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Walt Disney remembers his studio’s “Growing Pains”

Following up on yesterday’s JHM article, Wade Sampson shares an old magazine article where the “Old Mousetro” recalls all the extra effort involved with turning Disney Studios from an outfit that made animated shorts to a company that made full-length animated features.

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The following is an excerpt from an article entitled “Growing Pains.” In which Walt Disney (circa December of 1940) recalls what it took to make his tiny little studio into the Hollywood powerhouse that WDS was just prior to the start of WWII:

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My business has been a thrilling adventure, an unending voyage of discovery and exploration in the realms of color, sound, and motion.

And it has been a lot of fun and a lot of headache. The suspense has been continuous and sometimes awful. In fact, life might seem rather dull without our annual crisis. But after all, it is stress and challenge and necessity that make an artist grow and outdo himself. My men have had plenty of all three to keep them on their toes. But how very fortunate we are, as artists, to have a medium whose potential limits are still far off in the future; a medium of entertainment where, theoretically at least, the only limit is the imagination of the artist. As for the past, the only important conclusions that I can draw from it are that the public will pay for quality, and the unseen future will take care of itself if one just keeps growing up a little every day.

The span of twelve years between ‘Steamboat Willie’, the first Mickey with sound, and ‘Fantasia’, is the bridge between primitive and modern animated pictures. No genius built this bridge. It was built by hard work and enthusiasm, integrity of purpose, a devotion to our medium, confidence in its future, and, above all, by a steady day-by-day growth in which we all simply studied our trade and learned.

I came to Hollywood broke in 1923, and my brother Roy staked me to a couple of hundred. We lived in one room and Roy did the cooking. He was my business manager, and I didn’t have any business. His job was to scare up three meals a day, and his job now is to conjure up three million dollars to meet the annual payroll. Both jobs have demanded just about the same amount of sweat, ingenuity, and magic. The main difference is that Roy sweats more red ink now. But no matter what the future deals me, I shall consider that I have come a long way, if for no other reason that that Roy doesn’t do the cooking any more.

I sold my first animated cartoon for thirty cents a foot. ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia’ cost around three hundred dollars a foot. The first Mickey Mouse was made by twelve people after hours in a garage. About twelve hundred people are working overtime now in a fifty-one-acre plant with fourteen buildings, four restaurants, its own water system, air-conditioning, and a gentleman named Myron to massage the kinks out of my neck.

My first motion picture camera was ‘ad libbed’ out of spare parts and a drygoods box swiped from an alley off Hollywood Boulevard. It was hand-cranked, the camera. Even then I felt the urge to grow, to expand-I was very ambitious in those days-so we bought a used motor for a dollar to run the camera. It had once been a second-hand motor, but since that time it had seen everything and died. We had to hire a technician to make it go. We have been hiring technicians ever since. Our business has grown with and by technical achievements. Should this technical progress ever come to a full stop, prepare the funeral oration for our medium. That is how dependent we artists have become on the new tools and refinements which the technicians give us. Sound, Technicolor, the multiplane camera, Fantasound, these and a host of other less spectacular contributions have been added to the artist’s tools, and have made possible the pictures which are the milestones in our progress.

That first movie camera now stands in all its ad lib splendor in a Los Angeles Museum. Our new multiplane cameras are two stories high and operate by remote control. But, on the whole, the basic tools and techniques of my craft had been worked out before I learned the rudiments of animation out of a book in Kansas City.

There had been animated cartoons long before motion pictures. The Stone Age artist came pretty close to animation when he drew several sets of legs on his animals, each set showing a different stage of a single movement. A Frenchman named Plateau was the first to make a cartoon move. In 1831, he invented the phenakistoscope, a device of moving disks and peepholes. The successive stages of an action were drawn on one disk. When the disk was spun, the illusion of motions resulted. Many similar devices were invented to make pictures move. The first animated cartoon on motion picture film was made by J. Stuart Blackton in 1906. It showed a fellow blowing smoke in the face of his girl friend. A bit corny, but not bad! ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ was not the first feature-length cartoon by twenty years, while the first cartoon mechanically colored dates back to 1919. The greatest single contribution of the pioneers came from Earl Hurd who invented (1915) the idea of tracing the moving parts of a cartoon on celluloids superimposed over opaque backgrounds. This great labor-saving device is still the foundation of our modern method.

