Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Thought for Food, Dept.

At the risk of having this space become Pollyanna's Paradise, your sobsister thought of something else that tickles my fancy (Crimestopper's Textbook: it's located just next to the uvula). Now, regular readers are aware of the deep and abiding distaste, not to say "full-blown disgust", I feel towards the hosts on the Food Network. The braying Rachael Ray, the unctuous Paula Deen, the unnecessary Ingrid Hoffmann, the...you get the picture. But...there is one person whose show by dint of personality, content, and presentation brings me back time and again, and that person, ladies and gentlemen, is Alton Brown.

I don't talk much about the men of Food Network. They tend to operate under the dark and noxious cloud blown up by the channel's distaff "personalities". And they are not as repellent as their female counterparts, more inclined to focus on content than cute, however mercilessly one need to stretch that latter term to include Ray and Deen. And Alton Brown is the best of them. His flagship show, Good Eats, is a combination of food science, kitchen tips, recurring characters, props, puppets, and smartness that I can only call, in the best possible light of comparison, "Pee Wee's Kitchen". Every episode, Brown focuses on a different dish or ingredient and demonstrates how to buy the ingredients, what kitchen tools to use, what chemical/physical processes underpin the preparation, and, finally, how to make the meal(s), with a lessons learned/best practices approach that, despite the fun and skits, isn't pitched at slow fourth-graders. For that reason, perhaps, he is treated as something like the channel's "intellectual" in its advertising. And a lonely job that must be at Food Network. His two Feasting on Asphalt "movies" have featured him and his crew riding motorcycles, first, across the U.S. east-west, then, up along the Mississippi, sampling the best road food along the way. In each, Brown sets aside the whimsy to present meditations, serious and humorous both, on the history of America's relationship with food and the road. Both quite enjoyable and informative. Both likely to make one want to hop in the car and drive to that li'l B-B-Q stand five states over. Brown also acts as expert commentator for the US version of Iron Chef, which I don't watch as often because I prefer the over-the-top host and dubbed translations of the Japanese original.

At any rate, Alton Brown. Watch his shows, read his books. Like the ten righteous men who might've saved Sodom, he is one of the few reasons not to visit sulfurous destruction on the Food Network.

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