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Why For did Disney artists have to paint new panties on Jessica Rabbit?

Jim Hill returns with even more long-winded answers to your Disney related questions. This time around, Jim talks about Jessica Rabbit's panties, the origins of Disneyland's "Fantasmic!" as well as what he's going to talk about on his DCA tour.

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BigbyWolf235 writes to ask:

Dear Jim,

Perhaps you can help settle a Disney Urban Legend for me. It seems since the beginning of films there have always been strange rumors as to things that were stuck in the backgrounds of scenes. In THE WIZARD OF OZ there was always the rumor of the Munchkin hanging himself at the end of the Tinman's musical number, in THREE MEN AND A BABY it was the alleged ghost of the boy who dead, in THE LION KING people claim that the dust cloud that Simba stirs when he lies down spells out the word SEX while others say it's really F/X, meaning special effects, and of course in THE LITTLE MERMAID, there's the theory that the priest at the end has an erection instead of his sword hilt sticking out from under his robes.

The rumor in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT is that in the scene where Benny the Cab is escaping through the tunnel with Eddie and Jessica, and he runs over the dip. Eddie and Jessica are thrown from the car, as Jessica spins around, if you freeze frame it correctly, Jessica isn't wearing underwear.

Any idea if this is true? Or just another person giving a great Disney film a hard time?

Dear BigbyWolf235,

You're right. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" really IS a great Disney movie. (Though, to be fair, I should point out that — due to the somewhat adult nature of certain aspects of this truly entertaining Robert Zemeckis film — that studio executives back in 1988 were extremely reluctant to put the "Walt Disney Pictures" name on "WFRR." Which is why, in the end, that picture was released under the "Touchstone Pictures" banner. Just so the Mouse could distance itself a bit from the rather risqué "Roger Rabbit." Anyway …) Which is why I'm personally looking forward to the March 25th release of the two disc DVD "Vista Series" edition of this movie.

But before all you animation buffs race out to snatch up copies of the new "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" DVD (with the hope that you'll now finally be able to get a good, clear view of a panty-free Jessica Rabbit), I'm afraid that I have some rather sad news for you: Buena Vista Home Entertainment reportedly already had Disney's animators go back in and fix this titillating footage (which — as Bigbywolf235 previously mentioned — occurs fairly late in the film, just as Eddie Valiant and Jessica are flying out of Benny the Cab. Right after the animated taxi hits a patch of Dip in the road and smashes into a telephone pole. As Jessica is tumbling through the air, her dress flies up and … well, you get the idea …) for "Roger Rabbit"'s initial DVD release. Which was 'way back in September 1999.

So now — were you to go frame-by-frame through this particular scene in the original "WFRR" DVD and/or the soon-to-be-released 2-disc "Vista Series" version of the film — you would be able to see quite clearly that Jessica Rabbit is now wearing some nice white undies.

Mind you, I know for a fact that this wasn't always the case. How do I know for sure? Because Gary Wolf, the author of the original "Who Censored Roger Rabbit" (the book that the Zemeckis movie was based on), personally confirmed the bottomless Jessica story for me. As proof, Wolf pulled out his secret stash of individual frame blow-ups from the original theatrical release of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." And one of these frame blow-ups did appear to show Ms. Rabbit sans panties.

And this wasn't the only now-censored image that Gary had is his "WFRR" collection. Among the other frame blow-ups I saw that afternoon were:

Baby Herman — drool dribbling off of his lower lip — taking a lascivious look up the script girl's skirt as he passed between her legs.

This frame blow-up was immediately followed by an image of Baby Herman playfully reaching a hand up the script girl's skirt. As if the diminutive toon is making a grab for her panties.

A topless Betty Boop selling cigarettes at the Ink & Paint Club.

But the one image that Wolf showed me that day that really startled me — the one which (I think) no one else has ever commented about before — is the single frame in the film where Bugs Bunny appears to be flipping the bird to Mickey Mouse.