The miracle of seeing drawings move was enough to enthrall the early motion picture audiences. Then, as the edge of the miracle wore off, interest in cartoons was revived by numerous series of cartoon built around the antics of stock characters. Some of these series were very popular. Whether or not these pre-Mickey cartoonists ever sat back and thought about the possibilities in the medium, I don’t know. I was ambitious and wanted to make better pictures, but the length of my foresight is measured by this admission: Even as late as 1930, my ambition was to be able to make cartoons as good as the Aesop’s Fables series.

I was knocking out a series called ‘Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’ for Universal at the time sound exploded like a bomb under silent pictures. The series was going over. We had built up a little organization. Roy and I each had our own homes and a ‘flivver.’ We had money in the bank and security. But we didn’t like the looks of the future. The cartoon business didn’t seem to be going anywhere except in circles. The pictures were kicked out in a hurry and made to a price. Money was the only object. Cartoons had become the shabby Cinderella of the picture industry.

They were thrown in for nothing as a bonus to exhibitors buying features. I resented that. Some of the possibilities in the cartoon medium had begun to dawn on me. And at the same time we saw that the medium was dying. You could feel rigor mortis setting in. I could feel it in myself. Yet with more money and time, I felt we could make better pictures and shake ourselves out of the rut. When our distributor, Universal, wouldn’t give us the money, we quit. Most of our staff went over to Universal. That hurt! But I had made my Declaration of Independence and traded security for self-respect. An artist who wouldn’t is a dead mackerel. Thereafter, we were to make pictures for quality and not for price. The public has been willing to pay for this quality.

Out on my own again, I looked for a new character and hit on Mickey Mouse. The first two Mickey Mouse pictures were silent. We couldn’t peddle them. It occurred to me that in a world gone sound-mad, since the release of Al Jolson’s ‘The Jazz Singer’, a cartoon with action synchronized to sound would be something of a sensation. My third Mickey, ‘Steamboat Willie’, was planned with this in mind. By some miracle we managed to figure out the basic method for synchronizing sound and action that we still use. When the picture was half finished, we had a showing with sound. A couple of my boys could read music and one of them could play a mouth organ. We put them in a room where they could not see the screen and arranged to pipe their sound into the room where our wives and friends were going to see the picture. The boys worked from a music and sound-effects score. After several false starts, sound and action got off with the gun. The mouth-organist played the tune, the rest of us in the sound department bammed tin pans and blew slide whistles on the beat. The synchronism was pretty close. The effect on our little audience was nothing less than electric. They responded almost instinctively to this union of sound and motion. I thought they were kidding me. So they put me in the audience and ran the action again. It was terrible, but it was wonderful! And it was something new!

I took ‘Steamboat Willie’ to New York and started a dreary hunt for a sound company which was not too busy or too expensive to record the sound for me. I finally made a deal with Cinephone. Theirs was a pretty punk sound system until Bill Garity redesigned it later on. But in spite of that, ‘Steamboat Willie’ was an instant hit. It played the Colony, then moved to Roxy’s. Mickey was a big shot overnight. Lush offers poured in from Hollywood, but Cinephone had us nailed to the contract. Cinephone had given me a bigger picture budget that had Universal, and Columbia had upped the figure considerably again. But soon the increasing quality on which we were building our business demanded bigger and bigger advances. Columbia couldn’t take it, so in 1931, we made a deal with United Artists to distribute our cartoons.

This new deal, for all practical purposes, gave us financial independence. Since then, we alone have determined how much our pictures will cost. Not that the industry hasn’t had a great deal to say about our picture costs, in one sense. Time and again, it has been said that were crazy and would go broke. Mack Sennett claimed that we put live-action shorts out of business because they could not afford to spend the money to compete with us. The fact was the reverse. Live-action shorts could not afford not to spend more money if it would improve their quality. By 1931, production costs had risen from $5400 to $13,500 per cartoon. This was an unheard of and outrageous thing, it seemed.

