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Was Walt Disney an anti-Semite? Not according to The Wizard of Oz

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Sorry I’ve been away for a couple of days. So what did I
miss?

Ah, yeah. Meryl Streep‘s speech at the National Board of Review awards. Where
— before she handed Emma Thompson the best actress award for her stellar
performance in “Saving Mr. Banks” — Streep first went out of her way
to attack the late Walt Disney. Calling him racist, sexist and anti-Semitic.

Look, Floyd Norman has already effectively addressed the racism issue. And Amid
Amidi
did a great job of debunking Meryl’s claim that ” … Walt hated
woman and cats
.” As for me … Well, I’d like to try & use one of the
greatest fantasy films of all time — MGM‘s “The Wizard of Oz” — to
prove once & for all that Walt Disney wasn’t an anti-Semite.


Copyright 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. All rights reserved

Okay. So let’s start with the very term
“anti-Semite.” Which — according to FreeDictionary.com — is “
… a person who discriminates against or is prejudiced or hostile toward Jews.”

Now let me introduce you to a key player in the development of “The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz
” as a major motion picture. And that’s industry
pioneer Samuel Goldwyn, who was born in Warsaw
in a Polish shtetl back in July of 1879. Raised as a Hasidic Jew with his only
formal education coming from those few years that he spent in Hebrew school,
Goldwyn always like to tell the story of how — when he was only 12 years-old
— Samuel walked across Europe and eventually immigrated to North America. Once
there, Goldwyn made his way from Nova Scotia
to New York City. Whereupon Samuel “anglicized”
the name he was born with (i.e., Shmuel Gelbfisz) and became Sam Goldfish.

Now let’s jump ahead to May of 1933. And Sam Goldfish (who
is now known as Samuel Goldwyn and is already one of the true giants in Hollywood
history) catches a screening of “Three Little Pigs.” And what does
Sam see as he views this animated short? Well, yes, he see a brief unfortunate
joke that does feature the stereotypical Jewish peddler …


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

(Though — to be fair here — were you to view a sampling of animated cartoons
that had been  produced by the other major
studios during this exact same period in Hollywood history, you’d see that ethnic
humor was one of the mainstays of animation during this era in American entertainment.
It was something that the movie-going public readily accepted & genuinely seemed
to enjoy during this time in our country’s history. More to the point, when
Walt realized that these sorts of gags were no longer considered palatable by
the greater movie-going public, he had the offensive sequence trimmed &
re-animated.)

… Anyway … Now getting back to Samuel Goldwyn and
Disney’s “Three Little Pigs.” What does Goldwyn see as he views this
soon-to-be Academy Award-winning short? He sees the future. To be specific: A time
when movie-goers will hunger for similar sorts of Technicolor fantasies, only
the feature-length kind.

And given that Samuel now prides himself on being a fully
assimilated American, he wants his studio to make a distinctly American film
fantasy. Which is why — according to Jay Scarfone & William Stillman‘s “The
Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion

” (Harper Design,
October 2013) — Goldwyn reaches out to Frank J. Baum, the son of the late L.
Frank Baum and offers to buy the screen rights to “The Wonderful Wizard of
Oz.”


Copyright 2013 Harper Design. All rights reserved

Now what’s kind of interesting about all this is — just prior to Samuel’s
attempt to snag the screen rights to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in
mid-to-late 1933 — MGM had also been talking with the Baum family. That studio
had seen the huge success that Walt was having with his “Silly
Symphonies” series and now wanted to get in the animation business in the
worst way. And the idea that MGM executives came up — which they hoped would
eventually turn into some serious competition for Disney’s Mickey Mouse cartoons
— was to do a series of full-color animated shorts built around Baum’s
“Oz” characters.

Unfortunately for MGM, Frank J. Baum and L. Frank’s widow,
Maude, thought the amount that this studio was offering for the rights to use
the “Oz” characters in animation was far too low. So when Samuel
Goldwyn came along and offer them $40,000 for the screen rights to “The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the Baum family immediately said “Yes.”

