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Why For?

From 30,000 feet up, Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about the history of Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion, why Disney isn’t shooting any TV shows at Disney-MGM, whether Latin America is going to get its very own Magic Kingdom anytime soon, an update on last week’s “Rhine River” questions, what’s the deal with Disneyland’s Astro-Orbiter as well as Disney’s Platinum Edition DVD release schedule.



Greetings from United Flight No. 1225. Seat 15F, to be precise. I’m in the process of winging my way west for 12 days of work and fun.

Nancy’s asleep in the seat next to me. Resting up for a trip filled with visits to animation schools. Not to mention two weekends full of schmoozing with ABC soap stars at Disney’s California Adventure.

Me? I’m looking forward spending some time with my darling daughter, Alice. As well as meeting all the nice folks who’ve signed up for next weekend’s tours of Disneyland and DCA. (FYI: We’ve still got a few slots open for next Saturday and Sunday’s tours. So — if you’d still like to get in on the fun — drop me a line at and we’ll see if we can’t accommodate you.) Plus there’s next week’s drive up into the High Sierra to see Mineral King. (One nice reader — on the JHM discussion boards, mind you — warned me to watch out for radiator-fluid guzzling marmots. Jeese! And I thought that dealing with the enormous snapping turtles who regularly tear up our front yard each June as they lay their eggs was unusual. Ah well …)

Anyway … to kill some time en route, I thought that I might try to answer a few of your “Why For” questions. First, Erik G. writes in to ask:

Dear Jim:

Hello! I greatly enjoy reading your articles on your website – I doubt I would have found much of this information here anyplace else. I have some questions regarding the history of the “Wonders of Life” pavilion: 1) Why was there so much trouble finding a sponsor in the planning stages of Epcot? 2) What happened to the original sign in front of the pavilion (the one which was an arch over the pathway into the pavilion) … and 3) Why is there speculation that this pavilion may be closing for good under ‘Project Gemini,” instead of renovating it? It’s one of my favorite pavilions at Epcot, so I’m rather interested in its fate.

Thanks you so much. Keep writing!

Erik G.


Thanks for the kind words about the site. Now, regarding your questions about Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion. The seven year delay in opening this Future World attraction wasn’t due so much with Disney having trouble tracking down a sponsor for this EPCOT Center pavilion. But rather, it was the engineering challenges involved.

You see, according to WED’s original plans for this Future World addition, the central attraction at this pavilion was supposed to have been a ride through the human body. Where guests would have boarded an Omnimover that was tricked up to look like a blood cel. They’d then have taken a spin through an unnamed individual’s circulatory system.

Which is an okay idea on paper, I guess. I mean, I’m sure that some of you may have already seen the concept paintings for this version of the attraction. Which were done by Imagineering vet Frank Armitage, who (not-so-co-incidentally) had done production design on 20th Century Fox’s “Fantastic Voyage.” A sci-fi epic where scientists were miniaturized and sent inside a man’s body to perform a dangerous operation.

(Baby boomers of my vintage — particularly the guys — usually have quite fond memories of “Fantastic Voyage.” Both for the film’s elaborate special effects as well as that sequence where Raquel Welch — in an extremely form-fitting wet suit — was attacked by white blood cells. And the other scientists on her team had to frantically struggle to pull the rapidly constricting cells off of Raquel’s body. Otherwise, Ms. Welch would have suffocated. Many a 1960s era adolescent boy dreamed of the day when they’d get their chance to pry white blood cells off of Raquel’s heaving bosom … or was that just me?)

But I digress, Erik G. So let’s get back to your answer. Which is already in progress …

ANYWAY … The Imagineers envisioned Epcot visitors moving through this over-sized version of the human body. Guest gaping in awe at a 40 foot tall version of a human heart, steadily pumping away. Until — of course — the engineers at Imagineering got wind of this project.

They then told the Imagineers in charge of developing Epcot’s Health pavilion: “Are you nuts? Do you have any idea the size of the mechanism that we’d need to build in order to have a 40 foot tall version of the human heart realistically beat? Never mind all the effort that would be involved with maintaining a moving set piece of that size.”