Which image am I talking about? Okay. Go pull out your old VHS version of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Now fast forward to the sequence where Eddie Valiant is in Toontown. In particular, the scene where Eddie — in his effort of get away from Gina Hyena — ends up falling off of a kajillion-story-tall apartment building. And — as Valiant plummets toward the ground — Bugs and Mickey suddenly appear on either side of the private dick, sky-diving.

The image that you'll be looking for comes right after Bugs gives Eddie "the spare." Upon opening this package, Valiant discovers what he thought was a parachute is actually a spare tire. The detective then screams as he falls out of the frame, zooming toward the pavement.

As a pay-off for this gag, the camera now quickly cuts back to the Bunny and the Mouse. Who — since their own parachutes have safely opened — are now serenely floating above Toontown. Mickey (ever the sympathetic character) looks down and says "Aw, poor fella." While Bugs (ever the unrepentant trickster) gnaws on a carrot and says "Yeah. Ain't I a stinker?"

Okay. It's the animation of Bug's "Ain't I a stinker?" line that you really want to pay attention to. Note that Bugs has one finger foisted in the air as he daintily chews on that carrot. Now note which finger that actually is.

Now pay particularly close attention to Mickey's expression during this brief bit of animation. As you slowly go frame-by-frame through this scene, you'll eventually find the image where Mickey is looking on — somewhat dumb-foundedly — as Bug brazenly flips him the bird. It actually looks as if the Mouse is thinking: "Hey, did that rabbit actually just give me the finger?"

Given that I've never heard anyone — outside of Gary Wolf — ever mention this "Bugs flips Mickey the bird" gag, (In fact, I just put both "Bugs flips Mickey the bird" and "Bugs gives Mickey the finger" into Google. Neither one of these queries came back with a solid "Roger Rabbit" related hit), I have to assume that this infamous obscene exchange between these two legendary toons will still be plainly visible on the deluxe 2-disc "Vista Series" edition of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

Unless of course, Disney opts to pull another "Rescuers" maneuver here. Remember how — back in January 1999 — Buena Vista Home Entertainment abruptly pulled 3.4 million copies of the VHS version of "The Rescuers" off of store shelves? All because Disney Company officials had just learned that — in four frames of that film — you can actually see an image of a really-for-real topless woman in a window that Orville the albatross flies by.

If Buena Vista Home Entertainment was willing to go to all the time and expense of recalling all those millions of videos just so children wouldn't see a single topless woman … (FYI: This somewhat obscene sight gag had been well known about in animation circles ever since "The Rescuers"'s initial theatrical release 'way back in June of 1977) … one wonders what BVHE is going to do once word gets out about this "Bugs flips Mickey the bird" gag.

So let's see what we all get to see once the 2-disc "Vista Series" version of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" hits stores next month.

Anyway … Now, Jeremy W. writes in to ask:

Jim-

I'm a great fan of your writing and insights. You've written so much great info about other attractions that I was wondering if you had any interesting stories about Fantasmic! Keep up the great info!

Jeremy

Dear Jeremy,

Well, what I've always found fascinating about "Fantasmic!" is that no one ever seems to remember the real origin of this show. Which was actually the grand opening ceremony for Disneyland's New Fantasyland (which was staged in the park 8 to 10 different times in the latter part of April / early part of May 1983).

Surely at least one of you JHM readers got to attend this truly impressive pageant which was staged in front of and on top of Sleeping Beauty Castle. It featured dozens of singers and dancers. Tons of characters cavorting about. Day-time fireworks. The Royal trumpeters …

But the real highlight of DL's New Fantasyland opening ceremony was when — with a huge puff of colored smoke — Maleficent made her dramatic entrance. "Why wasn't I invited?" the wicked fairy sneered. Because of this perceived slight, Maleficent announced that "I shall deny Fantasyland from all of you forever."

It was at this point in the program that a real-life stand-in for Prince Phillip came riding up to the castle on a white charger. "Be gone, Maleficent," the would-be Prince cried. "It's time to re-open Fantasyland."