Another interesting side note: On the heels of the “Three Little Pig”
‘s huge success, Walt finally got serious about the idea of producing a
full-length animated feature. And what was one of the stories that he
considered as possible fodder for Disney Studio’s first full-length feature? You guessed it. L.
Frank Baum
‘s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” As the story goes, Walt
asked his brother Roy to discreetly make inquiries about whether the screen
rights to this book was still available in early 1934.  Only to then have the Hollywood
trades break the news on January 26,
1934 that Goldwyn had officially scored the screen rights to
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And just so you know: When it came to the movie version of
“Oz” that Samuel wanted to make, the connections between that project
and Disney’s “Three Little Pigs” were quite strong. Goldwyn even went
so far as to hire Ann Ronell (who wrote the lyrics for the hit song from that
animated short, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”) to do the songs
for his proposed “Oz” production.

And in another weird parallel between the way that Samuel
Goldwyn & Walt Disney thought, according to Scarfone & Stillman …

… When negotiating with the Baum family to purchase the
screen rights (to this book), Goldwyn had contemplated The Wizard of Oz as a
Technicolor talkie with Mary Pickford in the lead.


This is the only remaining frame of Mary Pickford’s Technicolor
test for Disney’s proposed live-action / animated version of
“Alice in Wonderland.” The rest of this test footage dis-
appeared decades ago. Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

“What’s so weird about that?,” you say. Well, in
early 1933 when Walt was actively looking for a hook to build Disney Studios’
first full-length feature around, he actually shot a Technicolor test with
screen legend Mary Pickford. With the idea being that this then-41 year-old
actress would then be the only human performer in an all-animated version of
Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in
Wonderland.” (Which — if you know your Disney history — given that, just
10 years earlier, Walt had burst on the scene in Hollywood by being the guy who
made that “Alice in Cartoonland” short. Which featured 5 year-old
Virginia Davis capering with cartoon characters … Well, that would have been
kind of intriguing to have Walt revisit the idea that had initially helped him
break through in Tinsel Town
as the way for his studio to now expand into features).

But as the two images that I’ve folded into this article
show, by 1933, “America’s
Sweetheart” could no longer really pull off the sort of ingenue roles that
she’d built her fabled film career on. Which is perhaps why — just after this
“Alice in Wonderland”
test at Disney Studios — Mary officially announced her retirement from
on-screen acting. Though she would then continue to produce films at United
Artists (i.e., the movie studio that Pickford formed back in 1919 with Charlie
Chaplin
, D. W. Griffith and her then-soon-to-be-husband, Douglas Fairbanks).


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Getting back to Samuel Goldwyn’s proposed movie version of
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” now: While his studio let word leak in
1936 that they were considering child star Marcia Mae Jones for the role of Dorothy,
“Oz” never really moved into active development at Goldwyn. Some say
this was because the writers that Sam hired for this proposed production never
delivered a screenplay that he liked. Still other have suggested that it was
Goldwyn’s mercurial nature, his infamous indecision, that ultimately did the
project in.

All that is known is that …  

In December of 1937, Goldwyn momentarily became disenchanted
with the picture business and — on a whim — began divesting  himself of the various story properties that
he owned. Most significantly, Samuel began entertaining offers on The Wizard of
Oz, and a bidding war ensued.


Samuel Goldwyn

Now — to be blunt here — Samuel’s timing (at least when it
came to the sale of the screen rights to “The Wonderful Wizard of
Oz”) couldn’t have been worse. For December 21, 1937, “Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs

” premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater.
And as Disney’s first full-length animated feature began its nationwide roll-out
in February of 1938 and then began racking up record-breaking sales (For a
brief while there, “Snow White” was actually the highest grossing
sound film in Hollywood history), there was the cinematic equivalent of the
Oklahoma land rush. As the whole of Hollywood
seemingly hurrying to get into the feature-length fantasy film business.

It’s now time to bring our second key player in the
development of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” as a major motion picture
on the scene. And that’s legendary movie producer & director Mervyn LeRoy. Born in San
Francisco in October of 1890 to Jewish parents Edna
(née Armer) and Harry LeRoy, Mervyn’s family (which owned a successful
department store in the city) was financially ruined by the Great Earthquake of
1906.  

