what’s special, that something of quality was created for them.

These new Fab 5 Cartoons should be produced by small TEAMS of ANIMATORS and STORY FOLK. Studio personnel who would stay with these rolling projects, allowing them to hone their skills in much the same way that animation greats like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Bob McKimson did in their time.

More importantly, these new Fab 5 cartoons need to be… FUNNY. Not that sort of mind-numbing, bland, SHRUG humor that washes shows like “House of Mouse” and its analogs in white-hot TEPIDITY. Mind you, that doesn’t mean going adult or toilet with the humor, as many have so often thought while trying to do this. Disney’s cartoon characters should be purveyors of the elegantly silly. Think “Princess Bride,” “The Fairly Oddparents,” “The Emperor’s New Groove,” “The Muppet Movie” or the startlingly hilarious “Dave the Barbarian.”

Another short subject-related project that I’d like to see Disney’s animators tackle (as part of this new Sunday Night “Wonderful World of Disney” program) would be:

1 New Cartoon featuring Characters from the COLOSSAL Disney family. These will add much needed TEXTURE, and much, much needed DIVERSITY to the Disney tapestry.

Way too often, the *only* Disney that people see is Mickey (who is now relegated to appearing on GAP T-shirts and Wal-Mart jewlery), and the characters from “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” (especially the Princesses).

Focusing all your attention (read: merchandising) on just a few characters not only squanders your vast resources but also ruins what was special about those over-exposed few. The quick buck comes at the detriment of IRREPARABLY WEAKENING your greatest resources.

Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have shorts featuring characters from “The Little Mermaid” and guys like Timon and Pumbaa as part of the relaunched Sunday Night “Wonderful World of Disney” program. But they must be part of a mix of cartoons featuring other characters on adventures like:

“Brother Bear”‘s Rutt and Tuke wind up in a Nature Documentary and think they’re being followed by Spies in “From Rutt With Love” or “Die Another Eh?” A short that features the characters from “The Emperor’s New Groove.” Perhaps while helping to balance the kingdom’s accounting ledgers, Pacha accidently gives Emperor Kuzco the idea to launch a sure-fire-flop musical: “Springtime for Yzma” (choreographed by Kronk). Or how about a piece that mixes stop motion with traditional animation. Where “Nightmare Before Christmas”‘s Jack Skellington tumbles into the World of Valentine’s Day, and then decides that he wants play Cupid. Which wreaks havoc on the Disney Classics as Jack’s meddling causes all the wrong folks to fall in love (EX: John Smith and Grandmother Willow). And I can’t have been the only one who’s wanted to see a cartoon VH1 Behind the Music retrospective of Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom in the spirit of This is Spinal Tap.

Humphrey the Bear and Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore, Carl Barks’ “Duck Tales” crew, Hades, Pain and Panic from “Hercules” … there are scores of Disney characters whose potential isn’t even close to being realized.

As to the host of this new Sunday Night “Wonderful World of Disney” … No more CEOs who can’t make eye contact, who seem uncomfortable before the camera (or in their own skin, for that matter) please. This time around, let’s have this weekly Disney Party hosted by Mickey and the gang.

Only — from here on — Mickey and Co. should have *actual* personalities. For far too long, these core characters have had their lives dictated by gutless executives and greedy merchandise-peddlers. Which is why the Mouse is now so harmless and homogenized that his personality has all the charm of dry white bread after it’s been dipped in water.

That’s not Mickey Mouse. Mickey’s the energetic little guy who has to keep the whole show moving. Think of him being more along the lines of Rob Petrie from the old “Dick Van Dyke” show. The good-hearted but fallible leader of a colorful group of characters. Only — instead of matching wits with Buddy Surrell, Sally Rogers, Mel Cooley, Alan Brady, Laura Petry and little Richie — Mickey’s the good natured slob who’s trying to keep all 2 ½ hours of the “Wonderful World of Disney” programming block running smoothly … Often in spite of Goofy, Daisy, Pluto, Donald and Minnie.

