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Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about Roy Disney’s reaction to the Pixar acquisition, gives us some background on Hani El-Masri, offers up some details about the “Discovery Bay” theme park, delivers an update on his unauthorized Disneyland history CD as well as revealing the key role that a veteran Disney animator played in the creation of that classic sci-fi film, “Forbidden Planet”

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First up, Tom M. writes in to ask:

Jim,

I really enjoy all the information you and your staff share. One thing I haven’t heard yet has been Roy Disney’s reaction to the purchase of Pixar and probable changes associated with it. If you have any information could you please share it.

Tom,

Well, based on the statement that Roy released back on January 25th …

” Animation has always been the heart and soul of the Walt Disney Company and it is wonderful to see Bob Iger and the company embrace that heritage by bringing the outstanding animation talent of the Pixar team back into the fold.

This clearly solidifies the Walt Disney Company’s position as the dominant leader in motion picture animation and we applaud and support Bob Iger’s vision.”

… I’d have to say that Walt’s nephew seems fairly pleased with the way things eventually turned out.

But — that said — I have to wonder how Roy really feels about all this. Given that it’s Disney’s new CEO Bob Iger who’s now getting all the credit. Bob’s the one who’s now being hailed as a hero by both Wall Street as well as Disneyana fans because Iger was the guy who brought Pixar back into the Disney fold.

You see, back during the very height of the “Save Disney” campaign, there were all these rumors flying around that Roy Disney & Stanley Gold had Steve Jobs in their back pocket. Meaning that — once Disney & Gold finally succeeded at ousting then-CEO Michael Eisner — that Roy would then cut some sort of deal with Steve. Giving Jobs whatever he wanted in order to secure the continuation of Disney & Pixar’s co-production deal.

Mind you, none of the parties involved here ever made a public statement to that effect. But — back in the late winter / early spring of 2004 — there were all these whispers about the “understanding” that Roy & Steve supposedly had. More to the point, it always seemed awfully co-incidental that — just eight weeks after Disney & Gold resigned from the company’s board of directors and started complaining loudly about the way Eisner was running the Disney corporation — Steve would suddenly break off Pixar’s negotiations with Disney. Insisting that he too has had enough of Uncle Mikey’s antics.

If things had just gone a little bit differently (I.E. If Eisner had actually stepped down following that 43% “No Confidence” vote that he received back in Philadelphia two years ago today. Rather than opting to tough things out ’til September 30, 2005), I’m guessing that it would have been Roy that we’d now be hailing as the guy who actually brought Pixar back into the Disney fold. Rather than Bob Iger.

Speaking of Walt’s nephew, I’ve had a number of e-mails over the past few months with questions about Roy. You see, what with “Save Disney” ‘s July 2005 settlement with the Walt Disney Company (During which Roy was named as a director emeritus as well as being awarded a consultancy with the corporation), many JHM readers seemed to think that Walt’s nephew should have had a much higher profile within the corporation by now. That Roy should have already been making appearances at Disney film premieres and/or theme park attraction openings. So they’ve been wondering about what actually became of Walt’s nephew.

Well, the way I hear it, it’s not that Roy hasn’t been making any appearances (EX: Back on January 18th, Jerry Beck of CartoonBrew.com reported that he had recently seen Walt’s nephew at a screening of “The Poor Little Match Girl.” Which is one of the pieces that Disney’s animators had originally put together for the now-cancelled “Fantasia 2006”). It’s just that Roy is being very carefully about where and when he makes public appearances these days.

Meaning that A) Walt’s nephew really doesn’t want to do anything right now that might possibly upstage the Mouse House’s new Big Cheese. You see, Roy & Bob are still feeling their way here, folks. Trying to forge some sort of working relationship that would then allow Disney & Iger to get past some of the bad feelings that were built up during the “Save Disney” campaign and B) Roy’s 76-years-old now … And a man of that age (Particularly one who’s a millionaire several times over) is entitled to kick back on occassion & enjoy himself. Rather than getting right back into harness and going straight back to work.

And — yes — I’ve also heard the rumors about Walt’s nephew possibly having some health problems and the role that these may have played in Roy & Stanley’s ultimate decision to shut down the “Save Disney” campaign. But until someone from the Walt Disney Company and/or Shamrock Holdings (I.E. Disney & Gold’s investment firm) is actually willing to go on the record about that subject … I think that we all should probably steer clear of the alleged illness topic.