Faced with the economic as well as the engineering challenges involved with their original version of this Future World attraction, the Imagineers reluctantly tabled their idea for a “Life & Health” pavilion that would be built around a show that featured a ride through the human body … until, of course, WDI discovered flight simulator technology. And the central attraction of the “Wonders of Life” pavilion (which was once envisioned as an elaborate ride-through show on a par with GM’s “World of Motion” and AT&T’s “Spaceship Earth”) got rethought as a simulator ride similar to “Star Tours.”

Which was what finally made this ride — and, indeed, the entire “Wonders of Life” pavilion — financially feasible. At least from an engineering point of view.

As for your second question, Erik: That distinctive archway — which used to grace the entrance of Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” — has been recycled. You can see it every time you drive your car through those ticket booths at the entrance of the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot. You see that giant curved steel structure that’s holding up the “Magic Kingdom” sign? Yep. That used to be the “Wonders of Life” archway.

As for what will happen to this particular Future World pavilion once “Project Gemini” goes forward: I’ve been told that WDI is still exploring its options, Erik. The Imagineers would love to find a sponsor with some very deep pockets come forward and help Disney pull Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion out of the 1980s. But — given what’s going on with the economy these days — hopes are dwindling at Imagineering that some corporation is going to step up to the plate and help save this Future World attraction.

Which is why a number of Imagineers have pretty much given up hope when it comes to reviving/revamping Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion. And why these folks are now talking about razing this distinctive Future World structure and coming up with a brand new show/attraction/pavilion. Something ambitious and interactive that will appeal to kids of today.

And what might the theme of this new still-just-in-the-talking-phase Epcot attraction might be? I’ve heard everything from a Pixar-sponsored attraction (which would celebrate the world of computer animation, gaming and the Internet) to the building just being gutted and repurposed as WDW convention space. Where large groups could perhaps hold after-hours events. Elaborate Epcot-themed banquets. You get the idea.

Still, I have to stress that WDI’s plans for Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion are still very much in flux. Right now, the Imagineers are mostly concentrating on trying to successfully pull off “Project Gemini.” Once that’s complete, Walt Disney Imagineering will once again turn its attention to the “Wonders of Life” pavilion.

That answer your question, Erik? Hope so.

Next, Brad G. writes in to ask:


What does the future hold for Disney-MGM Studios? Why doesn’t Disney produce ABC television shows and live action feature films there? This would seem to provide perfect synergy.

Thanks in advance for any info,

Brad G.

Dear Brad G.

You know, for years now, executives at Disney-MGM have been wondering the exact same thing, Brad. Why doesn’t the Mouse shoot more movies and/or television shows at the company’s Central Florida production facility?

The story that I keep hearing is that — in spite of the fact that Florida is a “Right to Work” state (which means that it costs more than 1/3rd less to shoot TV shows and movies in Orlando than it does in Hollywood) — that alleged savings are eaten up by transportation costs (I.E. The cost of flying the cast and crew of a TV show down to Central Florida) as well as housing (the cost of putting up this same cast and crew while they’re down in Orlando shooting their TV show/movie/whatever).

What Disney had originally hoped would happen at its MGM production facility was that Florida-based technicians and talent would produce popular, cost-effective programming. Which the company could then air on the Disney Channel, ABC and/or ABC Family. But — in spite of years of effort — no hot hit television series and/or blockbuster motion picture has ever been produced in Central Florida. Not at Disney-MGM or over at the production facilities at Universal Studios Orlando.

Which is why you see the Mouse doing things like changing MGM soundstages into show buildings where attractions like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It!” can be housed. Mickey’s tired of trying, folks. Since Orlando — despite years of trying — has yet to turn into a second Hollywood, Disney’s moving ahead with its plans to change most of the production facilities along Mickey Avenue into show space for that theme park. (Look for a more detailed article on the Imagineers’ plans for Disney-MGM Studio theme park to pop up on JHM in the not-so-distant future.)

Next, a question all the way from Central America! Vinicio M. writes in to ask:

Hi Jim!