And a year later, when we turned down Carl Laemmle’s offer to advance us $15,000 on each picture, he told me quite frankly that I was headed for bankruptcy. This was not short-sighted on his part. He had no way of seeing what we saw in the future of the medium.

As Mickey Mouse became a universal favorite and the money rolled in, we had been able to afford the time and money to analyze our craft. I think it is astounding that we were the first group of animators, so far as I can learn, who ever had the chance to study their own work and correct its errors before it reached the screen. In our little studio on Hyperion Street, every foot of rough animation was projected on the screen for analysis, and every foot was drawn and redrawn until we could say, “This is the best that we can do.” We had become perfectionists, and as nothing is ever perfect in this business, we were continually dissatisfied.

In fact, our studio had become more like a school than a business. As a result, our characters were beginning to act and behave in general like real persons. Because of this we could begin to put real feeling and charm in our characterization. After all, you can’t expect charm from animated sticks, and that’s about what Mickey Mouse was in his first pictures. We were growing as craftsmen, through study, self-criticism, and experiment. In this way, the inherent possibilities in our medium were dug into and brought to light.

Each year we could handle a wider range of story material, attempt things we would not have dreamed of tackling the year before. I claim that this is not genius or even remarkable. It is the way men build a sound business of any kind-sweat, intelligence, and love of the job. Viewed in this light of steady, intelligent growth, there is nothing remarkable about the ‘Three Little Pigs’ or even ‘Fantasia’-they become inevitable.

The Silly Symphony series was launched in 1929. In Mickey Mouse cartoons, we kidded the modern scene. The material was limited. We wanted a series which would let us go in for more of the fantastic and fabulous and lyric stuff. The Silly Symphony didn’t give Mickey much competition until we added Technicolor in 1932. We thought that color would be worth the heavy extra cost. Color was part of life. A black-and-white print looked as drab alongside ‘Flowers and Trees’, as a gray day alongside a rainbow. We could do things with color! We could do many things with color that no other medium could do.

I remember Roy coming into the office about this time with a bunch of figures in one hand and eyes full of patient resignation. “How come,” began Roy, “How come that last year with thirty men we made thirty pictures, and this year with over a hundred and fifty, you get out only eighteen?” I can’t answer that type of question, but the surest way to take Roy’s mind off past and present troubles is to tell him that we need a lot more money in the immediate future. Roy has the greatest confidence in me, in our medium and in our future, but he is a business man and doesn’t like to live dangerously twelve months out of the year. In this instance, three little pigs and a big, bad wolf were soon to bring him days of peace-not many days, but a few.

‘The Three Little Pigs’ was released in 1933. It caused no excitement at its Radio City premiere. In fact, many critics preferred ‘Noah’s Ark’ which was released about the same time. I was told that some exhibitors and even United Artists considered The Pigs a ‘cheater’ because it had only four characters in it. The picture bounced back to fame from the neighborhood theaters. Possibly more people have seen ‘The Pigs’ than any other picture, long or short, ever made. So you get an insight into the short-subject business when I tell you that ‘The Pigs’ grossed only $125,000 its first year. ‘Snow White’ grossed over seven million. That’s the difference between shorts and features from the profit angle. The low rentals for short subjects have been a chronic headache for us. Our only solution has been to build our prestige through quality to the point where public demand forced the exhibitor to pay more for our product. Theaters paying two or three thousand a week for a feature may pay us only a hundred or a hundred and fifty dollars for a short. Gentlemen, I ask for justice.

Whatever the reason for The Pigs’ astonishing popularity, it was an important landmark in our growth. It nailed our prestige way up there. It brought us honors and recognition all over the world and turned the attention of young artists and distinguished older artists to our medium as a worthwhile outlet for their talents. We needed these men for future growth, and they came from all over the country to join our staff and be trained in our ways.

The success of the ‘Three Pigs’ was felt throughout our entire business. The income from all our pictures and from merchandising royalties took a sharp up-swing. The magazine ‘Fortune’ declared that our net profit for 1934 was $600,000 and I’ll take their word for it. That’s chickenfeed in Hollywood, but we are strictly small fry. We poured the money back into the business in a long-range expansion program pointing at feature-length production and the protection of our new prestige through constantly increasing quality. The Mickeys went Technicolor. We enlarged our training school and began a nation-wide advertising campaign for young artists.