“So you’re saying that the new ‘Wonderful World of Disney’ show should be just like ‘House of Mouse?’ ” NO! Don’t get me wrong, the Host Segments of that animated series are clever, but Mickey and the gang are still bland. It’s the use of Disney film characters — some characters we haven’t seen for DECADES — that make that show.

Mickey and Minne should be Nick and Nora Charles (with less alcoholism, of course). Mickey needs to be Cary Grant from “Bringing Up Baby,” clever and resourceful but at wit’s end and too focused to see the hilarious big-picture. Minnie should be Rosalind Russel, Mickey’s fast-talking “His Girl Friday.” Daisy should be Judy Holiday from “Born Yesterday,” earnest and sweetly naiive. So on and so forth (of course I think Pooh should be Sidney Greenstreet from The Maltese Falcon, but I digress…).

And a quick, but PIVOTAL point about the CG Mickey currently being floated by the fools in charge. Beyond the fundamental idiocy of trying to take the *LINE SINEW* of a hand-drawn character and translate that to the *SURFACES* of CGI, it says to people that Mickey was dated, archaic and in need of “updating.” No, Mickey just needs something to do. This TREND-FOLLOWING CG b.s. just will make Mickey a DAIRY PRODUCT. I.E. Limit this classic character’s shelf life.

An important thing to stress here: The Classic Disney Characters are not “brand opportunities” to be “leveraged.” The public has loved these characters for decades. So the people who run the Walt Disney Company should have equal affection for Mickey and Co. and do everything they can to keep these characters vital and in the mainstream. And — NO !? — you don’t do that by slapping Mickey’s likeness on t-shirts that you sell at the Gap. But — rather — by placing him carefully in stories that suit him. That are genuinely entertaining. That make people think — just as they did back in the early 1930s — “That Mickey Mouse. He’s one funny guy.”

You see what I’m saying here? Change Mickey back from being a corporate symbol to a symbol of fun.

Speaking of Mickey … Leave it to the clueless drones who currently run the Mouse House to view the technology behind “My Pal Mickey” and think: “This would be a great device to use to tell knock-knock jokes as well as reveal when the 3 o’*** parade is running.”

Me? I look at the “My Pal Mickey” technology and think … Why not create a toy that would put the animatronic capabilities of Teddy Ruxpin to shame (an easy-as-hell thing to do today)? This new innovention could play games along with your child as they visit the Web Site, interact with trivia, stories and games during the relaunched Sunday Night “Wonderful World of Disney” show, offer “MST3K” type commentary about new Disney films as they play in your DVDs player.

More importantly, if you’re planning to return to the theme parks, your “My Pal Mickey” could begin the immersive Storytelling long before you begin your next WDW vacation. And I’m not talking about this talking plush helping you get dining reservations (Though it could probably do that through the Web Site). I’m talking about the Disneyland/Disney World equivalent of a hologram of Princess Leia appearing and saying “Help me Billy and Mandy Fitzgibbons, you’re my only hope.”

This is where I see Disney Interactive playing a huge role in the future of all things Disney: By helping guests get that first taste of Disney magic long before they set foot back on Disney property. Imagine — if you will — what it would be like if — just after you booked your next vacation at a Disney Resort — the STORIES you will experience on that trip BEGAN ACTIVELY SEEKING YOU OUT.

EX: A mysterious letter (postmarked from 1887) arrives at your home, bearing the wax seal of eccentric inventor Jason Chandler- who invites you and your family to come visit him at the Dreamers Colony of Discovery Bay.

Remember in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” when Dr. Henry Jones Sr. sent Indy the Grail Diary to get it as far away from himself as possible? Other pre-trip *Interactivities* could include receiving a package from Captain Nemo that asks you to keep an ancient (very “Secret Garden” -looking) KEY as far away from Vulcania as possible. As your trip draws nearer, the key begins to glow from within, brighter and BRIGHTER as the clock ticks away.

And when you arrive at your Disney Hotel Room. The Key is waiting for you. What secret does this Key unlock? That is the realm of the reborn Imagineering.

