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Why “Treasure Planet” tanked

Jim Hill explores many of the causes behind the under-performance of this recent Walt Disney Studios release.



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So what IS the deal with “Treasure Planet?”

I mean, here you have a film that was crafted by Disney Feature Animation vets Ron Clements and John Musker. The directing duo that brought us “The Great Mouse Detective,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” and “Hercules.”

This was also the project that had master animator Glen Keane — the guy who brought Ariel to life, not to mention the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast” as well as the title characters in “Aladdin,” “Pocahontas,” and “Tarzan” — working at the very top of his game.

Then you had the infamous Walt Disney marketing department (which — if it put its mind to it — probably COULD sell ice to Eskimos) spreading the word far and wide for “Treasure Planet.”

So here you have this new Disney animated movie that the company’s top talent put together, that was being relentlessly promoted by the Mouse’s marketing machine. That seems like a surefire recipe for box office success, doesn’t it?

And yet “Treasure Planet” has been greeted with a collective shrug by American moviegoers. As of this past weekend, the film has only grossed $35,820,872.

So what exactly went wrong here? Why isn’t this movie about space-going buccaneers pulling in lots of gold for the Mouse? Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard dozens of theories. Some folks have suggested that “Treasure Planet” under-performed because it was actually a summer movie mistakenly released in the depth of November. Still other folks are suggesting that the Mouse made a tactical error in putting “TP” out in theaters when there were already so many strong kid-friendly films (like Warner Brother’s “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and Disney’s own “Santa Clause II”) out in the marketplace.

I’ve also had some industry insiders tell me that it was a grave error for the “Treasure Planet” production team to turn Jim Hawkins in an angst-ridden teen. That the film might have been a much bigger success if Disney had just followed Robert Louis Stevenson’s lead and kept Jim Hawkins a kid. (As a counter-point to this theory, I should point out that I have two 12-year old nieces — Mary and Rebecca — who absolutely love Jim Hawkins in “Treasure Planet.” They think that the brooding teen that Disney animator John Ripa dreamed up is a really cutie. Which is why they have a poster of Jim solar-surfing tacked up to their bedroom wall and why they listen to the “Treasure Planet” soundtrack constantly. So Ripa’s take on the character clearly connected with at least some members of the audience. Anyway … )

Other theories I’ve heard about the film’s failure include:

“They should have gotten a celebrity to do the voice of Long John Silver. That would have at least given Disney another way to promote the picture.”

“Pirate pictures are box office poison these days. I mean, look what happened with that Geena Davis movie, “Cutthroat Island.” That was a legendary bomb. People just don’t go in for this swashbuckling stuff anymore.” (This theory will, of course, not make the folks who are currently in the middle of post production on Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the film that the Mouse hopes will be its big blockbuster for the Summer of 2003, very happy.)

“To put it bluntly, ‘Treasure Planet’ lacked heart. The movie itself looked great. The animation was top notch, as was the film’s design. But I never found myself getting caught up in the story. I never made an emotional connection to the characters.”

Well, certainly the comment above appears to have a bit of validity. I’ve heard from a number of animation insiders who suggest that the reason that “Lilo & Stitch” was readily embraced by moviegoers this past summer while “Treasure Planet” left would-be audience members cold was that “Lilo” had heart. That thanks to the storytelling skills of Chris Sanders, Dean Deblois and the rest of the team down at Disney Feature Animation-Florida, audiences really came to care about what happened to that lonely little Hawaiian girl and her extra terrestrial “doggie.”

Of course, to be fair, I should also point out that “Lilo & Stitch” had the benefit of one of the more innovative movie promotional campaigns that Walt Disney Studios has ever mounted. A full six months before “Stitch” officially debuted at your local multiplex, that obnoxious little alien was knocking down chandeliers in faux “Beauty and the Beast” trailers, horning in on Aladdin’s action by taking Princess Jasmine out for a joy ride in his intergalactic hot rod, hanging ten with Ariel, even subbing for Simba during his presentation at Pride Rock.

You see what I’m getting at? These teaser ads for “Lilo & Stitch” were highly effective. They made moviegoers think — long before they headed to the movie theater — that “L&S” was going to be a very different animated film from Walt Disney Studios. Which is (perhaps) why so many folks went out to the cinema last summer. To see what all the fuss was about.