The production costs on our Symphonies shot skyward until some of the little pictures approached the ridiculous figure of $100,000. But the quality was there, and by 1935 even the ‘Three Little Pigs’ looked dated and a bit shabby in comparison with the newer Symphonies. Our staff at this time numbered around three hundred. A greater degree of specialization was setting in. The plant was becoming more like a Ford factory, but our moving parts were more complex than cogs-human beings, each with his own temperament and values who must be weighed and fitted into his proper place. I think I was learning a great deal about handling men; or perhaps the men were learning how to handle me. But let me tell you this-young artists are just as reasonable and easy to handle as anybody else. Our temperament goes into our job.

We had our technique well in hand. We had learned how to use our tools and how to make our characters act convincingly. We had learned a lot about staging and camera angles. We knew something about timing and tempo. But a good story idea, in our business, is an imponderable thing. It seems to be largely made up of luck and inspiration. It must be exceedingly simple to be told in seven or eight hundred feet. It must, above all, have that elusive quality called charm. It must be unsophisticated, universal in its appeal and a lot of other things you can’t nail down in words but can only feel intuitively.

‘The Three Little Pigs’, ‘The Flying Mouse’, and ‘The Grasshopper and The Ants’, were examples of good stories. I used to feel at times that there wasn’t another good story idea left in the world which could be told in eight hundred feet. The length limitation of the Symphony became more and more galling. We were batting story ideas around for months and sometimes years trying to get the certain twist, the lacking element, or whatever the idea needed to make it a good story. Our files were filled with abandoned stories on which we had spent thousands. It was inevitable that we should go into feature-length pictures if only for the unlimited new story material this field held for us.

I thought we could make ‘Snow White’ for around $250,000. At least that’s what I told Roy. The figure didn’t make sense because we were spending about that much on every three Symphonies or 2500 feet of picture. Roy was very brave until the costs passed a million. He wasn’t used to figures of over a hundred thousand at that time. The extra cipher threw him. When costs passed the one and one-half million mark, Roy didn’t even bat an eye. He couldn’t; he was paralyzed. And I didn’t feel very full-blooded, either. We considered changing the name of the picture from ‘Snow White’ to ‘Frankenstein’. I believe that the final figure, including prints, exploitation, etc., was around two million.

We sort of half-way explained this to everybody by charging a million of it off to research and development. You know, building toward the future. And this was true, although we hadn’t exactly planned it to be that way. Webster sums up the spirit of the ‘Snow White’ enterprise in his definition of adventure at the beginning of this article-“risk, jeopardy; encountering of hazardous enterprise; a daring feat; a bold undertaking in which the issue hangs on unforeseen events, etc.”

As a matter of fact, we were practically forced into the feature field. We not only had to have its new story material, but also we had to have feature profits to justify our continuing expansion, and we sensed that we had gone about as far as we could in the short-subject field without getting ourselves in a rut. We needed this new adventure, this ‘kick in the pants,’ to jar loose some new enthusiasm and inspiration.

Research and preliminary work in a small way had begun on ‘Snow White’ as early as 1934. I picked that story because it was well known and I knew we could do something with seven ‘screwy’ dwarfs. Beyond that, we didn’t know exactly where we were going, but we were on our way. The picture was released at the turn of the year, 1937-38. At the end of its first year, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ was reported to be the biggest money-maker of all times. It at least settled the question as to whether or not an audience could or would sit through an hour and thirty minutes of animated pictures. Most of the bets were that an audience would go blind. As a matter of fact, that question had been settled as early as 1935, when European audiences lined up in long queues to see a two-hour bill of our shorts. This bill ran for seventeen weeks in Stockholm, and similar all-cartoon bills have been quite successful in this country.

