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The King of the Run-on Sentence returns with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim goes on (and on and on …) about Disneyland’s Chinatown, why “Aladdin” won’t be going Platinum next year, and why it’s Lenny (and not Benny) the Cab. Also: Cast your vote for the series that you want Jim to finish next …

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Arson W. wrote to ask:

I saw a concept painting of “Chinatown” for Disneyland. I’ve never heard of this “Lost Land” before. Did some of this get re-themed into New Orleans Square somewhere in the planning stages? Am I missing out on common knowledge of a bad idea, or was there some kind of nationality foul play afoot? Or something else? I just gotta know: What’s the deal with Chinatown?

By the way, I saw this on this page.

Ah yes, Chinatown. One of a half dozen ideas that the Imagineers have developed – over the past 50 years – for construction on that great piece of backstage property at Disneyland.

Which piece of property am I talking about? That roughly pie-shaped piece of land that lies between Main Street U.S.A. and Tomorrowland. These days, this is strictly a back-of-the-house area. A place where the parade floats can get parked between their daily (or nightly) runs. Or where Disneyland employees can go to grab a quick bite to eat at the aptly named cast member cafeteria, the “Inn Between.”

But it just killed the Imagineers to think that this great piece of centrally located property was just laying there, undeveloped. So – starting ‘way back in 1955 – they kept throwing ideas at Walt. Hoping that he might finally greenlight one of these concepts for construction.

WED’s first idea was to use this space to create an “International Street” area for Disneyland. A place where guests could wander through a network of colorful but quaint boulevards, each of them themed to look like they were from another land. An early precursor to Epcot’s World Showcase, “International Street” would have been filled with highly detailed recreations of shops and restaurants from Denmark, Germany, Spain, Japan, France, and Switzerland. Live musical entertainment was to have been presented every hour at the very center of this new “land,” which was designed to look like an authentic Italian village square.

Walt liked this idea enough to have a sign put up in Main Street U.S.A.’s hub area (near the proposed entrance to Disneyland’s next “land”) which read “Site of International Street – Grand Opening 1956.” To give park visitors some idea what they had in store, the Imagineers set up a series of “peep holes” – which would allow Disneyland visitors to get a look at a 3D photograph of the “International Street” model.

But – in spite of the very promising sign over this “Site of Future Sights” – construction never actually got underway on Disneyland’s “International Street.” The only thing that Disney ever seemed do was – every 12 months or so – was change the lettering on the sign. So first it read “Grand opening 1957,” then “Grand Opening 1958.”

By the time 1958 actually rolled around, that sign had undergo a really radical transformation. For – instead of touting the imminent arrival of International Street, now this Disneyland Construction Company announced that this backstage area was soon-to-be the future home of “Liberty Street – Grand Opening 1959.”

Why did the internationally themed area get cut in favor of a patriotic themed addition to Disneyland? Think about it, kids. Guests would be exiting Main Street U.S.A. in order to enter this new part of the park. It just made better sense (story-wise, that is) to have this colonial America themed area serve as an extension of Disneyland’s turn-of-the-century entrance area.

Mind you, this wasn’t the only Americana themed area that Walt and his Imagineers were thinking of adding onto Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. area. Midway up the avenue, off of Market Street’s dead end, they had hoped to build “Edison Square.” A cul-de-sac themed to look like New York City and/or Chicago of 1910. The time when gaslight was giving way to the next modern wonder, electricity.

What’s interesting about these two proposed additions to the Anaheim theme park that – had everything gone according to plan – these two expansion areas were both to have opened in 1959. They would have also presented early versions of two soon-to-be favorite Disney theme park shows. Liberty Square would have had its “One Nation Under God” show (Which was eventually resurrected at the centerpiece attraction of the Liberty Square area at WDW’s Magic Kingdom under the name “The Hall of Presidents”), while Edison Square was to have had its “Harnessing the Lightning” attraction (Which – in a somewhat mutated form – eventually emerged as one of the hit attractions at the 1964 New York Worlds Fair, “General Electric’s Carousel of Progress.”)

So why weren’t either of these proposed additions to Disneyland ever built? Because both of the attractions that served as the anchors for Liberty Square and Edison Square relied heavily on audio animatronics. Which was still in its infancy in the late 1950s.

Both “One Nation Under God” and “Harnessing the Lightning” would require dozens of authentic looking human-type AA figures to be built and maintained in order to pull off their shows. But the Imagineers had yet to build a single “electrical-mechanical” figure that could truly pass for human.