With that, Prince Phillip leaped off Sampson (his horse) and began scaling the castle walls. Maleficent — to prove that Disney magic was no match for her awesome power — now began to rise up out of the castle moat. Eventually — thanks to some amazing do-hinky that was hidden away in the folds of this character's voluminous dress — the wicked fairy actually towers over Sleeping Beauty Castle, cackling manically …

Any of this starting to sound kind of familiar to you "Fantasmic!" fans yet?

Anyway … luckily, Prince Phillip is armed with the Sword of Truth. He takes one whack at the oversized witch. With another huge puff of colored smoke (as well as some appropriate musical accompaniment), Maleficent disappears. And New Fantasyland is saved.

Sounds like a pretty neat ceremony, doesn't it? Well, those who saw this elaborate pageant (and the opening ceremonies for Disneyland's New Fantasyland WERE staged a number of times. Once for Disney Studio employees and their families. Once for the staff of WED and their families. Not to mention the separate opening ceremonies that were staged for the Southern Californian press as well as the out-of-town media) said it was a truly impressive show. Some folks even said that they liked the pageant in front of the castle more than they liked New Fantasyland!

Anywho … this overwhelming positive reaction to New Fantasyland's opening ceremony did not go unnoticed by the staff of Disneyland's Entertainment Office. Which got these people thinking: "What if we were to do something like this every day during the summer? Stage an elaborate pageant right in front of and on top of Sleeping Beauty Castle? Wouldn't the guests go ape for something like that?"

So — using New Fantasyland's opening ceremony as their leaping off point — Disneyland's Entertainment Office began exploring the possibilities of this idea. And — given what a huge hit that battle with Maleficent had been — that sequence remained a key component of what became known as "The Castle Show" as it moved through various drafts.

As time (and numerous rewrites) went by, Prince Phillip and Samson eventually rode off into the sunset as they were written out of "The Castle Show." These "Sleeping Beauty" characters were replaced by Mickey Mouse. Who (according to the various drafts of this show that I've seen) was just trying to lead the crowds assembled in front of the Castle through the countdown that lead up to the start of Disneyland's nightly fireworks when Maleficent suddenly burst on the scene and spoiled everyone's fun.

Of course, in order to "plus" this new night-time show that was being proposed for the park, Disneyland's Entertainment staffers thought: "Wouldn't it be cool if Mickey didn't just fight with an over-sized wicked fairy, but actually battled that enormous Maleficent-as-a-dragon creature that we saw toward the end of 'Sleeping Beauty'?"

With this in mind, Disneyland's Entertainment office began exploring what it might actually cost to build a mechanical dragon for Mickey to do battle with. Unfortunately, the enormous AA figure that the Imagineers proposed building was far too expensive.

But — on the heels of the over-sized inflatable characters and costumes that Disneyland had used in its short lived "Flights of Fancy" parade (qhich actually only ran in the park in 1983, as part of Disneyland's summer-long celebration of New Fantasyland's re-opening) — Disneyland Entertainment staffers began toying with the idea of building an inflatable version of the Maleficent-as-a-dragon figure. Something affordable (and hopefully, cheap to maintain) that could rise up, loom over Sleeping Beauty Castle as well as do battle with Mickey.

So sketches were made and models were built. The idea was that Mickey Mouse — who was now the wielding that Sword of Truth that Prince Phillip used to have — would think that he had actually vanquished Maleficent when the towering version of the wicked fairy disappeared in yet another puff of colored smoke. So — as the Mouse strutted about the drawbridge area of Sleeping Beauty Castle, muttering Mickey-isms like "Aw, Shucks" and "Well, that was easy" and "She wasn't so tough" — the gigantic Maleficent-as-a-dragon figure would slowly rise up (as it was being inflated) from deep inside New Fantasyland and eventually loom over Sleeping Beauty Castle.

At this point, Mickey who suddenly take notice of the enormous dragon and — seemingly terrified — run inside Sleeping Beauty Castle. The Maleficent-as-a-dragon figure would then rear back its head, blow a little fire, chuckle evilly, then say "Disneyland is mine! All mine!"

