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Trash Talk OR Why Can’t Disney Keep Its Kingdom Clean?

JHM readers fire back about the state of Disney … and boy, they’ve got a lot to say …

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Boy, talk about striking a nerve.

When I threw together that “Message in a Bottle” piece to put up on the site this past Monday, I had NO idea that this article would provoke such a passionate response from JHM readers. E-mails poured in from all over, folks. From concerned Disney theme park guests to frustrated cast members to … Well, here. See for yourself.

First, Antin B. of Seaford, NY wrote in to say:

Jim:

I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your honest and candid observations of the Disney experience.

My wife and myself visit WDW at least four times a year and have especially noticed such “bottles” much more frequently in the past year or so. Garbage notwithstanding, the condition of the park restrooms is even more appalling. Our last few visits have found us avoiding some filthy, fowl smelling and generally disgusting restrooms! Clearly cost-cutting is evident hear too!

Maybe we all have to become more politically involved before things get beyond the point of no return. Hopefully this pressure on Disney can bring about a positive change. Disney can even market this new initiative with a limited edition “Clean Restrooms are Back” pin.

Seriously, all your efforts to return Disney to its former glory have my support. I look forward to enjoying your column for many more years. Keep the honesty and truth coming!

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely

Antin B.

Then, Kenny H. — a former Magic Kingdom cast member — – chimed in to offer one explanation as to why his old theme park was looking so shabby these days:

Hello Jim.

As I read your letter regarding the upkeep issues at Splash Mountain, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of heartbreak. I myself am a former Tomorrowland cast member. For some individuals, including myself, working for Disney is still something to take pride in.

However.

Something I noticed in my time at WDW was how each of the lands was run almost as its own individual park. I’m proud to say that Tomorrowland’s maintenance (at least the visible stuff) was done with a great level of detail. Cast members scoured the attractions and area collecting garbage and lost and found. I can’t count the number of times I was there for an hour tagging items dropped by unwary guests…everything from hairpieces to $700 video cameras.

It appeared to me that some areas of the park, like Frontierland and Fantasyland, just weren’t paid as much care. This may be just chalked up to perception, since the metal and concrete structures in T-L were so stark in contrast to the other realms of Magic Kingdom, but I doubt it. But lately even Tomorrowland is starting to degrade a bit.

And I’ve noticed a HUGE staffing difference. When I worked there, we’d have nights where we’d be OVERSTAFFED, and CMs would have to go out on “buckets”…basically free times where we could go out and mingle with guests, entertain families, and create some “Magical Moments”. From what I’ve seen and heard, that isn’t the case anymore.

Why the difference? Well, one reason is the College Program, which once supplied a LARGE percentage of the workforce at the parks. The CP was dramatically cut this past year, and park operation and maintenance has suffered because of it. Many of these cuts are corporately-mandated, so Al Weiss and the area managers have to wait nervously for Casting to supply them with full and part-timers to fill spots that normally would be covered by the CP’s inexpensive, yet enthusiastic, labor.

What concerns me most, however, is the maintenance department. While experts in many trades and fast, efficient workers, there simply isn’t enough manpower or monetary resources to fix all the problems in the area, like Alien Encounter/Stitch Escape’s flooding issues in the preshow area, and the poor sidewalk drainage between AE, Timekeeper, and the Lunching Pad. Heck, in 2002, Carousel of Progress quietly shuttered because of an air conditioning problem that couldn’t be fixed.

But what can your readers do to help?

Well, for one…GET A JOB AT DISNEY!!! Okay, weird solution, I know…and no, I’m not some mole from Disney Casting But I’m betting one of the reasons no one is being hired is that no one is applying, thanks to a now well-deserved reputation the company has sadly obtained. If you’re a local in Florida, think about working at a Disney park, just one or two days a week. I learned something…the people you meet backstage…the people you eat with in the commissary, ride the bus to your work location with, watch TV with in the Break Room…they feel exactly the same about the company and the parks as you do, more than likely. Some even more so…they’ve dedicated YEARS of their lives to serving this company and trying to keep it at the peak of quality. I love Disney stuff, it’s what I grew up with. Working at those parks and seeing what was going on inside that company only made me want to do my job better.

One person doing their job to the best of their ability…well, let’s face it, won’t make a difference. But FIFTY THOUSAND CAST MEMBERS…well, that would be awesome.

As I leave, I would like to take this opportunity to thank some very special people who made my time at Disney one of the best times of my life…the Tomorrowland Attraction managers. So, to Art, Kelvin, Debbie, Jill, Todd, Jennifer, Hilary, Mike, Steve, Jeff, and anyone I’ve forgotten…YOU GUYS ROCK!!!

Kenny H.
Tomorrowland Attractions CPCM
Alien Encounter, Astro Orbiter, Space Mountain
May — December 2002

Next, BertCP sent in a rather lengthy letter, where he provided precise details on how poorly WDW’s “Splash Mountain” attraction is being maintained these days as well as offering up some insight about why Disney World’s cast members just don’t seem to care anymore.