Which is why both of these projects eventually got tabled in the early 1960s. The Imagineers were ambitious enough to want to try and do shows like “Hall of Presidents” and “Carousel of Progress” back then. But the technology necessary to build & program dozens of authentic looking human-type AA figures just hadn’t been developed. Yet.

With an eye toward developing that technology, the Imagineers proposed doing a smaller, less ambitious attraction. Something that would only feature a few audio animatronics. That would sort of serve as a field test for the more ambitious rides & shows that Walt and his Imagineers already had in their planning pipeline.

This is where Disneyland’s Chinatown comes in, Arson. This picturesque block of oriental themed shops (which was to have been built right off of Market Street, right where Edison Square was originally supposed to have been built) was to have had a centerpiece restaurant … whose name escapes me at the moment. But the establishment was supposed to have been sponsored by Chung King (The company that made a name for itself in the early 1960s for selling canned Chinese food).

Anywho … this authentic looking eatery was to have featured Chinese cuisine as well as live and not-so-live entertainment. The after-dinner show would have been kicked off when the head of the decorative dragon (which looped throughout the restaurant) would suddenly come to life and start in with Wally-Boag-written gags like:

DRAGON: (Belching fire, then) “Does anyone mind if I smoke?”

And

DRAGON: (After prolonged burp) “Oooh. I think someone I ate disagreed with me. Of course, that’s probably why I ate him in the first place. For disagreeing with me. (Another burp) Excuse me.”

Then the AA dragon would introduce the show’s live entertainment, a trio of lady singers known as the “Nightingirls.” Toward the tale end of their performance, audio animatronic birds were to have been lowered from the ceiling and provided back-up for the trio’s closing number.

But the real highlight of the show was to have been a performance by Confucius, Disney’s first full-fledged audio animatronic figure. This robot (which is also identified as Grandfather Chun in some drafts of the show’s script) was supposed to appear as if he was providing wise counsel for live questions that the audience was asking.

Of course, all of the questions that the Confucius figure would be answering would be on pre-recorded track. But – since these questions would be coming from speakers that were hidden all over the restaurant – it would sound like guests from all parts of the dining room were firing questions at the legendary wiseman.

Of course, one of the reasons that the Imagineers loved the idea of building an AA show around Confucius is that – due to the age of this mystic ancient – it would just make sense to the audience that this robotic figure would move slowly and/or remain seated for the bulk of the show. Just like a very old man would.

Plus Confucius’ elegant long silk robes would go a long way toward masking all the mechanisms necessary to run a complicated figure like this. So – all in all – the Chinese Restaurant dinner show seemed like an inspired choice for Disney’s first full fledged audio animatronic show.

So why didn’t Walt and his Imagineers finally go forward with Disneyland’s Chinatown? To be honest, they could never come up with a head that they liked for the figure. Imagineers who worked for Walt Disney Productions back in the days when the Confucious AA was being built still talk about how disconcerting it was to walk into the room where they were developing the restaurant figures and see this disembodied Chinese head on top of a box, just chattering away.

Still – the AA birds that were built for the Chinese restaurant were considered a success. So – even though the Confucius dinner show project was tabled in the early 1960s – those robotic birds soon became the stars of a show of their very own, Disneyland’s “Enchanted Tiki Room.” (And that talking dragon head? Well, he served as the inspiration for all those talking tikis that line the walls of this Adventureland Theater.)

“But, Jim,” I hear you asking, “If the Walt Disney Company perfected the use of audio animatronics in the mid-to-late 1960s, then why wasn’t Edison Square or Liberty Street or even Chinatown ever added to Disneyland?”

That’s an excellent question. And – to be honest – I don’t know why none of these expansion plans for the area behind Main Street U.S.A. and Tomorrowland were ever revived. Perhaps Disneyland management way back then just felt that this area was too valuable (given all the behind-the-scene activity that goes on back here) now to be developed. Which is perhaps why all future talk of expanding Disneyland out into this particular piece of the property dried up in the mid-to-late 1970s.

Mind you, a few of the ideas that were proposed for this part of the park still survived. Edison Square’s signature attraction – that “Harnessing the Lightening” show – eventually was built at Disneyland. Only it was housed in Tomorrowland’s theater-go-round building.

And – as late as 1978 – there was still talk of adding a “Liberty Street” (Now called “Liberty Square”) to Disneyland. But that idea petered out once the Imagineers saw how low attendance was for the WDW version of this same attraction.

