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Why For?

Why For?

Better late than never, Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney related questions. This time around, Jim offers up an apology, brings us some sad news about “Miss Piggy’s Superstar Limo,” reveals Tinker Bell’s X-rated past, then points you toward a great couple of articles over at FilmForce.

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First of all, let me apologize for the delay in getting up this week’s “Why For” column. But it’s been another one of those weeks out here in the woods of New Hampshire.

What’s gone wrong this time? Well, the big main computer here at the house — our Compaq Presario — went Ker-FLOOM! on Monday. And since Nancy comes from the school of thought that says “I worked in the hi-tech sector for 23 years, that means that I should be able to repair my own home computer all by myself,” she’s been slowly plugging away for the past four days … while I’ve been slowly pulling out what remains of my hair.

So what’s this crisis’s current status? Well, despite numerous calls to Earthlink, Netscape and Microsoft, the Presario and our satellite dish are still not communicating with one another. And — given that I keep asking my significant other “Is the computer fixed yet?” — Nancy is no longer speaking to me.

So — in order to try and stay current with what’s been going on on the Web — I am now forced to use our ancient, steam-driven laptop. Which redefines slow. (You can actually watch the seasons change as you attempt to download your e-mail.)

And – since Nancy also has to use our aged laptop in her search for clues as to how one goes about resurrecting a dead computer – Well … Let’s just say that I haven’t be able to get nearly as much time on the Internet as I would have liked this week.

So my apologies to all of you who have been patiently waiting for me to reply to your recent e-mails. I’m afraid that you’re going to have to wait just a wee bit longer. At least until Nancy gets our Presario to rise from the grave and/or until I figure out how to recreate my own working computer out of pine sap, folding chairs, Dixie Cups and string.

Hopefully, all of our computer problems here at the house will finally be cleared up sometime over the coming weekend. Or else … Nancy will, I’m certain, kill me in my sleep long before Monday morning ever rolls around.

And — on that happy note — let’s get to your “Why For” questions, shall we?

First, Bryan S. writes to ask:

Mr. Hill

Just a quick Why For? question for you. In a recent Why For? you said that an attraction tentatively titled “Miss Piggy’s Superstar Limo” would be headed to DCA and possibly the Disney-MGM Studios if Disney acquires the Muppet portion of the Jim Henson Company. My question is, if this happens, how likely is it that the Studios and DCA will get an updated Muppet Vision 4-D? Why didn’t DCA get a brand new version of the show when it opened? Why has Muppet Vision 4-D remained for SO LONG without a major rehab?

Love the site!

Thanks a lot
Bryan Schreier

Bryan –

I hate to be the one to burst your bubble here. But — as of this moment — never mind about getting a new movie for “Kermit the Frog presents Muppet Vision 3D.” It’s now looking very likely that we won’t even get “Miss Piggy’s Superstar Limo.”

What’s the problem now? Well, you have to understand that the Walt Disney Company is this very dynamic organization. Things are changing at the Mouse House all the time. (Take for example, Forbidden Mountain. Which was what the soon-to-be-officially-announced new thrill ride for Disney’s Animal Kingdom was originally supposed to be called. Not any longer. A decision was made recently to change the name of this DAK attraction to “Expedition Everest: The Legend of the Yeti” and/or “Expedition Everest: The Legend of Forbidden Mountain.” Either way, “Expedition Everest” is the new main moniker for this Asian-themed roller coaster … though — given that there’s still a week or so ’til this project’s officially unveiled to the press — the name of DCA’s new thrill ride could concievably change … again. Anyway …)

And while there are admittedly some real die-hard Jim Henson fans working for Walt Disney Imagineering, folks who are actually pulling for DCA’s Hollywood Pictures backlot to be changed into a mini-Muppetland … that’s NOT what’s going to happen now. At least for the foreseeable future.

So what’s the hold-up now? Well, for starters, the Walt Disney Company still hasn’t been able to come to terms with EM.TV, the German-based broadcast consortium that currently owes the Jim Henson Company. Once again, the hold up seems to be over monetary issues.

And given that the Mouse is becoming increasingly reluctant to put more moula on the table (Why for? Well, what with all of the long term outside licensing and merchandising deals the Henson organization and EM.TV already have in place for Kermit & Co., it now appears that it could be years before the Walt Disney Company could actively begin to cash in on the Muppet characters) in its effort to finally acquire the Muppets, there is the very real possibility that this deal could fall through … again. Which means that the Jim Henson Company could be in play … again. And the Muppets could end up being the property of some other entertainment conglomerate.