Dear Jim,

First, let me say that I always enjoy reading your web site. As a cast member, it often helps to expand my knowledge of the Disney company, or have some questions answered that I can’t always ask at work. When I saw your article about the lack of up-keep on Splash Mountain, it was like déjà vu all over again.

I am a seasonal cast member at the WDW Resort because I am still in college, but I go back to work in the Entertainment department as a Disney Character on my school breaks because I love working there, a love that was fostered through my experiences on the Walt Disney World College Program. On one of the days that I was working, I was talking to my fellow entertainment cast members. We got on the topic of “Things that we would do different if we were in charge.” I brought up the topic of upkeep, and the floodgates opened.

My friend had been on Splash Mountain in the beginning of January and was just appalled at the lack of upkeep on the ride. He literally rode it 5 times to count the number of broken show elements and see what things needed to be fixed. According to his estimates, approximately 2/3 of the animatronics or show elements were not functioning, and as this is his favorite ride, he knows it inside-out.

Things like the beginning audio track not working, the shadow video where Brer Rabbit is being chased by Br’er Fox and the girl bunny (I forget her name) says “There goes Brer Rabbit again…yada yada” was not playing, the jumping fish was not working — WHICH by the way, is one of the neatest little things. As a tangent, I was talking to one of the CM’s who operate the ride and they said that they get at least 10 people a day asking them if that is a live fish. People like these small things. Also the laughing place section of the ride was almost all down, the alligator which is snapping at Brer Bear at the end was not working, the FSU gopher was not working, and the room with the Showboat was appalling — the wheel was not working, and there were cobwebs and cracks all over the place. I was skeptical of what he said, but sure enough, when I rode it, I too saw the lack of upkeep.

Now I am NOT a Disney basher. I LOVE that place with all my heart. Don’t think that the only thing I have to say about the company is bad stuff. I could write an encyclopedia on how much fun I have had working at Disney, and all of the magical moments that I have had interacting with guests. When I graduate this semester, I am planning on going back down to WDW to become a manager so I can try and make a difference in the company and help rekindle the magic in my own small way, so that maybe someday I will be in a position to do something (a long-term and lofty goal).

But at the same time, I am almost scared to do so because of the current state of things. Yes, Disney will never go away because of its ubiquity, but what happens in the mean time, well, I can only hope for the best.

But hopefully this story will have a happier ending. While I was in the parks during my days off, I noticed that Corporate was surveying the area around Splash Mountain. How do I know it was corporate? The two of them had the blue manager tags with the gold slash through it (which is the designation for corporate). So maybe they were experiencing for themselves the state of things, and hopefully there will be some action taken on that soon.

As a separate note, I wanted to just let you know about the cast members’ views on Michael Eisner’s visit to the WDW resort. It was January ***, and I had picked up an overtime shift at MK’s **** department. I asked my friends what they thought of the whole Roy vs. Michael ordeal, and (again) a whole can of worms was opened.

No one had anything positive to say about Eisner. In fact, they were laughing at Michael’s recent visit because everyone knew that it was a big internal publicity stunt. We saw through the marketing and PR that was trying to show that our top dog had our backs.

When you watched the video of Michael saying he was having a great time, it seemed so forced. He was not sincere about it at all — not to mention the fact that he looked very tired and worn out from things. Hearing him say that he appreciated our work was almost a slap in the face, considering that this was the man who had previously said that he could hire monkeys to put in the character suits and have them do the job for cheaper but look just as good.

It is a commendable effort if Eisner is going out there and doing the rounds because Michael finally has realized what he needs to do…but I think that’s not the case. Rather, I think someone in PR said “Hey, you need to do this” and he is doing this to try and save face. The funny thing is? I don’t feel he is saving face and that his efforts are not genuine. It’s not improving cast member morale.

Speaking of morale, I think that is directly related to why the upkeep is lacking. The CM’s don’t feel the need to go the extra mile. Why? Because people (specifically management) don’t notice. The company is so concerned with doing things by the rules and is very keen on handing out reprimands for small infractions, that they often don’t seem to appreciate the good that CM’s do.

YES, there is still plenty of recognition, and we still do try and honor those around us (Partners in Excellence is one of the best internal recognition for a company that I have seen), but I think a small example is that in Entertainment and ODF, they used to have these things called 5-star’s. Cast members could recognize each other when they did something that was above and beyond the call. About a year ago, they got rid of them. Every once in a while, it really does feel good to get a “paper pat on the back”, especially if you don’t get them often.

Another thing that just disheartened me was a phrase that I had never heard before, but had started popping up recently. Before we were going on set, I mentioned that something didn’t look right with (Unnamed character). The response? “We’re paid to wear, not to care”.

I had never heard that before, but that wasn’t the only time I heard it while I was visiting over the holiday break. It’s just another sign that things aren’t they way they used to be, or should be for that matter.

Oh well. I can only hope that Roy’s efforts are fruitful and that positive changes will be brought about soon.

I want to thank you for your time Jim — I know that you are a busy man. I hope you don’t think that I am a bitter CM who is jaded from working there. I love working at Disney, and I hope that through the combined efforts of all the people who cherish what Disney is and should be, that we can help to bring about positive changes for the company — both Cast Members and Disneyana fans.