Anyway, that’s all I know (to date), Tom M., about Roy Disney, what he’s been up to lately and — more importantly — what his thoughts are about the Pixar acquisition. Maybe (if we’re lucky) some other well-informed JHM reader will now come forward with additional information about Walt’s nephew.

Next up, Yuji N. writes in to say:

Jim —

I really loved that cartoon of Marty Sklar that you ran on JHM yesterday. But who the heck is Hani El-Masri?

Yuji N.

Hani El-Masri is an extremely talented artist who started working at Walt Disney Imagineering back in March of 1990. During his five year stint at WDI, Hani helped design projects as wide and varied at Mickey’s Toontown, Tokyo DisneySea and Westcot.

Eventually, Mr. El-Masri left Imagineering’s employ to literally go across the street to work at DreamWorks Animation‘s Glendale campus. Once there, Hani was a visual development artist on films such as “The Prince of Egypt,” “The Road to El Dorado” and “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmarron.”

Mr. El-Marsi eventually left Dreamworks Animation to return to his country of origin, Egypt. Where Hani now makes his living as a highly regarded freelance illustrator, working on assignments that range from consumer products to children’s books to theatrical productions.

That said, Mr. El-Marsi still has a real soft spot when it comes to his days at WDI. And given that it was Marty Sklar himself that used to ask Hani to create all of the farewell cards for departing Imagineers (Among the people that El-Marsi crafted tributes for were Bob Weis, Mickey Steinberg and Maggie Elliot) … It only seemed fitting that Hani would also put together a goodbye card for Marty as well.

Anywho … As a  personal favor to Mr. El-Marsi, I’m now posting a copy of the note that Hani crafted to go along with Marty’s going away card. With the hope that this message finally makes it to Mr. Sklar:

Drawing courtesy of Hani El-Masri

NOT TO BREAK A TRADITION

Dear Marty,

This is truly the end of an era. I consider myself lucky not to be anymore at Walt Disney Imagineering without you at the helm.

You can’t imagine (Or maybe you can. After all, you ARE the ultimate Imagineer) the ripple effects of your departure from our beloved Alma Mater. All the way across the globe, I have received quite a stack of e-mails, memos and messages telling me about it. Of course, I was following up on the situation, being myself the ‘de facto’ WDI’sambassador in Egypt.

It’s true I only spent a few years at Imagineering. But if you add to them the years dreaming to be part of it, the amount of friends I made there, the growth of my personal work, the things I learned, the projects I was part of, the designs I left behind, the great people I met and all the wonderful memories, WDI has always been a home to me and a place I’ll always carry in my heart. Rivaled only by my old Jesuit school in Cairo.

During all these years, and even later after I left, you have been an inspiration to me and a father figure away from my dad. I always felt I was welcome to talk to you, as I often did, and knew all the time I could count on your support when, as artists sometimes do, I would depart from the beaten path, wether in artistic creation or personal behavior. My only fear when I left in ’95 was to disappoint you, but I also knew you would understand and, as every good father, let mefollow my star even if it led me away from you.

So, not to break a long tradition (to me anyway), even from my sunny Heliopolis, I had to draw a farewell card for you. You’ll probably get an official one (if they still do this at all) but I’m sure it won’t be quite the same. It’s in fact a cartoon that represents not only my own feelings but also those of scores of old Imagineers who, like me, left their hearts at 1401 Flower Street, when life took their steps to other places.

Well, Marty, maybe now I can really expect you to stop by Cairo, on your way from Paris to Tokyo, on one of your ‘Diplomatic’ missions.

All my best wishes to both Leah and yourself.

Hani

Okay. Getting back to our regularly scheduled program here. Tom Morrow next drops by to ask:

Hello Jim

I LOVE your site. I know everybody says that but please trust these words. It’s one of the very few sites where I can read good behind-the-scenes stories about the Disney’s theme parks.

And I have a question… Yesterday I reread your epic tale “California Misadventure” with absolute delight, learning once again how we jumped from an amazing Westcot to a… well, to DCA (Being French keep in mind dear folks that DCA is top notch when compared to our Walt Disney Studios…)

Anyway, I wanted to ask, I read somewhere that in the middle of the 80s a second gate was already in the process: Discovery Bay – THE THEME PARK. Yes, the park, not the proposed expansion north of Big Thunder Mountain. I never heard of this previously, do you have any pieces of information Jim? And why not some juicy concept arts… I think this project would have been as exciting as the Westcot park, don’t you think?

