Why Alton Brown Is, Or Should Be, Your Food God

 

If there is one single person on your television you should be paying attention to in regards to food, it's Alton Brown. The food nerd's food nerd, the man has almost a decade and a half of television under his belt, plus three books. And his body of work is as close to a comprehensive guide to the world of home cooking as exists on the planet. Plus it has puppets. And while you certainly can go wrong with puppets, you can also go very, very right with them.

Every single crime against humanity committed by the Food Network, from making Bobby Flay an Iron Chef to paying Sandra Lee to do anything at all, ever, is mitigated by the fact that they have aired thirteen seasons of Good Eats. Thirteen seasons! I don't know how this happens on a network that takes everything that is good and wonderful about food television and finds some way to ruin it eventually, but I'm not going to argue. The only problem with Good Eats is that it's not available in a comprehensive, organized DVD collection, because trust me, if one were to somehow acquireevery episode of Good Eats ever produced, in a handy and accessible format, you would have the greatest video reference guide in the history of cooking.

What makes Alton awesomne? One simple fact. And it's not his nerd cred, his pop-culture referencing, his goofy mini-sketches, his giant visual aids, or his frequent mocking of food lawyers and federal regulators, although all these things help. It's this. With two egregious and notable exceptions, Alton Brown is right. If he tells you to do something a certain way, do it that way, because it will work. If he tells you something is unnecessary, it's because it is. And he knows this because he's tried it with the mind of a scientist. He eschews the mythology of cooking without ignoring its history, culture, and anthropology. His shit works.

If I'm trying something for the first time, and Alton Brown's done it, I watch how he did it. And I'll either do it the way he did it, or come as close as possible, adapting what I have on hand and available to what he did. THe second time, maybe I'll strike out on my own and try something different, but that first time? I follow Alton, and Alton does not lead me astray. I cooked my first duck using his technique. My father and I stripped down a full beef tenderloin from Costco with his two-part episode at hand, and he's been doing it on his own ever since. I would, too, if I could afford the product regularly and store the results. 

Like I said above, in 13 seasons worth of Good Eats, I've only found Alton Brown to be actively and willfully incorrect on two things. The first is that he thinks it's OK to substitute peanut butter for tahini when making hummus. Which is fucked up and nasty. I attribute it to cultural blinders -he's a bit of a Southern boy, and they have a certain illogical attachment to the peanut. And yes, peanut butter and tahini are structurally similar, but one is made from delicious sesame seeds, and the other is made from the toxic goo peddled to us as food by those bastards at Skippy.  So when you hear him tell you they're interchangeable, pretend he was momentarily possessed by the ghost of Sanra Lee, enjoy that brief moment of joy at pretending that Sandra Lee is dead, and get tahini.

His other weird thing is hating on garlic presses. And while I understand, intellectually, why he makes a difference between pressing garlic and mincing it, I've never, ever, ever been able to tell the diffeerence between minced and pressed garlic, and pressing is a million times easier. Maybe I'm just a Philistine with a palate like a foam rubber mattress, or maybe Alton has a secret repository of food snobbery that hits at a higher level than GOod Eats is aimed at, and this one snuck out onto the air. I don't know, and it doesn't really matter, because you can have my press when you pry it from my cold, dead, fragrant hands.

I mentioned he has three books. One about cooking , one about baking , and one about tools. Each one does exactly what it says it does, and like the show, is essentially an entertaining textbook. You could do worse.

And then there's the other stuff he does for Food Network. Elevating Iron Chef America evaen when Bobby Flay is battling. His Feasting miniseries. Welch's commercials. OK, not the Welch's commercials, but he also does ads for that group that sends animals to developing nations, so karmic balance has been achieved. The point remains, Alton Brown is the best thing at the intersection of Food and Television and thus sits proudly atop the Forkbastard pantheon.

 

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Awesome!

Not having tv at home, I had never seen or heard of Alton Brown until now. I watched what few episodes I could find online and I love it! Great show, very informative and fun, and damn, it makes me hungry. I, too, wish you could buy the show on dvd or itunes in order to watch at home.

Good Eats DVD's

There are Good Eats DVD's, although I believe they're mostly exclusive to Target. It's just that they suck, and are loosely themed collections of episodes scattered throughout the run, not a proper DVD collection.
 

Ah, that sucks. Maybe we

Ah, that sucks. Maybe we should start an online petition? lol

It gets complicated.  All the

It gets complicated.  All the DVDs are based around 3 episode "themes". There are separate theme dvds they sell at retail (target) which have colorful box art and slim packs.  But those are very limited. (and I think they are missing the "ask Alton" segments.  I have ~35 of the DVDs you can order from food network's web store.  They are red and blue.  

