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Why For? : The Tom, *** and Jules-y edition

As in: Legendary Imagineer Tom Scherman, Disney’s “*** Tracy” movie as well as noted french author Jules Verne. Yeah, Jim covers a wide gamut with this week’s column.

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First up, James Tai from North Hollywood, CA. writes in to ask:

First off, I am a life-long Disney park fan and just discovered your brilliant website — love these articles, especially the ones about attractions that never made it, like Western River Expedition. Incredible stuff.

Aside from whatever sadness I may feel because of these attractions never being built, I’m fascinated at the way that WDI recycles their “abandoned” ideas. Reading your Twilight Zone ToT story – the part about the DLP’s Discovery Mountain, indoor lagoon, Nemo’s Nautilus, volcano – I immediately thought of how this did come to fruition at Tokyo Disney Sea, almost exactly as described.

Question though: can you explain the Disney/WDI fascination/connection with Jules Verne, (20,000 leagues, journey to the center…), and “Discovery”-theming? Do you already have an article about this? I know Discovery Bay was an old DL idea, and it’s stuck around, and a lot of the parks now have areas (mostly in Tomorrowland) that have “Discoveryland” type theming (with the copper coloring, and the way the rocket jets were redone at DL’s Tomorrowland entrance, etc.) Was it all based off a fondness for Verne that Disney held, ie the 20,000 Leagues movie?

Do tell. Or rather, Disney + Jules Verne – why for?

Dear James —

You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head already. It’s that movie version of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” that Walt had made back in 1954 that has — over the past 50 years — caused all of these Verne-ish elements to pop up in Disney theme parks around the globe.

You see, you have to understand that — back when that Richard Fleischer film first came out — a lot of the guys who are currently in senior management at WDI were just kids. And — in several cases — seeing ” 20K” up there on the big screen was their very first movie-going experience. So when the Nautilus (as it was so elegantly designed by Imagineering pioneer Harper Goff) rose from the depths, that image really burned into their brains. And many of these future Imagineers were never quite the same.

Take — for example — the late Tom Scherman. By all accounts, Tom was a brilliant model maker who was much beloved at WDI for his attention to detail. But Scherman was also one of these guys who allegedly caught the “20K” fever when the film was first released back in December of 1954. And — as soon he caught a glimpse of the rivet-covered submarine that was half crocodile and half shark — Tom had to have one of his own.

And — for the next 40 years — that’s just what Scherman did. He started out by making models of the Nautilus. Initially these models were small and somewhat crude. But — over time — they grew in size and detail.

And — as these models grew — so did Tom’s obsession with “20 Leagues.” He’d return — time and again — the “20K” walk-through exhibit in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland area. Where he’d carefully study the film’s sets and props. (It was this exhibit that eventually inspired Scherman to decorate the interior of his apartment as if it were a cabin on the Nautilus. Which — if I’m remembering this story correctly — didn’t exactly thrill Scherman’s landlady.)

Anyway … Tom eventually lands a job at WED. And it was there — surrounded by other artists and designers who had also caught “20K” fever at a young age — that his love of all things Nautilus came into full flower. Here, Scherman was able to work on projects like Discovery Bay. An expansion area for the Anaheim theme park that was to have featured a full-sized version of Nemo’s sub as its centerpiece.

But — when that project failed to make it off of Disneyland’s drawing boards — Tom just couldn’t let go. He knew that there had to be other Nautilus fans out there. People who’d be thrilled to get the chance to actually climb aboard a full-scale version of Nemo’s sub.

So Scherman did everything he could think of to revive Disney executives’ interest in the Discovery Bay project. Even going so far as to shoot (on his own dime, mind you) a 5-minute long teaser/pilot for a TV series that would be based on this proposed Disneyland expansion area. “The Discovery Bay Chronicles” (obviously) never made it on the air. But even that didn’t stop Scherman.

Tom kept plugging away, working with like-minded folks at WED like Tony Baxter and Tim Delaney. Imagineers who also loved Disney’s “20,000 Leagues” film. Who also longed to make real fantastic places like Nemo’s secret sub base in Vulcania.

It would take another 15 years (And a Euro-centric project like Disneyland Paris. A theme park where it suddenly made sense that the Imagineers wanted to create an entire land that was dedicated to the writing of Jules Verne) for Scherman to achieve his dream. To actually stand on the deck of a full-sized version of Nemo’s sub. Which was built as part of DLP’s “Les Mystères du Nautilus” walk-through exhibit.

Recognizing what an important moment this was for Tom, Tim & Tony had a special certificate made up. Which listed Scherman as the commodore of the Nautilus.

Tom died just a year or so later. Of cancer, so I here. Which is a really tough way to go.