I thank you in advance, you and all the JHM crew !

Au revoir !

Dear Tom —

You know, I’ve only ever seen one piece of concept art for “Discovery Bay: The Theme Park.” And to be honest, the person who had this particular piece of art … really shouldn’t have had that piece of art. Meaning that it was probably stolen right out of WDI’s IRC (I.E. Information Resource Center).

So while I can’t share any imagery with you, Tom, I can give a brief overview as to what “Discovery Bay: The Theme Park” was supposed to have been like. As I understand it, this story dates back to the early 1980s. Back when Michael Eisner had just come on board as Disney’s new CE0 and was quite anxious to turn Anaheim into another Orlando.

Anyway … The key to that happening was that someone had to come up with a workable concept for a second gate for Anaheim. Something that would be similar to Disneyland, compliment the “Happiest Place on Earth.” But — as the same time — feature a different enough assortment of rides, shows and attractions that it wouldn’t just seem like some Disneyland clone.

So here’s Tony Baxter with his “Discovery Bay” project that he couldn’t ever get WED management to greenlight. And here’s Joe Rohde with his “Mythia” project (I.E. Yet another Disneyland expansion that was supposed to be located along the Rivers of America. Approximately where that waterside Indian village is now located ) — which celebrates the creatures of myth (EX: Dragons, unicorns, satyrs, nymphs) … And Joe couldn’t get his project greenlight either.

And then — to add to the mix — Skip Lange had come up with all of these great ideas of “Indiana Jones” -based attractions for Disneyland’s Adventureland. The only problem was that Skip had come up with far more “Indy” -based rides, shows and attractions then would possibly fit into that part of the theme park.

So … Here you had all of these great ideas for new additions to Disneyland that were just languishing at WED. When some brilliant Imagineer came up with the idea of combining all three of these projects into one single property. And that’s how the idea for “Discovery Bay: The Theme Park” came into being.

The basic premise of this particular theme park was that this was where adventure and fantasy had free reign. Where you could fly off in an airship and discover a lost civilization high up in the Arctic, or dive to the depths of the ocean with Captain Nemo and battle a giant squid, or join Indiana Jones as he searched for ancient artifacts in a temple guarded by evil spirits and/or have a far-too-close encounter with a fierce dragon guarding a huge horde of treasure.

Getting back to that piece of concept art, Tom: As I remember it, It showed a mist-covered mountain toward the upper left hand corner of the proposed theme park, a burned-out hulk of a castle toward the center of the property, a Mayan temple rising out of the center of a thick jungle in the lower left hand hand corner of the map. And to the right was this enormous version of Discovery Bay, which hugged the coast of this picturesque harbor.

Admittedly, it was a very impressive looking piece of property. At least in concept art form. But the harsh reality was that “Discovery Bay: The Theme Park” — while it was ambitious — just wasn’t different enough from the “Happiest Place on Earth.” The way Disneyland management supposedly saw it, in order for the DL Resort to become the next WDW (I.E. A place where people would come for a multi-day vacation and stay in an on-property resort, shop in Disney-owned stores and eat in Disney-operated restaurants), Anaheim’s second gate had to be something truly spectacular. Not just more of the same.

At least, that’s what Disneyland management thought back in the 1980s. Which is why the “Discovery Bay: The Theme Park” concept was then tossed aside and the Imagineers eventually went on to design Westcot.

As to why Westcot  never got built … Well, some of that I covered in Part III of my “California Misadventure” series … And as for the rest of that story, I eventually hope to tell that here at JHM. After I finish up my “Remembering Light Magic” series AND my “Star Tours Saga” AND my “Tower of Terror” series …

And speaking of finishing things, Brian F. writes in to say:

So Jim, we’re coming up on the 6 month anniversary of my payment for your Unauthorized History of Disneyland CD – that’s longer than half of Britney Spears’ marriages.

How solid is the latest release date of March 1 (the date my wife and I will be taking our twins to Disneyland for the very first time). Which makes me realize – when I paid for the CD, my kids were 15% younger than today.

They’re not getting any younger, Jim.