And as for International Street … would you believe that – as late as 1982 – the Imagineers were still trying to get an international section added to Disneyland? The last version (which was to have built out beyond the berm behind “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Haunted Mansion”) was known as “World Holiday Land.” This area – which was to have featured sections themed around London, Paris, Bavaria and Scandinavia – featured a Circlevision 360 film, a Scandinavian folklore ride, a Medieval England-themed attraction as well as an indoor Bavarian-themed attraction that would have allowed Disneyland to simulate the experience of skiing through the Alps. Along with the usual assortment of stores and restaurants, of course.

Mind you, the Imagineers never actually gave up on the idea of building new rides and attractions to be placed on that land out behind Main Street U.S.A. As recently as 1990, WDI was pushing to turn this part of primo property into Hollywoodland. Which was to have been a miniature version of Disney-MGM Studios theme park right here in Anaheim.

What would this have been like? Well, picture the backside of Space Mountain to be redressed as the Hollywood hills (With the famous “Hollwyood” sign towering over this side of the park). Back here, guests would have been to enter the Chinese Theater for a trip on “The Great Movie Ride.” (Interesting tidbit on this proposed attraction: The Disneyland train was actually supposed to roll through “The Great Movie Ride.” It would be seen – of course – in the Western Section of the attraction, rolling past an authentic looking frontier train station. Of course, only the Disneyland guests who were riding on the train would be able to see the scene on the backside of the depot. Where an AA version of Gary Cooper from “High Noon” would anxiously wait for that train full of gun fighters to roll into town …)

Also penciled in for construction as part of Disneyland’s “Hollywoodland” was that now-closed Disney-MGM favorite, “Superstar Television.” There were also plans to incorporate several rides that the Imagineers had originally designed for WDW’s “Sunset Boulevard” expansion area into the Anaheim theme park. Among these was “*** Tracy Crimestoppers” as well as “Baby Herman’s Runaway Buggy Ride.”

Of course, how the Imagineers were going to cram all these new rides and shows into that tiny piece of property out behind Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. and Tomorrowland remains a mystery. Even to me. (Hey, I don’t make up these stories, Arson. I just report ’em).

And finally – moving on to our next story – Heather B. asks:

I have a question about the Platinum Collection. I remember hearing rumors back in early 2001 that the DVD of Aladdin would come out in 2003, and that The Lion King would come out in 2004. However, in about January or February of 2002 it was announced that Lion King would come out in 2003, and Aladdin wasn’t mentioned at all. In fact, there was no word about Aladdin at all until this summer.

So, why’d Aladdin get moved back? Was Al the victim of post 9/11 paranoia? Was TLK moved up to coincide with the release of TLK 1 1/2? Or was the original rumor about the release dates false?

Also, now that the dates of the releases of all the Platinum titles have been announced, do you think there will be any more changes?

Heather, it’s not 9/11 that made Disney swap “Aladdin”‘s Platinum Collection release date with “The Lion King.” But – rather – economics.

You see, “The Lion King” is Walt Disney Company’s highest grossing feature length animated film (to date). Taking in well over a billion dollars worldwide. Whereas “Aladdin” … well, that 1992 film’s no slouch at the box office either. If you factor in all the revenues that “Aladdin”‘s two direct-to-video sequels have made, that film franchise has pulled in something along the lines of $700 million (to date).

So why does “The Lion King”‘s prior box office performance factor into why it’s getting released on DVD in 2003 – rather than “Aladdin”? Well, you have to understand that Disney’s quite anxious to market all of its feature length animated films through the newer medias. Not just DVDs, mind you. But also large formats like IMAX too.

And the strategy that Disney originally had in place for promoting its Platinum Collection releases actually went something like this: During the Christmas / New Years release window, whichever film that the Walt Disney Company intended to put out as the corporation’s major DVD release ten months later (AKA the Platinum Collection) would begin being shown in IMAX theaters worldwide. In an effort to generate some renewed excitement among consumers for that title. To whet their appetite, if you will.

At least, that was the plan as of January 1, 2002. When Disney released the Special Edition of “Beauty and the Beast” to IMAX theaters. Unfortunately, that film did fairly tepid business when shown in large format. Just $8 million during its first three weeks of release. Which wouldn’t even come close to covering the costs of cleaning up the film as well as animating its much hyped new sequence, the “Human Again” production number. And let’s not forget about the tens of millions of dollars that Disney poured into promoting the IMAX release of this movie.

After viewing these meager box office returns, the concern at Disney corporate headquarters was that – if the IMAX release of “Beauty and the Beast: The Special Edition” didn’t do all that well, the under-performance of the large format version of the movie might taint consumers’ perception of the product. Making them less likely to buy the forthcoming DVD of the film.