Whereas “Treasure Planet” … well, that film’s promotional campaign tried very hard to give people the impression that this movie was NOT in fact “Atlantis II.” Which is why (I’m guessing) that all the advertising for “TP” seemed to prominently feature Jim Hawkins out performing dangerous stunts on his solar surfer. As if the Mouse’s marketing department had hoped that — by repeatedly highlighting this footage — extreme sports fans would have no choice but to embrace this movie.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. With the possible exception of my two 12-year old nieces, it didn’t seem to like there are any demographic group who embraced this film whole heartedly.

“If that’s really the case, Jim, then how did ‘Treasure Planet’ end up pulling in $35 million?,” I hear you asking. Ah, this is where it starts to get interesting, folks. According to internal Disney Studio documents that were passed along to me earlier this week, the only reason that “Treasure Planet” has done as well as it has is because of folks like you. The hardcore Disneyana fan. The big time animation buffs. It seems like you’re the only ones who actually went out of their way to catch “TP” during its initial theatrical release.

So why did the rest of the viewing public opt to take a pass on “Treasure Planet”? Again, another interesting wrinkle: according to Disney’s own marketing surveys, the number one reason that people said they were opting not to see this movie while it was in theaters was because they were eventually intending to buy “Treasure Planet” when the film came out on video or DVD.

Imagine Mickey’s horror when he learned this: that consumers had finally caught on to the Walt Disney Company’s release patterns. (As in: 3 to 9 months after every new Disney feature length animated film appears in theaters, the Mouse always puts this same film up for sale at your local Wal-Mart and/or Target in the home video or DVD format.)

Gone are the days when — if you didn’t catch a Disney animated cartoon while it was out in theaters — you’d have to wait another seven years before you got a chance to see this movie again. Nowadays, just like clockwork, the video and DVD version of every film predictably pops up for sale, just a few months after the film falls out of theaters.

You see what I’m saying here, people? The urgency is gone. Consumers are all too aware that if they miss out on taking the kids to the movies to go see the latest Disney animated feature, that it’s really no great loss.

This explains why the Walt Disney Company has been so eager to embrace the idea of exhibiting its newest animated films in the IMAX format. Thereby creating a cinematic experience (Jim Hawkins solar surfing on a screen 10 stories high!) that the typical consumer would never be able to replicate with their own home entertainment system. This plan will (hopefully) turn going out to see a new Disney film while it’s in theaters back into a special occasion again.

Sadly, this gambit didn’t seem to work with “Treasure Planet” (I.E. “TP” was the very first new Disney feature length animated film to make its debut at both conventional sized screens as well in as the large screen format on the very same day).

So what’s the Mouse going to do to try and turn this situation around? Clearly, the Walt Disney Company isn’t going to abandon its highly lucrative practice of putting its latest animated features up for sale in the home video and DVD format as soon as humanly possible. To be honest, the Mouse now relies quite heavily on the cash that it receives from the sale of these DVDs and videos to bolster the corporation’s bottom line.

I mean, why else do you think that that the home video and DVD version of “Lilo & Stitch” hit store shelves on December 3rd, a full eight weeks before this film was originally supposed to go on sale to consumers? 2002 had been a really lousy year for the Mouse House. Which is why Disney CEO Michael Eisner was counting on those pre-Christmas sales of “L&S” to help the Walt Disney Company look like it was doing a lot better than it actually was.

Anyway … clearly, something needs to be done to improve the box office performance of Disney’s newer animated films during their initial theatrical release. Some way has to be found to compel audiences to come out to their local multiplex to see these movies prior to their inevitable release on home video and DVD.

Now, a somewhat cynical person might say “Well, Jim, if the Walt Disney Company wants the theatrical audience for its newer animated films to come back, maybe the studio should start by trying to tell better stories.” Me, personally? I don’t buy that. Why? Because I think that “Treasure Planet” actually did have a pretty good story. One that moviegoers actually would have enjoyed if they’d just gotten up off of their couches and went out to their local multiplex.