Bet you didn’t think that someone from this far visits your site. Well, I read all the articles you publish here. Great site, great stories!!! My friends are always asking me how do I know all these interesting stories about Disney. I’m always telling them that I am constantly reading your stories here at

I have a couple of questions for you. Do you think that Disney will ever build a theme park in Latin America? It seems that Disney is starting to notice people south of the border. We already have a Disney Channel (With exactly the same programming that you have in the U.S., [only] in Spanish). And we’re constantly shown ads for Disney World and the Disneyland Resort (my personal favorite). Next month, “Disney on Ice” visits Guatemala for the first time ever (For a small country like this, it’s quite an event!) So do you think if we have a chance to ever see the Mouse build a Magic Kingdom anywhere in Latin Ameriva?

Take care and thanks for all your great stories,

Vinicio M.
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Central America

Thanks for all the kind words regarding I have to admit that it’s still quite a thrill that this extremely humble website — which is only nine months old, by the way — has been doing so well. Pulling in readers from all over the globe. In record numbers, mind you. (So far this month, over 2 million visitors have dropped by JHM to find out what’s new.)

Mind you, in spite of the site’s not-so-humble sounding name, is NOT a one man operation. I have a lot of help from a not-sot-large but still very talented and dedicated crew. David Gasior handles the tech side of things. Chuck Oberleitner, Roger Colton, Andrea Monti, Patrick Hurd, Michael Howe, Mark Mitchell and now Jim Korkis regularly contribute columns. And let’s not forget about the folks who actually got the ball rolling: Michelle Smith and Jon Nadelberg. (Damn it! I just know that I’m forgetting someone. I think the altitude must be affecting my memory … Anywho …)

Okay. Enough self-congratulatory back-patting. Let’s get to that question of yours, Vinicio, shall we?

A Disney theme park in Latin America. Yes, Vinicio, this idea had been bandied about by the Imagineers for the past 25 years. Possible sites have scouted. Discreet conversations have been held with government officials from various Central and South America nations. But — to date — WDI’s dream of building a Magic Kingdom for Latin America has yet to go forward.

Why for? Oddly enough, it’s the Walt Disney World resort that’s actually standing in the way of this project. You see, the Mouse is so dependent now on Latin America tourists to help fill up its Central Florida theme parks and hotels that Disney’s completely abandoned the idea of building a Magic Kingdom south of the border. At least for the foreseeable future.

Of course, given how aggressive Universal Studios has become — what with that corporation’s plans to build at least two theme parks in China over the next 10 years, not to mention expanding its already-existing Spanish and Japanese properties — the Walt Disney Company could change its tune. Perhaps someday soon it might make sense for the Mouse to build its first Latin American Magic Kingdom.

Sure, a project like that might have a detrimental effect on WDW attendance levels. But — on the other hand — what would be better? To be the company to open a major theme park in Latin America, to have that virgin territory all to yourself … or to have to follow one of your rivals into this arena? To have to play “Catch Up” with Universal or Six Flags?

Based on conversations that I’ve had with WDI vets, I would say that it’s extremely unlikely that the Walt Disney Company will announce that it’s going forward with a theme park/resort project in Latin America before the end of this decade. But — as for that span of years between 2010 and 2020 — well … that’s a very different story.

So my advice, Vinicio, is to have some patience. Let the Walt Disney Company get Hong Kong Disneyland open. Then let the Mouse decide what it’s going to do about the Universal Studios threat. Then (I’d imagine) that Mickey will finally start to get serious about building a Disneyland in Latin America.

Okay. There was a slight pause there. Nancy’s and my flight just landed in Chicago. After grabbing some lunch at O’Hare’s itty-bitty version of the Billy Goat Tavern (Just for the record: I had Cheezborger, Cheezborger. Chips. No Coke. No Pepsi. Water), I’m now killing time at the gate the while Nancy prowls around the concourse, looking for something new to read.

Our next question … well, it’s not actually a question. It’s more on an expansion on an answer that I gave to a question that was printed in last week’s “Why For.”

Bryan writes in to add:

Thanks for your wonderful info, Jim … I really appreciate the hard work you put into your site. Your stories just make my day.

