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February 20, 2004

{     Good Eats     }    

If you've seen ads for the program you may be aware that it is being promoted as a "cooking show for men." This may actually be a fairly apt description, though I might prefer the term "thinking man's cooking show," but then again I like to use "thinking man's" as an adjective so liberally that some of the magic may have worn off by now like so much hastily applied and cheaply produced gold leaf. The show is (probably) more likely to appeal to men than similar shows not because host Alton Brown presents recipes for traditionally male fare (think deep-fried, think steak) but because he "looks under the hood" at what makes food work. Though not a chemist, a culinary anthropologist, a botanist, or a biologist Brown introduces elements of all of these professions to explain the importance of the dishes he prepares. Each show is devoted to one particular food or ingredient. You'll get a smattering of history, the cultural significance, and, of course, the proper way to prepare it for maximum gustatory enjoyment. Recipes presented on Good Eats are typically well-established classics. These foods are simple, but not simplistic. For me, as a fellow who sees himself as a scientist waiting to happen, the most interesting part of Good Eats is the process by which recipes are introduced. Rather than giving the viewer a list of ingredients, temperatures, and durations Brown says what is going on inside the very foods themselves. For example, on the episode titled "The Egg Files" I learned that the cardinal rule of egg cookery either fried, scrambled, or assembled into custard is that if it looks done in the pan, it will be overdone on the plate. Why? Eggs are primarily protein. Proteins are heat labile compounds (easily destroyed by increased temperature) and in the presence of heat will denature and bunch up into tight little clumps. Due to the unavoidable reality of carryover heat these eggs will not immediately cease cooking as soon as you remove them from heat. This particular show asks you to think of egg proteins as a damp sponge. If overcooked they are squeezed so tightly that all the water is forced out and what you're left with is a tight little ball of sponge. If you've ever sat down to a plate of scrambled eggs swimming in liquid this is a result of overcooking, not undercooking. By eschewing the typical step-by-step recipe narrative "how do I that?" and delving into the trickier internal processes "why do I do that?" Good Eats prepares the viewer to become more than a follower of directions. Knowing what heat is doing to your foodstuffs has given me a stronger sense of respect both for the source of heat and for the ingredients. Now I feel like even I could become a moderately successful cook. If nothing else I've learned to make a killer burger. Alton Brown closes his book I'm Just Here For The Food: Food + Heat = Cooking with the same line that closes of every episode of G.I. Joe: "Now you know, and knowin' is half the battle!" I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly.

     » Recipes and show schedule at foodnetwork.com

     » Buy it...

Comments

I've been looking into getting some good cookbooks lately and this one sounds like one I would dig. Why suddenly have I begun to take a more serious interest in cooking? Because I was watching the 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico' bonus DVD short "Ten Minute Cooking School" and Meester Rodriguez said something that made me feel like a loser for not cooking more often.

He said, "Not knowing how to cook is like not knowing how to fuck." Think about that and tell me you can't cook a dinner for your girl.

Side Mexico note: whether you liked the movie or not, you really should watch the bonus shorts if you are at all interested in how to make movies. Watch the Spy Kids bonus stuff too, badass. RR makes decent movies, but he makes them really really really fucking uniquely and well.

Posted by: Shane at February 25, 2004 5:03 AM

Thanks, Shane. You're absolutely right.
This has nothing to do with "Good Eats", but... I'm tired of defending myself to my friends giving me the gasface cause I have that El Mariachi (pretty good)/ Desperado (pretty bad) double DVD. The "10-minute film schools" and commentaries are bananas... actually much better than the actual movies themselves. Although I consider myself a "no-budget filmmaker", I recommend these to anybody interested in how movies can be made for dirt cheap, and curious about all the things you can get away with in doing so.
And I can't cook, either.

Posted by: Eric Swisher at February 25, 2004 3:16 PM
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