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Why For haven’t the Imagineers built more rides, shows and attractions around the Disney Villains?

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Chris B. wrote in on September 10th to say

Hi Mr. Hill,

Great website and so appreciate how you share your Disney
knowledge.

With the opening of the New Fantasyland Disney has installed
a statue for Beauty and the Beast's Gaston. Disney villains have typically only
been out and about for the Halloween events. Is Gaston's statue and tavern the
first Disney Villain to get a permanent statue and "attraction"?


The statue outside of Gaston's Tavern in the Fantasy-
land expansion area at WDW's Magic Kingdom.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Thanks for your kind words. As for Gaston's Tavern being the
first permanent Disney Villain statue / attraction … Well, that kind of
depends on how you define villain, statue and/or attraction.

After all, Monstro has been swallowing Guests at Disneyland ever
since June 16, 1956. Which is when that theme park's Canal Boats of the World
ride re-opened with its new Storybook Land overlay.

And those who are fans of early Disneyland concept art will
no doubt recognize the below image. Which shows Monstro as the central
character of his very own theme park attraction. Which drew its inspiration
from the Shoot the Chutes, that early amusement park thrill ride which was
originally introduced back in 1884 at Watchtower Park in Rock Island, IL.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

This proposed "Pinocchio" -themed attraction was
to have first taken Guests a series of dioramas which then recreated memorable
moments from that 1940 Walt Disney Productions release. Then — as these
Disneyland visitors had been towed to the top of this ride's load hill — they
were to have escaped being eaten by that whale by sliding down Monstro's tongue
into a splashdown area that was supposed to be known as Pinocchio Harbor.

And Monstro wasn't the only villainous Disney character who
almost made his debut at Disneyland Park's opening day back in July of '55.
Check out this cool of piece of concept art for a step-down-into aquarium
attraction (which was part of a suite of water-themed exhibits & rides that
were originally proposed for Fantasyland. Among the other items that never to
Disney's Anaheim theme park was a Donald Duck Bumper Boats ride and an Old
Mill-themed ferris wheel). Where the only way you made it down below water
level so that you could then see all the fishies was to enter the mouth of the crocodile
from "Peter Pan."

Unfortunately neither of those two Disney Villain-ish
attractions ever made it off of WED's drawing board. Mostly because — back in
the late 1950s — Disneyland Park was still trying to recover its initial
construction costs (You have to remember that — until he bought ABC /
Paramount & Western Publishing  out in
the early 1960s — Walt was still obliged to split whatever profits his theme
park made with those two companies who had invested in / underwritten the costs
of building this project back in 1954). So money for any additional rides,
shows and attractions was kind of tight back then.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

More to the point, it was Frontierland & Tomorrowland
that were perceived as lacking attractions back in the 1950s. Whereas
Fantasyland was seen (by the public, anyway) as a being a hit right out of the
box.  Which is why Walt chose to
concentrate whatever free funds he had on expanding those parts of his theme
park. While labeling Fantasyland as something that he'd eventually get around
to fixing (Disney was never entirely happy with the tournament-style show
building that he'd had to build to house the dark rides in this part of his
theme park. Walt always felt that the exteriors of these Fantasyland
attractions made it a little too obvious that Disneyland's construction budget
could only go so far. Which is why Walt had been forced to abandon his original
concept for Fantasyland. Which was to have this part of the Park be a
picturesque recreation of a European storybook village).

Speaking of which … When it was decided that — on the
heels of adding a second theme park to the Walt Disney World Resort (i.e. EPCOT
Center, which opened in October of 1982) — that Disneyland Park deserved a
little TLC, the Imagineers dusted off Walt's picturesque-European-storybook-village
idea and decided to redo Fantasyland at that theme park.

Which brings us to what some might argue is the first real Villain
statue in a Disney theme park. That Evil Queen who stands in the window
directly above the entrance to "Snow White's Scary Adventures."  Every minute or so, a mechanized series of
drapes opens, revealing a statue of Snow White's nemesis glaring down at all of
the Guests who are queuing up below.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Interesting side note here: "Snow White's Scary
Adventures" (to be specific, the revamped version of this attraction which
opened on May 25, 1983 as part of Disneyland's New Fantasyland) was the first
dark ride whose "Scene One" perhaps did too good a job of setting the
scene for the attraction that follows.