It was then that we'd notice that Mickey — now dressed in his sorcerer costume from the original "Fantasia" — was now up on the roof of the castle. The Maleficent-as-a-dragon was supposed to have noticed Mickey by now too. The enormous creature would then blow a little flame at the Mouse. But Mickey would stand his ground and — pointing an hand at the transformed wicked fairy — would shoot a ball of fireworks right at the creature.

This single burst of "Disney Magic" would supposedly be all that was needed to smite the creature. As the Maleficent-as-a-dragon shrieked with agony and quickly sank out of sight, more of Mickey's character pals would come pouring out of the castle and — through song and dance — celebrate the wicked fairy's defeat.

Of course, the real reason that the Maleficent-as-a-dragon balloon disappeared so quickly was because some behind-the-scenes Disneyland technicians had pulled the plug on this enormous cold-air inflatable. But (hopefully) all those characters singing and dancing in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle would distract the crowd as the Maleficent balloon suddenly sagged and went limp.

But then again, who can keep their eyes on a saggy dragon balloon when Mickey's dancing on top of the castle? And — with every wave of his wand — sending another burst of colorful fireworks rocketing through the skies over the theme park.

Finally, Mickey uses the last of his magic to send an enormous sky rocket right up to the top of the Matterhorn. Only this time, the firework doesn't actually explode. The light at the top of this Disneyland icon seems to twinkle and glow, finally revealing itself to be (you guessed it!) Tinker Bell … and then (finally!) Disneyland's traditional summer night-time fireworks display would get underway.

Sounds like a pretty neat idea for a theme park show, doesn't it? Well, where this gets interesting is that this whole Mickey-battles-an-enormous-inflatable-dragon-on-top-of-Sleeping-Beauty-Castle project got a lot further along the Disneyland production pipeline than you might expect.

"How far?" you ask. Well, past the drawing phase. And well past the miniature model stage.

"What a minute, Jim," I hear you saying. "Are you claiming that Disneyland Entertainment actually went ahead and had a giant inflatable version of the Maleficent-as-a-dragon figure made?"

Yep.

Not only that, but Disney Entertainment staffers and the Imagineers ran extensive tests with this over-sized inflatable in the mid-to-late 1980s. Both at Imagineering headquarters in Burbank, CA as well as inside Disneyland itself. After the theme park had closed for the night. Long after all of the tourists had gone home.

Those veteran Disneyland employees and Imagineers who actually got to see these after-hours tests as the enormous Maleficent-as-a-dragon inflatable stood behind Sleeping Beauty Castle say it was a most impressive sight.

At first.

The real problem was … this giant inflatable Maleficent-as-a-dragon figure wasn't actually capable of movement. Nor was it able to blow fire. It just stood there behind the castle and looked like … well … like this really cool big giant balloon.

Disneyland Entertainment staffers thought that if they tied ropes to the inflatable's neck and hands, that behind-the-scenes personnel could manipulate those ropes and give DL guests the illusion that the Maleficent-as-a-dragon inflatable actually was capable of movement. That this immense creature really did pose some sort of threat to Mickey Mouse and Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Unfortunately, as the company that built this cold-air inflatable learned what Disneyland's Entertainment department wanted to do, they quickly put DL's staff on notice that this sort of wear-and-tear could result in the Maleficent-as-a-dragon developing a tear. Which could cause the inflatable to leak. Which could bring the entire "Castle Show" to an abrupt end.

Then there were the other problems inherent in Disneyland's "Castle Show" proposal. As in: there really wasn't a whole lot of performance space on top of Sleeping Beauty Castle. By that I mean: one false step and that poor Disneyland "Zoo Crew" cast member who was playing Mickey Mouse could end up tumbling into the moat.

Then there were the logistics issues. EX: In order to make sure that the enormous Maleficent-as-a-dragon balloon was properly positioned and prepared for its sudden appearance in Disneyland's "Castle Show," the public's access to Sleeping Beauty Castle would have to be cut off at least one hour before that show started. And then — what with all the effort involved in deflating the inflatable, then safely packing up the enormous balloon for the next night's performance — the public's access to Disneyland's castle would be severely restricted for a half hour or more after "The Castle Show" concluded.