But — even so — I can’t help but feel a little happy for Scherman. For the man actually achieved his dream. As unlikely as it might sound, Tom eventually got to stand on the deck of a full-sized version of the Nautilus. His “20K” obsession (and how it slowly spread to other Imagineers) eventually resulted in all us Disney getting some pretty kick-ass rides, shows and attractions. Like that entire “Mysterious Island” area at Tokyo DisneySea.

So never under-estimate the power of a Disney film, folks. Who knows. Somewhere out there right now, there’s probably some future Imagineer who’s repeatedly watching the DVD of “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Who’s determined to learn everything he can about the treasure cave at Isla de Muerta. So that someday — when he’s working at WDI — he can make that place real.

Speaking of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” a lot of JHM readers have been writing in with additional questions about yesterday’s “Skeleton Crew” story. Here’s what Deputy Dawg had to say:

Jim —

Loved the story today about the new nighttime version of Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride. I’d dearly love to see this thing make it off the drawing board. But it seems to me that the Imagineers would have to overcome an awful lot of obstacles in order to make this proposed redo a reality.

But even so, it was nice to hear that they’d been thinking about doing this. Thanks for sharing this story with us.

“… Would have to overcome an awful lot of obstacles in order to make this … a reality.” That’s putting it mildly, Deputy Dawg.

So — in the spirit of fairness — let me list some of the reasons why it’s not all that likely that Disneyland will ever add that alternate flume to their “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride.

1) Why fix what ain’t broke? As it stands right now, over 45% of all guests who go to Disneyland eventually take a trip on “Pirates” as part of their visit. Clearly this 38-year old attraction doesn’t need help to attraction the attention of DL visitors. So why waste money here on something that already works, when Tomorrowland is in such desperate need of new rides, shows and attractions?

2) Limited hours of operations. Think about it, folks. The whole story hook behind this new version of “Pirates of the Caribbean” is that the skeletons only get to take over the attraction after the sun sets. But what about those times during the winter months when Disneyland is only open ’til 8 or 9 o’clock at night? Or — worse yet — those weeks during the summer when the sun doesn’t set ’til 8-8:30 p.m.? Then think about the tens of thousands of DL guests who are going to want to be able to ride the new version of “Pirates.” Are you really going to be able to accomodate all of those people, getting them all safely through the attraction with only the few operational hours you have left on the clock?

3) This attraction can’t be cloned. Only Disneyland — because its POTC building is so huge — can actually accomodate a second flume track. Given that this is the new Walt Disney Company (Which now only likes spending ride development money on proposed attractions that it can possibly copy and then send to other Disney theme parks around the globe), do you seriously expect the Mouse to spend this much coin on a ride that can’t be cloned?

4) What if the “Pirates” sequels all under-perform? I know, I know. Given how entertaining the first “Pirates” film was, this doesn’t seem all that likely. But let’s remember that expectations were also high for both of the “Matrix” sequels. And while “The Matrix Reloaded” made $281 million during its initial domestic release in May of 2003, “The Matrix Revolutions” made less than half that amount ($139 million) less than six months later.

So — given that there’s no such thing as a sure thing in Hollywood — if either “Pirates II” or “Pirates III” under-performs at the box office, you can bet that no one within the Walt Disney Company would ever want to build a theme park attraction that celebrates these films.

A quick call-back to our earlier “Why For” question: This was actually why Discovery Bay wasn’t built at Disneyland. You see, back in the early 1970s, Disney execs were initially all gung-ho about the idea of building an all-new land at the Anaheim theme park that celebrated Jules Verne. Why for? Because they had this Verne-esque film in the works, “The Island at the Top of the World.” And they were so confident about that project’s future success that they insisted that the Imagineers include an “Island” – themed E Ticket as part of that proposed Disneyland expansion area.

But then “The Island at the Top of the World” under-performed during its initial theatrical release in December of 1974. Once those box office results came in, executives grew very cool to the idea of building any attractions that might remind the public of  that Walt Disney Productions failure.

And what was true of Walt Disney Productions execs in 1974 is still true of the suits that run the Walt Disney Company of today. They love to loudly celebrate their victories and quietly bury their mistakes.

I mean, why else do you think that the Imagineers never got to build that truly cool “*** Tracy Crimestoppers” attraction for Disney-MGM? That was because the studio’s “*** Tracy” movie had to struggle through the entire summer of 1990 before it finally achieved blockbuster status (I.E. Earning over $100 million).


Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

Mind you, Disney’s “*** Tracy” eventually did earn $103 million. But — when you factor in the cost of making & then promoting this Warren Beatty vanity project — this high budget motion picture remained in the red for a good number of years after its initial domestic release. Only after factoring in its foreign ticket sales, what the film earned via pay television as well as its video rentals revenue did “*** Tracy” finally eek out a small profit.