For those of you who haven't been on Disneyland's "Snow
White's Scary Adventures" for a while (or at all), let me refresh your
memory as to how the queue for this attraction is set up. Before you can get to
your ride vehicle, you actually pass by a Reader's Digest version of the Evil
Queen's secret laboratory. And as longtime Fantasyland cast members will tell
you, the skull that's on display on the Evil Queen's work table has been known
to really frighten small children. Forcing many a parent at that point to turn
around and carry their screaming kid backwards through this queue. Which — on
a busy summer day when the Park is especially crowded — can really make life
difficult for all of the other Guests standing in the "Snow White's Scary
Adventure" queue.

In an effort to mitigate this situation / let
especially-easy-to-frighten kids know as early as possible that "Snow
White's Scary Adventures" really is scary, the Imagineers had a very
clever idea. They put a bronze version of the poison apple that the Evil Queen tricked
 Snow White into biting right outside the
entrance to the Fantasyland attraction. And given that the people in line just
couldn't help themselves, they just had to touch that apple … Well, imagine
their surprise when — as soon as they touched that bronze apple — they'd hear
a crash of thunder OR the cackle of the Old Crone (i.e. the form the Evil Queen
took after she drank that potion).


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And that crash of thunder / evil laugh is usually enough
(all by itself) to spook skittish children. Who then turn to their parents and
say "I don't want to go on this ride. It sounds like it's going to be
scary." And since these kids are now culled out of the line before they
then encounter the genuinely frightening portion of the queue for "Snow
White's Scary Adventures" … Well, that then significantly cuts down on
the number of parents who now have to carry panicking toddlers backwards
through the line for this Fantasyland attraction.

And given that this bronze touch-sensitive apple is an
entirely appropriate piece of theming to be found at the entrance to this
attraction … Well, you have to admit that WDI came up with a pretty smart
solution for "Snow White" 's perhaps-too-scary queue problem.

Anyway … Getting back to answering your original "Why
For" question now, Chris B. … Once the Walt Disney Company began
recognizing that there was legitimate Guest interest in the Disney Villains as
characters unto themselves, in addition to Disney Consumer Products embracing
this loosely grouped brand / franchise (Witness that Disney Villain Designer
Collection of dolls that the Disney Store began rolling out earlier this month.
The second doll in the series — a high fashion take on the Evil Queen from
"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" — hits store shelves on Tuesday),
the Imagineers began toying with the idea of building some Disney
Villains-themed attractions.


The Horned King AA figure that appeared in the finale of Tokyo
Disneyland's Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The first such effort — Tokyo Disneyland's Cinderella
Castle Mystery Tour (which opened in July of 1986) wasn't considered entirely successful.
Perhaps because WDI chose to build the finale of this walk-thru attraction
around the Horned King, the now all-but-forgotten villain who drove the story
of one of Walt Disney Animation Studios' less-successful efforts, "The
Black Cauldron."

And since the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour (which closed
in April of 2006 to be replaced by a Disney Princess-themed walk-thru
attraction, Cinderella's Fairy Tale Hall) 's
"Let's-pay-tribute-to-all-sorts-of-Disney-Villains" approach was
thought to be a  bit of a bust, the
Imagineers then decided to adopt a less-is-more approach. Designing a single
ride around a specific Disney Villain. Take — for example — that Ursula the
Sea Witch spinner was supposed to added to Paradise Pier as part of the
expansion plan that WDI put together for the original version of Disney's
California Adventure theme park.

This spinner (which — according to at least one site plan
that I've seen for this "Little Mermaid" -themed ride — was supposed
to be built in that open plot of land inside of California Screamin' near King
Triton's Carousel. Maybe you know the spot that I'm talking about? It's off to
the left just before the load / unload area for this coaster?) had a pretty
witty design. Guests were supposed to sit in these flask & bottle-shaped
ride vehicles which were designed to look as though they were being held in the
Sea Witch's tentacles. And as this oversized version of Ursula began to spin
around, this "Little Mermaid" -themed ride would have — of course —
played a creepy calliope version of "Poor Unfortunate Souls."


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Speaking of California Screamin' … As the Imagineers were
prepping Version 2.0 of DCA, one of the ideas that was proposed as a way to
bring more Disney characters into this then-troubled theme park was to turn
this coaster into a Disney Villains-themed ride.

The way that WDI was going to do this was actually pretty
clever. What the Imagineers wanted to do was create these enormous iconic props
that would then represent various Disney Villains. You know, Captain Hook's
hook, Maleficent's staff, the Evil Queen's crown? And then these oversized
props would then be placed in and around California Screamin's ride track. So
that a ride aboard the rethemed version of this DCA coaster would then be seen
as a celebration of all forms of Disney villainy.