I am reminded of the phrase “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” and I hope that this certainly holds
true for things here at Disney.

Sincerely,

BertCP

“We’re paid to wear, not to care” ?! Is that not the most depressing thing you’ve ever heard come out of a Disney cast member’s mouth.

Well, I thought so … Until I got this e-mail from Big Mike. Who suggests that the real source of all the misery and mess at Walt Disney World is that resort’s new cast deployment system:

Dear Jim,

I had to laugh when I read your article about the Splash Mountain trash. I know the precise reason why this problem seems to happen more frequently than ever. Why? I used to work in Frontierland at pretty much all of the attractions and I recently got terminated for improper use of cast deployment…let me explain why this little machine destroys cast morale and ultimately causes the now infamous “lack of cleanliness and care” at WDW.

Every day of every week of every year cast members wake up each day dreading the fact they will have to sign in to a computer which will ultimately decide what there day is going to be like. When you get to work at the Magic Kingdom, you park in a satellite parking lot…wait for a bus that now takes forever since they have less buses running than ever…wait for costuming which has less people than ever…and then you run to your attraction to sign in so the computer doesn’t think you’re late.

If you are, your manager has to stop whatever they are doing and get you back in the computer system which boots you out if you are late…and that is a good case scenario if you are not docked for being late despite the fact there are a lot of variables (I.E. the buses, costuming, etc.) that you cannot control. This happens every day.

Now we get to sign into the computer…hooray. The computer runs a system called cast deployment. Basically, it takes the union contract and from that contract inputs the bare minimum amount of breaks a cast member is entitled to as specified in the contract. The lovely part is that you don’t always receive all of your breaks or management will “tweak” the computer to fit the labor supply for that day. EX: the cast member receives their last break right before the end of their shift…I had many a days where I was off at 5 and received my last break at 4:30….makes a lot of sense considering I walk before the end of my break at 4:40 since we have a 20 minute walk time at MK.

During the course of the day, the computer decides where you go. How does this decide whether or not the care and cleanliness of the parks? In the past, cast members went through all of the positions at an attraction based on a rotational system where the people on break would come back, send a bump through the rotation, and the cast members would be bumped to the next position in rotation. Cast members also had the freedom to freeze in place at a position they preferred as long as everyone in rotation was ok with it.

Also, the old system helped in terms of cleanliness and care because people had the freedom to drop unnecessary positions(non-safety positions) to help guests with special situations or to clean up an unsightly mess that had occurred suddenly and couldn’t wait for custodial to show up. Also, because of the freedom, and because we typically got plenty of breaks, cast members felt they were being treated fairly and most always did their jobs with an honest effort and sincerity that has always been a hallmark of Disney cast members.

With cast deployment, it is completely different. No one gives a damn now because they feel they are being treated unfairly. This is an important point because we all know that cast members get paid very poorly so there needs to be other reasons for the cast to have some kind of personal fulfillment at work, I.E. make each day for our guests the best day of their lives if at all possible.

I used to know the people who work at Splash…Big Al and Wayne McSwain, good ol Shelly—miss ya girl—and the old days with Cory and Elton. These were good people who took their jobs seriously and always took care of “Splash” and complained when things weren’t right and needed “fixing”. Ever since deployment, the crew that works at this WDW attraction has begun slowly but surely to adopt an “I don’t give a damn attitude” which led to more lackadaisical work habits.

When a guest had a problem in the past, we always took care of it because no one worried about screwing up rotation or screwing up the computer. Nowadays, we pass the buck to someone else because we don’t want to leave rotation in case we get our break soon, because deployment is frugal when it comes to handing out breaks. If there is a mess, we don’t usually do anything about it because of our anti deployment attitudes. The hell with it…We are not getting a fair shake. So why should we return one in kind?

This is the kind of culture that is developing. No one likes being controlled by a computer. People like knowing they have some control over their jobs, especially when they are supposed to be incredibly helpful and smiling each and every day as they help people rid their memories of 9/11 and bills and everyday problems and help fill their hearts with childhood memories and facilitate their escape into days gone by and days that will never be.

Now it isn’t about that, Jim. For the cast member, it is all about “When am I getting my break?” and “Why haven’t I had my lunch?” These were never concerns of our old computer-free rotational system, but they are now.

Whether management wants to admit it or not, cast deployment, by far and away is the #1 reason why no one cares anymore. Every time we complained, the labor people always said that deployment has saved so much money and that this will help improve the guest experience in the future. I say that that’s Bull sh*t.

Sincerely yours,
Big Mike

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. I got dozens of e-mails like this over the last 36 hours. From dispirited Disney World cast members to disappointed vacationers. Who all basically said the same thing: “The magic has gone out of the Walt Disney Company. It’s all about money these days.” And — most importantly — “Can’t something be done to turn this awful situation around.”

Funny you should ask. Come by JimHillMedia.com on Monday, February 2nd … when an entertainment industry insider will offer up his ideas about how Disney can start putting some magic back into its Magic Kingdom.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

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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.

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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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