At the time of ‘Snow White’s’ release, our staff had grown to about six hundred. Having committed ourselves to a program of both features and shorts, it became necessary again to expand drastically. An additional eight hundred people were added to our payrolls in the next two years. For more studio space, we were forced to lease a row of apartment houses adjoining the studio, and other temporary buildings were erected on the lot. We needed a new studio and in a hurry. Not only did we need more space and more building, but the increasing emphasis on the technical side of our craft demanded the most modern and specially designed type of building and equipment. The new plant was started in 1939 on fifty-one acres near the Los Angeles River in Burbank. We moved in around the first of 1940.

The two years between ‘Snow White’ and ‘Pinocchio’ were years of confusion, swift expansion, reorganization. Hundreds of young people were being trained and fitted into a machine for the manufacture of entertainment which had become bewilderingly complex. And this machine had been redesigned almost overnight from one for turning out short subjects into one aimed mainly at increased feature production.

Produced under such conditions and forced to bear its share of this tremendously increased overhead during a two-year period, ‘Pinocchio’ is yet to return its original investment. It has been called a flop. Actually it was the second biggest box-office attraction of the year. ‘Gone with the Wind’ was first. ‘Pinocchio’ might have lacked ‘Snow White’s’ heart appeal, but technically and artistically it was superior. It indicated that we had grown considerably as craftsmen as well as having grown big in plant and numbers, a growth that is only important in proportion to the quality it adds to our product in the long run.

The large profits from ‘Snow White’, short subjects, and the mounting royalties from our merchandising enterprises, had all gone back into the business to pay for the new studio and expansion program. Our payroll had risen to around three million a year. The war had cut our potential picture profits in half. The crisis was on. Another one. It was brought on by what might reasonably be called reckless expenditures. Yet, looking at it our way, it is these expenditures that have put us in shape for the storm. Instead of the one feature-length picture every two years which seemed the limit of our capacity two years ago, we are now reorganized and equipped to release nine features in the next two years, each at a fraction of ‘Pinocchio’s’ cost.

The first of these nine features, ‘Fantasia‘, has been released. We have never been so enthusiastic about a picture. Every picture is an adventure, but ‘Fantasia’ has certainly been our most exciting one. We take great music and visualize the stories and pictures which the music suggests to our imagination. It is like seeing a concert. Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the music, using a new system of sound recording and three-dimensional reproduction called Fantasound. It is our intention to make a new version of ‘Fantasia’ every year. Its pattern is very flexible and fun to work with-not really a concert, not vaudeville or a revue, but a grand mixture of comedy, fantasy, ballet, drama, impressionism, color, sound, and epic fury.

Mickey Mouse in the same boat with Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Stokowski! Well, where do we go from there? I haven’t the faintest idea. I have never had the faintest idea where this business would drag me from one year to the next. It’s at the controls, not me! But, as I said before, as long as we keep on growing the future will keep opening up. More than any other picture, Fantasia shows how much the medium has grown. No doubt, some unimaginative critics will predict that in ‘Fantasia’ the animated medium and my artists have reached their ultimate. The truth is quite to the contrary. ‘Fantasia’ merely makes our other pictures look immature, and suggests for the first time what the future of this medium may well turn out to be. What I see way off there is too nebulous to describe. But it looks big and glittering. That’s what I like about this business, the certainty that there is always something bigger and more exciting just around the bend; and the uncertainty of everything else.

Over at our entertainment factory we are training hundreds of brilliant youngsters to carry on the job far beyond where we old timers must leave off. They will train other youngsters. There is no knowing how far steady growth will take the medium, if only the technicians continue to give us new and better tools. For the near future, I can practically promise a third-dimensional effect in our moving characters. Fully exploited, Fantasound should prove a startling novelty. The full inspiration and vitality in our animators’ pencil drawings will be brought to the screen in a few years through the elimination of the inking process. Then, too, our medium is peculiarly adaptable to television, and I understand that it is already possible to televise in color. Quite an exciting prospect, I should say! And, since ‘Fantasia’, we have good reason to hope that great composers will write directly for our medium just as they now write for ballet and opera. This is the promise of the next few years. Beyond that is the future which we can not see, today. We, the last of the pioneers and the first of the moderns, will not live to see this future realized. We are happy in the job of building its foundations.

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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.

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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