I know, I know. The core concept for this California
Screamin' redo is a bit in the abstract side. 
But the argument back at 1401 Flower Street was  1) people scream when they ride roller
coasters AND 2) people scream when they see the Disney Villains in their
various movies. So why not combine these two forms of screaming with a Disney
Villains-themed coaster?


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Mind you, this wasn't the first time that the Imagineers had
toyed with the idea of an attraction that would incorporate some (if not all)
of the Disney Villains. And — no — I'm not talking about Cinderella Castle
Mystery Tour again. I am referring to one of the greatest ride concepts to
never quite make it off of WDI's drawing boards, Villain Mountain.

I have this friend who used to work at Imagineering who —
just before he left the Company in the early 2000s — made a point of getting
color copies of all the concept art for Villain Mountain. The various show
scenes that the Imagineers had dreamed up for Villain Mountain. And given the
quality of the art that was churned out for this proposed Walt Disney World
attraction, it's easy to see why this former Imagineers wanted to make a few
copies before he headed out the door.

But you know what was particularly nifty about this flume
ride (which — at one time, anyway — was envisioned as the replacement for the
Magic Kingdom's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" attraction. Basically
occupying the exact same footprint as that Fantasyland favorite)? That if you
knew how Disney theme park attractions typically operated, this ride was then
going to use that knowledge against you.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

To explain: The ride vehicle that was supposed to be used in
WDW's "Villain Mountain" was the multi-passenger bateaux which Guests
know from the multiple trips that they've already made on "Pirates of the
Caribbean" and "it's a small world." Which means that — as
people stepped down into these flat-bottomed boats on "Villain
Mountain" — they immediately had certain expectations. That their bateaux
— as it moved through this show building — would be pushed along through a
trough via a combination of waters jets & belts. More to the point, that
their "Disney Villains" ride vehicle would never, ever leave that
trough.

Which was true. For the first half of this proposed
Fantasyland addition at WDW's Magic Kingdom. But as your ride vehicle reached
the top of Villain Mountain, you were to enter Maleficent's lair. And this
unexpected intrusion clearly upsets the Mistress of All Evil. For — with a
wave of her magic staff — Maleficent blasts a gaping hole in the wall directly
opposite where your bateaux is now floating.

And even though you can already see into the very next show
scene that you're supposed to be floating through while journeying through
Villain Mountain, which lies just beyond where the AA version of Maleficent is
now standing, your boat now breaks out of its nice, safe tough. And as Sleeping
Beauty's nemesis laugh manically and talks about how she's now sending all to
Hell, your boat now lurches dangerously toward that gaping hole in the wall as
you're seemingly sucked into the abyss.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now at this point, it's important to remember that
"Villain Mountain" was supposed to be filled with fun tributes to /
cameos by various Disney Villains. So after your boat slipped through that hole
which Ursula supposedly blasted in that wall at this Magical Kingdom show
building … Much in the same way that the logs used in Splash Mountain zoom
through all of those over-sized thorn bushes on their way to the bottom of the
briar patch, your Villain Mountain boat was to have slipped through Ursula's
giant writhing tentacles.

Then — as you splashed down at the very bottom of Villain
Mountain — for a very brief moment, you were actually supposed to think that
you were in Hell as flames and eerie shadows surrounded you. But then an AA
version of Hades from "Hercules" was supposed to appear. And with
fire extinguisher in hand, he'd have quickly snuffed out all of the flames
before then introducing himself. "Hades, Lord of the Dead. How ya
doin'?" And as your bateaux floated away from this AA figure, Hades was to
have called after you, offering all sorts of tempting treasures if you'd just
agree to sign your soul over to him.

Doesn't that sound like 
a fun ride? Ironically enough, in at least one version of the site plan
that the Imagineers had put together for getting "Villain Mountain"
added to WDW's Magic Kingdom, this proposed flume-type attraction was to have
been the anchor of an entire Disney Villain Village. Which was to have occupied
much of the same piece of property that the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland
expansion is currently being built on.


Construction of the Beauty & the Beast portion of the Fantasyland expansion area at
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

"And what other rides, shops and attractions would this
Disney Villains Village supposedly featured?," you ask. Well, the way I
heard it, the Ursula spinner was part of the proposed line-up. As was an early,
early version of Gaston's Tavern. Which — in the end — actually did wind up
getting built at WDW's Magic Kingdom.