Anyway, I just wanted to add that – in the book “Since the World Began,” which was released by Hyperion – they quote that “A Rhine River attraction was originally planned, and a building was even built for it, but the attraction was never constructed. A pair of massive wooden doors near the rear of the Sommerfest outdoor café is the only indication of the show building behind the stone castle wall.” Just a little tidbit..

Your Number 1 Fan,


Thank you, Bryan. All last Thursday, while I was putting together last week’s “Why For,” I was racking my brain. Trying to remember where exactly I’d read about those doors at Epcot’s German pavilion that supposedly lead to where the “Rhine River” ride was going to be located. I should have realized that Jeff Kurtti’s excellent “Since the World Began” would have touched on this matter.

Jeff’s authorized history of the Walt Disney World resort is probably the best book that’s currently out there about the Mouse’s Central Florida property. Until — of course — David Koenig gets around to completing his unauthorized WDW history.

(And yeah, I’ve got a Disney World book of my own in the works. Which reminds me: I’ve really got to finish up that proposal and fire it off to that very nice publisher in Connecticut. Don’t worry, Kelly. I’ll be sending you something shortly. Perhaps even before I head back to New Hampshire. So please have a bit more patience, okay? … Anyway …)

It’s funny that you mention those doors, Bryan. Why for? Well, earlier this month, while I was taking my JHM tour group around World Showcase, we actually stopped in at the German pavilion and tried to find the entrance to the abandoned “Rhine River” ride. But — try as we might — we just couldn’t find that enormous set of double doors.

Perhaps Jim Korkis — once he gets back to active duty here at — can shed some light on this matter. Let us know for sure where this set of doors is located. More importantly, let us know if the more spectacular part of this story is true: that construction of the show building which was to have housed the “Rhine River” ride was actually completed … but the ride itself was never installed.

If this is truly what happened … then what’s back there now? An empty show building? I seem to recall that — back when I used to lead visiting high school bands around WDW property — that there was this huge rehearsal space actually located right inside Epcot’s German pavilion. To the very back of the building.

Could this cavernous room have been where the “Rhine River” ride was supposed to be installed? Can someone out there please answer this question?

Jim K? Some highly placed Disney World employee and/or WDI vet? Anyone?

Moving on now … next, we have a really-for-real question from Casey A.

Hey, Jim!

I love the articles. I can hardly wait each day for the updates. Anyways, I’ve always been curious – and forgive me if you’ve covered this in a previous article – but why did the Astro-Orbiter in (Disneyland’s New) Tomorrowland get moved from the top of the ‘observation’ tower to the not-as-exciting-and-very-boring ground?


Casey A.


I’ve actually heard a couple of interesting variations on the story as to why the Star Jets in Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland ended up becoming … well, basically a piece of kinetic sculpture.

One version has it that the real reason that WDI opted to turn DL’s Star Jets into the Observatron was that — after pricing out what it would cost to retrofit this late 1960s / early 1970s spinner ride with new Astro-Orbiter-like design elements — the Imagineers discovered that it would actually be cheaper (in the long run, anyway) to just build a brand new version of the Disneyland-Paris spinner ride at ground level and leave DL’s old Star Jets standing in place.

A more intriguing version of this tale would have it that the Imagineer who was in charge of this particular piece of Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland project was deathly afraid of heights. So much so that this guy freaked at the idea of regularly having to go to the top of the Star Jets tower to supervise this ride’s retrofit.

So — in order to avoid confronting his fears — this WDI vet supposedly connived to have the Star Jets changed into a purely decorative element of Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland (which then put this ride outside of his jurisdiction). And then — realizing that this part of the park still had to have some sort of spinner attraction — this wiley Imagineer persuaded Disneyland officials to let him bring a clone of Disneyland-Paris’ Astro-Orbiter to Anaheim. Which (given that this New Tomorrowland spinner ride is so much closer to the ground than the Star Jets) made it that much easier for this WDI guy to supervise its installation.

Based on conversations that I’ve had with various Imagineering veterans, it would appear that the former story (I.E. that it was more cost effective to just leave DL’s Star Jets in place and go with an all-new spinner ride for New Tomorrowland rather than try to affordably retrofit this old attraction with brand-new machine age elements) is closer to the truth than the latter. Which is kind of a shame. Given how much fun that “Imagineer who’s afraid of heights” story is.

