Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Who to Watch: Alton Brown

I've often said that there are moments when I learned to cook--specific moments in time where I remember having some epiphany or significant event after which my time in the kitchen made far more sense than it did before. Without question, it's clear to me that if you needed to partition my life in the kitchen into two parts, it would have to be "Before Good Eats" and "After Good Eats."

Starring this brilliant man. 
I haven't been a big TV watcher in a while (save for Netflix and other streaming services), and I haven't really been able to properly channel surf in more than a decade (thank you very much, overabundance of content from cable providers!), so for a long time, all I knew of Alton Brown was seen in tiny snippets late at night on Iron Chef America or the occasional Welsh's commercial.

I didn't care for him.

It's not his fault, really--I was turned off by the speed and energy he brought to the show, which was much more than I had seen in the Japanese original. He was like listening to a South American Futbol announcer.

It all ended when I encountered a link to a clip of Good Eats featuring him making his own ceramic smoker for barbecue out of a couple of ceramic planters (total cost: under $50). Gone was the non-stop, super-high energy I had seen before. This guy was more relaxed, speaking at a pace considered normal by most humans, and had devised an ingenious way to save you some money making great barbecue.

But while that initial clip broke the ice, it wasn't until I made another magical (now, regrettably, lost) discovery: every episode of Good Eats was on Youtube. Oh yes. Every. Single. One. Some enterprising viewer had used up countless space on his DVR and slowly uploaded the episodes to Youtube, somehow evading the various copyright demons out there (unfortunately, it seems that they have finally caught up with them--I can't find any of them on Youtube anymore).

I don't remember what, exactly, prompted me to look, but somehow I came upon "Tender is the Loin (Part 1)", the first episode of a pair to focus on the beef tenderloin. Sitting down at my computer to watch it, I was absolutely transfixed. I had seen countless other television cooks show you how to prepare various cuts of meat, but never before had I laid eyes upon the simple brilliance of Good Eats: he was explaining why it is you do the things you do.

Yep--just like that. 
It's such a simple thing, and yet so many people in so many parts of life seem to not understand it: if you want someone to really understand why they should do something, you need to explain to them why they should do it. To explain something to someone without telling them why is to say "You should do what I say because I'm telling you." It really isn't the most effective way to make a point stick.

And yet, that's what so many television cooks do: Do what I say because I'm telling you. Add 1/2 tsp of salt. Let the oil heat up before adding the meat. Cut the chicken into medallions. 


Because I'm telling you to do it that way. 

Not helpful.

Do you know the three types of proteins that make up connective tissue? They're elastin, collagen, and reticulum. While collagon will break down into (delicious) gelatin given enough time, elastin never, ever will. Not only will it never break down, but it makes up a major proportion of silverskin--that sleek, shiny, vaguely silvery stuff you see on various cuts of meat (especially tenderloin). Since it never, ever breaks down under cooking methods, you need to remove it from cuts of meat, unless you want your guests to be picking long strands of it out of their teeth.

I don't know all of that because I'm a professional cook, or have a degree in chemistry--I know it because Alton Brown took the time to explain it to me on an episode of his show that I watched more than two years ago, and it's far from the only thing I've learned from him.

I was hoping to tell you to do what I did: go to Youtube, type in "Good Eats" and find for yourself a whole new world of understanding of what to do in the kitchen. Unfortunately, it does appear that the copyright demons have finally caught up with them, and many episodes have been removed. However, there do seem to be a fair number of episodes available for free on Hulu.com, and if you're a member of Amazon Prime, you can watch the entire 14 season run for free. I'd also highly recommend any number of his books, not the least of which are the three massive volumes detailing the content of his show.

I really can say that I wouldn't be anywhere near the cook I am today without him. Thanks, AB.


Amy Gurley said...

I don't know if you are talking about my youtube account but thank you anyway - I feel special lol. I was one of (I think) 3 people who posted episodes. LikeTheHat was the first, but the episodes were of poor quality and in parts. I (katjaneway) was the first one to post them all in HD in whole episodes. And luckily, I still have a computer HDD of all but 3 of them. But yeah, Scripps finally caught up to both of us, (And GoodEatsComplete too, apparently) and told us to knock it off. While LikeTheHat decided to defy the warning and his account got removed, I played it safe and just removed the Good Eats content. They care not for anything I post of Food Network with Alton in it though, in fact, FN has "endorsed" my videos with their own logo. Kind of neat. Alton gave me the same epiphony about cooking, and I wished I would have encountered his show earlier in my life!

Korinthia said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I will check it out!