To help make money for his family out during this extreme
tough time, LeRoy (just as the young Walt Disney did) sold newspapers. As he
grew older, Mervyn drifted into the world of entertainment. First as a singer
and a dancer, and eventually — as he transitioned from vaudeville to silent
film — as a director of highly successful motion pictures like “Little
Caesar

.”


Copyright Warner Bros. All rights reserved

Which is why — on February 3, 1938
— MGM brought LeRoy onboard as a producer. With the hope that Mervyn would
then become create some highly successful films for that studio as well. And
what’s the very first thing that LeRoy did after he arrived at MGM? He makes
sure that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer outbid Twentieth Century Fox for the screen
rights to “The Wonderful World of Oz.” Fox had been pursuing this
property as a possible vehicle for Shirley Temple. But at Mervyn’s urging, MGM
swooped in at the very last minute. And on February 18, 1938, MGM won the screen rights to
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by offering to pay Samuel Goldwyn
$75,000 for the property.

Mind you, not everyone in Hollywood
was happy that MGM now owned the screen rights to “Oz.” As Scarfone
& Stillman recall in their “The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th
Anniversary Companion,” Hollywood columnist Paul
Harrison
snarked in a March 16, 1938
story that …

… I hope the ghost of L. Frank Baum gives Samuel Goldwyn a
good haunting for not selling the rights to The Wizard of Oz books to Walt
Disney.


Cecil B DeMille

Now why would Harrison say something like that? Well, you
have to understand that — on the heels of “Snow White” ‘s success —
all of Hollywood was hailing Walt
as Tinsel Town’s
new resident genius. I mean, you had industry giants like Cecil B. DeMille
sending telegrams to the studio saying that ” … I wish I could make
pictures like Snow White.” And as Neal Gabler recounts in his “Walt
Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination
” (Knopf, October 2006) …

Critic Gilbert Seldes, long a Disney admirer and advocate,
was given a private screening (of ‘Snow White’) and left saying “he
thought Metro Goldwyn might just as well close their studios as long as you
produce feature films.”

So you could perhaps understand why the Hollywood press
would react negatively when LeRoy announced that MGM’s version of “The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz” wouldn’t be an animated feature. But — rather —
a live-action musical which would simulate a cartoon.


(L to R) William Austin as the Gryphon, Charlotte Henry as Alice and Cary Grant
as the Mock Turtle in the 1933 live-action version of “Alice in Wonderland.”
Copyright Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

“And why would the Hollywood
press react negatively to that particular piece of news?,” you query.
Because there were a lot of people in town who still remembered what a train
wreck Paramount‘s live-action
version of “Alice in
Wonderland

” had been back in 1933.

On paper, this motion picture looked like it was going to be a smash hit.
Paramount Pictures had loaded up this live-action version of Lewis Carroll‘s
books with the biggest stars of the day. We’re talking about people like W. C.
Fields playing Humpty Dumpty, Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle and Gary Cooper as
the White Knight. With each of these performers decked out in elaborate
costumes & make-ups which attempted to duplicate the exact look of John
Tenniel’s pen-and-ink illustrations for the Alice
book. But given the limitation of make-up back in the 1930s (or — to be
completely blunt here — given that the make-up department at Paramount
couldn’t compete with what Jack Pierce & his team were doing over at
Universal), what was supposed to be a family-friendly film wound up being more
of a horror movie.

Paramount’s
elaborate costumes and make-ups made it so members of the audience couldn’t
actually recognize most of the big-name stars who were appearing in this motion
picture. I mean, look at the photo below. Is there anything about this image
that lets you know that this frog footman is actually being played by Disney Legend
Sterling Holloway (i.e., the voice of the stork in “Dumbo
,” the
Cheshire Cat in Disney’s animated version of “Alice in Wonderland
,”
Kaa the Snake in “The Jungle Book
,” not to mention the voice of the
title character in Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh and the Hunny Tree
“)?