But — since it’s obvious that moviegoers haven’t exactly been all that enthusiastic about the subject matter of the studio’s last few animated features — WDFA is in the process of regrouping. Mapping out different strategies for the next five to seven years worth of releases.

What sorts of different strategies? Well, one battle plan calls for Disney Feature Animation to return to its roots. Which — of course — means a return of the musical fairy tale.

After all, if “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Aladdin” helped to kick-start the Second Golden Age of Disney Feature Animation, it stands to reason that another series of movies that are based on the stories of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm could possibly help usher in the Third Golden Age. Toward this end, WDFA currently has movies that are based on the tales of Chicken Little, Rapunzel and the Snow Queen in development.

Disney’s also looking to take advantage of any and all promotional opportunities that may come the company’s way. Take for example, WDFA’s recent decision to swap the release dates of its upcoming releases, “Home on the Range” and “Bears.”

Contrary to rumor, this move was not made because “Home on the Range” is still bedeviled with story problems. (Actually, now that Roseanne is in place to provide the voice for the film’s lead cow, I’m told that this project has finally begun to gel. And that — with a little bit of luck — “Home on the Range” may now end up being one of the funnier films that WDFA has ever produced. Here’s hoping, anyhow…) But rather, because Disney thought that they saw a primo promotional opportunity for “Bears” this fall with the upcoming release of the Platinum edition of “The Lion King.”

See if you can follow this logic: Disney reportedly feels that it will be very easy to sell people on the idea of going out to their local theater to see “Bears” this coming November if they just tack a trailer for that film onto every copy of the home video and DVD version of “The Lion King.” Evidently, the thinking in Burbank seems to be: “Hey, if people liked “The Lion King” enough to buy the Platinum Edition of that film, they’re the perfect target audience for ‘Bears.’ So let’s strike while the iron is hot.”

Another somewhat disturbing trend is — since Pixar projects like “Toy Story,” “a bug’s life,’ “Toy Story II” and “Monsters, Inc.” as well as Fox’s “Ice Age” have done so well during their theatrical releases — that executives at WDFA are reportedly flirting with the idea of abandoning traditional animation in favor of the studio making most of its upcoming feature length cartoons in the CG format.

To quote one WDFA insider: “Look, if a piece of crap like ‘Ice Age’ can make $176 million during its domestic release, while something as sensational as ‘Treasure Planet’ has to struggle to pull in $35 million, clearly audiences’ tastes have changed. So Disney has to change with the times. Otherwise, it risks losing its core audience.”

Me personally, I think that the real reason that “Ice Age” did so well this past spring wasn’t because the film was done in CG. I mean, if that was really the case, then why did “Final Fantasy” perform so miserably at the box office?

The way I see it, “Ice Age” became a hit because it was promoted so cleverly. Both in theaters (were you like me, that as soon as you saw that Scrat trailer, you knew that you just had to see this movie?) as well as with all those TV commercials that Fox had air during the 2002 Winter Olympics. But more importantly, this film had great word of mouth.

Of course, it’s easy for a movie to have great word of word when a film’s as entertaining as “Ice Age” was. Loaded with laughs and — more importantly — heart, this Blue Sky Studios production deserved every dollar that it pulled in (and whoever it was who came up with the idea of casting Ray Romano as the voice of Manny the Mammoth deserves a promotion right now).

Mind you, as you may recall reading in an earlier column, the Walt Disney Company actually had a shot at acquiring “Ice Age” away from Fox. (Why for? Because Fox management — honestly, no joke intended here, folks — apparently got cold feet when it came to the idea of actually releasing this full length animated film.) But the Mouse took a pass on this CG project, preferring to stick with a sure thing like “Treasure Planet.”

Well — as we now all know — “Treasure Planet” wasn’t exactly a sure thing. Though this film is hardly the flop that the financial press (and the Walt Disney Company’s own management) would have you believe it is.

You see, with a project like “Treasure Planet,” it’s important to remember that — what with the money that Disney will make off of the overseas release of “TP,” plus factoring in the monies that will eventually be made off of pay-per-view, home video and DVD sales, the awarding of network broadcasting rights and the like — that the money that a movie makes off of its initial domestic release is really just the beginning. Truth be told, these days, the domestic gross only accounts for about 1/5th of a film’s eventual earning power.