Which is why the Imagineers were told last week to stop yammering about a “Miss Piggy’s Superstar Limo” ride. That WDI would be adding that ride concept to the discard pile where the idea for the initial SSL redo (“Goofy’s Superstar Limo,” remember?) now rests.

Based on what Imagineering insiders have told me this past week, “Monsters, Inc.” (Which — ironically enough — has been called “… the greatest Muppet movie the Jim Henson Company never produced”) is now officially the theme of the SSL redo. The ride vehicles for this soon-to-be-revamped DCA dark ride are reportedly already back in Glendale, waiting to be repainted and retooled. And — if all goes according to plan — this “Monsters, Inc.” themed attraction could be open for Disneyland Resort guests to ride as early as this December. (Though — truth be told — a more likely scenario is that this revamped Hollywood Pictures Backlot ride will only soft-open over the 2003 holiday season, with the official grand opening of “Monsters, Inc.” being held back ’til Spring 2004. When this new dark ride would open in tandem with DCA’s “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.” The Mouse’s PR flaks are reportedly hoping that — with the opening of these two highly promote-able attractions — that the Disney corporation will be finally able to successfully relaunch its second Californian theme park.)

So where does this leave the Muppets? Well, let me share with you a phone call that I received earlier this week from a senior Disney Company official. The following is a reconstruction of a conversation I had with someone who’s supposedly intimately aware of what’s going on with the EM.TV / Henson negotiations. I’m working off of the notes I took that night while we talked on the phone.

I should warn you, though, that this guy isn’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea of Disney acquiring the Muppets. Why not? Read on:

“… The Muppet characters are pretty much dead in the water. At least from our point of view. Sure, Kermit, Piggy and Fozzie have some name recognition with baby boomers. But not with their kids. And that’s the demographic that Disney’s really lusting after these days.

That’s why — at least from a sheer business point of view — this acquisition just doesn’t make that much sense, Jim. It’s going to take Disney years — and millions of dollars — to revive the Muppet franchise. To bring Henson’s characters back into the public eye. To make Kermit & Co. as popular as they once were with the movie-going and TV-watching public.

Sure, the Henson film library would be a nice score. I hear that ABC Family has already called dibs on that. But as for the characters themselves …

Disney’s going to have to put years into reviving this franchise. Getting the Muppets back on television back on television on a weekly basis is Priority One. Putting the characters back in the theme parks in a big way — featuring them in elaborate new rides and shows — just doesn’t make good business sense right now. Not until they’re re-established.

So the Imagineers can dream and scheme all they want. But I guarantee you that no new Henson-based stuff is going into the theme parks until after Kermit & Co. start making some serious money for the Mouse. Once that starts happening … maybe then you’ll see stuff like ‘Miss Piggy’s Superstar Limo’ popping up in DCA, MGM and the studio park in Paris. But not until.

Sounds kind of harsh? I know. But what all you Disney and Muppet fans keep forgetting is that the most important part of the term ‘Show Business’ is the word ‘Business.’ Disney — like every other major entertainment company out there — is in this to make some money. To keep their stockholders happy by keeping share prices high.

That’s why it’s smarter for the company to go with this ‘Monsters, Inc.’ ride instead of the Miss Piggy themed redo. Disney already knows — based on how well that film did during its 2001 theatrical release, not to mention the millions more the Mouse made off of ‘Monsters, Inc.’s video and DVD release in 2002 — how popular these Pixar characters are. How much Disneyland Resort guests would love to see Mike and Sully in a ride at DCA.

And — given that the Mouse is still trying to get Pixar to sign a new distribution deal — it just makes sense for Mickey to throw a new ‘Monsters, Inc.’ ride into California Adventure. Show the folks back in Emeryville how much Disney really cares.

Whereas the Muppets … honestly, Jim. If Michael Eisner hadn’t been a personal friend of Jim Henson. More importantly, if Eisner had been able to let go of his decade-long obsession with finally being able to successfully acquire the Muppets, I don’t think that Disney would still be trying to cut a deal with EM.TV.

I mean, when you really think about the amount of money that Disney is going to have to reinvest in the Muppets in order to revive the franchise, to make these characters commercially viable again … and that’s on top of the $60 – $70 million that we’ve still got to shell out in order for EM.TV to finally sign over the characters … it’ll be a decade or more before Disney actually makes a dime off of the Muppets.