Speaking of Indiana Jones …When Michael and Frank arrived in 1984, their first instincts were right on the money. Since Disney seemed to have lost the way to tell truly compelling Stories, it was then important that the Mouse Works quickly partner with the most unbelievably REVOLUTIONARY CREATIVE MINDS walking the earth. So that Eisner and Wells could quickly jumpstart the Mouse Factory.

Well, 2004 (to me, anyway) seems to be 1984. The current management of the Walt Disney Company has allowed so many of the very best Storytellers to slip through its fingers. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Jim Henson and company, and now add John Lassetter and the wonder boys (& gals) of PIXAR to the list. Rebuilding Disney today will require even bolder foresight with regard to Creative Partnerships. SO SEEK THEM OUT NOW.

“Who should Disney be seeking out now?” You ask. This generation’s Lucases, Spielbergs and Hensons. For example — There is a film, debuting this summer, that is generating so much buzz, that it borders on a PHENOMENON before it even hits theaters. Its teaser trailer draws more gasps and applause than the blockbuster films it precedes, and its internet campaign is the new standard by which all other entertainment marketing will be judged. The mesmerizing title of this break-through storytelling event: “SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW.”

Kerry Conran, the first-time writer/ director (who also wrote the program that makes this miraculous film possible) just graduated from CAL Arts. The concept for this film, its landmark technology, and the reel that sent every Hollywood power-player diving for the phone were his Final Project at CAL Arts. The Disney of days-gone-by wouldn’t have let Kerry graduate without signing him to a longterm contract.

Yes, it’s a real shame that Disney wasn’t on the ball enough to recognize this collosal talent while he was at CAL Arts. But all’s not lost yet. Conran’s electrifying vision is just the sort of thing that the Imagineers could harness and turn into extraordinary theme park entertainment. Imagine (provided — of course — that Mickey’s lawyers can acquire the rights) Disneyland’s Tomorrowland re-Imagined as the WORLD of TOMORROW. Which would save the Jules Verne-ian texture and palette for Discovery Bay (Which would not only make a great new land, but could also serve as the basis for an INCREDIBLE theme park. Think about it. Who’d miss DCA?).

The colossal flying fortress from SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW is a tailor-made jumping off-point for adventures that would boggle the mind (and it would also look pretty stunning docked in Tomorrowland). And the titanic rampaging ROBOTS (a few of which we are given a glimpse of in the teaser) would be perfect for a nighttime spectacular in the skies above Tomorrowland. And given the Autonomous figure technology (Lucky the Dino), the GPS vehicle technology (Tokyo’s Hunny Hunt), and the untapped possibilities of the KUKA robotic arm- there’s no reason why the giant ROBOTS couldn’t pick World of Tomorrow L-Train vehicles up off the People Mover Track and use them to deflect the fire of the Heroic Sky Captain and his Flying Legion.

And the hypnotic realm of this Hugh Feriss-esque Metropolis would not begin to scratch the surface of the possibilities of this world. That piece of land currently used for Autopia (which could easily be moved when re-themed for John Lassetter’s CARS), and the Submarine Lagoon (which would underutilize the FINDING NEMO characters) would make a nice spot for the EPIC adventures of MONSTER ISLAND (also from Sky Captain…). Not to mention that it would finally create a transition between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.

All these possibilities and scores of others open up, if you find the right Creative Partners.

In short, the Walt Disney Company’s future looks bright. But the right people will not have the chance to act if the deceitful clowns at the helm are not dethroned post haste. Remember, in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, when Denethor succumbed to madness and, shrieking in cowardice, he abandoned his people to burn himself alive with his son Faramir at his feet? Michael’s not compiling a market report on the prices of lighter fluid anymore, he’s asking people for a light.

Folks, the Disney Artists, Imagineers, Animators and the Creatives of the World at large NEED YOU. The Disney cannon is filled with tales of little guys moving whole mountains when they stand up for what’s right. Your STORYTELLERS ARE DYING! Honor them by fighting for them.

Prove yourself worthy of the gifts the Disney Creatives have given you and generations of children the world over.

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.

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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