The same rules keep applying, folks. And don’t think that just because the Disneyana fan community is suddenly singing the praises of this second “Pirates” flume that’s been proposed for Disneyland that this will actually help this proposed attraction get built. The execs who run the Walt Disney Company … They make decisions about stuff for the parks that are driven by factors that you & I would never consider.

Take — for example — this rough concept sketch.


Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

Does the shape of this show building look familiar? It should. It’s Epcot’s old “Horizons” pavilion. Only — if you’ll look closely at this concept drawing — you’ll see that this old ride-through system for this Future World attraction has been ripped out in favor of a new hands-on sort of attraction.

Oh, sure. If you look to the very front of the old “Horizons” show building, you’ll see that the Imagineers were considering building a moving-theater-seats attraction as part of this pavilion’s new line-up of rides & shows. But — beyond that — this radically reworked Future World pavilion was to have become mostly a walk-through experience. One were WDW guests could actively participated in the fun, rather than passively observe the celebration.

“And just what would this new version of “Horizons” have celebrated?,” you ask. The wonders of technology.


Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

I know, I know. That sounds like yet another version of “Innoventions.” Which it is. But this one would have at least kept all of these exhibits under one roof and strived to give them some sort of unifying theme. It would have undoubtedly been easier on the eyes & the ears than what we have today. Which (to be blunt) is a Disneyified version of the Consumer Electronics Show.

But Disney executives opted not to try & save the old “Horizons” building. Why for? I’m told that it was mostly for tax purposes. That — were the Walt Disney Company to just tear this Future World pavilion down — that the corporation would then get a huge tax break which was based on the Mouse’s accountants being able to write off the cost of demolishing that show building.

And as for “Mission: Space” and why that show building wound up the way it is … Well, that’s because that was as much of the Future as Compaq was willing to pay for.

Okay. That’s enough about the future for now. Let’s talk about the past for a bit. This past Monday, to be exact. When we announced this week’s JHM trivia contest. As you may recall, the question went went a little something like this:

QUESTION: Andrea Martin & Harvey Fierstein both have ties to Disney animation. Can you name the movie and/or the TV show that these two Tony Award winners have done voice work for?

BONUS QUESTION: What were the characters’ names?

The correct answers to this week’s trivia contest are:

Harvey Fierstein was the voice of Yao in “Mulan,” while Andrea Martin did the voice of both Mrs. Stoppable in “Kim Possible: A Sitch in Time” and Lunch Lady Harriet in “Recess: School’s Out.”

And — out of the 106 JHM readers who correctly answered this week’s questions — the three randomly selected winners are:

  • Jeff Kozlowski
  • Denise Riley
  • Charlie Zimmerman

Though it should be noted that Jeff Kozlowski deserves extra credit for remembering that Harvey Fierstein was also doing the voice of Hucua for “Kingdom of the Sun” before that Disney Feature Animation production was suddenly shut down and significantly reworked, eventually to become Disney’s December 2000 release, “The Emperor’s New Groove.”

So Jeff, Denise and Charlie … If you can please send me your mailing information, I’d be happy to put your prizes (I.E. One pound of “Just Plain Joe” whole bean coffee as well as a limited edition t-sshirt) ASAP.

Well, it’s been a big week here at JHM. And — frankly — I’m exhausted. So you folks go and enjoy your three day weekend.

Speaking of which … If you live in the Central Florida area and/or are going to be visiting the Walt Disney World Resort over the next few days & are looking for something fun to this coming weekend … Well, then you might want to consider checking out the two events that the N.F.F.C. (I.E. The National Fantasy Fan Club, THE Club for Disneyana Enthusiasts) will be holding at the Radisson Parkway in Kissimmee.

The fun actually begins on Saturday night as Alex Mahr and Brian Blackmore of the Disney Design Group give a special presentation. There’ll also be pin trading & room hopping going on. So this will be a great chance to score some cool Disney collectibles.

Then on Sunday morning, the Radisson’s convention space will play host to the N.F.F.C.’s Show and Sale. Where you’re sure to find tons on fun items up for sale. Not to mention meeting some very nice people who are also into collecting Mouse-related stuff.

If you’d like to learn more about this event, I suggest you follow this link. And  — while I’m suggesting things — Chuck Oberlietner has some intriguing articles up over at his website, o-meon.com, . Including an overview of this week’s MacWorld where Chuck gets to chat (albeit briefly) with Robin Williams. So if you’re looking for some interesting reading this weekend, you might want to head over there.

Me? I wish that I had time to go to the N.F.F.C. Show & Sale and/or read Chuck’s stuff. But I gotta get back to work on Monday’s column. Which take a special look at how Martin Luther King’s legacy became intertwined with that of the Walt Disney Company.  

See you then 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.

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“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.

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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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