Brian —

My apologies. Both to you as well as the now-hundreds of JHM readers who are still patiently waiting for their copy of my unauthorized Disneyland history CD. I wish I could say that I actually made that March 1st deadline … But I didn’t.

You see, in that fine Jim Hill tradition, I’ve been postponing delivering of a finished product because it’s been hard for me to wrap up this story. There’s always more colorful detail that I want to cram into this recording, one more amusing ancedote that I think will add immeasurably to the finished disc.

Of course, all this endless fixing & futzing is making my significant other — the lovely Nancy — absolutely crazy. She’s the one who’s on your side, folks. She’s the one who keeps telling me that “These people ordered your CD months ago, Jim. You can’t keep stringing them along like this. Otherwise, they’re going to hunt you down and shoot you like the dawg you are.”

Which will probably be totally unnecessary at that point. Given that — if I don’t deliver a finished version of my unauthorized Disneyland history CD sometime very soon —  I’m pretty sure that Nancy is going to take matters into her own hands & beat me to death with a baseball bat.

And given that … Well, I don’t want to be beaten to death with a baseball bat (Why For? Because I’m fairly certain that getting beaten to death hurts) … I guess I’d best get started on finally wrapping this thing up.

So Brian (as well as all you other nice folks out there who ordered my CD), if you can just wait another few weeks (I’m currently adding some new material to the disc that touches on the most recent changes at the Walt Disney Company. Marty Sklar’s exit, John Lasseter’s arrival. Events that I think — in the long run — are going to have a huge impact on the Anaheim theme parks), I promise that I’ll finally get these things shipped out next month.

Which means that I’ll no longer have to lie awake at night, wondering if — once I close my eyes — Nancy will quietly slip out of bed, grab a Louisville Slugger, and then …

Speaking of scary stuff in the dark, Kate V. brings us our final “Why For” question for this week. Which touches on that classic MGM sci-fi film, “Forbidden Planet.”

Jim:

I got into a really discussion on the id creature in forbidden planet. I maintained it was created and credited to two disney illustrators. The others said that the two monsters were distinctly different and not at all alike. I am thinking that the one of the illustrators was “black listed” therefore never recieve credit for the illustation of the monster. Also, I think there was a short bit in the credits of the movie which stated that the Id character was from the Night on Bald Mountain. Is any of this true? Thank you for you time and your energy.

Kate V.

Dear Kate V.

Actually, the way I’ve always heard this story told, only one Disney animator played a key role in the creation of the Id monster for “Forbidden Planet.” And that was veteran special effects animator Joshua Meador.

Meador actually started at the Mouse Factory back in the 1930s, working on Silly Symphonies like “The Old Mill.” However, given the obvious talent that he showed, Joshua quickly made the jump to features. Doing special effects animation on such films as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia.”

By the time the 1950s rolled around, Meador was operating at the very top of his game. Leading his special effects animation team to greater & greater technical heights on pictures like “Cinderella,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan.” So when MGM came a-calling, looking for an animator that could basically do the impossible (I.E. Create a truly memorable movie monster, something that appeared to be huge and powerful, but could only be seen once it tried to breach a force field and/or when it was blasted by ray guns), Walt volunteered Joshua for the job.

Meador really out-did himself with the Id monster for “Forbidden Planet.” Creating a creature that was thought to be so frightening that some state censor boards actually insisted that the Id monster’s attack on United Planets Cruiser C-57D be snipped out of the picture.

As for being blacklisted … If you read the film’s credit, Kate V., you’ll clearly see Joshua Meador’s name  listed among the other visual effects artists who worked on “Forbidden Planet” … So I’m not sure where exactly that blacklisted story came from.

As for the Id monster supposedly being based on Chernabog from “The Night on Bald Mountain” sequence in the original version of “Fantasia” … Nope. I never heard that story either.

Though — speaking of “Forbidden Planet” — I was wondering how many of you “Lost” fans out there have noticed what I’ve noticed. That that black-cloud-of-smoke-monster that wanders around the island seems to make the exact same noise as the Id monster does in “Forbidden Planet.”

Can that be a co-incidence? I mean, is anything actually a co-incidence on “Lost”? I don’t think so.

Anyway … I’ll leave you folks to ponder that question ’til next Monday morning. When I’ll be back with another brand-new pile of Disney-related stories for you.

Til then, you take care, 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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