Wednesday, February 11

How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Alton Brown

For a long time now, Alton Brown has been persona non grata around my media center. But I've been watching a bunch of Good Eats lately (thanks to Tivo) and I have to admit he's a bit on my hit list. Wait, before you hit the red thumbs down button, hear me out! Here's the case for Alton.

What Was Wrong with Good Eats?
Like many others, things that turned me off about this sometimes overly spirited show included: his badly-matched, embroidered frat boy shirts, his over-worked mini-dramas, and his guy-gadget approach to all things cooking. After a while, you just get sick of the machine-shop approach to food. There's gotta be more to life than that, right?

But amidst all of that clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk that he pulls out show after show, Alton turns out to be, heart-wise, more like Dorothy than the Scarecrow. All he wants is to be at home in his own back yard and for you to be, too. He wants you to be as good as Proctor and Gamble at pancakes and as smart about soda as Coke. Yes, that's right, dear reader... he's a romantic individualist. And I guess after all the kooky measuring is done and quirky DYI devices fall apart, that's his true charm.

The Facts
On screen, he puts himself out on a limb time after time with embarrassing dramatizations, with no embarrassment. But in each one, no matter how annoying, he respects facts, science, and the craft of cooking. In recent shows, he hired an impressive character actor to play his business partner as a foil to push recipes along. It's great to see the passion and creativity, history and humanism all rolled into one. One of my favorites was a show on toast. A whole show.

He changes his mind. When he decides he was wrong about garlic powder, he just changes his mind and states the opposite, sometimes years later. And mostly, he acknowledges his change of heart. In other words, he's intellectually honest. And an honest intellect, even in the kitchen, is the hallmark of a romantic: he wants the world to be better than his own vicissitudes , he believes in something bigger. The truth, in this case, food-science truth.

He's a lover, and by that I mean he gets joy from, science, and it's cousin, technology. He believes he can connect rational thought to the senses by understanding and explaining it. And that's a beautiful thing. He's a rationalist and a sensualist with no contradiction. Food makes him feel good, and thinking makes him be good. And he's a pilot, which means he puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to believing in natural forces like gravity and the bernoulli principle as much as the Maillard reaction.

Finally, Alton wears his heart on his sleeve. Over the last several years, he's fully transformed, on screen, from slightly off-balance food geek to comfortable, elder statesman. And I believe he's got even more better good times ahead, now that the whole "Waves" thing is done. (I get why he wanted to do it, but seriously...)

Alton may be in a bit of serial box on Good Eats, but I think he's got a really good book or new series in him, and I can't wait to find out how it'll turn out.

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