Can you see now why we’re not exactly busting our asses to make this EM.TV deal happen? Mind you, Uncle Mike’s still hot to make this deal. Particularly if we can acquire the Muppets for half of what we were supposed to pay for the characters back in 1989. But as for the rest of us … if Kermit & Co. were to get acquired by some other company, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of broken hearts in my office …”

Kind of disheartening to read something like that, isn’t it? But this Disney exec — let’s call him Mr. Downer, shall we? — is right, you know. The Walt Disney Company is a publicly-held company. Which means that the corporation is obliged to try and make some money for its stockholders.

So Muppet fans may mourn the idea that they’re not going to get the chance to ride “Miss Piggy’s Superstar Limo” anytime soon (and WDI observers have to wonder if the official green-lighting of a “Monsters, Inc.” ride for DCA’s Hollywood Picture Backlot district now tables all talk about turning the backmost portion of that theme park into Pixar Point / Place). But a more important question remains: given that the Walt Disney Company’s top priority seems to be making a quick buck off of Kermit & Co., rather than safeguarding Jim Henson’s characters and keeping them evergreen for generations yet to come (which is the real reason that Jim approached the Walt Disney Company in the Summer of 1989 … to insure that his creations would live on long after he himself was gone), I have to wonder … does it actually make any sense now for the Walt Disney Company to acquire the Jim Henson Company? Wouldn’t it be better in the long run for Kermit & Co. for the Henson characters to be acquired by some smaller company? Some entertainment organization who isn’t quite so obsessed with quickly cashing in.

I mean, truth be told, there has always been a severe culture clash between the Jim Henson Company and the Disney organization. I remember hearing the stories about when Jim was down in Central Florida during the Spring of 1990, shooting that “Muppets at Walt Disney World” TV special. The negotiations for Disney to acquire JHC were well underway at this time. And Henson wasn’t exactly happy with how aggressively Disney’s lawyers were behaving.

During Henson’s time in Orlando, he met with Disney Studio officials at the Team Disney Building. (You know? That oddly shaped building across from Downtown Disney? The one that looks like it has the cooling tower for a nuclear power plant sticking up out of its middle.) Jim arrived early with his people. And — as they waited in the conference room for then-Disney Studio head, Jeffrey Katzenberg, to arrive — Henson looked out the window and noticed that there were turkey vultures high overhead, circling the building.

Someone in the Henson Company contingent made a joke to the effect of “Vultures circling the building that we’re trying to close this deal in. That’s not a very encouraging sign.” But Jim … well, Henson being the eternal optimist (not to mention being a great lover of nature) … he stood at the window and explained what was actually going on. How these birds — in spite of their unsightly appearance and unfortunate names — were actually quite majestic.

Henson then launched into a mini-lecture about turkey vultures. How they had this elaborate mating dance. How these birds could spread their wings and ride the thermals, never touching ground for hours at a time.

And — as Jim was still talking — Jeffrey Katzenberg entered the conference room. Diet Coke in hand, Jeffrey strode up to the window and looked up at the birds soaring high overhead as Henson finished up his lecture.

Then Jeffrey chimed in: “Turkey vultures, eh? Disney got in a lot of trouble last year for killing a bunch of those birds. The people who run the parks got tired of them roosting on Space Mountain. So over on Discovery Island, they captured 30 or 40 of them. Beat some to death. Locked the rest up in a small tin shed and let the heat finish them off. Somehow the press found out. We got a lot of bad publicity. Had to pay a hefty fine to the state too. But at least those birds stopped crapping on the Contemporary … soooo … let’s get started, shall we?”

Seriously, folks. That’s how this round of the Disney/Henson acquisition negotiations got underway. With Henson waxing rhapsodic about the majesty of the turkey vulture. And Jeffrey Katzenberg revealing that the Mouse had whacked a bunch of the birds because Disney was tired of cleaning vulture poo off its buildings with high pressure hoses.

Obviously, this wasn’t a very auspicious start to the meeting. Things went even further downhill when Jim said that “I only want what’s fair for my people.” Katzenberg’s response? A derisive snort, followed by “Hey, pal. Get out of the ’60s.”

With the hope that it might make things easier for Jim if he better understood Disney’s negotiating style, Jeffery said that “The Mouse works a lot like the Mossad (the infamous Israeli Intelligence Agency). For every one of our guys that you get, we take out five of yours. Fair doesn’t factor into the equation, Jim.”

