Thoughtful Thursday: Good Eats and the Greatness of Alton Brown

Thoughtful ThursdayI apologize in advance if you do not know what the title refers to.  I will pause while you Google or Wikipedia it. (Foot tapping impatiently)  Now that you are up to speed, let me explain that Google and Wikipedia cannot do either of those topics (the show or the man) justice.  And I’m not even his biggest fan.

If you read my Cowboy Chicken Casserole post, you read all about how I dipped my toes in the Food Network pool for the first time at my sister’s house.  This is kind of part 2 of that post.

Remember how I mentioned that weird guy Alton Brown in the post?  Well, when we FINALLY got Food Network on cable, it was just prior to 9/11.  Yes, that 9/11.  By the time 9/11 rolled around, Good Eats was solidly into season 4 (which I inferred somewhere that the man himself thought was the least best of all of the seasons of the show).

When 9/11 happened, I had one episode on videotape.  In the VCR.  Recorded.  Yes, it was that long ago.  That episode was True Brew II:  Mr. Tea.  I promise what I am about to tell you is going to sound really really REALLY strange.

On THAT day, many television stations blue screened (including Food Network) with messages about offering support to the country in this harrowing time.  Food Network, whose offices were based in New York, had pretty much their whole company affected in ways that we weren’t as affected down here.

So, there was no turning to Emeril that day for normalcy.  This was also the time before internet streaming really went mainstream.  So, you either had it on tape, recorded, or you didn’t have it at all.  Even though I had what became known in my family’s house as “the tea episode” recorded, I was very ambivalent about Good Eats and Alton Brown.  I was on the cusp of fandom, but I wasn’t there yet.

When 9/11 happened, I needed some sense of normalcy, tradition, and civilization.  And what is more normal, more traditional, and more civilized than tea?  As we were bombarded by images of the victims of 9/11 and New York and the Pentagon, I just could not deal.  I retreated into my room with my VCR, the recording of the tea episode, and my bed.  In the weeks following 9/11, I think I watched the tea episode at least 45 times.

When I saw that Food Network was selling DVDs of the episodes a year or so later, I waited (impatiently) for the tea episode to be offered.  (Again, kids, streaming hadn’t happened yet)  When it was, I purchased it!  Because Food Network didn’t push out episodes by season (instead by topic), I ended up with some randomness with it.

But I had the tea episode, a legal copy, and I was happy.

By this time, I was hooked.  Good Eats was a show I simply could not miss at any point during the week.  Any showing of it.  (And I’ve always had a soft spot for Season 4).  He made nerdy the ultimate cool.  And sock puppets.

When season 14 was announced as the final season, I was crushed.  I knew that there would be a never-to-be-filled void on Food Network (and, short of the Pioneer Woman, it’s never been completely filled).  Yes, I know that Alton Brown is on other shows; I’ve even heard that he has a competition-style show on (but since we let our satellite lapse and the cable company won’t make us an offer that doesn’t involve phone service–we would be glad to have only internet and cable service, thank you very much), but I’ve never seen it.

Season 14 was very bittersweet, and just as season 6 of Corner Gas, I was a bit resentful of the episodes,  judged them more harshly, and, for the longest time, couldn’t bring myself to say much that was positive about them.  Since (now all) of the episodes are available on Amazon Instant Video and the most recent seasons are available on Prime, I’ve become more accepting and even appreciative of that final season.

My little chef (who likes being called little chef because of Ratatouille) shares a love of Good Eats.  He calls Alton Brown “Brownie,” and said to me just yesterday, “I like that Brownie.”  Just as with Corner Gas, I am planning a series going season by season of Good Eats as a critical analysis.

But here are a few things to mention:

1)  I will somehow (if I am called upon to teach early world history again next year) work the tea episode into the curriculum when I teach China.

2)  The peanut episode featuring the ghost of George Washington Carver (one of my heroes) should be mandatory viewing during Black History Month.  He tends to be forgotten in the sports star shuffle during February.

3)  While most of his recipes become complicated, I have not made one that I did not like.

4)  Speaking of recipes, here are some of his that I’ve made:  his process for baked potato (season 1, episode 2); Josh uses his method for scrambling eggs (season 1, episode 3); the French Onion soup (season 1, episode 9); the brulee bananas and doodads from the sugar episode; the baby back ribs as well as the rub (in other ways)…this was probably the ultimate recipe…my late great aunt Gene was visiting when my parents when I made them one Fourth of July, and she even liked them from the episode entitled Pork Fiction; AB’s B and Bs (bread and butter pickles) from the American Pickle episode; the fried chicken from Fry Hard 2 (if you have not watched the opening of this episode, it’s worth it to purchase it from Amazon Instant Video…seriously…it’s the best…the opening monologue is a parody of “The Raven”); the lemon’ed simple syrup for sweetening iced tea from–you guessed it–the tea episode; granola from the original Oat Cuisine episode; his chicken stock method from the Take Stock episode; Coq au Vin from the Cukoo for Coq au Vin episode–I made this for my mom’s birthday when my 9-months pregnant sister and fam had evacuated after Hurricane Gustav; the pineapple skewers from the Dis-Kabob-U-Lated episode; the vanilla ice cream from Churn Baby Churn 2; the grilled romaine with frozen vinegar from Good Wine Gone Bad; Chicken Fried Steak from Cubing a Round; Josh uses some of the process of Alton Brown’s spaghetti sauce in American Classics 4; and of course, there’s Taco Potion #19 from the Taco episode.  Dare I also mention that all of those were yummy?  And some have become the gold standard in our house?

The chicken tacos using Taco Potion #19. See? Totally versatile!


5)  There are at least three times as many recipes as those listed in #4 above that are on my cooking bucket list.  But I’ll list those in future (per season) posts.

What is your opinion of Alton Brown and Good Eats?



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