An on-the-set / in-production shot of the 1933 live-action version of “Alice in
Wonderland.” Copyright Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

Given how badly Paramount Pictures’ “Alice
in Wonderland” crashed & burned when it was released to theaters in
December of 1933 … Well, that was one of the main reasons that Goldwyn backed
away from doing his live-action version of “The Wonderful Wizard of
Oz.” Not to mention giving Walt pause when it came to doing that
live-action / animated version of “Alice”
that Disney Studios was (at that time, anyway) thinking of co-producing with
Mary Pickford. More to the point, when LeRoy announced that “The Wizard of Oz” was going to be this live-action musical that would simulate the look & feel of a feature-length cartoon … Well, to many in Tinsel Town, that just made it sound as if MGM were about to repeat all of the mistakes that Paramount had made with its live-action “Alice in Wonderland.”

Ah, but what many Hollywood observers didn’t
understand was that Meryn LeRoy actually held Walt Disney in extremely high
esteem.

In later years, Mervyn stated that Walt was one of only two
geniuses that he had ever met — MGM producer Irving Thalberg being the second.


Walt Disney and Shirley Temple at the 1939 Academy
Awards ceremony

(In fact), LeRoy so admired Disney that he was the member of
the Motion Picture Academy who came up with the idea of giving Walt one Oscar
statuette plus seven small ones when he was honored for “Snow White”
at the eleventh annual Academy Awards in February 1939.

So given that Mervyn thought so highly of Walt, LeRoy didn’t
hesitate to reach out to Disney when he felt MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz”
(Mervyn had snipped the “Marvelous” off of this proposed motion
picture’s title as soon as Metro had acquired the screen rights to Baum’s book)
was going off-track. As Scarfone & Stillman recounted in their “The
Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion” …

… Dissatisfied with a flurry of meandering Wizard of Oz
script drafts and rewrites from more than two months prior — all contributed
to by various screenwriters — the producer sought to revitalize his production
team’s mind-set about the elements of successful fantasy. On May 10, 1938, LeRoy screened Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs at M-G-M, the print on loan directly from Walt Disney himself at
LeRoy’s request. Among the production staff undoubtedly in attendance were
songwriters Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, who had begun their association with
The Wizard of Oz just the day before.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Not just to circle back on the central premise of today’s
piece: If Walt Disney actually were the sort of anti-Semite that people like
Meryl Streep seem to think that he was, then why would Walt repeatedly go out
of his way to help someone like Mervyn LeRoy? Who was, after all, a Jew?

And when I say “repeatedly,” I mean repeatedly.
Look at the huge favor that Walt did for Mervyn once principal photography on
“The Wizard of Oz” had wrapped back in February 1939.

(Now that this motion picture was complete) save for
post-production and retakes, LeRoy turned his attention to marketing his movie
characters, and went straight to the best for outside expertise: Walt Disney.
Like any self-made mogul, Disney was fiercely protective of his brand, yet he
didn’t see The Wizard of Oz as a threat to his domain, in equal parts perhaps
the film was live-action and because he and LeRoy had a genuine rapport. In an
affable gesture, Disney put LeRoy in touch with Herman “Kay” Kamen
… Kamen had achieved remarkable success leading Disney character merchandise
throughout the 1930s. (Kamen wasn’t a Disney employee but an independent
contractor free to pursue outside business ventures, provided there was no
conflict of interest with his primary work for Disney).


Kay Kamen and Walt Disney in Walt’s office pose for a publicity shot.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now it’s important to understand here is that Kay Kamen —
like Mervyn LeRoy — was a Jew. More to the point, Disney’s New York-based
merchandising office had so many Jewish employees working there that Kay used
to joke that the place ” …  had
more Jews than the Book of Leviticus.”