Then there's the fact that the primo viewing area for Disneyland's "Castle Show" would have been the Hub. The virtual crossroads of the theme park. Which — given the thousands of people who would then stand in this area for hours before the show began, trying to stake out a premium viewing spot — would cause a colossal traffic tie-up at the very heart of the park. Making it damned difficult for other DL guests to get much of anywhere during those busy summer nights.

Which is why Disneyland's Entertainment staff ultimately decided to back away from the idea of doing "The Castle Show." That — as cool as it might have been to see Mickey battling a giant Maleficent-as-a-dragon inflatable high atop Sleeping Beauty Castle — the headaches and logistical problems involved in staging this sort of elaborate pageant at the very center of the park every night during the summer were just too enormous to ignore.

(And more importantly, why should Disneyland's Entertainment staff try to fix what ain't broke? After all, the park's night-time summer-time fireworks show was already wildly popular with guests. So why go to the expense of adding this elaborate prelude to the show when people were already perfect happy with Disneyland's fireworks show as is?)

Anyway … this is ultimately why Disneyland's Entertainment staff finally reluctantly tabled all discussion of doing a show in, on and around the castle in Anaheim.

Of course, this decision didn't necessarily stop the other members of the Disney corporate family from adapting some of the ideas that DL's Entertainment staff had cooked up for their "Castle Show" for use in some of the corporation's other theme parks in the late 1980s / early 1990s. The spin-offs from Disneyland's "Castle Show" include:

Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris was actually built so that the right hand side of this building could be used an extension of the Fantasyland's "Le Theatre du Chateau" stage. Guests who visited that theme park during its first few years of operation fondly recall that oversized storybook which opened to reveal all the three dimensional sets were used in the show. Not to mention the image of Prince Phillip racing up the exterior steps to the castle tower as part of his heroic effort to wake "la Belle au Bois Dormant."

The concept of a giant cold-air inflatable that suddenly loomed up over the rooftop of a Disney theme park building ended up being "borrowed" by the WDW's Entertainment staff for Disney-MGM's "Sorcery in the Sky" night-time fireworks pageant. Please note that "Sorcery" also the part of "The Castle Show" where Mickey — while dressed in his sorcerer outfit from the original "Fantasia" — shoots fireworks out of the tip of his fingers.

As for that enormous Maleficent-as-a-dragon balloon … that too made the trek down to Disney-MGM. Those of you who visited the studio theme park back during its first few weeks of operation back in 1989 may recall seeing this giant inflatable looming up over the backlot area.

What was the Maleficent-as-a-dragon doing at the studio theme park? Well, the Imagineers were hoping that — as you looked up at the giant inflatable — that you wouldn't notice that there really wasn't much else to look at as you rolled on through the backstage portion of Disney-MGM's tram tour.

I (who — back when I was working as a journalist for the U.S. Army — was lucky enough to actually score an invite to the four-day-long press event that the Walt Disney Company held in order to celebrate the grand opening of WDW's third theme park) have some very distinct memories of that over-sized Maleficent-as-a-dragon inflatable. I recall that it stood toward the middle of Mickey Avenue. Right about where the entrance to Disney-MGM's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It!" faux-game show is currently located.

And I just know that I've got a photograph of that thing towering over the backlot. If I'm ever able to unearth that particular photo from that compost heap in the basement that I laughingly refer to as my reference library, I'll be sure to post it here.

And — as for Disneyland's Entertainment staff — well … they may have temporarily given up on the idea of doing a nightly "Castle Show." But that doesn't mean that they were ready to give up on all the great concepts that they'd created for this proposed show. Eventually, someone said "Hey, what if we were to take some of the ideas that we created for 'The Castle Show' and adapted them for use down on the Rivers of America? You know, a waterfront show. Like they do out at Epcot."

And — from that one suggestion — the "Imagination River Show" (AKA "Fantasmic!") was eventually born.

Now you may have noticed that — in a previous paragraph — that I mentioned that Disneyland's Entertainment staff had "temporarily" abandoned the idea of doing a "Castle Show."