Which is why the higher ups at Disney thought that “Maybe we need to rethink hyping our upcoming DVD release to showing these films in the IMAX format first. Maybe this large screen stuff isn’t necessarily the best way to re-introduce consumers to the films that we’ll soon be making available for sale via our ‘Platinum Collection.’ Maybe there’s another way that we can get people excited about our older films.”

Which is not to say that Disney is getting ready to bail on its long term deal with the IMAX folks. Far from it, kids. I mean, the Mouse has already begun producing short large format films expressly to be shown in IMAX theaters. These include “Ultimate X” as well as the forthcoming “Young Black Stallion” movie. And – later this month, for the first time ever – a brand new feature length Disney animated film will be released simultaneously in the standard 35 MM format as well as IMAX. So you can chose to see “Treasure Planet” on the big screen or the REALLY BIG screen.

But as for Disney continue to tease consumers (prime the pump, if you will) by first showing the company’s next “Platinum Collection” release in IMAX theaters … Well, Heather, Disney felt that – following “B & B”‘s lackluster large format performance – that a test was in order.

“Let’s take our strongest film,” studio heads supposedly said, “The one that people keep asking us to re-release on home video and DVD and put that one out in IMAX theaters. If the box office response to that film is significantly stronger than the one we got from “Beast”‘s re-release, then let’s stick with IMAX for a while … If not, then let’s stop using this format to try and re-introduce, re-excite audiences to our older films and just go with simultaneous releases of our newer features at the multiplexes as well as IMAX.”

Why abandon the IMAX re-releases for Disney’s older films? Because, to be honest, it cost a lot of money to reformat these 10-years old (and older) pictures for large screen theaters. Not to mention all the time and the money that has to be poured into cleaning up these films. Redrawing and/or replacing awkward pieces of animation which – when shown on a 10 story tall screen – look just awful.

Mind you, clean up work has already been completed on the IMAX version of “Aladdin.” And I’m told that Disney’s animators are still hard at work on all the repairs that need to be made to “The Little Mermaid” before that 1989 film can look beautiful on large format screens.

But that doesn’t guarantee that either of these two films will ever be shown in the IMAX format. A lot depends on how the large format version of “The Lion King” does this holiday season. So – if you want to see Ariel and/or the Genie on the really big screen – make sure you drag all of your friends and family to see “The Lion King” in IMAX.

Otherwise, these two films will probably bypass large format and head straight for the small screen.

Then, MrTheFrog wrote to ask:

Jim, I’m in California (for the first time in 10 years), and today I went to Disneyland and rode Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin. I noticed that the license plates on all the cabs read “Lenny” instead of “Benny”. Is there a story behind this? Does Benny have a long lost brother, like the now infamous King Larry? Or is this part of the whole Spielberg/Amblin/Roger fiasco?

Sad to say, but Lenny the Cab only exists because of the Walt Disney Company and Amblin’ Productions’ continuing brawling over the characters featured in “Who Framed Rober Rabbit?”

Before Disney can do ANYTHING with the “Roger Rabbit” characters – be it using Roger and friends in a cartoon, a coloring book, a TV commercial or a theme park attraction – they have to clear how the character is to be used with Spielberg’s people. Which can take months.

As they were working on the “Roger Rabbit’s Car – Toon Spin” ride for Mickey’s Toontown, the Imagineers just got tired of dealing with all this nonsense. Of having to talk to WDI’s lawyers (which would then have to talk to Spielberg’s people) everytime that they wanted to change something in that ride.

So finally – in order to simplify their lives – these guys from WDI decided that, while they’d love to have Benny the Cab be the ride vehicle that took Disneyland guests on their trip through Toontown, it didn’t really have to be Benny. It could – in fact – be Benny’s brother, Lenny … without having any real impact on park visitors’ enjoyment of the ride.

And – of course – their higher ups at the Walt Disney Company just loved this solution because they could then copyright the name “Lenny the Cab,” making that character the sole property of the Walt Disney Company. And there was nothing that Spielberg’s people could do about this.

I know, I know. That’s not a particularly happy story. But – as you well know, MrTheFrog – not every Hollywood-related story ends happily.

And – speaking of stories not ending … Okay. I give. I’ve been reading all of the notes that you folks have been posting on the JimHillMedia.com discussion boards about how I never finish what I start. Which – if you’ll just look at my epic length “Western River Expedition” story – you’ll see that this isn’t ALWAYS true.

That said, I can understand your frustration. So how’s about this: I’ll be tallying votes for the next seven days. The unfinished series that get the most votes will be the one I finish first. The runner-up will be the one I complete second, and so on. That work for you folks? Hope so.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, 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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