But that's the way things are at WDI. Ideas that are
originally proposed for one specific theme park project are often resurrected
for an entirely different theme park in slightly mutated form.

Still, it's kind of interesting to see Gaston's Tavern
(which was originally pitched to WDW management in the mid-1990s) finally made
it into the Magic Kingdom. Though — that said — one wonders if Disney World's
Entertainment is still going forward with production of that outdoor stage show
which was once such a big component of the fun that would eventually be
associated with this new Fantasyland venue.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

To explain: The original version of Gaston's that the
Imagineers pitched had this outdoor biergarten. Which — while it wasn't
immediately obvious — also doubled as a stage.

Anyway … Every day around 4 p.m., WDW's Operations Team
would begin shooing Guests out of this outdoor biergarten. They'd keep it up
until this open air stage was completely empty and then block this area off to
public access.

And then — right at 5 p.m. — the magic would begin. A
rather depressed looking face character version of Gaston would exit his
Tavern. Nursing a beer, he'd cross over the outdoor biergarten and sit down.
And Gaston would soon be joined by a downbeat face character version of Captain
Hook, sipping from a flute of champagne. And then Hook would be followed by a
somewhat sad-looking face character version of the Evil Queen from "Snow
White." Who … No one knows what exactly is in the goblet that this
Disney Villain is holding. But it's bubbling & foaming. And the Evil
Queen  is 
followed by a morose-looking face character version of Maleficent, who
… Well, you get the idea.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So eventually, this outdoor biergarten / stage is filled
with Disney Villains who are all nursing drinks. You see, they've all come to
Gaston's Tavern for (Wait for it) "Unhappy Hour." Over the course of
this 10-to-15 minute-long show, we'll eventually discover that this is a daily
ritual among the villainous characters who live & work in WDW's Magic
Kingdom. They gather together each day at Gaston's to grab a quick drink before
heading home. And here — among their evil equals — these Disney Villains
finally have peers that they can commiserate with. I mean, who else in the
world is going to lend a sympathetic ear when you moan about how you almost
defeated Peter Pan, or tricked Snow White into eating a poison apple or
convinced Briar Rose to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel.

In the original outline for the "Unhappy Hour"
show at Gaston's Tavern, there was a suggestion that the Disney Villains could
perform a number similar to "Cell Block Tango" in
"Chicago." Where these characters — in song — would complain about
how frustrating it was to always lose to the hear. To have good continually
triumph over evil.

But then — in a tune that was supposed to have drawn its
inspiration from "Annie" 's ever-optimistic anthem,
"Tomorrow," the Disney Villains was to sing about how maybe tomorrow
will be the day when they finally triumph. And then — with their thirsts
quenched & their hopes renewed — these characters were to have all raised
a glass and toasted villainy.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

After that … Well, this being a theme park and all, the
Disney Villains who were taking part in this outdoor show at the biergarten
portion of Gaston's Tavern were to have made themselves available to the public
(albeit briefly) for photos & autographs before they then ducked backstage.

But doesn't "Unhappy Hour" sound like a fun idea
for a new outdoor show at WDW's Magic Kingdom? Mind you, I have no idea if this
is still in the works for the Fantasyland expansion which  is supposed to open on December 6th of this
year. Near as I can figure, the current configuration of Gaston's Tavern
doesn't have an outdoor biergarten that could double as a stage. But that
doesn't meant that this performance space couldn't be added at some point in
the future.

I mean, wouldn't it be cool if Gaston's Tavern eventually
become the designated hangout for the Disney Villains? The place at the Magic
Kingdom where — whenever you dropped by there — you'd always find a few evil
characters lurking about?


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Anyway, Chris B … That's my epic-length answer to your
rather short Why For question (My apologies for this story taking more than a
few days to finally get posted on JHM. But given that this column is  over 3,500 words long and I spent much of last
week traveling, just finding the time necessary to type up this sucker took a
lot of extra effort).

And — with that — I've finally delivered those 5 Why For
columns I promised you guys earlier this month. I know, I know. I didn't get
them all written in a week. But hopefully the stories that I've shared here
have made the often-several-days-long wait worth it.

Going forward now: Given the strong response that this
series of columns has gotten from JHM readers as well as from the online
Disneyana fan community, I'm thinking now that Why For will become at least a
twice-a-week feature here on this website.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So if you'd like to have one of your Disney-related
questions answered as part of an upcoming Why For column, please send your
queries along to whyfor@jimhillmedia.com and I'll then see if I can chase down
an answer for you.

Your thoughts?

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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