"What do you mean by 'temporarily,' Jim?" you ask. Well, perhaps you've heard about Disneyland's plans to paint Sleeping Beauty Castle gold for 2005 (in honor of the park's 50th — AKA Golden — anniversary). In addition to the new paint job, Disneyland's Entertainment Staff is supposedly toying with staging an all-new fireworks show … a night-time spectacular in which the now-golden castle may become a key component of the program.

So what does this mean? More battling mice? Perhaps another inflatable dragon? Well, I'll let you folks know as soon as I hear some more details.

But just remember that — according to W. Shakespeare — "All the world's a stage." And if that's true, then you have to admit that Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland would make one hell of a cool set on which (or around which) to stage an on-going pageant.

And – finally – Gerald F. writes to ask:

Jim:

Hey, I just learned about these JimHillMedia tours that you're supposed to be giving at Disneyland and DCA next month. Please tell me that it's not too late to get my name on the list for those tours.

Sorry, Gerald. But all 30 slots for my inaugural set of Disneyland tours (which will be held at the Anaheim theme park on Saturday, March 22nd and Sunday, March 23rd) have been filled. If you'd like, I could put your name on a waiting list. But — unless a few people opt to drop out of the tour between now and the middle of March — I can't guarantee that you'll be able to get in on this first go-round.

However, if you'd be interested in signing up for my DCA tour, Gerald … well, that I can do. I still have three spots available for my Sunday morning walking tour which will deal with some of the lesser known aspects of Disney's California Adventure theme park.

Though — truth be told — maybe it's a mistake to call my DCA tour a DCA tour. Why for? Well, because a lot of the stuff that I'll actually be talking that day will involve the Imagineers' original plans for Westcot Center, not to mention how Disney's decisions to pull the plug on the company's "Port Disney / Disney Seas" project in Long Beach, CA as well as its controversial "Disney's America" history theme park in Virginia ultimately affected how Disney's California Adventure turned out. I'll also be discussing Disney's plans for Neptune Gardens, a night-time entertainment district that was supposed to have been built right next to the Disneyland Hotel — a full 15 years before the corporation broke ground for Downtown Disney.

So don't think that — just because you're not actually an enormous fan of Disney's California Adventure theme park — that you should opt to take a pass on my DCA tour, Gerald. DCA is really only going to be part of the story that I tell that day.

Anyway … as I said earlier: I've only got three open slots left on that tour. And when they're gone … well, I guess I could start a wait-list for my DCA tour too. But again. unless some folks suddenly opt to bomb out of that tour, I can't absolutely guarantee that I'll be able to squeeze you in once I get out to Southern California in March.

As for prices … I'm still just charging $25.00 per person per tour. Prices for the tours that I'll probably be holding later this year (I'm currently giving some semi-serious thought to holding a second set of Disneyland and DCA tours in June. Possibly followed by a third set of tours in mid-July, to coincide with the National Fantasy Fan Club's annual convention) will invariably go up. Otherwise, my ex-wife, Michelle Smith (AKA the Fabulous Disney Babe, who also offers her very own Disneyland tour — "The Fabulous Tour: Disneyland Secrets & Stories" — through LaughingPlace.com) will kill me.

Okay. Enough with the pseudo-hard sell of my tours … It's late and I'm sure that you're all exhausted from having to read through these marathon-length responses to this week's "Why For" questions. I know that I'm wiped just from having to type up the thing.

Anyway … now that we're all on the other side of the memorial service for the Columbia tragedy as well as Colin Powell's appearance in front of the U.N. Security Council, I'm hoping that you're all now in the mood for something fairly light at the site. Like perhaps me finally getting that long promised, revamped version of "Remembering Light Magic" series underway.

So keep an eye out for that one, folks. Provided "that the Good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise," the first installment will debut on JHM this coming Monday. Or possibly Tuesday.

I'll let you know, okay?

In the meantime, you folks have a great weekend, okay?

I'll talk to you all next week. Til then, 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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