So — if you can follow that math — it stands to reason that “Treasure Planet” (just like those other historic Disney under-performers like the original “Fantasia” and “Sleeping Beauty”) will eventually make some big bucks for the Mouse. This just means that the Walt Disney Company may have to wait a few years longer than it had orifinally intended before it gets a return on its $74 million (Or was it $140 million? Or even $170 million? Disney spokespeople seem to be playing extremely fast and loose these days whenever they discuss “Treasure Planet”‘s alleged production costs with the press) investment.

My apologies if this has been a somewhat more methodical — rather than emotional — discussion as to why “Treasure Planet” didn’t exactly haul in Flint’s treasure during its initial domestic release. Perhaps this has been a lot drier story than you were expecting. My apologies. But my goal here was to avoid much of the histrionics that currently surround most discussions of this movie.

“What histrionics am I talking about?” Well, get on Google and type in “Disney Treasure Planet.” I’m sure — if you poke around long enough — you’ll eventually come across some website where the “TP” conspiracy theorists are at play. These are the folks who will tell you about how the Walt Disney Company deliberately torpedoed “Treasure Planet” so that it would make it that much easier for the corporation to abandon traditional animation entirely. So that the studio would now have a solid excuse for its decision to totally CG in the not-so-distant future.

This sort of talk (and I’m trying to be polite here) is patently ridiculous, people. Why for? Because real life isn’t like “The Producers” — where people deliberately create a flop with the hope that they’ll be able to profit from this project someday further on down the line.

This is especially true of the crew over at Walt Disney Feature Animation, where people sometimes labor for five, six or seven years to complete production of an individual animated feature. These guys pour all their art and energy into these films because they sincerely hope that the project will eventually connect with an audience. When that doesn’t happen … there’s broken hearts up and down the food chain. From the executive who actually greenlit production of the picture right down to the assistant clean-up artist who made sure that Doppler’s glasses looked the same all the way through the film.

When you get right down to it, I guess there really isn’t a single easy answer as to why “Treasure Planet” failed to catch on with moviegoers during its initial domestic release. But then … sometimes things like this just happen in Hollywood. Good animated movies — great ones, even — get inexplicably overlooked. I mean, look what happened to “Cats Don’t Dance” and “The Iron Giant.” Both wonderful movies that died a dog’s death at the box office … all because audiences wouldn’t come out to see them.

Anywho … in the ugly aftermath of “Treasure Planet”‘s under-performance, I’m honestly hoping that execs at WDFA will at least do the smart thing. Which is NOT to blame Ron Clements and John Musker for what happened with their movie. Because if Disney were to ever make the mistake of letting Ron’n’John walk out the door (when you just know that Jeffrey Katzenberg and the team over at Dreamworks SKG would greet these guys with open arms) … well, it would be a tragedy right up there with Disney letting the Brizzi brothers and Eric Goldberg get away.

Speaking of Dreamworks … I’ve heard from a variety of sources that folks over at that studio aren’t taking much pleasure in “Treasure Planet”‘s difficulties at the domestic box office. Why for? Because Dreamworks’ next traditionally animated film — “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” — has been described as “‘Treasure Planet’ without the flying pirate ships.” Which is why I hear that Dreamworks execs are now desperately casting about for a bold new ad campaign to help sell this picture.

What’s the problem with the old campaign? Well, have you seen the initial teaser poster for “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas?” It features a silhouette of Sinbad hanging off of the mast of his ship. Which bears a striking resemblance to the final version of the “Treasure Planet” poster that Disney’s marketing staff created for that movie.

Dreamworks execs are reportedly worried that — if the posters for these two pictures actually look the same — moviegoers may end up confusing the two movies. Which means that “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” could end up suffering the same fate as “Treasure Planet.”

Will “Sinbad” end up under-performing just like “TP?” Well, we’ll know for sure come June 27th when this Dreamworks picture finally sails into view at your local multiplex.

Anyway … hopefully, this piece shed some light on all the controversies that are currently swirling around Disney’s “Treasure Planet.”

Soooo … what’s your take on the situation?

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 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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