Alton luv

When people ask me where I learnesd to cook, I tell them Good Eats, America's Test Kitchen, and Emeril Live. The first two are all about how to cook well. I don't think anybody teaches about food better than AB. ATK looks out for you. If you see them do something, you know they tested it a zillion times. Emeril taught me the most important lesson though. Cooking should be fun! I was soooo pissed at Food Network for how unceremoniously they cast him aside. The show that practically built their network just faded away, cancelled like it was some summer replacement series.
Glad I'm not the only one who hates Iron Chef Bobby Flay. Whenever they let the contestants pick their opponents, I wonder "Why not pick Bobby?" All of his food looks the same and he always loses!
 
 

America's Test Kitchen

I appreciate what America's Test Kitchen / Cook's Illustrated do, but that doesn't change the fact that Christopher Kimball is the single biggest douchebag food media has given us since David Rosengarten.
Gentrified food-snob Orvile Redenbacher motherfucker.
 

Meat cuts for vegetarians

Bryan has already heard this one.
I love Good Eats. I've watched a good 3/5 of the series on YouTube in bed after midnight using stolen wifi (only available in the bedroom) on myiPod Touch, is how much I love Good Eats. (Damn you, neighbors who moved away with your unsecured wifi in May!)
I'm a vegetarian. The episodes cover so many cooking techniques and so much cool background information that I have watched a good many of the meat episodes, even though meat grosses me out, and as a result, I have more than a passing acquaintance with his various meat cut diagrams/models - cows and pigs and chickens and all.
I was hanging out with a friend who asked me what kind of steak it is that cartoon characters always see each other as - you know, when they're starving on desert islands, etc. In her experience, it has a round bone instead of a t-bone. She prefaced this by saying she knew it was dumb to ask a vegetarian this - but I knew, because of general vertebrate anatomy, that it had to be a slice around the femur or humerus, and from Alton Brown, that any slice of leg will be tough because it works hard. We then turned on the TV, and Good Eats came on - but it was the vinegar episode. We watched anyway, despite the lack of beef cut information likely to come up in a vinegar episode - and then on came two guys in a cow costume, with cuts marked, because he was making sauerbraten! Which you make from round steak - part of the cut around the femur - and marinate for 3 days because it's so tough!
I have since wondered if maybe the cartoon characters she saw were seeing each other as hams (also a femur slice, but more common as a visual reference than round steak, which is generally so large it's just a wedge section, without the bone in it.) Myself, I mainly remember them hallucinating hamburgers and hot dogs.
Anyway, point being, AB rules.

I respect AB's knowledge, but

I respect AB's knowledge, but I'm a Julia Child fan.  Granted a large portion of dishes she cooked were unknown to me, but it was fun to imagine sitting down to that type of lunch (with a bottle of wine ::gasp::) when growing up in rural WI.  I credit my fearlessness when it comes to cooking/ baking to her. 
I also watched a lot of Jeff Smith (frugal Gormet), I loved the history lesson in each episode.

U R OLD

But I kid. Julia Child is the classic, and paved the way for so much of what we have today. Plus, she was a secret agent, which is bonus awesome. On the other hand, she inspired that "Julie and Julia" movie, which takes away about half of the spy awesomeness.

Come to think of it, in many ways, AB is mapping out the American food scene of the modern era in much the same way Child mapped out the food scene of the 70's. There's just so little overlap between the two scenes - Julia never did an episode on skirt steak fajitas, as far as I know.

 

I love Good eats.  I have

I love Good eats.  I have referred to Alton as my earthbound God.  I have to smile with gritted teeth when my friend recounts how he ran into AB in the hot dog line at the Airport and got to have lunch with him (and doesn’t really care that much.)  He has made the TV show I would make.  
That said, he's not always right.  In general, you have to be prepared for the fact that he likes salt.  A good number of his recipes will come out too salty if you just follow lock step.  But the underapreciated part of the show is how it is set up to teach materials, tools, and techniques, not recipes - so, you know, just fix it if you think it's too salty.  
The other thing is his advice changes.  You can see this in the Ask Alton Segments on the DVDs, and interviews, and even a couple episodes.  Logically speaking he can’t always be right if he's not consistent (I guess Altonism will be a bit like Catholicism.)  
Finally, sometimes I feel like the method is designed for people who want to tinker in their garage or just to put on a show because he's making entertainment.  I'm sure that pasta ironing board is great, but where the hell am I going to store it for the 360 days a year I'm not making pasta?  Let alone the cold smoker…  

"Always"

As a percentage of the thousands and thousands of things said over thirteen seasons, "Always" is close enough.
And yes, a lot of the MacGyver Cooking bits are elaborate and/or insane, but most of the time he'll also do a text card or two giving you standard kitchen equipment versions as well.
 

Agreed.  I just thought that

Agreed.  I just thought that if this post was someone's AB introduction and they made — let's say the braised ribs — and it was super salty (and it is) that they should note that is a specific correctable problem and not a reason to abandon him wholesale.  I also hear people say the biscuits are salty, but apparently I like salty too because I thought it was just right on salt.  

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