Anyone out there want to step up with the definitive answer to Disneyland’s Astro-Orbiter’s origins?

And finally, Jake comes forward with a question about Disney’s Platinum Editions:

Hi, Jim

I’ve been an avid reader of your site for a while now and love your coverage. I thought you might be able to tell a few things about Disney’s Platinum Editions. Why has (Disney) reportedly recently changed the Platinum Editions release schedule (again)?

Ronald Epstien, the owner of the Home Theater Forum, has posted a heavily altered release schedule which he claims to have received directly from Disney. The new schedule:

The Lion King – October 2003
Aladdin – 2004
The Little Mermaid – 2005 (Previously 2008)
Bambi – 2006 (Previously 2005)
Cinderella – 2007
Lady and the Tramp – 2008 (Previously 2009)
101 Dalmatians – 2009 (Previously 2010)
The Jungle Book – 2010 (Previously 2006)

The switch for “Little Mermaid” is not a surprise to me since I remember you saying that (this Disney animted film) was getting the IMAX treatment (I heard it was due in 2004, so the 2005 DVD release is only logical). But some of the others are a bit more confusing. Can you shed any light as to why these were all changed, or even confirm this?




You know, there was a time in the not-so-distant past where the info that Ronald E. posted in his Home Theater Forum was mostly correct. But now … well, the release schedule for Disney’s Platinum Edition DVD and home videos are constantly being rewritten.

Why for? Well, to be blunt, the re-releasing of these animated films in the IMAX and large screen format just prior to their DVD debut hasn’t turned out to be the money-maker that the Mouse expected. Which is why — after “The Little Mermaid” is released in this format in late 2004 — Disney’s reportedly toying with dropping this portion of its re-release program and just putting as many of the animated titles from its film library out in the marketplace as quickly as possible.

And why would Buena Vista Home Entertainment do something like that? Because — as of 2007 — Disney is planning on re-releasing many of these same titles all over again. Only in the high definition DVD format. With the hope that — provided that the price is right — we’ll all decide to happily set aside our current Disney DVD collections and replace them with the higher quality discs.

Sounds like a silly business plan? Well, let me ask you this: how many of you own a copy of “Beauty and the Beast” in both the VHS and the DVD format? More importantly, how many of you — later this fall — are planning on picking up a copy of the 2-disc collector’s edition of “The Lion King” once that DVD hits store shelves … even though your VHS version of “The Lion King” is still perfectly watchable?

Quite a lot of you, I’m betting, answered the questions above in the affirmative. All because you (and I) think that these Disney animated films look better in the DVD format. More importantly, because you want to check out the extra features that Buena Vista Home Entertainment has crammed onto those discs.

That’s why I’m kind of reluctant to make fun of the Mouse for abandoning its previously announced Platinum Edition release schedule and embracing this new business plan. Sure, it sucks to think that — in five years or so — that we’re all going to be spending our hard earned money to purchase Disney movies that we already own (twice already!) in favor of brand new versions of these very same films in the Hi-Definition format.

You see, a couple of years ago, I actually did make fun of friends who were doing just that: buying DVD replacements from films that they already owned in VHS. But now … well, look at me. I spent an entire afternoon last week driving around to various stores in New Hampshire looking for the 2-disc version of “The Love Bug.” A movie that I’m not actually all that fond of … just because I wanted to see all the extra features that Buena Vista Home Entertainment included in this DVD release.

(By the way, I was never able to track down a copy of that “Love Bug” DVD in New England. But I have high hopes that I’ll be able to find this film in its new format sometime over the next 12 days that I’m in California.)

And — speaking of “high” — it’s time for Nancy and I to finally board our flight to Orange County. Thanks for coming along on this (mostly) airborne version of “Why For.” And remember — if you’re interested in taking part in next week’s JHM tours of Disneyland and DCA — just drop me a line at and I’ll fill you in on the particulars.

Beyond that … have a great weekend, okay?

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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