And — while Jeffrey Katzenberg has been out of the Mouse House for nearly a decade now — that “Take No Prisoners” attitude remains prevalent at the Walt Disney Company.

So given the kind, gentle, whimsical, uniquely entertaining nature of what the Henson organization does, again I have to ask: Is the Walt Disney Company still really the right corporation to acquire the Jim Henson Company? Particularly since senior Disney Company officials (as was evidenced by the transcript of that phone call I had earlier this week) don’t really seem all that enthusiastic about the Mouse’s prospects for making any money off of the Muppets for a while.

Surely there must be a better company out there. Some corporation that would be a better fit, where people would try to safeguard Henson’s creations, rather than constantly try to cash in on Kermit & Co.

Here’s hoping anyway …

Next, N.W.E. writes in to ask:

Jim

Great site. Thank you. I have a question and don’t know where to turn. Re-watched Peter Pan this weekend and really came to realize that Tinker Bell is not the nicest of Pixies. How did someone with a “temperament” like this get such a top “Spokesperson” position in the company. Was it an accident that took fire or a deliberate plan?

Thanks for any insight you can offer.

Noell Wolfgram Evans

Dear Noell:

Funny thing about that Tinker Bell. Sure, the character was feisty and somewhat sexy when Ms. Bell made her initial appearance in Disney’s 1953 theatrical release, “Peter Pan.” But then — when Walt decided that Tinker Bell would play a large role in the promotion of Disneyland (not to mention her innumerable appearances in 1950s era Peter Pan Peanut Butter commercials) — her character was quickly cleaned up and calmed down.

Mind you, this didn’t sit all that well with the crew over at Disney Feature Animation. They didn’t like the idea of Marc Davis’ wonderfully sassy sprite being de-sexified. Which is why an after-hours, off-the-book project was initiated.

And what sort of project was this? It was a very short film. 10 – 15 seconds of animation, tops. Done in finished pencil sketch form. NOT in ink and paint. Without sound or music.

What was it? It was a cartoon of Jiminey Cricket getting intimate with Tinker Bell.

No, this isn’t an urban legend, folks. Several veteran animators that I’ve interviewed over the years, guys who started their animation careers at Disney Studios in the late 1950s and early 1960s, have very vivid memories of when they first saw this Tinker Bell / Jiminey Cricket footage.

I should stress here that it’s my understanding that Walt Disney — nor any other senior official of Walt Disney Productions — ever had any knowledge that this footage actually existed. This sexy Tinker Bell sequence was a private joke among the Nine Old Men (I.E. Walt’s pet name for the most experienced members of his animation staff). Something that they’d occasionally chose to spring on junior members of the WDFA department.

Typically, the gag would go down something like this: One of the Nine Old Men would surreptitiously splice this pseudo-pornographic scene into an assembly of rough footage that was supposed to be shown in a sweatbox session. There, these younger animators would anxiously be awaiting the screening of the scenes they’d just finished animating. Puppies playing, squirrels scampering, etc. And — in the middle of all of this innocuous pencil test footage — suddenly here’s Jiminey Cricket giving Tinker Bell “a little whistle.”

As this footage unreeled, the Nine Old Men who were present would laugh heartily at the shocked expressions on the faces of their younger charges. Then they’d swear the newbie animators to secrecy, carefully spliced the offending scene out of the assembled footage, then stash it away … ’til the next time they decided to shock one of the newer members of the Feature Animation staff.

Okay. Quick show of hands here: how many of you JHM readers were shocked to learn that this sort of thing went on at Walt Disney Feature Animation back in the 1950s and 1960s?

Alright. If you actually WERE shocked when you read this story, I have just two words for you: GROW UP.

After all, the Nine Old Men — indeed, the entire department over at Disney Feature Animation — weren’t saints. They were men. Guys who liked to smoke, drink, fart and swear. They were people who truly appreciated the female form. And if drawing a short scene where two of Disney’s beloved icons got it on got a laugh … well, so much the better.

So what finally became of this infamous footage? Curiously, animators that I’ve interviewed who started working at Walt Disney Productions in the 1970s and 1980s don’t recall ever actually seeing the Tink-and-Jiminey footage. They’d heard about it, of course. They know of its legend. But none of these animators have actually seen this sexy sequence … which leads me to believe that — when the keeper of the footage retired from the studio — he took the offending film home with him.