Disney even went further than this when it came to helping
out LeRoy. Given Mervyn’s obvious affection for “Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs,” Walt arranged for Adriana Caselotti (i.e., the talented young
actress & singer who voiced the title character of that animated feature)
to do a vocal cameo in “The Wizard of Oz.” Which is why — if you
listen carefully as the Tin Woodsman warbling “If I Only Had a Heart”
— you can hear Adriana sings “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

In the end, Disney was very pleased with the way “The
Wizard of Oz” turned out. After catching this MGM production a week after
its world premiere at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Walt sent a letter to
Mervyn on August 23, 1939
which said …


Copyright 2014 Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. a Time Warner Company,
or its licensors. All rights reserved

Mrs. Disney and I saw The Wizard of Oz the other night and
we both liked it very much. The sets were swell, the color was perfect for the
story, and the make-ups far exceeded anything I though possible. Knowing the
difficulty that we have with cartoons, a medium that is limited only to the
imagination, I can fully realize how tough a production of this type would in
the live-action medium. All in all, I think you turned out a fine picture and you
have my congratulations.

LeRoy immediately wrote back to Disney, saying that …

“It is needless for me to tell you how proud I am to know that you liked
The Wizard … “


Mervyn LeRoy (L) on set with Judy Garland and the Munchkins during the shooting
of “The Wizard of Oz” at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City, CA.

Again, does any of the above sound like the behavior of an
anti-Semite? Who — according to the definition that I cited earlier — is
” …  a person who discriminates
against or is prejudiced or hostile toward Jews”?

Anyway … The way that Hollywood
saw it, Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” & MGM’s
“The Wizard of Oz” were inexorably linked. In fact, Scarfone &
Stillman came across a Metro-Goldwyn in-house letter which — back in August of
1939 — promised that

“This Xmas the kiddies will be asking for characters
from The Wizard of Oz instead of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”


These paper masks were some of the officially licensed items for MGM’s
“The Wizard of Oz” that were available during the 1939 holiday season.

Sadly, that wasn’t actually the case. Partially because —
in spite of Kay Kamen’s best efforts — only two dozen officially licensed “Wizard
of Oz” products were available for purchase by Christmas 1939. Now compare
that to the 100+ officially licensed 
Pinocchio
” products that were available during this very same
holiday period. Which is all the more remarkable, given that Disney’s second
full length animated feature wasn’t actually due to be released to theaters
’til February 1940.

Anyway … Getting back to Walt Disney, alleged anti-Semite:
If Walt really was what Meryl Streep said that he was, then why — when it came
time to make “Song of the South” — would Disney have then reached
out to Samuel Goldwyn? Who — according to what Neal Gabler wrote in ” The
Triumph of the American Imagination” — …

(Walt) had as close a relationship as he had with any
producer in Hollywood with the
possible exception of Walter Wanger. (To help out with the production of “Song of the South”) Goldwyn … lent (Walt) his cinematographer,
Gregg Toland, who had shot Orson Welles‘s legendary “Citizen Kane


The “Song of the South” production team shooting on location in
Arizona. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So you get what I’m saying here, right? If you actually dig
down into Hollywood history and look at how Walt interacted with all of these
Jewish movie moguls, there’s nothing about Disney’s behavior that suggests that
he was an anti-Semite. If anything, he seems downright thrilled that many of
these men considered Walt to be their creative contemporary.

Which brings us back to Meryl Streep. Which — given her
ill-informed comments weekend before last — just proves that this three-time
Academy Award-winner isn’t all that well-steeped in Hollywood
history.

Mind you, the irony of this whole situation is that — come
January of 2015 — it’ll probably be Emma Thompson onstage lauding Meryl Streep
as Walt Disney Pictures begins its big award season push for its Christmas 2014
release, “Into the Woods.” Here’s hoping that — as Ms. Thompson
helps talk up Ms. Streep’s turn as the Witch in the movie version of this Tony
Award-winning Stephen Sondheim musical — that Emma doesn’t pull a Meryl and
accidentally pull focus on her friend. Which might then ruin Streep’s chance to
win an Academy Award for this role. Which is what many in Hollywood
are now suggesting that Meryl did to Emma by giving that
Walt-is-a-racist-anti-Semite-woman-hating-cat-kicker speech at the National
Board of Review awards earlier this month.


Meryl Streep as the Witch in Disney’s “Into the Woods.” Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But what did you folks think? Did Streep’s ill-informed
comments actually trip up Thompson’s chances to get nominated for her work in
“Saving Mr. Banks” ?  Much less
win an Oscar for her performance as P L Travers in this John Lee Hancock film?

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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General

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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