We had so much fun chucking Chow Bella contributors Ando Muneno and Lauren Saria into the ring over food trucks, we decided to do it again. This week's burning topic: Alton Brown.
Ando: Alton Brown is the man and I challenge you to say otherwise.
Lauren: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.
Ando: Seriously, what is not to love about Alton Brown?! I'm specifically speaking of his work on Good Eats. I'm not a huge fan of Iron Chef America so it's difficult for me comment on the merits of his work there, but Alton Brown has done more than any other human to break me free from the false restrictions of a recipe and embrace that cooking is about using a handful of techniques to make magic with whatever you have on hand.
Lauren: I have no doubt that Good Eats has inspired many a viewer to stray from the confines of a cut-and-dried recipe. Maybe I too could find wisdom in the show if I could get over the seemingly endless stream of "guest characters" and puppets -- and by guest characters, what I'm referring to is Alton Brown dressed up as different people talking to himself. I'm sorry, but if that doesn't set off a little warning light in the back of your head about his sanity, I don't know what would.
Ando: Alton Brown is like the Mr. Wizard of cooking! Every episode he takes a core cooking concept and breaks it down Barney-style for the rest of us. He talks about why it works, how you can make it work and then usually delves into the notable history of the technique or the dish. That's what makes him so great, he takes you into the how of cooking and beyond the "add 2 tablespoons of this and 3 of that."
Just a quick example. He did an episode on stew:
In it he explains what stew traditionally is, why it can suck and what you need to do to make it suck less. He talks about the cuts of meat that are best and why. While he does present a "perfect" cut of meat for the recipe, you can use your head and figure out what a good substitute would be. Then he shows a novel technique for cooking the base of a stew that yields the best and easiest results. By the end, you don't just have an awesome beef stew but a feeling for the very essence of stew! You can use what you've learned to make your own stew or use it to better understand a different recipe. He doesn't just show you the preparation of a recipe he gives you an education.
Lauren: Mr. Wizard has been dead to most of the world for more than a decade for good reason. But that's beside the point. I'm fine with learning the science behind the food, but please GOD, speak to me like an adult. I do not need, nor do I enjoy, being spoken to like a 6-year-old. Simple material can and should be shared between an adult tv personality and an adult viewer without the use of puppets. End of story. No exceptions.
Ando: YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH, MR WIZARD IS A NATIONAL TREASURE.
What do you have against puppets? Are puppets incapable of expressing adult ideas in an entertaining manner, even for adults? Do you also hate Avenue Q because it has puppets? And his guest characters? I seem to recall him using an endless stream of actual food experts. My favorite was the nutritional anthropologist, Deborah Duchon. More to the point though, under Brown's stewardship, Good Eats went on to win a Peabody award for food journalism. His ability to communicate complex ideas simple, even with puppets, won him recognition from Bon Appetit as the 2004 Cooking Teacher of the Year. He and his show have both been recognized several times by the James Beard Foundation as well.
Ando: What's you're beef with Mr. Rogers? The man is practically a saint. I would be proud to be compared to a man who forced hardened, cynical senators change their votes in support of PBS and I suspect that Alton Brown would be too!
And like Mr. Rogers, Alton Brown has made serious efforts to educate children as well. You see that? Teaching children how to cook, how to cut without cutting themselves, how to grow up to be healthy productive cooking members of society!
Lauren: You can call him a saint but there have been numerous accounts of Alton's excessive anger about our country's obesity problem. In this interview with the Baltimore Sun, Brown said: "You don't have a right to be 350 pounds and ask me to pay for your health care. That's not OK. Not everything's OK."
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Is it ironic to anyone else that a man who teaches us how to cook food -- and not always healthy food -- harbors such hatred toward the obese? I know he's struggled and yes, overcome, his own weight problems but it seems to me that should make him all the more understanding. Despite what Alton may believe, yes, obesity is a disease affected by much more than just one's nutritional choices. Anyone who can't see that scientifically-based fact needs a serious reality check.
Plus, he hates Man V. Food. Now that's an entertaining show! There are few things better than watching someone try to down a human baby-sized burrito or a plate of ghost chili-laden wings with no milk. Thanks to Alton's insult slinging, Adam Richman got his feeling hurt. Now that doesn't sound very Mr. Rodgers-like to me. And the best thing about Richman's show? NO PUPPETS.