So somewhere in Southern California — stashed in the back of a drawer, or hidden away in an attic — there still probably exists a short reel of black-and-white 35MM Disney dynamite. Something that the Mouse’s legal department would undoubtedly love to get its hands on and destroy.

Mind you, it wasn’t just Disney employees that did this sort of thing. This short Tinker Bell and Jiminey Cricket sequence would probably seem positively tame in comparison with the one reel pornographic epic — starring Popeye and Betty Boop, no less — that Max Fleischer reportedly had produced back in September of 1938. This legendary film was allegedly created as sort of a coarse “Thank You” present to all those artists who agreed to come on down to Florida when the Fleischer Studio relocated from New York City to Miami, FL.

This particular cartoon — according to those folks that I’ve interviewed who claimed to have attended the Fleischer “Welcome to Miami” party — wasn’t just 10 to 15 seconds of finished pencil work. No, this one reel wonder was supposedly fully inked and painted with detailed backgrounds full of stylized Florida landscapes. It also featured a full vocal track as well as a musical score. More importantly, it was said to be outrageously amusing … with Betty Boop giving Popeye an extremely warm welcome for making the long trip down to Miami. (I’m told that a highlight of the film came when Popeye — after an extremely strenuous session with Betty — downed a can of spinach and … well, you can guess the rest, can’t you?)

That film — to my knowledge — was only shown once publicly at this “Welcome to Miami” party at Fleischer Studios. After that, Max reportedly locked the only copy of this toon away in the Fleischer Studio safe. (Though I’ve also heard tell that Max would occasionally screen the cartoon for special male visitors who were touring the Florida facility.) Once the Fleischer brothers were forced out of their own animation studio by Paramount Pictures executives in 1942, the reel reportedly dropped from sight. Lost to the ages, I suppose.

I don’t suppose that any of you JHM readers out there might know what actually became of that Jiminey Cricket / Tinker Bell pornographic pencil footage and/or that one reel epic that Max Fleischer reportedly had made of Betty Boop and Popeye mating? If either of these two films were to ever resurface … well, wouldn’t that make one hell of a story?

And — finally — Richard A. writes in to ask:

Jim:

Just a quick note, hoping you might find time/space to write about the return of Disney comics to North America. They are coming out in June, from Gemstone, the same people who print the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide.

Richard Allen

Richard –

Funny you should mention the re-emergence of Disney Comics. I had recently asked my friend, Greg White — the proprietor of “Comic Books & Collectibles” in Kissimmee, FL. — if he’d like to contribute a column to JimHillMedia.com about this very same subject.

Greg responded with a very brief article on the subject. Which is all well and good. Except … well … you folks know how things work here at JHM. We like our stories to be extra long. Hyper detailed, if possible.

So I was just about to call Greg and ask him to do a rewrite. To expand on the subject, if you will. When suddenly the phone rings. And who’s on the other end of the line but Greg’s lovely wife, Lisa. Who’s calling to tell Nancy and I that — just last Sunday — Greg fell off his roof while trying to clean his gutters. And — since he severely injured his back in the course of the fall — Greg’s had to have surgery and is now resting somewhat comfortably at Celebration Hospital.

Obviously, this was a real shock for all of us. Particularly Greg and his family. But the good news is that Greg’s already on the mend. He’s up and walking again. And — with any amount of luck — Greg should be out of the hospital shortly and back in the loving arms of Lisa, E.J. and Jonathan very soon.

The entire JimHillMedia.com family wishes the best of luck to Greg. Here’s hoping that he’ll be able to make a speedy and full recovery very soon.

But — since Greg’s not really in a position right now to expand on his original Disney Comics article — I thought that I should direct you folks to someone who’s already done a superb story on what Gemstone and Disney are up to.

Meet Kenneth Plume. Ken’s a columnist over at FilmForce at ign.com. He did this truly fine interview with Steve Geppi of Gemstone last month. This piece lays out the particulars of the re-emergence-of-Disney-Comics in great detail. It’s honestly fascinating reading. You can take a look at the piece here.

Plume’s a writer that you’re probably going to want to add to your “Favorites” list. Don’t believe me? Then you check out these interviews that Ken just did with Disney animation vets Don Hahn and Andreas Deja. Fascinating reading, don’t you think?

Okay. That’s enough for this week, I think. Here’s hoping that Greg White — and Nancy and my Presario — are both on the mend soon.

Have a great weekend everyone, okay?
jrh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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